Sunday, August 2, 2009

Resident Evil 4: Interactive Horror at its Best

For a long time I thought video games were a big waste of time. Why sit in front of the TV set and spend hour upon hour developing game skills and strategies to attempt to play my way from one level to another, when I could be doing something constructive like writing or mowing the yard or trimming my toenails? I never thought I'd get sucked into the video game craze. Never.

Then along came Resident Evil 4.

A couple of months ago my family recieved a Wii game system from a good friend who happens to be in the video game store business. The Wii is quite an innovative invention, incorporating virtual-reality technology into the customary video game. You control movements and functions on the screen with the use of a controller (which resembles a regular remote control) and, with some games, a connecting "nunchuck" which adds a toggle motion switch and two additional function buttons to the controller. For games requiring a gun (such as combat or hunting games) a zapper can be used which combines the controller and nunchuck on a central frame, much like the frame of a crossbow.

While my wife and kids love games like Mariokart and Lego Batman, I found my video game obsession in Resident Evil 4, a game based on the popular series of that name and, in the opinion of most, the best of the lot. Resident Evil 4 combines intrigue and secret-agent type elements with horror. The storyline involves Leon Kennedy, a special agent for the US government, and his search for Ashley Graham, the teenaged daughter of the President. A mysterious cult in Europe has kidnapped Ashley and it is Leon's job to locate her and bring her back safely. The location of the game is simply described as "somewhere in Europe", but due to the fact that a Spanish theme and language is incorporated throughout, I would say that it is a safe bet that it takes place in Spain.

During his quest to rescue Ashley, Leon encounters all sorts of menaces and terrors, mostly the various villagers of the countryside. These villagers are known as Ganados (Spanish for "the herd") who were infected by a parasite known as "Las Plagas" which control the behavior of the host and turn them into a homicidal zombie. The Ganados usually go about their farm chores until Leon shows up and then they attack him brandishing knives, hatchets, sickles, and even dynamite. At one point. Leon comes upon a chainsaw-weilding maniac wearing suspenders and a potato sack over his head. The Ganados are relatively easy to kill with head and heart shots, but the chainsaw-slinger is nearly impossible to bring down. You must make multiple head shots and, if you don't dispatch him quickly, he will promptly dispatch you by beheading you in the most gruesome manner with a fatal swipe of his chainsaw.

Leon loses his head when meeting the Chainsaw Dude

Other creatures that you encounter along the way are Del Lago, a slug-like lake monster who snags the anchor of Leon's boat in one scene and must be destroyed by multiple throws of a wicked-looking harpoon, and El Gigante, a hulking giant that holds a strong resemblance to the cave trolls in Lord of the Rings. El Gigante is a tough cookie to bring down and you're usually trapped inside a fenced or rock-walled compound with him, dodging boulders he rolls or uprooted trees he swings. You can wear him down , however, with grenades and shots from a shotgun or rifle, until an ugly tentacled parasite emerges from his upper back and Leon can jump upon him and slash at the parasite until El Gigante falls dead. This takes alot of hard work and persistance, though, and El Gigante can kill you several times before you learn what it takes to get past this obstacle of the game. Also, when you defeat the zombies and monsters, they usually leave a glow eminating from their "death spot" that contains treasures like gold or ammunition for various weapons. When you kill El Gigante you are rewarded with a fortune in gold bars.

Leon faces the angry El Gigante!

There are some intriguing characters in the game who show up from time to time. One is Mendez, a towering bald village chief in a long overcoat, sporting a fake eye with a blood-red pupil. At one point, Leon must defeat Mendez when he changes into a horrifying mutant that is part scorpion/praying mantis and part human, which reminded me very much like something out of John Carpenter's The Thing. There is also the Merchant, a shady arms dealer who showes up to sell you pistols, rifles, shotguns, and rocket launchers. You can buy these items with gold you have accumilated during the game, or precious gems and jewelry you have come across. There are other characters I haven't encountered yet, like the beretted mercenary Jack Krauser and a mysterious operative in a slinky red dress named Ada Wong, both former acquaintances of Leon.

The Merchant is always a welcome sight... if you have the cash.

I am only halfway through the game now. I've rescued Ashley from imprisonment and am now in the castle, battling giant insects in the sewers and Los Illuminados, evil monks armed with medieval maces, shields, and crossbows firing blazing arrows. My good, friend Alex McVey, is a fan and player of RE 4 and has given me invaluable tips for getting out of some nearly impossible situations, like surviving the hoards of Ganados in the first village scene (run around, avoid getting killed until the church bell rings and all the zombies march inside and lock the door behind them. Then you have the deserted village to yourself and can pass through a locked door into the next level) or dodging the pickup truck careening down the one-lane path to the castle (shoot the driver through the windsheild using the sniper rifle from a distance and allow the truck to crash before proceeding. Then you'd better run like hell toward the drawbridge, cause there's a bunch of angry Ganados in the truckbed ready to do you harm).
When I'm playing Resident Evil, my wife and kids like to sit on the couch and watch it like a movie, cheering me on, chastisting me for screwing up and letting my guard down, or groaning at the more gruesome and gory death scenes. Concentrating on your game is tricky when you are enduring shouts of "You big dummy! You let El Gigante squash Ashley into jelly! (my wife) or "Yeeeeech! That chainsaw dude just cut your head off... again!" (my kids).
I don't want to say that I suffer from an obsession with this game, but I spent a good chunk of last Sunday afternoon trying to defeat a blind gladiator with a parasite growing out of his back and long metal claws that would put Wolverine to shame. When we checked the Wii player's log for the day, I discovered that I'd played for a whopping five hours and a half!

Leon, Ashley, and Ada surrounded by the dastardly Ganados!
If you have an X-Box or Wii, I strongly recommend Resident Evil 4. But a friendly warning -- it's best to tackle it with a steady aim, nerves of steel, and a strong stomach.... especially when giant grasshoppers peel the flesh from your face and your eyeball is dangling by its optic nerve (hmmm, sounds like my recent eye surgery). Resident Evil 5 is already out for X-Box, but the Wii version is yet to be released. In the meantime, I believe this version will keep me busy for quite a while.


John Hornor said...

Umm, Ronald? Don't you think that five hours might've been better spent writing?

Step away from the console, sir.

Ronald Kelly said...

I never write on Sunday, John. You know us Baptists....