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Mar 8, 2014

Resident Evil 4 Review

Bigger, Better, Darker, Harder - Survival horror will never be the same again.

Third party games on PC's rarely come much bigger than this. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Zelda as our most eagerly anticipated game of 2014, we've given over more pages of the allpcgame to Resident Evil 4 than any other game.

Capcom have promised so much. By their own admission, survival horror has become more than a little stagnant over the past few years. Sure, recent instalments in all the major series (like Silent Hill) look nice enough, but prerendered backgrounds, clunky control and unimaginative puzzles aren't doing the genre any favours any more.


Time for a rethink then. Time for someone to take the lead and deliver an entirely new experience. To start moving that crusty old benchmark up a notch or three - and who better to do it than Capcom. After all, they've reinvented the genre before. There's no reason why they can't do it again.

PREVIOUSLY ON RE...
We've covered so much of this game in previous months, so we don't want to go over old ground - but for the benefit of those who've not played Resi before, here's a quick debrief before we launch into the review...

THE BEGINNING
You play as Leon S Kennedy. He's the Raccoon City cop from Resident Evil 2, now under the employment of the US government, charged with looking after the president's family. When the president's Daughtery, Ashley Graham is kidnapped by an unknown group, Leon is sent to a European backwater to go looking for her...

NEW AND IMPROVED
The Resi series has undergone a complete overhaul for this fourth instalment. Rather than using prerendered backgrounds, the game now uses fully 3D, fully explorable environments. There's also a more traditional third-person camera that tracks your movements from an over-the-shoulder view - really putting you in the action...

WHAT'S THIS ABOUT 'HIT ZONES'?
Thanks to the improved camera - combat is more satisfying. Shoot a man in the head and watch it explode. Shoot him in the foot and watch him fall over Shoot him in the stomach and kick him in the face when he's doubled over in pain. Your handy laser-sight will help you to place your shots where they really count.

WHAT ELSE IS NEW?
The action button is the other major addition. When in certain areas or stuations you're prompted to tap 'A' to execute an action. Anything from flipping switches and picking up items - to more interesting abilities, like vaulting over walls, kicking stunned enemies, knocking down ladders - it's all very slick and intuitive.

SO IT'S NOT LIKE RESI AT ALL THEN?
Yes and no While it's had a serious re-working it's still very familiar. The controls are the same to start with. Rotate left and right, 180 degree spin, stop to aim - and all that. You still use typewriters to save (albeit without ribbon constraints), you still use herbs to heal and you still have typically Resi find-key/switch/emblem-for-door puzzles.

FRIEND OR FOE?
Not necessarily in order of appearance...

THE VILLAGE CHIEF
Old beardy himself and big boss of the Ganados-that's what the villagers are called. He lives just outside the village and preaches the word of the Los Illuminados - the strange religion that's responsible for kidnapping the President's daughter.
Leon meets him quite early on in the game when snooping around his house - but for some reason declines to kill him because... well, you'll just have to find that out for yourselves won't you?

LORD SADDLER
This guy reminds us of the Emperor in Star Wars - right down to his wrinkly old face, hooded cloak and the way that he speaks. It's fair to say that this is the guy who's responsible for all the trouble. He's the head of the Los Illuminados - a Pope-like figurehead for an old religion that's recently become resurgent thanks to the help of slazar. What's their ultimate goal? How have they managed to become o influential? And when do you finally get to kick his face off?

SALAZAR
This little fella is just plain wrong. Imagine Soul Calibur's Cervantes, minus the two food long blades, about 30 years younger and boasting a highly irritating, screechy Spanish accent and you'll be pretty close to the mark. The castle that you find after the village belongs to the Slazar family - a once great power around these parts with a decidedly unpleasant history. Keeping the family name up - Slazar is a fruit cake with a disturbing line in domestic animals - none of which are house trained.

ADA WONG
You'd think she's be happy to see Leon - puckering up as soon as they made eye contact. Early signs of a romance are poor, though. She tries to kill him. Leon tries to wrench her arm out of its socket and a whole lot of fighting kicks off in the bedroom. Still, we can see it in her eyes. She loves a bit of Leon. Can't get enough of him, we reckon. But we're suspicious of her motives - who's she working for? What's she doing in Europe? And is that cocktail dress really suitable attire for scrabbling around in the dirt?

