I have a confession to make: I have never played a Resident Evil game before. To me, the survival-horror genre has always been like that relative you hear stories about and pray you never have to meet. Zombies? No thanks. I can barely sit through a scary movie without eyeing up the exit sign.
Then along came Resident Evil 4. It was like meeting that long-lost uncle for the first time - a manic, chainsaw-wielding uncle. But I'm not looking for the exit sign. This is the one GameCube owners have been waiting for, a game that not only demonstrates the power of the hardware but the frightening maturity of its software. And I'm hooked.
If you've played Resident Evil 2 you will already be familiar with former cop, Leon S. Kennedy. He's back, this time on a lone mission to recover Ashley Graham, the president's missing daughter. His search leads him to a desolate village in Europe. But something is definitely wrong here. The first local you meet doesn't seem pleased to see you, and the rest have a thing for eating flesh. Are they zombies? No. Something else. And its obvious they want you dead.
The zombies are only the tip of the iceberg of changes. Resident Evil 4 is the first Resident Evil game to sport an over-the-shoulder camera. It makes aiming a breeze and is perfect for capturing that chainsaw mincing through Leon's neck. But don't get comfortable, Capcom is eager to dismiss any similarities with a first person shooter. Strafing is non-existent, and you'll don cement shoes while aiming. Sounds tricky? At first yes, it takes getting used to, but after half an hour even ardent FPS fans will agree that the controls compliment the action nicely.
And Resident Evil 4 is all about the action. You'll quickly learn that Leon isn't the type to stand still and let rabid villagers eat his brains. When things get rough its time to whip out the shotgun and make heads roll. Taking down huge swarms of enemies and hulking boss monsters is the thrill. The odds are always stacked against you and this makes the combat intense. Taking advantage of your environment and the right weapon can make the difference between life and death. Stuck on a narrow bridge with enemies on either side? Crack out the shotgun and blow them off the edge. Trapped in a building with a group of villagers? Knock down a lantern and watch your foes writhe in flames.
Who said GameCube games were for kids? Resident Evil 4 is a spectacle of gore, blood and horrifying beasts. Not only that, its gorgeous. This is Capcom's first full 3D Resident Evil game and saying Capcom went 'all out' is an understatement. Resident Evil 4 is one of the most beautiful games you will see on GameCube - scratch that - any system this year. The environments drip and the monsters ooze with gritty detail. Every wall, window and piece of aging furniture is rendered with a photo-realism that is downright creepy. And the framerate is silk, never skipping a beat, no matter how horrifying the onscreen action.
Your nightmares have nuffin' on Resident Evil 4. The villagers, the first of many enemies you will encounter, look like bloodthirsty Amish farmers, so real they could bite your fingers or stab you with a pitchfork. The animation brings them to life. Wound them in the leg and they'll limp, make a headshot and their necks will explode in a fountain of blood. The advanced AI brings in the horror. Villagers will smash windows, break down doors and put up ladders to get to you; they'll throw hatchets and explosives in difficult to reach places and they'll warn each other if you're in the vicinity - they're smart, and when you hear them coming you'll scramble to reload.
The visuals are only half of what makes the game scary. Resident Evil 4's music will make your spine shiver and the adrenaline pump. It builds tension when you're alone, and spikes when enemies are closing in. The sound effects are authentic; you will jump when you hear the rev of a chainsaw or the warning cry of a villager. Foes will wail in anger, moan in pain, and when the music drops dead their chants will haunt you.
Horror flicks aren't best remembered for their storylines and for all Capcom's effort to give Resident Evil 4 a fresh angle it's still wrought with corny villains and clichéd situations. Deep down, it's a rescue the princess storyline with horror trimmings. Does it matter? Not really. It may be cheesy, but the cut scenes are well choreographed and the questions curious enough to hold your interest: What's wrong with the villagers? Where is Ashley? Who kidnapped her, and why?
All the answers will take the average gamer roughly 18 hours to find, for an adventure that spans two discs. Most of this time you'll be traversing linear environments and shooting anything that moves. But surprisingly it isn't repetitive. The action rarely fails to reward, dead bodies usually give up healing herbs, ammo or money, three things you'll be desperate for later in the game. While herbs and ammo are self-explanatory, you can exchange treasure and collected money for rare weapons and upgrades. The weapon range is massive, from rocket launchers to sniper rifles and everything in between. Once you've got your weapon you can tweak and upgrade it to devastating levels. Power, firing speed, reload time and ammo capacity can all be enhanced and the effects are immediately noticeable. It's a very satisfying aspect of gameplay that keeps the experience fresh from start to finish. And even then when you're done, there are mini games and extra difficulty levels to make it well worth that extra play through
I have a confession to make: I am officially a Resident Evil fan, or at least a Resident Evil 4 fan. I may not have experienced Capcom's old take on the Resident Evil series, but I can tell you their new take is a beautiful thing to behold. Deeply rooted in gun slinging action and wrapped in the most gorgeous graphics you'll ever see, Resident Evil 4 marks a feast for any gamer, no matter how unfamiliar they may be with Uncle Horror.