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.
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.
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 recognise 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.
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. 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?
You view the action from behind Leon, and the perspective zooms in to a close over-the-shoulder view when you ready a weapon, which you can easily aim using its laser sight. Realistically, Leon doesn't have a perfectly steady hand when aiming, but since most of the combat occurs in brutal close quarters, you don't usually need pinpoint accuracy to get the job done. You cannot move and fire at the same time, nor can you strafe from side to side as you can in a typical shooter, though Resident Evil 4 plays very much like a shooter otherwise. The zoomed view while aiming works great for drawing a bead on your enemies, but you naturally lose some of your situational awareness in the process, because you can see more of your periphery when you're not aiming at what's in front of you.
This dynamic has an exceptional way of heightening tension, since your foes love trying to surround you. They move and behave with frightening realism in the context of the game, and overall, the enemy design in Resident Evil 4 is truly outstanding. There are many things that look terribly lifelike and will send a chill down your spine, making you desperately want to kill them before they kill you first, in some sort of horrible fashion. Fortunately, the controls feel like they're tuned just right to give the game the same sort of pacing inherent to an action horror movie. The absence of the ability to sidestep doesn't hurt gameplay and instead accentuates the toe-to-toe confrontations, while the ability to quickly turn around using a simple controller command is more than welcome.
Resident Evil 4 is an action adventure game with an emphasis on action. There's rarely any question about where you're supposed to go next or what you're supposed to do, even though some of the environments are quite open-ended. The game is so action-packed that even some of the seemingly non-interactive cinematic cutscenes require fast reflexes on your part (so don't you dare put down the controller). A quick button press will cause you to make Leon avoid certain death, while a lack thereof...well, you'll see. At other times, reactive, timing-based button presses or rapid button presses will be demanded of you in the context of the game's numerous and universally amazing battles against major foes; these moments help instill boss battles with real dramatic flair. You can't easily describe just how incredible and frightening some of these battles are, so we'll put it this way: It's no exaggeration to say that Resident Evil 4 has some of the greatest boss fights of any game.
The game's occasional puzzle elements seem almost like concessions to diehard fans of the series, since they're rather simplistic and definitely take a backseat to all the fighting. They're fortunately rare enough to where you'll appreciate them for letting you catch your breath, and they're easy enough to figure out that you probably won't find yourself feeling stuck.
There's one aspect of play that sometimes interrupts Resident Evil 4's exquisite pacing, and that's the necessity of having to fumble around in your inventory. Though you can readily switch between a gun and your trusty knife at the touch of a button, switching between different guns (or using healing items) requires you to go in to the inventory screen. A more streamlined means of weapon switching would have been convenient, especially since many situations will require you to use multiple weapons for their unique properties.
The bottom line is, if you've been entertained by any other mature-rated action game recently, then chances are you'll be blown away by this one. It's that good.
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