HUNNIGAN
Everyone knows that a hero needs a call centre operative to back him up. Even if it's just for a quick chat when he's feeling lost and lonely. Hunnigan will point you in the right direction after any major developments in your mission. She'll give you handy tips about how best to go about your business and will even put up with your lousy jokes and relentless sarcasm. Now that's dedication for you...

LUIS
A slightly undignified entrance for our Spanish friend. You find him locked up in a cupboard early on in the game. Seems like the Ganados like him about as much as you - which is good grounds for striking up a friendship if ever we saw one. Still, he's a slippery customer - always dashing off for something or other and never as forthcoming with information as we'd like. Still he's careless enough to leave us little notes and secret files in any old shed he comes across. Which is nice...

Capcom's enemy design is second to none throughout the entire adventure.
The switching of camera angles (like for this evasive manoeuvre)
occurs seamlessly with no disorientation.
One thing that really took our breath away was the sheer breadth and refularity of new
environments...
It's just so satisfying - that's the only way we can describe it. Equip your rifle, take aim, line the sights over an enemy's face and squeeze the trigger. A split-second later, oblivious to your presence, his head explodes in a shower of brain to a grusome sounding squelch. His decapitated body shambles forward a few paces before crumpling to his knees - the blood still pumping from his neck onto the floor below.
Satisfying yes, but there's move - the kind of little detail that epitomises Resident Evil 4. Leon click-clunks his bolt-action rifle and slips another bullet into the chamber. It sounds robust, pleasingly metallic, and is a process that, while taking just a second longer than you'd like, makes you fully appreciate your kill. It just feels so right. It makes you feel powerful. Makes you feel like a cold, ruthless killing machine.

RESI EVIL 4 IS RELENTLESS LIKE A PUNISHPING BEHEMOTH OF A ROLLERCOASTER

Which is a bloody good jub because that's exactly what you are. What you have to be if you're going to survive everything Resi 4 throws at you.

From the first encounter with the villagers in the game's woodland opening, to the final stages of your quest. Resi Evil 4 is relentless. Like a punishing behemoth of a rollercoaster, it all starts with a palpable tension - a nervousness as you approach the unknown beforre plunging you into depths of panic as you're forced to deal with each encroaching terror. It's a pretty accurate analogy, truth be known - not jst in terms of the game's fearsome peaks, troughs, twists and turns but also in its structure.

It's a very linear game, make no mistake. You're constantly forced down the game's rigid paths from point to point. If we wanted to be overly critical, we could easily strip the game down to its bare components. Arenas of combat - be they against a single boss or army of enemies - each interlinked with corridors, which in turn are interrupted at intervals by basic puzzles. Corridors provide the journey to each location (as well as much needed health and ammo pick-ups), the arenas throw up the tense ammo-hungry battles for survival and the puzzles offer the calmer moments of concentration. This really dosen't do the overal experience any justice though - Resi 4 is far, far more than the sum of its parts.

While we've always been advocates of the age-old mantra 'gameplay over graphics' it's safe to say that the exceptional quality of Capcom's presentation is one of the driving forces behind the game. It's one of the most cinematic games we've played in recent years. Game-engine cut-scenes frame gameplay seamlessly. The use of sound is exceptionally strong throughout (with only minor examples of hammy, over-acting threatening the overall quality of the dialogue) and the incidental music is never intrusive and is always on hand to get your adrenaline pumping at the required moments of action or tension.

But it's really in terms of the visuals that the game truly flies offering, arguably the finest looking game on any console. THe detail on character models is second to none. The consistently high level of animation - particularly in terms of the fine nuances of their movement and expressions - is far greater that anything else on PC right now. However, the piece de resistance is the huge game world. Woodland veiled by rolling mist, darkness punctuated with flashes of lightning, eerie corridors and damp tunnel walls illuminated by torchlight, beautifully textured interiors caressed by moonlight streming through gothic arches each and every location is sumptuous. All in proper 3D, solidly constructed and utterly believable. a survival horror is nothing without its atmospheric locations and Capcom has nailed this aspect perfectly - with much of your sense of growing fear being drawn directly from your jounrey through the many environments.

