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Podcast: Ready, Aim, Fire!

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This week Fred and Jam tackle the wonderful world of light gun shooters.  What started as a mere carnival game evolved into one of the more interactive – and for some of us fun – genres that has not withstood the test of time.  With the advent of newer screens, the technology that made light guns possible is now ruined by delays of no more than a fraction of a second.  In this episode we discuss the history, technology behind, and our fondest memories of the games that utilized the light gun peripheral.


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Written by Fred Rojas

December 17, 2014 at 11:00 am

Podcast: Test Your Might

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This week Fred and Jam are throwing around fighters of the 90s (that aren’t Street Fighter II or Tekken, we did a show for those already).  In the 1990s, the fighter genre was the most popular type of game available (like First Person Shooters today), and among those that have withstood the test of time there were plenty of others that played the field.  From Mortal Kombat to Soulcalibur you had plenty of arcades (and home ports) to drink your quarters in arcades.


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Podcast: Silent Hill 3 Revisited

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Ever since the 10/01 episode “Silent 3vil” released, we felt one thing was severely missing: everyone’s impressions on Silent Hill 3.  In honor of Halloween Fred, Jam, and Vos all got together 30 days later and had a little round table discussion about what we appreciate about the third and final Team Silent installment in the series.

Please Note: This episode is a follow-up to an earlier episode this month (Silent 3vil).


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Written by Fred Rojas

October 31, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Posted in podcast, PS2

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Review: Project Zero (Fatal Frame) 2: Crimson Butterfly

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pz2_boxff2_boxConsole: Playstation 2, Xbox, Wii
Released: 2003
Developer: Tecmo
Publisher: Tecmo
Digital Release? Yes, PSN version compatible with PS3 for $9.99
Price: $24.77 (disc only), $26.88 (complete), $56.88 (sealed) per Price Charting

Jam’s Take:

Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly is a sequel to the original horror PS2 hit that brings more of everything. More ghosts, more places to wander around and more pictures than a bachelors degree in photography. But is this game a picture worth hanging on your wall or maybe more suitable as a Christmas greeting card?

After surviving the mansion incident from the first game you find yourself now playing as a totally different character in a different setting. This time you play as a young girl called Mio Amakura and occasionally your messed up twin sister Mayu. After becoming lost in Minakami forest you stumble across a village. What could possibly go wrong here? Well it doesn’t take long for you to figure out that the place is haunted with the tortured souls of its dead inhabitants as well as that something weird is affecting your twin sister Mayo.  The plot is completely separate from the original Project Zero title. The only main link being that you find the Camera Obscura, which is the same device in the first game, as a weapon.  You use it to snap the things that go bump in the night – this time its an entire village as opposed to just a mansion.  The plot of this game is rather complicated and felt quite hard to follow. Like the first game, there are several documents littered around the place providing you with some background information on what happened to the village and its inhabitants.

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Project Zero 2 does make a couple of changes to the series as well. First off, the game now has a novice mode for those gamers who are just utterly terrified of the “brave” normal mode. Saying that, even normal mode comes across as significantly easier than the first game in the series.  The most significant gameplay adjustment is taking pictures of the ghosts. Like the first game you wander around in third person and when you want to take a picture you switch to a first person perspective. A small yellow bar will be highlighted indicating that your picture will damage the ghost. Items of interest can be photographed and highlighted in blue in the view finder, taking the picture will usually help unlock a door or solve a puzzle. In this game you are practically encouraged to get up close and personal to the ghouls to take damage from them, the closer you get the more the yellow bar fills. If your used to the charging mechanic of the first game, that mechanic may confuse you at first as it is not made entirely clear when taking a picture will damage the ghost. Similar to the first game there is an opportunity to take a picture at just the right point to do maximum damage, called a “Zero shot,” and your HUD bar will highlight totally red when you have this opportunity. Unlike the previous games ghost encounters may have more than one ghost, they may even last longer, which is saying a lot as ghosts encounters in the first game were not a short experience. Not only that, encounters can be random anywhere in the game, it is not advised to hang around in a room doing nothing for too long.

