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Old 12-18-2006, 02:51 PM   #1122
sleepy
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Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Boston
Posts: 368
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Re: Post here when you beat a game. I mean it!

** spoilers (although it's not like the story is any good anyway) **

Finished Resident Evil 4 on Normal. The final tally screen told me that I had died 59 times, but thanks to the generous checkpoint allowance, I can't remember a single death that made me groan with frustration and annoyance at how much I would have to redo. I haven't played the other Resident Evil games, but I've read enough about them to get the sense that Resident Evil 4 was a conscious effort to make the series more accessible to the casual gamer. Not just because of the friendly checkpoint system and the improved control scheme, but also because of the scarcity of tedious or arcane puzzles and the relative abundance of ammo for Leon's many weapons. The focus is on getting the player to the end of the story with a minimum of fuss, and if that sometimes interferes with the illusion of peril, then tough.

Still, I'm glad that the first playthrough can be as painless as you like. Everyone should have a chance to see the credits roll after spending $50 (ok, $20) on a game without having to shell out an extra $25 for a replacement controller. Plus, it's easy to make the game harder by, say, using only the pistol, or avoiding permanent health increases, or refusing to upgrade your weapons at the merchant's. And then of course there's the standard Hard-difficulty-that-unlocks-when-you-beat-the-game-on-Normal.

But the game works best at the standard, easy difficulty. There are tons of tense, exhilirating scenarios, but because the game is so linear and so tightly scripted, almost all of these scenarios are fun the first time and less fun each time after that. Since everything happens the same way each time, the suspense quickly evaporates, and a lot of the excitement goes with it. Two thirds of the way through the game, for example, Leon has a tense confrontation with Krauser....as they talk, they cricle each other warily, knives raised, lunging when they spot an opening. Whenever Krauser attacks, you must react quickly by pressing the right button combinations to dodge. Playing this sequence for the first time, trying to catch what Krauser is saying while remaining tense and alert, is exciting and immersive. Playing for the second time -- if you mess up and Krasuer kills you -- is way less fun, since you know exactly when Krauser will make each of his attacks. Scripted setpieces like this can get super tedious if they're too hard, so while you wish that the game wasn't so scripted, you feel grateful that the designers recognized and adjusted for the game's limitations.

Despite their predictability, the many and varied setpieces are still the best of the gameplay. More mundane encounters with the several varieties of grunts suffer not just from the same predictable scripting, but also from repetitive animations and voice samples, noticeable collision detection and clipping glitches, and monumentally stupid AI. If they are not shambling slowly into your hail of bullets, you can often find them standing still as you take aim at their chest from ten feet away. Even those smart enough to use evasive maneuvers are still easy to draw out into the open. It's a little unfair to criticize the AI for failing to flank the player or use cover when the level design isn't well suited to these sorts of maneuvers, but it would have been nice if enemies at least tried to flee from grenades....

Melee combat is underdeveloped and unsatisfying, more of a last resort than a viable option. There's no way of blocking enemy melee attacks nor of quickly sidestepping them, reducing you to charging headlong at - and past -- the enemy once he's initiated his attack animation, wheeling about, and thrusting your knife into his general direction. Needless to say, this doesn't feel particularly realistic or frightening -- especially not after playing Condemned.

My biggest gripe with the combat, though, has to do with music. The game always alerts you to the presence of enemies by fading in particular melodies, so that with a little experience you can even tell just what kind of enemy waits around the corner. Occasionally, such as when a melody announces the approach of the horrifying regenerators, these musical cues add to the excitement...but more often than not, all they do is eliminate the thrill of surprise. Worse yet, the music fades out when you kill the last enemy in the area, and since enemeis don't respawn, the fade out guarantees that you are safe.

A survival horror game should never let you feel totally safe! Even if it's actually just an action game with a tinge of horror.

Would probably give it an 8/10 if I had to give a number score.

Last edited by sleepy; 12-18-2006 at 02:56 PM.
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