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Resident Evil 4

Bless you, Capcom.

As forum dwelling types will already know, American magazine Game Informer is set to profile Resident Evil 4 extensively this month, blowing the head off the protective zombie of press embargoes and giving us an insight into one of the most eagerly awaited GameCube games of, well, for us lot, of 2005. And rip off my arms and munch on an elbow if it isn't an enticing prospect.

They've blown the bloody doors off!

For a start, the bloody door animations are gone, and good riddance to the bastard things, and beyond that there's only one real disappointment - that Capcom hasn't opted to revamp the control scheme. By all accounts we'll be faced with the same turn-before-running analogue control (the C-stick driven 180-degree turn the only respite from the pain of reorientation) and the same firing mechanics (right trigger to aim, A to pull the trigger), but on the other hand with so many changes elsewhere it might be nice to welcome a familiar element when we finally land in the shoes of Leon S. Kennedy.

Changes, you say? What sort of changes? Well, how about three points-of-view, including a first-person perspective, obligatory widescreen, no Umbrella Corporation, and no zombies either? Although nobody outside Capcom can tell you how it actually plays, you can expect to control Resident Evil 4 from either of two third-person views (one close up on Leon's shoulder), and although the promised first-person perspective could well just be for Leon's binoculars and newfound sniper rifle, the consensus seems to be that it's more significant than that.

But what's this about widescreen? One of the biggest technical talking points in the Game Informer article is the claim that Resident Evil 4 will be widescreen only (16:9), and that anybody without a compatible television will therefore be forced to play it in letterbox mode. There's no tempering some people's disappointment and indeed anger about this, and the promise of 480-line progressive scan for the rich gits already in the widescreen club won't help (although in fairness we probably won't see that over here - can you even buy the High Definition GameCube cable in Europe?), but since we don't actually know Capcom's reason for this move, for now we'll save any vitriol about it for another time. Glancing at the screenshots though, it looks like the close-in third-person view sees Leon taking up most of the left side of the screen, so he needs plenty of room to see what he's killing.

A new Evil

With the contents of the previously released video trailers now allegedly scrapped, all we know for certain about Resident Evil 4's plot at this point is that Leon - a special agent charged with protecting the president's daughter - winds up in a small town in South America hot on the trail of her kidnappers (d'oh!). Unfortunately for him though, the inhabitants of the place seem determined to carve him up with various gardening tools, rather than helping him in his quest. Axes, scythes, pitchforks, chainsaws - these yokels aren't messing about. The only question is, why are these otherwise perfectly sane-looking individuals caught up in some sort of murderous trance? Are they the victims of parasites? Aliens? Terrorists? Mind control? Obviously the point is that we don't know. But we want to. And we'd be bloody surprised if the Umbrella Corporation isn't implicated, or at least vaguely involved somehow, particularly as Capcom is promising that some characters from earlier episodes may return.

Interestingly though, there are also reportedly no FMV cut sequences in Resident Evil 4, but again that won't be a concern for anybody who has seen the leaked scans, which reveal a game visually much improved over its already gorgeous predecessors. Although some of the shots scream "concept art" and "renders" louder than Leon as portrayed with a chainsaw cutting into his throat [wouldn't it be hard to scream with chainsaw in your throat? -Ed], many of the screens with the expected health bar/HUD screen furniture still demonstrate impressive character models (witness the lifelike outline of Leon leaping through an open window), glorious lighting effects both on man and bumpy, grainy looking environment (word is Leon may even be able to feel his away around the shadows using candles), and a great deal more enemies on screen at any given time than ever before. In one shot, Leon is seen firing on the rabid townsfolk as they climb ladders to try and get to him, and band together waving scythes and swinging fists. In another, he's seen fighting off a chainsaw-wielding monster right at his throat, and elsewhere blowing a man's head clean off and all over the place with his pistol.

Kennedy assassination

Other shots go some way to illustrating more key additions to the series, like a new and intuitive Action button. Having scampered up a ladder onto a tiled roof, Leon can hit Action to kick the ladder away so his enemies cannot pursue, and we're also told that in certain circumstances Leon will seek cover behind objects at the behest of the new button. It's also clear that Leon's newfound enemies are much smarter than the average Resident bad guy - laying traps for him, throwing objects (which he can shoot out of the air if he's quick), and even running off when shot at to try and lure him into an ambush.

Fortunately for Leon he has a sniper rifle and hand grenades amongst the tools at his disposal, and his enemies are now blessed (or cursed) with several hit zones, which elicit different reactions when struck. Shoot a pitchfork-wielding so-and-so in the leg, for example, and he'll start limping, presumably slowing him down somewhat. Leon also looks to have more escape routes than any previous Resident hero, with the article even promising vehicles this time - and one shot showing off a spear-clutching Leon steering a boat through murky waters. But you can bet your last first aid spray that Capcom has a suitable challenge to match the player's newfound abilities - perhaps the most impressive example of which is one of the game's bosses, a bloody great giant who can literally pick Leon up or simply stomp him into the ground.

Friday the 13th delivers

Although the fever attached to this mag scan leak is already pretty endemic, with the game still some way off Capcom has set the bar for themselves very high this time, and unlike Resident Evil Zero, this is no safe bet any more. While Zero gambled slightly with its two-character design, the wealth of changes here will rock the respected Resi gameplay to its very core, and we'll be very intrigued to see how it's shaping up when it inevitably appears at E3 this year. To those of you in the US, we'd encourage you to go out and pick up Game Informer to get the full low-down (and see those glorious visuals as they were intended). For the rest of you, make sure you've got some holiday left when 2005 rolls around - this one looks deliciously evil.