You can upgrade the camera, which has been made a lot easier from the first. You accumulate points to upgrade by snapping pictures of the ghoulies and you also find spirit stones for upgrade slots hidden around the game. To upgrade the camera you need to use a spirit stone first to activate the slot and then have enough points to solidify the upgrade. This unique way of upgrading seems to be a way of preventing the player upgrading the camera too quickly.  Just like the first game you can also load your camera with different types of film that will do different amounts of damage and specific effects. These are in limited supply and scattered across the village.

You will regularly encounter puzzles throughout the game and many of them involve you using the camera at a specific spot to unlock a door. The game will also give you logic puzzles to solve like rotating dials to match the colours.  A lot of the game feels like a giant Easter egg hunt where you wander around an area looking for key items to solve a bigger puzzle.  You can save your game as many times as you want at designated lamp points; however, if there is a ghost in the area the lamp will go out preventing you from saving. Taking a snap shot and vanquishing the spook will enable you to once again use the save point. This mechanic was in the original game as well and is a great way of making you feel that nowhere is safe.

ff2_3Graphically the game does an excellent job of recreating a spooky village. You really feel like you’re alone as you wander around this creepy place with the sense that something is watching you, and it usually is. Ghosts appear to look surprisingly solid, which I’m not entirely sure is a good thing. Ghosts take on the forms of members of the villagers who once lived there and there are a huge number of ghosts in comparison to the first game. You’ll encounter blind ghosts, priest ghosts, children ghosts, and my favourite the crazy suicide ghost who attack you by constantly falling from a high up altitude. Of course this ghost was not meant to be funny but it did make me laugh more than tremble with fear. There are of course a lot of ghosts which just seem to hang around in the village. They won’t attack you, they act as the collectables in the game. Taking images of ghosts in the game and saving them to a separate photo album file will unlock additional costumes for Mio and Mayu.

The question I just could not help asking in Project Zero 2 was: so when does this game get scary? To be fair this game has several eerie moments but I never particularly felt scared or in danger when playing this game. Once again I am comparing this to the original game which seemed to contain scenes I found very unsettling. Saying that the developers apparently toned the horror down for this game to encourage players to actually finish the experience.

Project Zero 2 is certainly easier than the first game and a lot more accessible to people new to the series. Ammo and health items are very easy to come by even on standard difficulty. Some may find the pace of the game a little slow and frustrating as you wander around the village looking where to go next, the game does have a handy map if you get completely stuck. Once you get over the first few hours of the game you should be able to finish between eight to ten hours the first time through. The game does have multiple endings to experience and you are encouraged to play through the game multiple times to unlock extra difficulties, costumes and collect a picture of every damn ghost in the game if your a hardcore collector.

Overall, Project Zero 2 is a solid game but as you could tell from this review I could not help constantly comparing it to the original. The game changes the gameplay mechanics for the camera in a way I don’t think is as enjoyable by timing the right shot as opposed to charging it up. The story didn’t really draw me into the world or care as much for the main characters. When the game was finished I was quite surprised as it just seemed to abruptly end. Saying that, the game is a lot easier and more appealing to people new to the series. Unfortunately the game will still only appeal to a niche audience. If you want to try a horror game that tries things different from the typical survival horror experience I recommend giving this a try. If you liked the original I’m pretty sure you’ll find this game enjoyable. For everyone else this is a tough game to recommend. Though I had fun with the game I favour the original more, but felt compelled enough to look at the sequel.

