Despite the fact that Resident Evil 4 hit the GameCube earlier this year, the game is still one of the most anticipated titles for the PlayStation 2 this fall. Rather than simply port the GC version, Capcom has thrown some extra bells and whistles into the top-notch title to give fans who have mastered the original a reason to pick up the PS2 game. We had the chance to get an exclusive look at a work-in-progress version of the game to see how much has been added to the already-stellar experience.
So here's a quick rundown of the essentials on RE4 on the PlayStation 2. You'll get the RE4 experience in its entirety, so you can expect to find the original game and the Mercenaries minigame, along with the same assortment of playable characters and costumes. However, in addition to all that, you'll find a new weapon, P.R.L. 412, which is a compact version of the parasite-destroying laser from the original. There are new costumes for Leon and Ashley, and a brand-new five-chapter game called Separate Ways that stars Ada Wong. The chapters are set throughout Leon's RE4 experience, and you'll see what Ada was doing while Leon was busy fighting for his life. For example, the bell that saved Leon at the start of the game was rung by Miss Wong. The five-chapter adventure is a self-contained look that fleshes out Ada's motives, although we still aren't 100 percent satisfied we know why she's rolling in an evening dress. In addition to letting you play through some of the same areas seen in Leon's adventure, Capcom has crafted an all-new battleship level that's exclusive to the PS2. The minigame will also let you play in a new costume not seen on the GameCube, and you'll have access to Ada's report, which provides more info on the story.
For anyone who hasn't followed the original game, we'll offer a quick thumbnail sketch. Resident Evil 4 is set roughly six years after the Umbrella Corporation--makers of handy products for society and the dreaded zombie-making T-virus--has gone down. Leon Kennedy, last seen in RE2, is back as a special agent in search of the president's daughter in a mysterious European village. When his search takes a turn for the worse and he stumbles onto a terrible wrong that threatens the world and his ability to stay alive, Leon makes like a good hero and sets out to kick ass and take names.
The gameplay maintains the winning overhaul of the tried-and-true RE mechanics that basically saved the series from being written off as a once-relevant franchise. Though the basic RE mechanics are still in place, RE4's more action-oriented approach and use of context-sensitive actions breathe new life into the series and even provide the action genre itself with a kick in the pants. The control scheme makes the leap to the PlayStation 2 controller without a hitch and even ends up feeling a bit better than the GameCube pad did. The Separate Ways minigame is similar to the gameplay in the original, although Ada is rocking some better arms and some slick gadgets to help her through her task. As a result, she handles a bit differently than Leon, which gives her a unique appeal.
The visuals, likely to be one of the most scrutinized elements of the experience, are surprisingly faithful to the GameCube game's quality. This is especially impressive, considering that Capcom coded the GC game specifically for the platform, and the PS2 game is a conversion done in half the time. For those looking to go through this adventure with a fine-tooth comb, you will certainly find elements that aren't exactly the same as the GC version. However, we doubt anyone will be surprised to hear that the PS2 game features less-detailed textures and special effects, and it's jaggier in a few more places than the GameCube version is. That said, this version is still a striking mix of technology and artistry. The town and its surrounding areas are brought to life with an assortment of eerie and almost photo-realistic environments that create a subtle but persistent feeling of unease as you explore them. Once you get out of the town and start looking around, you'll come across RE staples, such as abandoned houses, underground cave passages, and flooded areas, all of which are rendered in awesome detail. You'll also find some areas that add variety to the action, such as an ominous castle, a shantytown that's built on stilts and connected by catwalks covered with flowing scraps of fabric, and a massive outdoor swamp area that leads to the lake where you'll fight the first chapter's mighty end boss.
Frights, Camera, ActionBut there's more to the visuals than just their large scope. You'll find a commendable amount of attention paid to fine detail here, with wall textures, fire effects, and even small schools of fish in the water that hold up to being scrutinized with Leon's binoculars. The level of interactivity in the environment is also notable, not only because RE4 is the first fully free-roaming RE game, but also because you can do so much. Doors can be blown or kicked open, ladders can be knocked down or replaced, windows can be broken, and so on. As far as the characters go, Leon's model is a polygon-rich thing of beauty that looks great even in the extreme close-ups that are used at certain points. The rest of the humanoid cast is almost as sharp.
The PlayStation 2 is doing a commendable job of maintaining the GC game's high quality and fairly solid frame rate. Due to the work-in-progress state, our version of RE4 hit a few performance snags, especially on the new content, but we expect they'll be smoothed over. The visuals and action are complemented by the camera, which, while not perfect, generally frames the action pretty well. The game also matches the impressive production values and cinematic flair of the old content with the new Ada-centric material. Besides doing a commendable job of preserving the impressive visual fidelity from the GameCube game, RE4 is also rocking some slick new features for the PlayStation 2. The game's true anamorphic 16:9 widescreen support is complemented by 480 progressive scan support, which isn't something you see that often in PlayStation 2 games. The audio is easily on par with the GameCube version, thanks to Dolby Pro Logic II support and a faithful re-creation of the GC version's aural experience. Though the game is often preternaturally quiet when you're playing, you'll hear ambient effects that reflect where you are, be it a creepy forest or an old house. The voice work is great, with Leon emoting nicely as all hell breaks loose around him. The soundtrack, which is folded into the effective use of silence, is a collection of moody and driving pieces that underscore the action nicely. The sound effects are great due to the satisfying collection of gunfire, explosions, and other appropriate noises. As far as the audio in the new content goes, what we heard was well in line with the quality and sensibilities of the top-notch original's audio.
Based on what we've seen, Resident Evil 4 is shaping up nicely on the PlayStation 2. Though the final game may lack some of the fine polish that its GameCube counterpart possesses, there's a more than respectable amount of stuff to be wowed by. Even if you've played the game on the GameCube earlier this year, the PlayStation 2 version still warrants your time and attention because of its impressive visuals, new content, and fantastic gameplay that go a long way toward making this game more than just a port. Resident Evil 4 is currently slated to ship this October for the PlayStation 2.