The E3 demo of RE 4 was playable at ECTS in London. Find out how the game compares to the rest of the series.
For me, one of the most special moments in gaming occurs when you reach the end of the first hallway in Resident Evil 1. This is where a horrific cut-scene introduces the first RE zombie. He is eagerly munching on your dead buddy, but then, suddenly, he stops eating, gets up, and slowly turns his head towards you. His face looks pale, his eyes dead, and blood is dripping from his mouth.
The corresponding sequence in Resident Evil 4 isn’t quite as gory and dramatic but still highly memorable. It plays out just after Leon, the main character, gets dropped off by two secret service men on the outskirts of a strange village. The first cottage you see houses an old man who stands completely still, staring into a lit fireplace. Unaware of his evil nature, you approach him and take out a picture of the president’s daughter, whom you’re looking for. After a brief moment of silence, the man turns around quickly, and, unexpectedly, swings a hatchet at you. The cut-scene ends with an impressive evasive move, leaving the player in charge of taking the bad guy out. Unfortunately, one headshot isn’t enough.
Naturally, this episode only acts as a hint of what is to come. At this point, it is established that your enemies are much faster than regular zombies; they know how to use weapons; and they withstand quite a lot of firepower. Furthermore, you get to try out the aiming controls on an enemy for the first time. Aiming is done by holding down the R button so you enter a quasi-first-person view that enables you to use the control stick to aim instead of move. The system works a bit like the one in GoldenEye, and that’s a big step forward for the series. It’s much more sophisticated and enjoyable and seems easy to learn but difficult to master. Headshots prove to be especially difficult, mainly due to the high control stick sensitivity. Tilt the control stick slightly and your aim will be changed considerably. It definitely takes some getting used to. Also, you don’t get a reticule to help your aim, but instead your handgun is equipped with a red laser. Killing enemies from afar proves tough, since the laser becomes blurred at long distances. The accuracy of the handgun is further reduced by the fact that Leon can’t seem to hold his hand completely still. All in all, the aiming system is probably the most exciting addition to the series, providing tons of challenge for RE veterans.
Apart from aiming, the controls remain pretty much unchanged compared to the game’s predecessors. Strafing is still impossible, and having to turn your character before moving in the opposite direction still feels a bit cumbersome. A quick-turn, carried out by pressing down and B simultaneously, is possible, but using it left me somewhat disorientated because of the accompanying quick camera movement. The A button functions as a context-sensitive action button used for jumping through a window, tipping over a ladder, or even releasing a helpless wolf from the clutches of a bear trap. Holding B lets you run, and Z and Y bring up the map and status screen, respectively. Interestingly, the C-stick brings up your telescope, with which you can zoom in on strange activities taking place far away.
What follows after your initial enemy encounter is a walk through the woods. A beautiful but eerie washed out haze hangs over this area. You meet a few foes on your way and enter a couple more wooden shacks where valuable hand grenades and ammo and health supplies are found. These are contained in sealed boxes, which must be broken with a shot from your handgun or, more sensibly, a stroke with your knife.
You’re going to need all the supplies available once you reach the village, because the difficulty ramps up significantly here. The village itself looks very primitive and dusty - made up of shambling shacks and partly collapsed houses. A cattle shed, a small tower, and a church-like building can also be found. In the center is a campfire, surrounded by half a dozen evil villagers with farm tools and wheelbarrows. There are even chickens and a cow, which, thankfully, turn out to be harmless.
Instead of sneaking up on the villagers, I immediately began firing at them. This turned out to be an unwise decision, as five of them soon noticed my presence. One fearlessly sprinted towards me, while others kept back and gathered friends before making their approach together. One even threw his sickle, which was fortunately deflected by a shot from my handgun. Their behavior was quite unpredictable, which backs up on the belief that Leon isn’t dealing with traditional zombies.
I tried to take out the running villager, but he elegantly avoided my first shot with a quick sidestep. By RE standards, his agility was astounding. The next four shots hit him right in the chest, though, and so he collapsed. I shot some more foes and noticed how, oftentimes, one headshot wouldn’t do the job. Occasionally, I did get lucky, though, when their heads would splatter in fireworks of blood.
A cool feature is that enemies react differently depending on where they’re hit. Shoot one in the arm and he might drop his weapon, after which he’ll quickly go find it and pick it up. Hit his legs and he’ll jump in agony and limp afterwards.
Wanting to conserve my ammo, I decided not to go up against the other enemies. Instead, I cowardly ran away from them in hopes of shaking them off. At this point, I felt genuinely scared. The way the over-the-shoulder camera angle limits your view, forcing you to frequently turn around and have a look back, makes for a claustrophobic and panicky experience unlike any other RE game. In previous games, you often have a convenient overview of the situation due to the fixed camera positions and pre-rendered backgrounds. You know what’s going on around you. Therefore, in these games, the scariest parts tend to happen when there are no enemies in sight – when you’re all alone in a dark corridor with no clue if a vicious dog suddenly bursts through the window. Based on the demo, RE 4 doesn’t rely much on these shock effects. Instead, its thrills come from the sheer terror that sets in when five or six zombies with knives, axes, and chainsaws are chasing you around and finally force you into a corner of a small wooden shack.
That is what happened to me. There was nowhere to go and enemies continued to enter the shack. Fortunately, my inventory still contained two hand grenades. I threw them both and a spectacular explosion effect followed, lighting up the entire room. Only one foe survived but he got stabbed several times by my knife. Outside again, I decided to go look for the shotgun, but suddenly loud bells started ringing. This marked the end of the demo and made all the remaining enemies (of which there were quite a few) instinctively drop their tools and walk away slowly, almost as if hypnotized or controlled by something or someone.
Overall, the demo of RE 4 left me very impressed. Obviously, Capcom is bringing the series in a new direction – one that is more smooth and action-oriented. In the demo there are fewer puzzles, less backtracking, more (intelligent) enemies, smoother controls, faster movement, a whole new aiming system, and a complete lack of “door-opening” sequences and pre-rendered backgrounds. All these things help to create this new and exciting direction, which I find very welcome and necessary for the series.