Saturday, February 25, 2006

Resident Weevil

A Review of Resident Evil 4

We live in an era in which our desires are identified and answered before we even become aware of them (thanks, marketers!). For instance, I had no idea that I had an intense desire to be terrified and to shoot virtual Spaniards until I played Resident Evil 4.  This latest entrĂ©e in the series (and the only one I’ve ever played) leaves the Engrish shores of Raccoon City for a vile and nameless Spanish village.  The story starts out idiotic and then takes a back seat to the amazing, absorbing gameplay; basically, the President’s suspiciously Japanese-looking daughter has been kidnapped by some manner of Spanish cult (perhaps on her semester abroad in Seville?), and the task of her rescue falls to superagent Leon Kennedy.

     Poor Leon!  Over the course of this game his fate dooms him to being shot with arrows, burned, caught in bear traps, vomited on by gigantic insects, pummeled by gigantic oafs, shot at with catapults, attacked with chainsaws, and condescended to by a guy named Luis.  This is only in about the first two hours, too.  As in all Resident Evil games, Leon’s primary duty if to fight zombies, although in this case he is fighting uniquely Spanish zombies (only at this late date in the Playstation 2’s career have we possessed the technology to convincingly animate the Spanish zombie).  These zombies initially seem a little off, since they are not dead nor do they wish to eat Leon’s brain; eventually, you figure out that they have been infested by a parasite called the Plaga.  These creatures occasionally emerge to wave their hideously deformed and barbed limbs when Leon shoots the villagers heads off.

     The game is unremittingly gritty and unpleasant looking (without the white-hot intensity of the Silent Hill series, which is a good thing since it can be played without a double fistful of Xanax).  Plenty of surprises keep the tension up, but the game actually manages to instill dread, the acme of a horror series.  It’s just as scary to turn a corner and see a flock of parasite-riddled degenerate Spanish monks lurching slowly towards you as it is to hear the plaintive shriek of a Novistador, the game’s resident giant homicidal insects.  Resident Evil inaugurated the survival horror genre, and the staples are still here: restricted supplies, save point, and stiff controls.  However, someone at Capcom bucked the trend of Japanese software design and decided to emphasize fun.  Thus, ammunition and weapons are scarce but sufficient (you never have to ask yourself, “do I really have enough ammunition to shoot this blind, insane gladiator?”), and the controls are slow enough to instill a little bit of anxiety, but responsive and tight nonetheless.  You will rarely find yourself blaming Leon’s truck-like turning speed when you get killed, but you will get killed, and frequently, until you get the hang of things.  The game has a forgiving continue system, and is generally so fun that replaying most sections is actually pleasant.

     The plot and voice acting are pretty weak, and the writers keep doubling up on articles when they use Spanish phrases (“The Los Illuminados” for instance), but the most interesting parts of the story spring from the action itself – all the desperate gun battles and insane booby traps tell a much more interesting tale than Leon’s conversations with his controller or the Castellan, a perverted and diminutive holdover from Spain’s feudal days.  I give it nine thumbs up and a hearty recommendation to anyone (I played it on the PS2, although a graphically superior version was released first for the Gamecube, as if anyone who read all the way through the review didn’t know that).

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