I've always been a big fan of the Resident Evil series. Ever since my brother was very inappropriately given the first game as a 9th birthday present from our grandmother, which he then proceeded to give to me as expecting a 9 year old to play through a creepy horror game is like expecting Anna Friel to put in a good performance as England fly-half, the games have consistently kept me entertained and ready to have to change my underwear at any given moment. The main series that is, with the Outbreak and Survivor games being the embarrassing disco-rap side project to the main series straight-thinking classic metal but you can't blame them for using the name for extra potential profit.
The first 2 games are classics in my view, despite the hilariously bad dialogue (I quite fancy a sandwich right now, for some reason...) a simple premise, that being "Someone fucked up, don't get eaten," some cool monsters and genuinely effective scares added up to two of my all time favourites. Nemesis took the "being chased by a brick shithouse" element from RE2's B story and ran with it like Usain Bolt running with a stolen bucket of KFC chicken (not racist) and despite not being quite as good as the previous 2, it was still fun and probably provided the most "make-you-jump" scares of the series due to the random nature of Nemesis's appearances. Code Veronica is another personal favourite of mine, I'm still genuinely afraid of some of the areas in that game (dolls and broken glass in fresh wounds, anyone?) and although the story tends to just stand around not going anywhere, the action and atmosphere more than make up for the lack of progress, even if the forced romance sub-plot between Claire and that emo prick is about as convincing as Mark Henry going on Stars In Their Eyes as PJ Harvey. So there you go, I love Resident Evil. I know it's not all that cool to be a big fan of RE, the horror equivalent of Michael McIntyre to Silent Hill's Stewart Lee, but you like what you like!
And so we come to Resident Evil 4. Now, given the main series previous commitment to not compromising an inch to innovation or a few much needed improvements, third only to Pokemon and ACDC, you'd expect RE4 to be a fixed camera, jumpy scare filled horror-fest, and you would be wrong, you presuming twat. RE4's creators seem to have taken the route Metallica took on the Black Album, bored of appealing to a small but dedicated fanbase they thought, "Hang on, why don't we try and get normal people to like us this time round?" As such, pretty much everything has been changed, the camera is now over-the shoulder, the lumbering, brain dead zombies of the past can now sprint, climb and run functional farms and the survival horror aspect has been replaced with many many manly shooty action sequences, as running away, conserving ammo and actually having to think are for pussies, apparently!
Of course now you're expecting me to chide the game for abandoning all of its core values for promises of popularity, riches and 9/10 review scores and in most other situations I'd be screaming "sell-out!" louder than a Deicide fan watching them cover "The Lord Is My Shephard." I would be doing this if RE4 wasn't totally fucking awesome. I could really end there but then this whole thing would have been a waste of time so here comes more talky stuff!
Now, saying the game has abandoned all the series core values is a bit of a lie. Despite the illusion of complete overhaul, the basic idea of "there are zombies and monsters that need bullets putting in them" remains, as do a few older characters. I'm taking a guess that the creator of RE4 was a big fan of RE2 as the only older characters come from that game. Leon S Kennedy, now sporting a Marks and Spencers jacket and straightened emo fringe, which stinks of "he's grown up, but he's still down with the kidz, yo!" and Ada Wong, now showcasing significantly more arse and tit than her conservative RE2 counterpart incase the mainstream legions this game was so obviously aimed at go into seizures without seeing pixelated sexiness for more than 20 seconds.
The story follows Leon, who in the six years since the previous installments has gone from rookie cop to a high level Government agent for no adequately explained reason, in his quest to rescue the President's daughter from an evil cult. Now I'm tempted to sing Tim Vine's "Alarm Bells" at the evil cult bit but it's not as much of a complete failure as it is in the Silent Hill series, for example, and actually kinda works here. He is dropped off and then swiftly abandoned by 2 hilariously stereotypical Spanish partners who head off to fulfill their inevitable and predictable task of dying horribly in order to establish the pure dickheadedness of the enemies we're dealing with here. Seemingly unperturbed by the horrific deaths of his associates, Leon bravely battles on through the hordes of inexplicably athletic and sharp-tongued "Ganados," massive mutated sea creatures and a ridiculous man with a chainsaw and a sack on his head, who puts me in mind of a confused 14 year old who turns up to his first Cradle Of Filth concert in a huge spiky bondage suit only to find everyone else in Iron Maiden and Bathory T-shirts and Dani himself laughing at the poor tosser, in that he's just trying way too hard to be evil and goes so far over the line that it becomes comedic.
We do meet several, what I reservedly call, "baddies" throughout the game, the inevitable brick shithouse, whose forceful dominance is somewhat undermined when Leon kills him with his most basic of weaponry in 2 minutes flat, a tiny dwarf of a man with whom Leon establishes a back and forth Die Hard-esque one-liner relationship, showing that despite it's pretensions to being "all horror, all the time" the game doesn't take itself *too* seriously and the typically action hero named "Jack Krauser," who is basically a copy and paste of Leon but faster and with a slightly more hateful expression on his face.
