Starts and ends strong, but the adrenaline rush is diluted in the
+ It looks and sounds great
+ The escort levels are well managed
+ The beginning and the end deliver an exciting experience
+ Good mix of switch puzzles
- The middle of the game felt slow, drawn out, an lacking in fresh game-play experiences
- The 'horror' of this survival horror title dulls after a few hours
- My first time through the first couple chapters left me feeling weary of my successes
There are strengths in RE4 that are evident very early on. The exceptional ambient sound effects and music for example. For me it was without a doubt the scariest and most welcome part of the game. The voice work of the villagers you come across also sound equally menacing. It really provides most of the spook that lingers in the atmosphere of the game. It's one of the few titles I've played where you can genuinely consider the soundtrack another character.
The character models are also worth your attention. They all look and move great. Their body language definitely project hostile intentions as they creep towards you.
Quality and detail of the environments also deserve appreciation, as they look fantastic. It's simply a shame that the variety in the environments seemed to be lacking. On one hand, you can't blame the developers for the limited environments, as you are supposed to be stranded in a localized area, but at the same time, as masterfully designed as the textures were, they got boring to look at after about 10 hours.
The overall pace of the game lacked a sense of urgency that I usually appreciate. I get that this is a selling point to many people, but it just didn't fit with what I usually find enjoyable in a game. There's a few parts where you feel like you're playing a rail-shooter, except you're not moving on the rails. The rails are broken, and now you're just standing there.... shooting.... often slowly.... at targets that often move slowly.... and don't seemed concerned that your standing there shooting at them. This isn't the whole game mind you, but it happens often enough.
It is unfortunate that much of the tension in the game was used up in the first unsettling couple hours. In the second third of the game, most of the situations got old, and lost it's edge; and in a survival horror game, it's not good to lose the horror part. The sound design again deserves it's praise for being able to retained it's scare-value as long as it did, but you even get immune to that after a while. Even though the spookiness was left behind, I found the last 3rd of the game did pick up the action part, and gained back the excitement of the first few levels. It did help to have the game end on a positive note.
I can't deny that the hit detection was great, and the way you can focus your attack on various body parts was well refined. The approach they took allowed you to do things like shoot the knifes out of their hands, or even a hatchet flying at you out of the air. At first, it's a good feeling, that was pretty intense as a group of crazed people come charging (well, sauntering) towards you; especially when I have not had this kind of experience before. But after a few chapters, it became old news. The creep factor of it wore off, and with it, the intensity of the situation.
As nice as it is when you can apply different strategies to stop the people coming after you, all you really have to remember is to shoot them in the face.
You get a nice variety of weapons to plan your offense with. It would have been nice if you could switch these weapons on the fly, instead of having to go into your inventory. I found having to do this did break up the flow of the action, but at least the action pauses when you're routing around in your bag.
The check points during this long journey are usually spaced out in a decent manner. There could have been a few more save points though. The levels can be very long, and I don't have the lifestyle that always let's me play for an extended time in one sitting.
With the occasional switch puzzle that's presented, it's not all about gun-play. The puzzles are not all so obvious that you know exactly what to do right away, but they're not so hard that it takes too long to figure it out. It's a great mix that makes you stop to consider the situation, but doesn't bring the entire game to a frustrating halt.
Another well balance aspect of the game is Ashley. She's the resident damsel in distress, that you need to rescue and protect. She's integrated very well, and much more welcome that I anticipated she would be, despite the fact that I find her about as creepy looking as the villagers. I am happy to say that she doesn't get in the way as often as one might expect. Usually in a game, the escort missions tends to be the worst, most frustrating levels. For the levels in which she's present, the developers handled the situation very well. Having to pull Ashley around adds a little strategy, and not as much frustration as I had thought she might.
The boss battles are also well balanced. They offer up some challenge, but aren't frustrating or confusing, nor do they provide a sense of hopelessness. Some people may find the final boss too easy, but I didn't mind. When it was a long journey to the end, I hate when games set you up for a fight that's 5 times more difficult than anything else you've experienced, leaving me with a sour feeling right at the end. In fact, the difficulty for the entire game follows that concept of not being mindlessly easy, but not being so hard that it fills you with despair.
The biggest drawback in the game for me, was the frequent absence of a sense of success. More often than not, I felt "gee, should I really move on, because I think I could do that again using a little less ammo, and I could've avoided being hit a little more". I find this being true because you don't get any kind of fresh start on any of the levels. It feels like there is predetermined number of bullets, plants, and health sprays, and if you wasted too many 3 levels ago, you could be screwed now. Or you don't spend money on a weapon upgrade because maybe there's something else you'll need more later on. I don't think any game should leave you with the feeling that because of a bad run on chapter 2-3, you've put yourself in a bad position for level 4-1. You shouldn't feel like you're going to be punished for what you did so long ago. I get that it adds realism to the game, but I don't play games to get a good sense of reality. Especially in a game where a guy can keep a rocket launcher in his fanny pack. This could of all have been my own paranoid self, and that theory is backed up when I realized about half-way through the game there will usually be enough ammo and plants lying around for you to fight and survive. And as long as you keep your eyes open, there will be enough treasure for you to sell. But the fact that there are enough supplies, doesn't change that the game made me feel this sense of insecurity about moving on to the next level, because it's not like I would know this my first time through.
Once that paranoia was behind me though, I was able to enjoy the action a little more in the game, and there is plenty of action to be had. It's simply mixed in with the middle moving too slow for my tastes. This game is very well done; there's no question about that. But I also can't deny that it was an experience where I was left saying "that's more than enough"; and I feel it's speaks to a game's credit when instead I end the game saying "I want some more!".
To close the review, I feel it wouldn't do the game justice without mentioning all the bonuses that add to replay value. There's bonus missions, mini-games, new guns to unlock, the desire to finish your weapon upgrades. There's lots to keep fans of the game wanting to play through at least one more time. And my bet is that the game is even better the next play through.