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Fred’s Take:

Unlike Jam, I have not played the first and thus do not have to worry about comparing the two.  What I have a harder time with is wrapping my head around why this game is so popular in US horror gaming circles.  I get what appeals in other Japan-centric games like Silent Hill or even potentially Resident Evil - disturbing images and big squishy monsters – but I never understood that supernatural appeal vibrant in Japanese ghost stories.  These stories in visual media always break the universal rules of good horror: they are complicated tales instead of a simple plot, you see the danger in full view instead of off screen or lingering in the shadows, and they don’t clearly end.  Fatal Frame II is all of these things and I just don’t understand the appeal.

ff2_4Despite this fact, it is a decent game that encompasses solid mechanics and a great world to explore.  Whereas many found it to be an unsettling attack to the senses, I found to it to be a great exploratory simulation of events and locations I’d never have to the guts to tread in real life.  I always talk about games being haunted house simulations, which is more of an American view in that I’m expecting big gory beasts and graphic violence, whereas Fatal Frame II is literally a series of haunted houses you have to reconcile.  The village is flooded with souls that are both at peace and tortured, but you may never know who these people are or why they fit in either camp (except for whether or not you can damage them with the camera) thanks to the brunt of the plot being in collectible books.  Reading those books isn’t the issue, its knowing whether or not you have found all of them and the game’s complete lack of care whether you did or not, that I start having issues with.  When unraveled the tale is quite simple, but far be it for the developers to present it that way and instead you end up circling the same concepts and stories a few dozen times before you can comprehend what even happened by the time the credits roll.  Fatal Frame II does effectively capture the strongest sense from Japanese ghost stories, which is to screw with your perspective and corrupt something you love.  It’s very good at that.  It messes with you.

Combat is consistent, although figuring out the inner workings of how that all comes to pass takes time.  Just when you think you’ve figured out a mechanic, the game allows other ghosts you encounter to change or break the rules you just figured out.  Perhaps you could always snap a shot of a ghost coming out of invisibility the last time but this time the ghost’s ability is to disappear when it’s fully visible and you have to hit it at a different time or distance.  Maybe the ghost is in plain view but because the camera doesn’t turn yellow/red you can’t snap a photo for damage.  Maybe a girl is literally falling out of the sky to her death and although she’s invisible has the ability to hurt you when she lands even though other ghosts walk right through you.  It’s a bit irritating at first until you realize you have plenty of health and healing items for trial and error, but when faced with a ghost that can’t be exorcised or one that kills you in a single touch (or both) the annoyance of the battle system can get the best of you.  I just had a hard time being threatened by enemies that I can walk through, in many points of animation can’t harm me, and consistently go invisible.  Then again, I was scared to death and on the edge of my seat as I navigated a room plagued by a one-hit death ghost.

With all the focus on exploration – whether it’s fighting a new enemy, looking for something specific, or trying to find out where your half-goofballs sister is gallivanting to next – I was hoping I’d be looking for more interesting items.  The random unnecessary books that document the past, present, and potential future of The Lost Village and your place in it are fascinating little tidbits of lore, but those are completely optional as are the content spirits lingering about.  What is necessary is annoying fetch quests that have you finding stupid little stones in the ground with fragments of a key, assembling a doll from six or seven different parts strewn about, or traversing an entire house only to find the item you need was in the first room you entered and having to re-trace your steps twice while you fetch and return with that item.  It makes the relatively short game a bit long in the tooth.

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In the end I guess I just wasn’t in the mood for a traditional, non-violent, complicated ghost story about fetching things while your sister goes crazy.  I did, however, have a good time getting through the game’s 6-8 hour initial campaign and appreciating the moments, stories, and enemies that did make me smile and nod.  Fatal Frame II is different from other games and it’s well executed in what that specific game is, which is perhaps why it stands as such a pivotal title in the genre.  Everything you experience, down to the final moments and multiple endings, assure you that if you’re a fan of the likes of Ringu (The Ring) or Ju-On (The Grudge) that you’ll be right at home with the eerie atmosphere Fatal Frame II has to offer.  For me, this was nothing more than a unique style to a niche genre that, while well executed, just wasn’t that much up my ally.  Still, if you feel at home with a good old fashioned Japanese ghost story, complete with cryptic outcome, this may just be the game you’ve always been looking for.