Leon of course succeeds in rescuing the President's daughter, who turns out to be a cute, blonde jailbait kind of character of whom I imagine it took maybe 30 seconds after the announcement of the game before erotic fan art appeared on the Internet. The babysitting aspect is both unique and infuriating, it certainly adds a new dimension to gameplay when you have to look out for another (sweet bouncy) arse besides your own but she has something of a fatal attraction to Spanish zombies and bear traps and it can be controller-smashingly frustrating when your attention is focused on the 7 hungry and unintelligible enemies and a sneaky enemy bunny rabbit comes along and carts Ashley away causing you to have to restart the whole fucking section. There is a small part where you get to control Ashley which, like the similar section is Resident Evil 2 where you control another unarmed little girl, is probably the scariest bit of the whole game, mainly because the enemies carry a lot more genuine threat when you don't have more firepower than the entire British Army and have to rely on running the fuck away to stay alive, like the good old days of Resident Evil.
Anyway, Ashley gets kidnapped and re-kidnapped more times than Mokuba and Leon has to play a slightly more honourable Seto Kaiba, but favouring firing bullets into his enemies faces instead of trading cards. Nothing too noteworthy happens towards the end, I have to say, Leon fights his way through increasingly powerful hordes of monsters, rescues Ashley and heads off into the sunset to the tune of a slightly creepy proposition from the clearly sexually frustrated little girl which he thankfully declines for the sake of common decency and that's it, not first class literature by any means but it gets the job done so I can't complain all that much.
The general gameplay itself is nothing revolutionary in general terms but it's certainly a big step forward for the series, the old problem of only spotting zombies as the camera angle changes and they're about to bust a cap in your neck is thankfully no longer a concern with the landscape-spanning, over the shoulder camera, and shooting is now a lot more functional, fatal headshots are now earned by paying attention and getting good rather than the blind luck of the past. The boss encounters are a bit of a mixed bag, the early fight with a giant fish-thing in a wooden boat is possibly one of my favourite boss fights of all time but far too often the others just descend into "shoot the hugely obvious weak spot until the enemy dies!" territory, when it does try something different though the game tends to do quite well. There are also plenty of quick-time events dotted throughout the game which succeed more often that not, surprisingly enough, they're used often enough so that it's never a shock when one pops up, they usually have good relevance to what's going on and are easy enough to pass on the first attempt, what more can you ask of quick-time events, really?
The inventory system is one of my favourite things about this game. I may reiterate some of Yahtzee's points from his RE5 vid but I'll try to stick to just subtly ripping him off as usual instead of outright stealing from him. Now, in the past, everything you carried had a uniform size, a rocket launcher took up the same space as a herb or a knife. Sure, it had the advantage of meaning that you could only carry a realistic amount of items but it just didn't make sense and often created the problem of just not having enough bloody space to carry everything you needed. Here, smaller objects take up less space and larger objects take up more space, which just makes everything a whole lot fucking easier. The actual size of your item case probably means that you'll end up with a Metal Gear Solid scenario of carrying more heavy firepower than it would ever be possible for one man to carry but we're fighting evil Spanish zombies here, what the fuck do we care about realism?
I'm not so keen on the whole idea of buying new weapons, especially from that "No he's not a paedophile and looks and sounds nothing like one, you suspicious bastard!" merchant, simply because it removes much of the thrill of picking up new weapons found in older games, like when you run back and forth in the mansion pissing about with jewels to get the Magnum in RE1. It meant something when you picked up a shotgun just as your handgun was firing its last few rounds, here it's just back to the shop for a new one, but I suppose it is convenient and the upgrade system does give some sense of reward for all your toils, even if the release of a new gun negating all of your hard-earned upgrades does feel like a slap in the balls.
I might as well comment on the Wii version, seeing as I have played that a bit as well. I was never the Wii's biggest fan, I, like everyone, enjoyed playing the bowling and tennis games with my brother/friends for about 15 minutes before the novelty of it started to wear off and the lack of actually good games forced us to sell the bloody thing but of all the games I've played for this glorified door-stop RE4 makes by far the best use of the system. The shooting is a lot more fun when you're actually aiming the guns yourself and the movement does feel extremely fluid and natural. I wouldn't say you should buy a Wii *just* for RE4 but if you know someone who has a Wii and is going on holiday then definitely convince them to let you borrow it/break into their house to experience this brilliant game in a totally new way.
I can't really comment much on the extras, I remember a bonus campaign and mini-game for Ada which is really just more of the gameplay found in the main game, so if you enjoyed the main game but thought it needed more wiggling arse then boy, you're in luck! There's a Mercenaries game as well, which I've always totally hated but most others seem to love it and I'm nothing if not a conformist so yay Mercenaries!
Overall: If you own a PS2 or Gamecube and don't own this game then I don't really want to talk to you, anymore. It's fun, exciting, fairly unique and everyone should like it.