April 21, 2005

Evil in Residence

by psu

I never played any of the Resident Evil games before Resident Evil 4. From what I can gather, they were slow-paced with a weird camera system that made combat nearly impossible and a fairly bizarre story centered around an evil virus and zombies. The hype around RE4 was that it was different. Most of the rather enthusiastic press waxes lyrical about the new graphics engine and camera, the new combat system, and the interactive cutscenes. Every review also seems to make a point to claim that the game has no zombies. After playing through most of the game, I can agree with some of this, but anyone who thinks there are no zombies in this game must be partially undead in the brain.

Zombies, Lots of Zombies

Let's get one thing straight. This game is full of zombies. They may look like "villagers", or wear funny hats, or babble in Spanish. Most of all, they may not actually be dead yet, but they are still zombies. Strictly speaking, the story revolves around some sort of evil that has turned a huge number of otherwise normal people into mindless automatons of death. But don't let this fool you. They are still zombies. They shuffle slowly, they surround you, they grab you and wack you with weapons and most of all, when you shoot them in the head they explode in a rain of guts and blood and gore while they shuffle off to their ultimate fate. Then they fall over and turn into money.

You Shoot, Slowly

Here is how the game plays. You walk slowly into an area. You can only walk slowly, unless you hit the B key to move faster. You have to wonder about a game that dedicates an entire button for nothing but "move faster". Haven't they ever heard of an analog stick? You know, an input device that provides a smoothly varying set of outputs over a large range, which you could interpret as, I don't know, how fast I want to move. On the up side, the third person camera is fairly well done. It only gets in the way when you try to see around corners. The rest of the time it sits behind your shoulder, letting you peer into the creepy environments while still allowing scary creatures to surprise you from behind.

Anyway, you show up in an area, and some number of zombie bad guys appear. They shuffle slowly towards you. You stand in one place and slowly aim your gun. I gather that the aiming system is a lot better than the previous games. But it is still awkward, and I wish you could at least strafe. If the zombies were moving faster, or actually had any intelligence whatsoever, you'd be dead while you aim. Luckily, the game spares you by having most of the enemies move very methodically in your direction, allowing you to peg them repeatedly with the shotgun until they die. This process is a lot of fun, especially when you make heads explode in interesting patterns.

The game avoids becoming overly repetitive by changing up the nature of the combat once in a while. There are a few different kinds of scary beasts that chase you faster than the standard zombies. There are a few snipe and dodge missions, a couple of shoot things while rolling on rails sequences, and some stupid escort missions where you have to lead a girl around while she screams a lot. The hardest sequences in the game involve killing a lot of zombies while keeping the girl alive at the same time.

The game also does a great job of balancing fun and challenge. You find ammo and health packs when you need them, and there is this creepy merchant creature who follows you around the game and sells you new weapons and weapon upgrades. While the zombie hordes are always menacing, they are hardly ever completely overwhelming. This means that you get to spend most of your time blowing up zombie heads rather than worrying about resources, or replaying levels because you are dead. This means you spend most of your time having fun.

In summary, the meat of the game is the combat, and while it is awkward and sort of stupid, the combat is good enough to keep you coming back for more. But, this doesn't mean that the game doesn't do some stupid things.

A Lack of Puzzling Puzzles

Once in a while you have to solve a puzzle. There are basically two kinds of puzzles in the game: easy and stupid. The easy puzzles are of the form "find the key, unlock the door", or "turn a couple of knobs, unlock the door". The only trouble here is finding the right key or realizing which knobs are turnable. The stupid puzzles are annoying combinatorial problems that are not so much hard as just busywork. There is even a "move the 8 tiles around the 9 spaces" puzzle. Luckily, I came to the game late so all of the walkthroughs have the stupid combinations in them already.

Interactive Cut Scenes

One of the more interesting gameplay conceits in RE4 is the combination of cut scenes and action sequences. You'll come into an area, and a cut scene will start playing and suddenly the game will tell you that you have to mash the A button furiously or be crushed by a rolling boulder. For the most part, this mechanic provides a way to make you play the same cut scene over and over and over again until you mash the buttons in just the right order. As such, it is stupid and evil. There are a few places in the game where this mechanic is used well to provide a general sense of creepiness. But, I think Capcom were a little too proud of themselves, and the scheme is overused, especially in the boss fights.

You are not the Boss of Me

In between the fights, and the puzzles and the cut scenes that kill you are, of course, the bosses. Generally, the bosses follow the familiar pattern: the boss is big, the boss has a pattern of attacks, the boss has a single fatal weakness which you must read the walkthrough to discover and exploit. So, the boss fights go like this: run, run, dodge, run, dodge, shoot, shoot, die, die, get bored, read the walkthrough, run, dodge, shoot, kill the boss.

Some of the boss fights borrow the "mash this button combination or be destroyed" mechanic from the cut scenes. This can be annoying, since it's hard to do the button mashing if you are already holding down the right trigger and B to use your weapon and the buttons you have to mash involve either the B button or the triggers (which they always do). This is one of the ways that the boss fights ensure that you must repeat them at least 3 times, thus padding out the length of the game.

Even with all these complaints, there is at least one pretty original idea for a boss early in the game. And, there are a couple of boss creatures later in the game who are fun to kill with a single shot.

But ultimately these are still bosses, and bosses are stupid. So mark one more negative point.

Stupid Savepoints

The game has stupid save points. The only positive thing you can say is that they are at least close together.

Stupid Inventory System

The game has an annoying inventory system that allows you to carry a ludicrous amount of stuff, but not everything you find or buy. So you get to waste a lot of time shuffling things around in your box, and you get to waste money buying bigger boxes once in a while. Happily, this is only a minor annoyance, but you have to wonder why they bothered.