Final Scores   Jam: 2 out of 5  –  Fred: 3 out of 5    (Review Policy)

Written by jamalais

October 30, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Podcast: Crimson Butterfly

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This week Fred and Jam tackle a horror game that is often mentioned as one of the scariest and best horror games to ever release.  Oddly enough, neither of the guys have played it despite being self-proclaimed survival horror fans.  Regardless, they tackle this popular title about a pair of twin girls who descend upon the spirit-infested Lost Village and uncover the tragedies that happened there.


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Written by Fred Rojas

October 29, 2014 at 11:00 am

Podcast: Zombies Ate My Podcast

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Traditionally horror and comedy are entwined, faithfully representing a laughable moment of relief to accompany the graphic depictions of death that follow.  Although more rare, there is also room for comedy with horror elements and this week Fred and Jam are celebrating the games that get it right.  From some of LucasArts classic hybrids to bikini clad samurai warriors, there’s no lack of hilarity in gaming for those not looking for a scare.


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Review: Project Zero (Fatal Frame)

pz_ps2_boxff_boxConsole: Playstation 2, Xbox
Released: 2002
Developer: Tecmo
Publisher: Tecmo
Digital Release? Yes, PSN version compatible with PS3 for $9.99
Price: $15.65 (disc only), $23.99 (complete), $24.25 (sealed) per Price Charting

Project Zero (or Fatal Frame in America) is one of those horror series that has a small but dedicated fan base.  It’s a horror game where you take pictures of ghosts to exorcise them. On paper, the game ticks all the boxes for a fresh and new design, but does it live up to its expectations?

The story entails a pretty typical horror cliché. You play a young girl (of course) named Miku Hinasaki heading into a dark scary mansion alone (as you do) looking for your brother Mafuyu who has gone missing. Of course the mansion is filled with a plentiful amount of disturbed souls and the only way to force them to rest in peace is to take pictures of them with an old antique camera called the “Camera Obscura.” As you venture through the mansion you discover more of the background story as to what is going on in this creepy place and there are various cutscenes regarding this. But the in-depth details to the tale are found in notes and diaries scattered around the game, which you can read at your leisure. Overall the story seemed hard to follow until the very end of the game where they tie up all of the loose ends – which is no pun intended should you be familiar with how this game concludes.  Project Zero shares a similar tone to popular horror films like The Ring (Ringu) and The Grudge (Ju-On) especially with its use of girls with creepy long hair that covers their eyes.  The game does seem to go for the obligatory jump scare a little too often to the extent it starts to become predictable (ex: “Oh I wonder if there is a ghost hiding behind this door, of course there is, but it’s okay it just wants me to take a picture”).

pz_2The game plays like most survival horror games in 3rd person perspective. You have the turret-like controls for your movement with the left analogue stick or d-pad and the right stick controls your flash light, which you can aim pretty much anywhere you want. Although this seems like a cool feature I rarely used it, unless it was just to mess about.  The lighting effects from the torch (flashlight) though are great and deserve a mention.  The main feature which makes this game stand out from the crowd is the antique camera. When a spook comes along you aim with the camera in a first person view by pressing O. In this view the idea is to keep the ghost in the frame while the camera charges up, pressing the X or R1 button takes an image and if taken properly causes damage to the ghost. The health of the ghoul is displayed in the top left corner of the first person screen. The game does a good job of introducing you to the mechanics of how the camera works – the jist of it seems to be wait for just the right moment, which is usually when the spirit pounces for you, to take the picture to deal the most damage. A meter on the camera will glow red for a split second when this opportunity arises, pulling off this “zero shot” will not only cause maximum damage but will push the ghoulie back. What you can do instead is shoot away gradually wearing the ghosts health down, the problem is this uses up your camera film which is in limited supply so timing the right moment is the key.  You can swap out types of film into the camera which have better exorcism powers; think of it like a stronger weapon. These films are scattered around the mansion and are very limited. You can also upgrade the camera and use special abilities. To do this you need to use spirit orbs which you find in the mansion and at exorcism points that you accumulate by taking down the spooks.

