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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Resident Evil 4 (Gamecube)

By Michael Palisano

Capcom's legendary survival horror franchise has been reanimated for a brilliant fourth installment that redefines the series and pushes the Gamecube to its limits. The most immediate change lies in the completely revamped and dramatically improved interface that makes RE4 play more intuitively than previous titles. The graphics are brilliantly rendered with stunning environments and lifelike character design adding to the chilling atmosphere. It's a huge leap forward from both a gameplay and technical standpoint and this almost-flawless title succeeds in creating a deeply immersive and terrifying adventure. Read our review and find out why you shouldn't run past Resident Evil 4.

Capcom's Resident Evil series has become predictable and somewhat stagnant over the past few years, with endless spin-off series, side stories and remakes watering down what had been a landmark series for nearly ten years. However, survival horror fans have been waiting seemingly forever for the fourth installment, which has seemed to take forever to arrive. However, it's now here and we're happy to say that it definitely lives up to the hype. Resident Evil 4 definitely takes the series in a new direction, with a much more intense experience that's been revamped, improved and upgraded. Every area of the gameplay has undergone a significant improvement, making this fourth installment feel like a new franchise, not a tired retread. The most significant changes come in the interface and control systems that have undergone a thorough overhaul to bring it in line with other current generation titles. Gone is the awkward third person viewpoint from earlier titles, replaced by a much more effective behind the shoulder angle. The previous games' movement and aiming systems have also been upgraded, with a more intuitive FPS style interface. Not only is the weapon more accurate, the guns are now equipped with laser sights that makes aiming and shooting much simpler and easier to use. The new camera angle and improved controls increases the accuracy of your shots exponentially, making it much easier to target your shots. Aiming for the head is the quickest way of dispatching foes, though some put up quite a fight and require multiple hits to defeat. Leon has multiple weapons at his disposal, and while guns are his primary weapon, he can also use grenades and his knife to slash enemies. Several weapons also feature sniper modes, which allow you to view the action from true first person perspective as well, giving the game a more visceral and immersive feel than before. Another key area where RE4 improves on its predecessors is the inventory system, which is also much simpler and intuitive this time around. The save system has also been streamlined with the familiar typewriters performing an auto save themselves, instead of requiring the player to possess a ribbon. This seems like a small change on the surface, but it makes a huge difference in how RE4 plays.. These elements combine to make for a streamlined interface, which comes in quite handy. The game's pace is much faster, with surprisingly aggressive enemies and more action than previous titles offered. Resident Evil 4 is definitely a remarkable step forward from a technical standpoint and this installment fixes and revamps many of the previous titles' shortcomings.

Players will also notice the game's deeper characters and improved storyline which makes for the most intense RE yet. Resident Evil 4's plot is quite interesting this time around allowing players to delve deeper into the storyline, immersing them into the story. In addition to battling enemies, you'll gradually find out more information as you meet characters as you go into the game. Set several years after the events of previous games, Resident Evil 4 has players once again taking on the role of Leon from RE2. However, he's now a special agent for the United States government and has been enlisted on a high-priority mission. The President's daughter Ashley has gone missing in an isolated Eastern European village and it's up to Leon to rescue her from an uncertain fate. Unfortunately for Leon, the citizens of this village aren't exactly friendly, and are instead possessed of a mysterious force that gives them supernatural strength and psychotic tendencies. They attack Leon on sight and are significantly more aggressive than the enemies players faced in previous games. The game begins fairly simply, as you attack every moving villager in sight. Along the way, Leon can collect items such as extra ammo and the famous green and blue herbs to restore his health. He'll also come across a variety of jewels and gems which he can use at the traders' stands to buy extra weapons, upgrades and other items. Leon's objectives seem simple and straightforward initially but there are mysterious forces at play that become increasingly sinister as you go deeper into the game. This keeps the player engaged throughout since you never know what to expect around the next corner.

