Resident Evil 4
2002 saw, among other things, the zombie movie re-invented with Danny Boyle's hit at the box office, 28 Days Later. Boyle's theory that shambling, corpse-like monstrosities were no longer frightening - passé, even - pitted his cast against creatures that were smarter, faster, more aggressive, and perhaps most frightening of all, more human. The result worked so well that when Dawn of the Dead was released earlier this year, audiences were treated to zombies whose behavior had more in common with the sprinters of Days than George Romero's street-person cast. Now, the quintessential zombie game, Resident Evil, is on the verge of its own reinvention, as Shinji Mikami prepares a cast of adversaries smarter and deadlier than any zombie before them.
Resident Evil 4 sees the return of Leon S. Kennedy, who was playable as a rookie cop in Capcom's classic Resident Evil 2. In the time that has passed since the undead overwhelmed Raccoon City, the government has cracked down on Umbrella's operations, and Leon himself has made the transition from city policeman all the way up to federal agent. Leon, in fact, has become so esteemed an agent that when the president's daughter is kidnapped, he's chosen to head the investigation - an investigation that leads him to a mysterious South American village, where the locals are anything but welcoming.
Several things distinguish RE 4 from its predecessors, not the least of which is Capcom's unexpected addressing of the many complaints that have been issued about Resident Evil's character-relative control; but rather than give into the pressure and switch to a camera-relative control scheme, RE 4 shifts the camera to behind Leon's shoulder and, taking a cue from Metal Gear Solid 2, hands Leon a fully aim-able, laser-pointed gun. The controls, surprisingly, stick to the setup used in previous games in the series, including the quick-turnaround feature linked to the C-stick.
The reason for this improved aim is inexorably tied to the changes that the aforementioned enemies have undergone since Mikami took over as director. Instead of making his zombies faster or stronger, Mikami has replaced the undead with villagers smart enough to take cover, whistle for backup, lay traps, and otherwise get in between Leon and his mission. Who or what is controlling them is anybody's guess, but with their communications in authentic Spanish and use of primitive weaponry (footage shows Leon as the intended target of a Molotov cocktail), it's safe to say that they won't be sitting still for a headshot.
Since the villagers will be doing their best to kill you - even if it means setting things on fire or sending a masked man with a chainsaw after you - Capcom is enabling the player with a series of context-sensitive options that can be activated with the use of the A-button, including jumping through windows and kicking ladders down. Whether this will allow for dynamic gameplay that puts the player on the same level of flexibility as the enemies or holds things back by simplifying things too much (a multitude of actions assigned to one button?) remains to be seen, but hopefully, Capcom is putting as much thought into this area as the rest of the game.
Agent Kennedy's problems only get worse, however, once he finds the girl; marking yet another game influenced by Sony's seminal Ico, as much as half the game will see Leon escorting the bewildered young thing through hostile territory, during which time Leon will have to take into account her safety into all his actions; it wouldn't do to have Leon diving out a window if the girl can't follow, for instance.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Resident Evil game if it weren't scary, and to this end Capcom has made Resident Evil arguably the best-looking game on GameCube. Even with everything drenched in an atmospheric brown and gray (Capcom may want to include a note about not adjusting your colors), there's a fantastic amount of detail to behold in environments and characters alike. Nighttime sequences also showcase a fantastic lighting engine, with torches flickering and lightning flashing like a giant Polaroid camera. It's not a long shot to presume deadly creatures of the inhuman variety will make an appearance, as screens have already confirmed that Leon will be taking on a giant and unseemly troll (scarier than it sounds) and something residing at the bottom of the lake (a sequence which sees Leon fighting on a motorboat).
In 2002, Capcom released their remake of the Resident Evil series for GameCube - something nearly everyone agreed was scarier than the original. Here's hoping history repeats itself when Capcom remakes the series in 2005.