pz_1Taking pictures and the ghost encounters are by far the most enjoyable part of the game.  When you encounter a ghost, the majority of the time it will only be the one but the photo shoot will take some time. In the grand scheme of the game there really aren’t a lot of ghosts, either. However, game does a really good job of making every ghost encounter feel significant so it’s not as noticeable.  You are encouraged to deal with every ghost you encounter and running away is not generally advised.  Even though taking photos of the ghosts is the main highlight of the game, some encounters are incredibly challenging. If you don’t snap a picture of the ghosts correctly they will grab you (despite being a poltergeist), draining a large portion of your health. If the ghosts gets too close this usually throws you off and you have to run away, refocus the camera and try again. This process may repeat several times becoming very tedious. You are able to make very small movements with your character while in the first person perspective should you need to make fine adjustments, but these are not enough to flee.  It is not uncommon for the game to present you with split second ghost attacks, which you have very little time to react to if you don’t see them coming. This type of design comes across as somewhat unfair, especially when you are already terrified enough by the setting of this game. Even on the standard difficulty the spirits do a ridiculous amount of damage and although health items are present in the game, like with the camera film they are in limited supply.  Another interesting feature is the save rooms. Unlike in most survival horror games where the save area is considered a safe zone from enemies, in Project Zero ghosts can invade these areas and prevent you from saving unless you defeat them. It gives the impression that absolutely no where is safe in this game.

As well as snapping the spirits you will do quite a few puzzles in the game and this brings mixed results. Generally the puzzles in the game are not hard but its the frustration of knowing where to go to complete them. The most common type of puzzle in the game will require you to photograph a scene in the mansion to unlock a door. Sometimes you have to do a ridiculous amount of searching just to locate the image, which can become a pain. During this time you will probably be harassed by random ghost encounters on a consistent basis. It’s not always clear where you are supposed to go next in the game despite a map being available in your inventory, and sometimes backtracking through areas you just visited will fire off a cutscene to move the plot forward. All this wandering around makes the game feel slow and pretty boring.

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Your trip through the mansion will be around eight hours the first time through, but this will sharply drop with multiple playthroughs once you have figured out where to go. You unlock a few additional features like extra costumes and harder difficulty modes, as well as those you gathered in your initial playthough if you want to go back in. What is interesting is there are not a lot of areas to explore in the game, but it seems to do a clever job of getting you to walk through the same areas again and again with different goals and puzzles.  The graphics are top notch and the designers nail the setting of a creepy abandoned mansion.  Ghost enemies are also particularly unnerving and certainly represent tortured souls (for example people that have been hung or a floating severed head) and although the game isn’t particularly gory there are quite a few scenes that will put some people on edge.  The use of sound is a great horror experience. You will hear noises down the hall and your own footsteps on the floor board. Playing this game at night with headphones can be quite an uncomfortable experience, but it really adds to the immersion. Despite not a lot of music in the game, I have to give credit to the opening theme at the title screen, which stands out as a memorable piece.

Overall, I really had to let the game digest for a few days before I came up with a final review score.  The picture taking is great fun, however the game can be hard and unforgiving at times. Certain ghosts prove particularly troublesome which may lead to some angry moments for the player and puzzles can also be incredible irritating as it has that “look at everything” approach.  This game will certainly appeal to a very small niche audience and those who don’t like scary games will discard this game straight away. It will also not suit all survival horror fans, some including myself may even class this more as a horror game as opposed to survival horror. To the game’s credit it is very unique in design and ticks all the right boxes for a horror atmosphere and setting, which may explain why this series has a bigger fan following in Japan than over in the West. I personally found there was enough draw here to explore the games sequels but this is definitely not for everyone.

One thing is for sure, though, Project Zero, upon completion, is now plain Zero.