Resident Evil 4's gameplay is superb, and should challenge even the best players. Its pacing is also much faster, with smarter enemies giving it an even more intense challenge. The basic villager enemies are quite aggressive and attack Leon in groups, relentlessly going after him. You'll face several villager-types through the course of the game. Most are fairly easy to defeat, but players will need to be careful around some more than others. This is especially true of the chainsaw wielding ones. Early on, their attacks and methods are predictable, but as the villagers morph into more hideous monsters later on, they become tougher to kill. RE4 does an excellent job in creating fear in the player - you definitely feel trapped in certain areas when there are multiple villagers attacking you from all angles. Whether climbing through windows, sneaking up behind you or throwing dynamite at you, one thing is certain. These villagers aren't idiots and are much smarter and more aggressive than the mindless zombies that you could walk away from in previous RE titles. The basic mission and level structure is fairly straightforward, but players will find more than a few surprises throughout. Early in the game, you'll rescue Ashley but don't be lulled, since once you liberate her, you'll also have to protect her. If she's killed, the game ends. This is definitely a different style of play than in other RE titles, and gives the game a unique feel from the other games. While fighting off the generic villagers poses enough of a challenge, players will also find several action points, where Leon can jump out of windows, knock over ladders or dodge falling boulders. These player-activated events effectively help to break up the action. While the initial stages offer plenty of thrills and chills, it isn't until you've faced the second boss encounter that events become much more intense. These epic clashes really get your adrenaline flowing and are some of the most impressive battles we've seen on any console to date. While it's a challenging title, there are frequent save points, so the game never feels excessively difficult.

From a visual standpoint, this is by far the best-looking title in the series to date with a level of detail and realism that's simply astonishing. The village is rendered in exquisite detail, with even small objects such as grass blades, glass windows and trees rendered to create a realistic environment. Texture mapping and light effects are also used effectively to enhance the realism. RE4's aesthetics are outstanding, everything fits together perfectly to form a cohesive and consistent world. The environments are brilliantly rendered in sedated, monochromatic tones to create an ominous feeling throughout. The world feels dead, possessed by some unknown force with the desolate, dilapidated structures, barren trees and dreary grey skies giving the player a palpable sense of dread throughout. Using the third person perspective allows the player to really immerse themselves into the action. RE4's camera system is excellent here as well. Instead of the walking around in static backgrounds, you really feel like you're walking through these bleak environments. The character design is superb.with photo realistic models bringing the chraracters to life vividly. The level of detail in the villagers themselves is simply incredible, with each showing lifelike movement and naturalistic expressions that make them even more menacing. Unfortunately, the same half-dozen models appear again and again tends to make the experience feel slightly less realistic than it might. The foreboding, dark soundtrack compliments the action perfectly, with long expanses of silence that only serve to add to the game's tension. RE4's voice-acting is also nicely done, with an outstanding cast of actors that bring their parts to life effectively. RE4's cinematic presentation is also quite impressive, giving the game an epic sweep and scale that rivals the best production values Hollywood has to offer. In fact, Resident Evil 4's presentation is letterboxed in the traditional film aspect ratio, which only adds to its movie-as-game feel. It's not an exaggeration to say that RE4's cinematic approach makes it the closest yet to becoming an interactive horror movie. The flawless implementation is a startling step forward for the series, and pushes the aesthetics of the survival horror genre forward to make RE4 without a doubt, the most impressive looking title on any current generation hardware.

While some other big name series from the mid-90's seem to have trailed off into lazy mediocrity or worse, (Tomb Raider, anyone?), the much anticipated Resident Evil 4 brings the series right back to the forefront of electronic gaming. The streamlined controls, simplified interface and faster pacing make this one of the most exciting titles RE has produced in quite some time. The photo-realistic graphics, brilliant character design and challenging gameplay create an unparalled experience that brings the series unapologetically up to date. RE4's storyline is also the best in years, with clever twists and different characters that bring a fresh set of challenges. The first Resident Evil defined the survival-horror genre a decade ago, and now Capcom has once again set the standard with the Resident Evil 4. It's been a long time in development, but the polish definitely shows, making it well worth the wait. This is easily the best looking, playing and most enjoyable title in the series to date, making it a must purchase for all Gamecube owners.

Grade: A

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