Resident Evil 4
Incredibly amazing audiovisual presentation; Excellent, bloody, in-your-face shooting action; Suspenseful, lengthy storyline keeps you guessing; Astonishing boss battles; Plenty of extras give lots of replay value--Separate Ways side story exclusive to PS2;
Some uncharacteristically goofy dialogue; A couple of minor graphical blemishes;
Originally released for the GameCube, Resident Evil 4 makes few sacrifices in bringing all its gory glory to bear on the PlayStation 2 and delivers one incredible thrill after another.
Since its debut on the PlayStation in 1996, the genre-defining Resident Evil series has had its ups and downs, though it's always remained at the forefront of survival horror games. Yet it's not enough to call Resident Evil 4 one of the high points of the series, because this is probably the single greatest horror-themed action game ever created. Now on the PlayStation 2, Resident Evil 4 sure didn't cut corners in translation from the original GameCube version released earlier this year. Like that game, this is an amazing achievement in a variety of ways: Its inspired, state-of-the-art cinematic presentation works extremely well with its relentlessly exciting, white-knuckle action, all of which is wrapped up in a decidedly lengthy adventure chock-full of hidden secrets and bonus extras. It obviously isn't for the squeamish or for those otherwise not qualified to play this gory, mature-rated game, which is too bad for them, because it's hard to imagine anyone else not being consistently thrilled and impressed by what Resident Evil 4 has to offer.
If you're already familiar with Resident Evil 4, chances are you just want to know how the PS2 version stacks up to the original. The good news is it stacks up remarkably well, resulting in one of the best-looking, most atmospheric PS2 games to date. Having played the original, you'd find no signs that the PS2 got the short end of the stick, even though this version was announced only at about the same time as production on the original was wrapping up. The game controls just as well on the PS2 as it does on the GameCube, and it boasts support for Pro Logic II-equipped sound systems and widescreen high-definition displays (and this is true widescreen support, whereas the GameCube game is letterboxed even if you play it on a widescreen TV).
The content of the GameCube version is all intact here, but in addition to that, some key extras have been added. Chiefly among them is a side story called Separate Ways, which lets you play as the elegant, enigmatic spy Ada Wong as she finds herself in the same place at the same time as Leon, the hero of the story. In addition to featuring some slick new cutscenes and more than a few more hours of great gameplay, Separate Ways sheds new light onto some aspects of the storyline and explains why some of the things that happen to Leon are more than just happy coincidences. The difficulty in Separate Ways picks up at about where Resident Evil 4 leaves off, so Ada will have a tough fight ahead of her and will likely need to avoid as many enemies as she has to kill. As such, the feel of the action in this episode is different from the parts of Resident Evil 4 during which it takes place, even though Ada plays pretty much the same as Leon (though she's a little faster and gets to use a cool grapple gun). Overall, Separate Ways is a well produced and exciting bonus.
A few additional weapons and unlockable costumes are also new to this version, but it's not necessarily worth getting a second copy of Resident Evil 4 just for this extra content, especially since none of it is available up front. Besides, while Resident Evil 4 looks incredible on the PS2, it doesn't look quite as good as on the GameCube, where it has richer colors, sharper-looking environments, and nicer lighting effects. Larger foes also look better on the GameCube (while smaller foes melt away faster when killed), and the earlier version's loading times are also shorter. Pauses during the interactive cutscenes are also longer by an instant on the PS2, making the interactivity feel a bit less seamless. So, since the underlying gameplay is exactly the same, the slightly but noticeably better-looking GameCube original ultimately still has the edge. That about covers the differences how Resident Evil 4 compares between the PS2 and GameCube, but if you're unfamiliar with what makes the game itself so good, keep going.
In case it isn't abundantly clear, you don't need to be a Resident Evil fan to appreciate Resident Evil 4. However, Resident Evil fans will recognize the game's well-groomed protagonist Leon S. Kennedy, a wisecracking government agent investigating an inconspicuous European village where the US president's missing daughter was supposedly sighted. Experiencing the events of the game without really knowing what else to expect is a big part of the fun, so suffice it to say the story is filled with surprises, and it further does a great job of continually ratcheting up the sense of danger and tense excitement you'll feel right from the get-go. The story unfolds through some beautifully rendered and choreographed cinematic cutscenes, as well as through occasional notes you'll find. Yet these aren't the game's strongest suit, nor are they the focus of it, since the dialogue is hammy and thankfully brief. The story's there to give fans of the series something new to ponder, though it mostly exists to create a context for all of Resident Evil 4's action sequences. Basically, it helps make the game suspenseful and entices you to keep playing just to see what happens next.
Resident Evil 4 is being appropriately billed as the game that takes the series in a bold, new direction. This seems immediately apparent just minutes after the game begins, when Leon is confronted not by the sorts of mindless zombies that typified previous Resident Evil installments, but by a haggard man who seems decidedly displeased by Leon's presence and completely ignores the threat of his 9mm pistol as he menacingly approaches, axe in hand. The cover of the box depicts these sorts of torch-and-pitchfork-wielding disgruntled natives whom Leon will be dealing with in Resident Evil 4, so the question you'll be wondering is, what exactly are these Spanish-speaking folks' major malfunctions that cause them to want to murder Leon by any means necessary, and without any concern for their own safety? The game's humanoid enemies seem much more unsettling than your typical zombies, since they show basic signs of intelligence, yet their hatred for Leon far eclipses their own survival instinct. Still, it'll take just one slash of a sickle or one pitchfork gouging to teach you to terminate these savages without hesitation. They're creepy, memorable foes. And, without spoiling anything, they're just the tip of the iceberg.
By Greg Kasavin
Posted Oct 24, 2005 5:54 pm PT