The action experience of the game is carefully calibrated to kick maximum ass. You may recall playing previous Resident Evil games and treating each bullet almost as a museum piece, knowing that one spent shell now is one fewer round when you need it the most. Running from enemies was often the prudent choice; not so in RE4. Ammo is everywhere: in crates and barrels, on shelves, and even on the bodies of your slain foes. You are, in fact, supposed to rain fiery justice onto the head of every fiend you see.
The result is one show-stopping action setpiece after another. During the course of Resident Evil 4, you will find yourself barricaded inside a farmhouse, Night of the Living Dead-style, while under siege from dozens upon dozens of possessed villagers; battling a gargantuan lake monster from the safety of a dinky motorboat; engaging in arena combat with a 15-foot-tall ogre (or two); covering an ally from long range through the cold, clear lens of your rifle scope; dodging flaming balls of death launched at you by catapult from a castle's outer walls; and so much more that I could never hope to describe in this space.
The epic and discrete nature of each enemy encounter makes the game feel more akin to Metal Gear Solid than to classic Resident Evil games (in fact, there's even a communications system that appears to have been ripped directly from Metal Gear – except it's used sparingly). Yet Resident Evil 4 is still scary as hell.
Although the evil villagers lurch around like zombies (and do appear intent on devouring your sweet brains), they're not undead. They move quickly, dodge your fire, and work in teams. Early in the game, surrounded on all sides by the bloodthirsty Spaniards, I spied a nearby ladder, climbed up to a rooftop, and knocked the ladder to the ground. When the villagers collaborated to raise the ladder back up to the roof, I can't really describe my reaction except to say that if abject terror and childlike delight had a baby, that's what was going on in my brain. This is to say nothing of the demonic priests and man-sized insects that will plague you later in the game. It gave me nightmares. (That's not an exaggeration or a figure of speech. After playing until 2 a.m. one night, I dozed off to dreams in which I battled hordes of spiders the size of golden retrievers.)
The graphics are extraordinary. Although the visuals are letterboxed in order to maximize the GameCube's graphical capabilities, the smooth frame rate, ominous art direction, and superior fire effects are well worth the trade-off. One enemy is a large, Rasputin-looking bastard, and his gaze is pure evil. I don't know how you render evil using ones and zeroes, but Capcom has done it.
Capcom has also added some RPG elements that make you feel as though you're progressing upward as well as forward through the game. For instance, Leon's life meter can be extended by using new yellow herbs. The inclusion of a weapons merchant, though, is another inspired move that elevates Resident Evil 4 above the competition. Through that purple-clad stranger, you can upgrade the firepower, capacity, and reload rate of your current weapons, or just buy new ones altogether. Currency is found in houses and on corpses, and you can also dig up treasures to sell to the merchant (here's a helpful tip: the treasure map is always worth the investment once you make it to a new area). By the end of the game, Leon is much more powerful than at the beginning, and you really feel like you've earned it.