On Capcom's desk there lies a mysterious container, a suggestion box for Resident Evil which, unopened for the past eight years, has grown full to overflowing with every new release in this series. After a while it came to be spoken of like the Ark of the Covenant, few were even sure it existed or not, and if it did then should it ever be opened by mortal hands? After all, surely the breath and depth of the changes asked for would forever alter the clunky systems familiar to fans of the RE series, touches which were considered inferior at first but have now come to define the series.
Eagle crests, item boxes, door animations, hidden subterranean labs and 'oops, we did it again!' Umbrella Geneticists who seem to handle deadly viruses with all the skill of Mr Bean.
Perhaps it was the influx of 'new' zombie films that did it, the sprinting foes of 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead made Producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi realize that traditional zombies just weren't frightening anymore, and so he bravely approached the suggestion box with a will to change and evolve.
'RE4 is a modern-day, blockbuster equivalent, action is the order of the day here'
It can't be denied that Resident Evil 4 has done just that, and the result appears to be an experience which is quite capable of luring new fans to the series through its sheer dynamic of polish and pace. While holdovers from the past still remain such as clumsy dialogue and a smattering of esoteric puzzles, a definite stream-lining of the RE formula is evident. If preceding entries in this series played out like B-movies then RE4 is a modern-day, blockbuster equivalent, action is the order of the day here and you can be guaranteed plenty of it.
Plot-wise, the tale revolves around Leon Kennedy who, through some largely untouched on back story, has become a Government Agent. Tasked with rescuing the President's daughter, he soon finds himself in over his head up against a mysterious cult called the Los Illuminados who wield a strange and powerful influence over the local populace, a psychotic influence to be precise. Suffice to say there's far more happening here than you are first aware of, and despite Umbrella's apparent demise the storyline promises to build bridges to other entries in the series, becoming ever more horrific the further you progress.
From your first encounter with the blood-thirsty villagers, you know that Capcom can never go back to plain old zombies under pain of death. The fire-fights here are simply so much more alive, rather than plugging shells into a shambling corpse you feel as though you're facing off against a relentless, inventive enemy, and this feeling is reinforced in your first major encounter with an angry mob. Enemies smash down doors, duck out of the way of your pistol's laser sight, raise ladders to reach you on higher levels, if you don't think on your feet and keep moving then Leon could quite literally lose his head.
For those used to sparing their ammo and picking their fights, this new approach is disorientating at first. Kobayashi wants you to take part in giant, epic battles, the initial deluge of ammunition available only confirms this, and he wants you to emerge victorious with a buzz of adrenaline seldom associated with the Resident Evil name. Make no mistake, bullets do become a valuable commodity the further into the game you travel, but it never feels as though you are lacking an offensive option. Due to the new and improved targeting, devastation can be wrought with a single round if you're good enough, shoot that blazing stick of dynamite in a villager's hand and you'll not only blow him into fleshy pieces but send all those around scattering in the blast.
The villagers themselves can also be targeted for different advantages; shoot one in the knee and he'll drop to the ground presenting you with an easy head-shot, or shoot another in the arm and they'll drop that pitchfork, instead lunging at you with their bare hands. Such precise aiming also works into puzzles later in the game as well, dislodging various landscape items to open up a path forward, it's a breath of fresh air from the usually required square crank that's for sure.
Stream-lining is also evident not only in the pace of the game, but in the mechanics of it as well. Rather than resorting to a clunky, multiple-choice menu to interact with the scenery, Capcom have assigned one context-sensitive 'action' button to keep things non-intrusive. Run up to a window and you'll instantly know if its possible to leap through it, a message appears at the bottom of the screen describing the action and all you have to do is hit the appropriate button, Leon will then execute the rest with an energy that most of us could only dream of having. This also encompasses opening doors, interacting with vital objects, kicking at enemies who have gotten too close and even tipping down the ladders of those pursuing villagers.