Unlike previous Resi titles your progress through the game is remarkably speedy. Not in terms of the game's longevity (it's actually a monster - but we'll get to that later), what we mean is its pacing. The game dosen't sit still for one minute. Gone are the days of traipsing down the same mansion corridors again and again as you slowly unlock more doors for the same area. In its place is a game that pushes you through new environment after new environment. Yes there are occasions where you revisit old ground, but these are petty rare and the only time we retraced our steps to the point of annoyance was because of our own stupidity in missing the blatantly obvious way forward. This change of scenery really enhances the experience in a number of ways, not only in that it keeps things feeling constantly frech and interesting - but it also gives the game a sense of urgency. The feeling that you're either on the run, or in a race against time to keep young Ashley from harm.

GONE ARE THE DAYS OF TRAIPSING DOWN THE SAME CORRIDORS AGAIN AND AGAIN

These aspects certainly grap you from the word go but as we said before, it's the little things, the details that truly evelate Resi 4 to lofty new standarts of brilliance. Take the game's vastly improved combat system as an example. With the new camera system, aiming is now enriched with full analogue control (something that can't be said for movement, but there you go). Hold down the R-Trigger and Leon will root himself to the spot and steady his weapon - each one comes with a laser sight for improved accuracy where upon the choice of target is in your hands.

Shoot an approaching villager in the shin and watch him drop to his knees. Do you follow up with a shot to the head? Do you close in while he's stunned and kick him to the ground or break his body with a devastating suplex? How about going the sadistic route? Shoot a guy in the foot while he's walking and chances are he may just hobble on the spot for a second or two. Better yet, wait until he's running, whip out a pistol, aim at his feet and watch him trip over himself, ploughing into the dirt whereupon you can stand over his body and deliver a couple of shotgun blasts into his back. At which point you may just like to stand and watch as he writhes on the ground in agony.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT ELEVATE RESI 4 TO NEW STANDARDS OF BRILLIANCE

Choices like this have very real consequences in battle. It's often better to temporarily disable your enemy to buy yourself more time. On other occasions headshots rule supreme - but thet this runs the risk of having to subdue a more terrifying enemy when the head is replaced by something more unpleasant. The sheer depth to the combat is what makes RE4 so utterly satisfying to play. You'll never tire of some of the game's claustrophobic set pieces. Moments when you're surrounded on all sides, with nothing but a shotgun to help clear space, will make you grimace in disgust as heads explode mere inches from your face, while buckets of gore decorate the environment like a Jackson Pollock in blood and bone.

Surely ultra violence has never been so much fun We challenge anyone to find a game with a more satisfying shotgun a more visceral sniper rifle or a game whose enemy encounters are so unnerving and threatening. Okay so Halo, say, might boast exceptional Al - but the actual killing itself dosen't offer anywhere near of level of gratification you get from bowling the sweet-red juices from a pack of steely-eyed hillbilies. And that's a cold, hard, fact.

Suffice to say then, the game has moved on gread deal from the traditional survival horror template. Overall, Resi 4 is a much slicker, more refined game than its predecessor, and feels nowhere near as ponderous. Loading times a barely noticeable and there certainly aren't any stair climbing or door opening animations between areas of significance. The introduction of the context sensitive action button - which triggers animations like vaulting, ladder-climbing and dodging - occurs with very little fuss.

It's as though Capcom has made a point of tearing down many of the obstacles, some of the series' odd little quirks and eccentricities, that may have prevented people enjoying its previous instalments. THe omission of the Ink Ribbons is one example of this. Now you can save as many times as you like. True, much of the tension you used to get from limping back to a save point after completing a key objective ha now disappeared - but with it goel the frusttration of having to replay an entire section because you didn't quite make it past that last enemy. There's also an abundance of ammo to be found too. Encounters that drain your ammo reserves, more often than not, replenish themselves through pick-ups dropped by enemies. In fact, on our first run through the game on normal - we hardly ever found ourselves running out.