Final Score: 3 out of 5   (Review Policy)

Written by jamalais

October 20, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Posted in PS2, Reviews

Tagged with , ,

Podcast: Ghouls, Ghosts, ‘N Goblins

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This week Fred and Jam are discussing the Capcom series Ghosts’N Goblins (or Makaimura if you prefer).  Easily one of the most punishing franchises ever created, the boys tackle the trials and tribulations of Sir Arthur on a never ending quest to save his girlfriend.  Along the path he will traverse to various worlds, see terrible beings, and of course battle the many derivatives of the Devil.


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And just for fun, have a video of me cussing out the original for two hours:

Podcast: Silent 3vil: No Escape

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This week Fred and Jam feature special guest Vos5 to discuss the third installment of both the Resident Evil and the Silent Hill series.  Where RE3 was more of a side story to try out new mechanics, Silent Hill 3 returned to its roots to be the official sequel for the original and maintained most of the gameplay mechanics.  Both have high regards with the fans but are also shadowed by the more popular predecessors.


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Written by Fred Rojas

October 1, 2014 at 11:00 am

Retrospective: Resident Evil 4

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Now & Then is different from both a retrospective and a review.  It tackles games you probably already know and is a place for gamers to discuss these games.  Below is an overview of a game’s presence in the market then and now.  Authors of these articles share their personal experience, so we encourage all of you to do the same in the comments.

Editor’s Note:  Although I love classic games as much as the next guy, few games get to be restored as often as Resident Evil 4.  Therefore, the recently released Ultimate HD Edition has the most cleaned up, 1080p native graphics to date and thanks to screenshot technology being what it is we were able to grab those assets directly from the game without any quality loss.  We at GH101 have decided to feature screens from this version in the interest of clarity, despite the fact that they do not faithfully represent the graphical fidelity of the many previous versions.  Hopefully purists will forgive us.  – Fred Rojas

The Story of the Scrapped Versions

re4_boxWhenever a game sits in development hell for too long, it has an adverse affect on everyone’s feelings for the game.  The examples are too many to count but a couple quick mentions are the likes of DiakatanaToo Human, and of course Duke Nukem Forever.  With a few exceptions, games that take too long to make can’t help but not live up to the hype and therefore disappoint an all-too-eager audience.  One of these exceptions is Resident Evil 4.  Originally announced in 1999, the concept was a Playstation 2 game with a brutally strong protagonist that was more action focused per the ongoing desires of Shinji Mikami (series creator that has been trying to go more action oriented since Resident Evil 2).  This new iteration was appropriately tasked to Hideki Kamiya, notable for his director work on Resident Evil 2, and in connection with Noboru Sugimura, writer of Resident Evil 2.  After a European trip that netted a Gothic art style and given the goals of the game it was decided that the camera would have to be dynamic and movable (much like Capcom had started in Dino Crisis) and thus ditch the traditional pre-rendered background in exchange for a fully rendered world.  Much of the development style, tone, and even Kamiya’s direction involved a what was described as a “cool” world and eventually it got so far removed from the roots of both the survival horror genre and Resident Evil series and instead integrated demons and a new protagonist, Dante.  A small fraction of the Capcom Production Studio 4, named Little Devils, converted this new concept with the juggling bug this team had seen in Onimusha: Warlords and eventually renamed the project to Devil May Cry in November 2000.  While it spun off to a good game and an ongoing franchise that still lives today, Devil May Cry left Resident Evil 4 in a rut without a dev team (and some hardcore RE fans still refer to the game as Resident Evil 3.5 since the core concepts remained intact).

It wasn’t until nearly a year later, late 2001, that the large scale Capcom Production Studio 4 team regrouped to begin development on Resident Evil 4.  Sugimura was still involved at this time and his scenario company Flagship and the original concept was Leon Kennedy breaking into Umbrella’s European headquarters to save a girl (who’s identity has never been revealed) while fighting various types of zombies and other creatures a la the original game.  At this time the third person view was already the gameplay style although Leon was overcome by the Progenitor Virus, thus giving his left hand special abilities, and included first person action sequences like we saw hints of in previous games.

