Resident Evil 4
Published by Capcom Entertainment. Developed by Capcom Production Studio 4. For Nintendo GameCube. Rated M for Mature.
The Resident Evil series didn't invent the notion of horror-themed video games (you can thank Infocom's text adventure Lurking Horror for that), but it legitimized the genre in a way titles like Night Trap never could. Since the release of the original Resident Evil blockbuster for the Sony PlayStation, survival horror has become a staple of console gaming as ubiquitous as platformers starring mammals with attitude. But by the time Resident Evil Zero was released for the Nintendo GameCube, it was clear the series was out of gas. While there was yet to be a bad RE, the series had been lacking inspiration for about five years, and Silent Hill had taken its crown as the king of horror games.
That's all changed.Resident Evil 4, the first true sequel in the series since 1999's Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, is not only the best survival horror game ever made – it completely reinvents the form. No other game is even in second place.
The protagonist in the fourth installment is Leon Kennedy, whom you should remember from Resident Evil 2. After Raccoon City was nuked at the end of that game, Leon took a job with an unnamed government crime-fighting agency. Now, the president's daughter has been kidnapped and Leon goes to a remote European village to rescue her (Why is he sent alone, you ask? Shut up). Things seem subtly amiss right away, such as when Leon's provincial police escorts are impaled and burned at the stake, and a horde of crazed locals attack him with pitchforks, axes, torches, and what appears to be an insatiable appetite for his brains. Don't you hate when that happens?
In many respects, Capcom has gone back to the drawing board with RE4. They've ditched the static "cinematic" camera angles of past games and instead implemented a third-person over-the-shoulder view that moves fluidly and allows Leon a freer range of motion. Character movement is so intuitive and dynamic in this game (as opposed to previous Resident Evils) that fans of the series will feel like they're taking flight. You still can't run and gun – as before, Leon must be stationary in order to fire his weapons – but the combat system has been overhauled.
In RE games past, there were three options when aiming at enemies: straight-ahead, down, or up. And while it was great fun to pulverize zombie skull with a flurry of buckshot, in Resident Evil 4 Capcom has opted for a nuanced hit-zone aiming system a la arcade light-gun games such as Time Crisis. The resulting combat system is remarkable. Holding the R trigger brings the camera in tightly behind Leon's right shoulder and arms his current weapon. Though he's rooted to the spot, the left analog stick allows him to aim anywhere in a 360-degree area, and every weapon is equipped with a laser sight that takes the guesswork out of aiming. As a result, there's no shortage of possible battle tactics. You can kneecap your foes, temporarily dropping them to the ground and allowing you to focus on other threats, or blast them in the face at close range with your shotgun. You can even shoot the hats off their heads and the weapons out of their hands – in fact, blasting the torch in a villager's hand will often set the poor fool ablaze.