RESI EVIL 4 FEELS AS MUCH LIKE AN ACTION GAME AS IT DOES A SURVIVAL HORROR

The consequence of this is that Resi 4 is a much more accessible title and one that feels as much an action game as it is a survival horror. Not that it's a criticism in any way, but, well, that's just the way it is. Doubtless there will be people who will moan - but we, feel it's a change for the better. Surely it's better for a series to forge.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Finding treasure - and utilising it or selling it on  is pivotal you progress in Resi. Follow these tips and you'll be a proper Del Boy in no time...
The inclusion of the trader and treasure hunting aspect is, perhaps, the most significant addition to the series. With the exception of the first Shotgun, you no longer find weapons in the game. Instead, you have to buy them from the trader - the first of which you'll find a little way into the game.

Treasure manifest itself in a number of ways. The first, and most obvious, is the cold hard currency that you find hidden in wooden boxes, barrels, or drops from any enemies you kill - but if you want to earn yourself the most money, you're going to have to put in a little more effort.

There are much bigger treasures to be found throughout the game world. Crowns, Sceptres, Elegant Headresses, Rings, Tiaras and other such antiques and trinkets will earn you the most money. These can be found by solving puzzles and finding chests.

There are also many different kinds of jewels to find. Take time to meticulously explore the environment and you'll spot these twinkling gems hidden under gantries and embedded in rocks. Some are much harder to find than others - try shooting any lamps you come across, the resilting explosion may make hidden treats twinkle.

The more common treasures you find can just be sold off as soon as possible - but others are worth holding onto. Some jewels can bu combined with other treasures, increasing their value singificantly. Examining every find closely gives clues as to what treasures can be improved.

RIP - OFF MERCHANT
Once you've got the required haul of cash and valuables, you'll need to take them to a trader (usually found by a save point) and excange them for something you'll find more useful in the field. New weapons can be bought or, if you prefer, weapons already in your possession can be upgraded to something a little more meatier.

Even when you have the maximum sized Weapons Cache (inventory), you won't be able to tool up with everything, so choosing what to buy and what to upgrade will affect how you go about engaging in combat. With time, effort and money - even the humble pistol can be turned into a powerful and effective weapon. Later on in the game, more powerful variants of standard issue weapons, like the shotgun and rifle will become available.
This place is just like Kittsy's own walk-in freezer at home. Except his is a bit bigger.
And dosen't have a man with a shotgun in it.
New ground rather than remain stubbornly rooted in it's past. Still, that's not to say Capcom has stabbed Resi devotees in the back - far from it. Despite some radical changes, this still feels very much like a Resi game. There's plenty of fan service here, the puzzles all feel distinctly Resi - if disappointtingly unimaginative as as result - and the backing story is, as always very well told and engaging throughout.

THE SIMPLE FACT IS, THE GAME IS SO SATISFYING TO PLAY YOU'LL WANT TO PLAY IT AGAIN

Which leaves us with that final burning question, that everyone seems to ask - it's going to be short lived isn't it? Actually, no. Not at all. It took us just under 30 hours the first run through - and that was being pretty meticulous about finding treasure. As fas as we're concerned, that's a perfectly respectable length for an action game. One thing that's worth nothing is that all the time we were playing it, a part of us wanted, or rather craved, to go back to the beginning and try and do things better. Which we did. Twice. The simple fact is, the game is so satisfying to play that you will want to play it again - there's no doubt about that. And just to put the icing on the cake, Capcom hasn't skimped on those special little extras that we've come to know and love either...

The complete package easily matches PC's top tier of games. It's as well produced as Nindendo's Wind Waker and Retro's Metroid Prime - and deserves to stand alongside both of them as the finest examples of entertainment that PC can provide.

A phenomenally high standard for survival horror - it's an intensely satisfying game of quite astounding quality

+

  • Satisfying weapons.
  • Atmospheric and cinematic.
  • A real step forward.

-

  • Puzzles aren't the most imaginative
  • Sometimes it feels a little repetitive.

Verdict: 95/100




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