IT'S NOT WHAT YOU SEE...
Let's get back to that control method, then, and why it's simultaneously clumsy and genius. The camera in Resident Evil 4 is perfect. Honestly. It's amazing. Not because it gives you total freedom to manipulate it, but rather because it tightly controls what you can and can't see. Your peripheral vision is severely hampered, especially when you're aiming your weapon, meaning you're constantly concerned about threats from your sides and your rear. It's this feature more than anything else that creates the sensation of true terror Resi 4 often elicits.
Here's an example. You've fought your way past the first house and stumbled into the main courtyard of the village, where a large group of rednecks have been alerted to your presence. Desperate to buy yourself some time you barge into a wooden shack (incidentally, double tapping A lets you kick open doors for added speed, a cracking little touch) and shut the door behind you. If you were thinking straight you'd block the door with the dresser to halt your pursuers' progress. But you're not thinking straight. You're wetting yourself. So you reload your weapon, take aim at the door, and wait for them to come through. It flies open and you let rip.
Then there's a crash. You ignore it, because you're still dealing with the four villagers dragging themselves through the door.
And then it happens. A woman wearing a blood-stained apron sticks a kitchen knife through your head from behind you.
How the hell did that happen? It happened because she broke the window behind you - the window you weren't watching and couldn't see - and crept up behind you. Resident Evil 4 is constantly playing with your perception like this, making you increasingly paranoid that something's about to hit you from behind. And when you do get hit, it drains a shocking amount of energy. Resi 4 is unforgiving and it's hard, but it's never frustrating. Guess what? We'll come back to that.
That little example was not a set-piece. It was just one of the countless memorable things that happen in the organic flow of the game. That's not to say there aren't set-pieces. There are, and every single one is brilliant in its own way. Seriously, there's not a dud amongst them.
Again, we don't want to spoil things for you, but there is one set-piece we just have to tell you about. You find yourself trapped in a house stuck atop a hill. The door's barred and the windows are boarded, but a staggering amount of villagers have gathered outside and they all want your blood. It's the ultimate zombie movie stand-off: You against the undead hordes, and they just keep coming, and coming, and coming. It was during that set-piece we realised Resident Evil 4 was the zombie game we've always wanted.
Resi 4's cut-scenes are just as refreshing as its set-pieces. They're short, to-the-point and expertly directed. But what's really impressive is the way Capcom has implemented interaction into cut-scenes by forcing you to press buttons at designated times. This could be a horrible idea, but it works brilliantly and really connects you to the action. There is one action-packed cut-scene late in the game that's played out entirely with split-second button taps. Miss them and you're dead. Nail them and you feel like you're truly playing a zombie movie.
To clarify, zombie isn't the right word. There's something far more sinister going on in Resident Evil 4 than an outbreak of the T-Virus, and the huge array of enemies you'll come up against are far more terrifying and varied than anything you've seen before. The villagers are bad enough. Then there's the lumbering bloke with the hessian sack on his head and the chainsaw. There's El Gigante, the huge troll, and Del Lago, a massive sea monster.
Of particular note is the brilliant enemy AI. Your opponents aren't necessarily clever, but they're bloody well persistent, relentlessly stalking you from every angle until you're cornered. You can't just stand back and pick them off one-by-one. Later you'll come up against even more aggressive enemies with even more aggressive weapons, and once whatever it is that's turning them towards evil takes hold, you're definitely in real trouble.