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Resident Evil 4′ sets new standard for survival horror

Many video games claim to be “game of the year.” But Resident Evil 4 (RE4), developer Capcom’s latest entry into its popular survivor horror series, is one of the defining moments in gaming of the last several years.

Capcom achieves everything it sets out to do with impressive attention to detail.

Perhaps RE4’s greatest achievements are the improvements it made on previous Resident Evil games’ weaknesses.

For instance, RE4 gives more intuitive control than in any other game in the series, chiefly because the camera now follows the player’s character over-the-shoulder. Instead of a fixed camera in a corner of a pre-rendered room, players can follow their character as he walks through fully 3D environments.

In addition, aiming is now precise with analog control, enabling players to shoot enemies anywhere on their bodies, even shoot axes thrown at them from out of the sky.

Previous Resident Evil games forced players to use a limited supply of ink ribbons to save the game with, but the ink ribbons are gone in RE4. Typewriters used to save the game are now scattered liberally throughout the adventure and allow an unlimited amount of saves.

Not only were these weaknesses fixed in Capcom’s latest, but the developer added several new features as well.

Now, merchants, essentially, shady-looking men with long trenchcoats lined with weaponry, are scattered throughout the game to sell new weapons and first aid sprays. Also, they buy treasures the player finds along the way.

Weapons bought from merchants are also upgradable. For fairly highprices, the ammunition capacity, refire rate and other stats for each gun can be improved, adding some customization to the game. It also adds some strategy, because money is difficult to accumulate in large quantities.

The cut scenes that move the story along are brilliant. There is dramatic direction, fairly decent script writing and, trust me on this one, believable voice acting.

The story itself, is fairly interesting, as well. It is not apparent from the beginning why the villagers, the game’s chief enemies, are attacking and, what their motives are.

As a side note, the enemies are not zombies. There is not one zombie in the entire game, which is a first for the Resident Evil series. Play the game to find out what they actually are.

This review would be remiss without mentioning RE4’s graphics. Quite simply, they are so beautiful, so realistic and contain so much atmosphere that it is hard to believe a current-generation game system is churning them out. And the graphics churn out at a smooth 60 frames per second without any hiccups.

There are also no “loading” screens when moving between areas, but only a couple seconds’ pause before the game resumes again. Even to say, the visuals are amazing is to do them no justice.

The game is not flawless, however. Despite radically improved controls, RE4 still lacks the ability to strafe and the ability to move while aiming. These two nitpicks increase frustration at times, but also raise tension and heighten the “survival horror” experience.

Additionally, despite an improved artificial intelligence with group attacking, dodging and other tactics, enemies still seem dumb at times. They are supposed to be humans, but sometimes they choose to walk instead of run, giving them the appearance of the zombies of old.

These are only minor annoyances that hardly detract from an otherwise amazing game.

For those who were not Resident Evil fans in the past, do not let the name scare you away from RE4. It breaks away from the series’ mold with no fixed camera, no item fetching quests and a lack of zombies.

For diehards of the RE series, this latest installment still features classically scary moments that will make them jump. It is full of eerie atmosphere and horrifying creatures to fight.

RE4 released only for Nintendo GameCube and gamers that have one owe it to themselves to buy this game.

Gamers without a ‘Cube might consider buying one — this game alone is worth it.

Otherwise, PS2 owners could wait until next winter when Capcom ports it to their system, but why wait? Find the ‘Cube owner on your floor, because there is one in every dorm, and twist that person’s arm until he or she buys RE4. You will not know what you are missing until you see it for yourself.

Grade: A

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