Back to the Good Stuff

While I have spent a lot of time whining about the stupid things in the game, I have to say that overall RE4 is excellent in spite of itself. In addition to the zombie killing, it does a lot of other things right. The environments have a great sense of scale, small or large, and at times they manage to generate an atmosphere of general creepiness and dread. This is pretty impressive considering that the game is well balanced enough that you are usually not in great danger of dying quickly (except for certain boss-like meanies). The rendering is stunning; as good as anything on the Xbox. There are even some pretty awesome lighting, fire and water effects. The game is courteous enough to attach a virtual flashlight to the back of your head so you can see while running around in the dark. The light isn't really there, but a certain glow does follow you around so you can see things. This is a nice touch. Finally, even with all the eye candy, load times are fast.

Overall, I have found RE4 to be a game that is superbly balanced, superbly produced, and a lot of fun. The fun that it provides more than makes up for the things it does wrong. If you have a GameCube, go buy it now. The upcoming PS2 version will probably play just as well, but it will look like ass.

Posted by psu at April 21, 2005 08:52 PM | Bookmark This

How close are the "interactive cut scenes" to the quick time events in Shenmue? (Do I need to lend you Shenmue II?)

Epiphany: Ryu Hazuki in Shenmue moves slowly, just like in all those zombie games.

Posted by peterb at April 22, 2005 05:55 PM

"Do you know where the sailors hang out? I WANT TO EAT THEIR BRAINS."

Posted by peterb at April 22, 2005 05:57 PM

Indications from the press coverage is that the interactive cut scenes are in fact ripped off from Shenmue.

Posted by psu at April 22, 2005 07:17 PM

Your review sucked and because you have never played a Resident Evil game makes you that much more of an idiot. The other games were amazing but it takes people like you to ruin them for others. "Bad Controls" "Bad camera angles!" Cry me a river. Go back to your Halo where you have to play a perfect game.

Posted by hater at April 23, 2005 02:30 PM

The light is coming from a flashlight on Leon's belt. You can see it in some of the cutscenes.

Posted by Nate at April 24, 2005 01:27 PM

While I think your right in pointing out these issues with the game I think that the inventory management issue is a positive part of the game, your always having to think about space issues, balancing carrying health vs ammo vs grenades.

Personnaly the problem with the investory is always having to switch to the inventory screen to change weapons. One of the great things about the game (and there are LOADS) are that all the weapons are useful in fighting different creatures at different occasions so you'll be changing weapons quite a lot. In a big fight it does break up the action and remove your immersion in the game when your always tracking back to the inventory screen. fire a couple shots, switch to inventory screen to change weapon, switch back to game, shoot badie, switch back again etc etc. A quick button change would have really made a positive difference.

As for control, like you say the villagers do move quite slowly so a Straff function or analogue control might have made things a little bit too easy?? Part of the tension comes from not really being able to set yourself up perfectly for peaking round a corner.

I have to say that apart from the novelty of the first PS resident evil I really didn't enjoy the Resident series of games at all. In fact on the GC the remade versions had me swearing because there is no improvement in gameplay at all, just better graphics (something that is a real problem with a lot of Next Gen games I think). RE4 is something completely new, its really just a set piece after set piece set up but the variation, detail and effort that has gone into the game is amazing. You might spend 5minutes on a section but the environment will look and sound amazing. The sewer section for example, you spend 15-20 minutes in the sewers and the level of detail invested in that environment for such a short gametime period is amazing.

for me its the best, most exciting Gamecube game i've played. The graphics, sound, gameplay, replay value (all the extra modes you get when you've completed it!!) and just general Scope of the thing - FANTASTIC stuff

Posted by edargyle at April 25, 2005 07:48 AM

My gripe with the inventory system was that in general if you upgrade the briefcase to the larger sizes, you can basically carry everything you need (even a spare rocket launcher), at the cost of spending money. Given this, it seemed kind of pointless to me. Every once in a while I'd run out of room and have to play the bin packing mini-game. This also seemed tedious and pointless to me.

Still, I am willing to believe that this is just my hangup, and that others might find this sort of thing fun or strategic.

I think you are right about the balance between the slow moving creatures and the controls of the game. I am willing to put up with the game's controls for the sake of this balance.

On the other hand, Splinter Cell allows limited motion when aiming the gun. Basically, you can aim and strafe at the same time, but you can only move slowly. This would have been handy in come situations where you'd like to be able to aim the gun and back up, but I don't think it would have affected the balance of the game that much.

Also, some creatures in the game move much faster...

Posted by psu at April 25, 2005 10:18 AM

If one could strafe, then the AI would have to improve dramatically.

Also, why do zombies ALWAYS fall down and turn into money?

Sheesh! SO unrealistic. Everybody knows zombies are poor money managers..

Posted by King Ding Dong at April 25, 2005 08:32 PM

I've never got into the RE games; the movies are another story, however.

Posted by Ben at May 3, 2005 01:52 AM

Playing through again to get the infinite rocket launcher I did finally notice the flashlight. Nice effect.

Posted by psu at May 18, 2005 09:46 AM

wow you really have no gratitude for an excellent game. if u played the other re's ud see the aiming in this 1's alot better and alot quicker and if u take that long to aim GO AND RETURN UR GAME

Posted by Malice at March 7, 2006 09:35 AM

I just saw the "your review sucked because the other resident evil games are awesome" post. I tried to play resident evil once. A zombie came shuffling after me. I unholstered my pistol. The zombie got closer. I tried to shoot it. Instead I holstered my pistol. The zombie proceeded to chew on me and I drew my pistol. I tried to shake the thing off and instead I holstered my pistol. I pulled out the game and started playing parasite eve.

Posted by Doug at March 7, 2006 04:05 PM

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