re4_hookmanAs time went on the concept developed into the demo that was shown at E3 2003 known as Maboroshi no Biohazard 4 (Hallucination Biohazard 4 in English), but it has been come to be nicknamed Resident Evil 4: Hook Man Version by those that talk about it in the RE circles (FYI: Resident Evil is Biohazard in Japan but not here due to the metal band’s trademark).  Development of this version began when Flagship’s original scenario was dropped and Mikami brought in Yasuhisa Kawamura, scenario writer for Resident Evil 3, to make a scarier game.  At first the movie Lost Souls was the template and it featured an unnamed female protagonist that found herself in an abandoned building with a killer on the loose.  An in-between version re-introduced Leon as the lead, had him working with a mutated dog as a sidekick, and eventually making his way through Umbrella creator Spencer’s Castle to rescue a girl and fight his way out (with Hook Man as the killer and a newer version of the Nemesis character).  Eventually this was adapted into a final version that would become the demo.  In this version Leon was traversing a haunted castle, infected with a virus, and it was causing a mix of various jarring camera effects and hallucinations.  To help with the goal of a scary atmosphere and merge the perspective of the player with Leon, an over-the-shoulder camera, laser sight, and quick time events (QTEs) were integrated, some of the more notable attributes of the final game.  Enemies in the demo ranged from suits of armor that came to life and eventually a the Hook Man, a ghostlike zombie with a torn hook for a left hand, as a final enemy for the demo.  You can find a 5 minute video of this build on YouTube (pardon if the link isn’t valid over time) that was found in the Biohazard 4 Secret DVD that came as a pre-order bonus for Resident Evil 4 on GameCube in 2005.  Cost of development and technical obstacles forced Mikami to step in and assist in scenario writing and development, something Kawamura has gone on record saying he’s ashamed of, and completely scrapped the game.  It was 2004 and Resident Evil 4 was back to square one.  Fortunately you can find most parts of this version (aside from the demo video) in other Capcom games: many of these assets ended up in the PS2 game Haunting Ground, the Progenitor Virus concept was the base for Resident Evil 5, and of course the Spencer Estate concept was revitalized in the RE5 DLC Lost in Nightmares.

The Deal With Nintendo

re4_3In November 2002, Capcom announced a 5 game deal with Nintendo that would see five of the titles coming to the GameCube, known as the Capcom Five, and among those (despite some miscommunication) only Resident Evil 4 was to remain console exclusive.  After rumors suggested that users and investors were adding pressure to move the game to the much more successful Playstation 2, Mikami even came out and claimed he would “cut his  head off” if RE4 ever made its way to another console.  In late 2003 Shinji Mikami took over directional duties and had a large part in scenario and writing duties to completely re-invent the series.  He spread a massive campaign in interviews and told the Capcom Production 4 Team that the focus was to be on action and not horror.  To assist with this he dropped the Umbrella involvement completely, created the Ganados concept, and clearly borrowed from many earlier versions of the game, including the new Dante-like look and personality for Leon.  By E3 2004 Capcom locked down a January 2005 release for Gamecube and then to everyone’s shock an awe a Halloween 2004 announcement for 3 new Resident Evil PS2 titles revealed that a port of Resident Evil 4 with expanded content would be hitting the PS2 later in 2005.  This made Gamecube fans livid, some of which admitted to purchasing the nearly dead console purely for the now three year prospect of finding the game only on Nintendo’s console.  For the record, Mikami did not cut off his own head and the PS2 version did come out.  I have never been able to find out if there was any action from Nintendo for breaking the exclusivity, although in those days it wasn’t always a paid or contractual deal so perhaps Nintendo had no leg to stand on.

