As you may know, I play an awful lot of video games. In fact, it would be fair to describe me as a bearded recluse fueled by gin and classic Japanese console RPGs.
It is with this cultural authority behind me that I say to you: you need to get hold of a GameCube and play Resident Evil 4. I’m totally serious. A GameCube now costs less than a new PS2 or XBox game, so for under AUD$300 you could get yourself a console, a memory card, RE4 and a Pikmin game.
Update: Now that I’ve calmed down a bit, let me explain to you why I like RE4 so much. I quite liked Resident Evil 1 because of its mixture of puzzle-solving and zombie blasting, but tuned out after RE2 because of the following problems with the series:
- Movement — it was difficult to turn around quickly to shoot zombies behind you
- Inventory — a herb took up as much space as a shotgun, and items had to be stored in annoyingly situated bins
- Reloading — required at least 5 keypresses (open inventory, select ammo, move to gun, choose combine, close inventory)
- Saving — required a special item in short supply, so that you could never play a quick game after work for fear of using the save items up
Resident Evil 4 fixes all of these problems, thusly:
- Movement — you can instantly do a 180° turn by pressing down + B
- Inventory — now uses the packing puzzle system from X-Com… much better
- Reloading — happens automatically if you pull the trigger when your gun is empty, or you can press B to reload while the gun is drawn
- Saving — doesn’t require any items, and the savepoints are marked on the map
On top of that, RE4 retains the excellent puzzle and shooting elements from the earlier games, and adds in a much more interactive environment, spectacular graphics (in 60Hz widescreen) and surround sound.
You need it!
Update: The game is really so fabulous that the more I play it, the more I feel the need to praise its genius. Some interesting features that I haven’t mentioned yet include the following:
- You can run by holding down the B button. The speed at which you run is determined by how much health you have left. If you are injured, the walking and running animations are different, and may include limping, clutching a chest wound etc.
- The bad guys are spooky Lovecraftian villagers in Eastern Europe rather than zombies. They are equally at home stabbing you in the guts, strangling you, or clawing at your eyes in the vein of 28 Days Later.
- All of the guns in the game can be upgraded in four stats: firepower, firing time, reloading time, ammo capacity. Some guns can be further upgraded with stocks and sights. Completing a sub-mission gives you a variant handgun that shoots through multiple bad guys at once.
- The environment is highly interactive: if you climb up a ladder you can knock it down so that enemies cannot follow, and if you push furniture you can bar a door. Glass can be smashed, and you can leap out of windows. If you hear an enemy on the far side of a wooden door you can shoot through it (leaving big holes you can see through), or double tap the A button to kick it open and stun your foe.
- When shot, enemies respond realistically. If holding a live grenade, they drop it. If on a cliff edge, they fall off. If hit with a shotgun, they are knocked back and fall over.
- There’s a malamute in it! You find said dog caught in a bear trap, and if you free it it keeps cropping up throughout the game (e.g. in the farmyard, it happily chases chickens). It even helps out in a boss battle later on.
- When you rescue Ashley (a prisoner of the evil bad guys), she tags along and the game then inherits most of the interesting mechanics from Ico (e.g. co-op puzzle solving with the two characters). There are also some great visual touches revealed as well — for example, if you swing the shotgun around and Ashley is betwixt you and the bad guys, her eyes widen and she hits the dirt.
- The cutscenes are interesting and non-cheesy. And you can get killed in them if you’re not paying attention and ready to mash buttons : )
- Your character’s head follows sudden movement, so fluttering crows and bats (in graveyards and caves, of course) can spook you into firing reflexively (and revealing your position to the bad guys).
- There are some truly breathtaking set pieces: defending a wooden cabin from fifty attackers as the windows and doors are torn open, harpooning a giant lake monster, sniping from behind a crumbing fortification.
- As you need to conserve your ammo, the game helpfully includes quick keys for both slashing your enemies with a bowie knife and for kicking the crap out of them.
- Time passes during the game, so you have a day-night cycle that is exploited very effectively for scare value. At midnight the main illumination is the strobing flashes from your submachinegun, revealing stacatto glimpses of hands reaching for your face.
- You get a lot of game for your money: it’s one of the few GCN games with two discs.
So is there anything wrong with this fine game? A few quibbles, but nothing major. Graphics-wise, I have spotted one instance of bad clipping (a little bit too much of an angry villager’s pitchfork poked through a shotgun hole in a wooden door). Control-wise, the game could use a dodge / strafe action (this would be more useful than the ‘look’ action bound to the C-stick). Mind you, the controls are comprehensive but undocumented, so there may be something that does this.
Have I convinced you yet? Get a second hand Game Cube, a small memory card, and a copy of RE4. It’ll be in the cheap Player’s Choice range around Xmas, I imagine.
Update: You can suplex the bad guys… it’s like Final Fight all over again : )