The Game

After all that hype and pressure, it’s a miracle that Resident Evil 4 is as wonderful as it turned out to be.  If you’ve never played it, the genius of Resident Evil 4 is that it sticks to the basics of game design while also offering a look and feel that is fresh.  Easily one of the most gorgeous games from that generation, I still contest that the Gamecube version is the best looking from that time period, so if you have a choice that game really was developed for that console.  Additionally the game was long, like 15-20 hours long, and didn’t feel as such.  Each of the five chapters feel like complete games in and of themselves and while enemy types and bosses do reappear from time to time, the environments and scenarios are unique for the most part.  Even more striking is the way that game develops alongside the player as a whole.

re4_1

In the first act you are traversing the woods of Spain as Leon, completely unaware of what’s to come but you know it’s not going to be good.  Eventually you get introduced the Ganados, who at this point are townsfolk that have established farming villages along the countryside, but of course they are violent toward you.  After killing off a pair of cops that accompany you, the Ganados turn full attention on you and with the different ways they attack based on where you shoot them and how close you are too them, it’s clear that these are no zombies.  Ganados will throw weapons at you (that yes, you can shoot out of the air), duck under your laser sight, run around you, and overall give you that sinking feeling of being entirely alone against the world.  Not only that, but the world is quite jarring for the time, with the over-the-shoulder camera and focus with the laser sight on where to shoot everyone, it’s a steep learning curve.  That’s why the first main area, a central town, is so pivotal and one hell of a demo.  You enter into this town that is fully populated by Ganados that all give chase upon your arrival.  You can go in and out of houses, down different paths, jump out of windows, and navigate a small space where you have almost no idea where to go next.  Since your perspective only allows for what’s directly in front of you, a somewhat accurate interpretation of what being in that situation in real life is like, it’s dangerous to take a corner without knowing what’s going on and you always take a risk of being jumped when you dare look behind you.  Sure it’s seen as somewhat tanklike controls today, but back then it was about as good as you were going to get out of Capcom.  Then the chainsaw guy arrives, a larger sized villager with a potato sack on his head and eye holes cut out, and he begins to chase you at a much faster pace than the others.  This doesn’t meant that the horde of Ganados back off either, you’re now thrown in the mix with all of them.  No matter how many times you shoot Chainsaw Guy he won’t die for good and you have limited ammo at this point and most people will probably get caught by him at least once, which triggers and instant death where Leon’s torso is sawed diagonally across the sternum.  It’s freaky and it demonstrates the biggest change in Resident Evil 4: you won’t be scared, you’ll just feel immense tension, which triggers a different kind of fear.   When those church bells ring after a certain period of time and clear the town of danger, I had to literally take a break and step away from the game.  My thoughts at the time were, “damn, that was close.”  It was a great rush.

re4_2From there the game digresses into a somewhat interesting storyline that contains a mass of interesting and tactical scenarios.  Whether it’s fighting the sea creature in the lake, tackling El Gigante for the first time, eventually meeting and dealing with Salazar, knife-fighting Krauser, and eventually unraveling the mystery of Las Plagas, Resident Evil 4 is a thrill ride.  Each new area of the game will challenge the skills you had previously learned and try to force you to use them in new ways to the point that your cumulative skills make the initial Ganados fight seem like a walk in the park.  When I completed the game for the first time after getting the game for my birthday in 2005 (I had a Gamecube for the few other Resident Evil games on the platform) and again that Christmas on PS2, it was fantastic and I couldn’t offer it up to enough people to experience.  Capcom and Mikami had gambled big – the series was to be discontinued if a failure – and they had succeeded admirably.  For better or worse, Resident Evil would never be the same.

It sold well.  1.6 million units on Gamecube and more than 2 million on PS2, not to mention eventual ports to the PC (terrible initial attempt) and Wii before receiving HD remakes on 360/PS3 recently and eventually the Ultimate HD Version on PC this year.  I think the reason it keeps being remade is that Resident Evil 4 still looks amazing today, now with updated assets and filters, and the gameplay, while seemingly dated, is still that perfect mix of locked in time and tolerable to a modern audience.  If you have yet to experience this game and are even somewhat of a fan of Resident Evil, you should pick this game up and give it a go.  It was a steal at $50 back in 2005 and today it’s a reminder that not all re-invented games in development hell end up being underwhelming, dated messes.

Written by Fred Rojas

September 5, 2014 at 3:41 pm

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