Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-10-01 16:16:16
Resident Evil 4 vs. The Last of Us
Resident Evil 4 was released in January 2005. The Last of Us was released in June 2013. With 8 years between them, you would think that TLoU would be a better game than Resi 4, expanding on the formula established in that game and coming out with a more polished product. And while this is true in some respects, I find that Resi 4 still manages to top it in various ways. This list is a versus match between the two games - each will be ranked from a list of categories, and at the end we'll see which comes out top. Let's get started.
#1: Protagonists - Resident Evil 4 sees Resi legend Leon S. Kennedy team up with the President's daughter, Ashley Graham, in a rescue-mission/defeat-the-bad-guys scenario. On the way they meet a handful of other good guys, including Luis, a wise-cracking infiltrator of the enemy organisation. Leon is full of dry wit and action-hero one-liners, while Ashley is a mostly innocent kid who spends a lot of the game clinging to Leon's side for safety. The dialogue between both characters is good, but it rarely occurs outside of cutscenes. Both are likeable, but not terribly interesting by modern standards.
The Last of Us features two main characters - Joel and Ellie - and a series of supporting good guys. TLoU, while not necessarily deserving of the hyperbolic praise its characters receive on the internet, certainly does a better job of making these two characters interact with one another than Resi 4. Joel is the gruff lone-wolf type, while Ellie is the spunky teen who don't need no man...until she does to save her skinny white ass. While I actually prefer Leon as a protagonist to Joel, TLoU wins when it comes to its characters.
#2: Antagonists - However, while Resi 4 may lose out on the protagonist front, its antagonists kick The Last of Us' ass. Firstly, enemy variety - every new locale in Resident Evil 4 introduces a plethora of enemies, from Garadors to invisible sewer insects to Regenerators to zombie hounds and more. Resi 4 has great enemy variety that ensures that fights are constantly engaging. In terms of its bosses, Resi 4 also comes out top - every encounter, from El Gigante to the Bella Sisters, to Salazar and Saddler, creates an entertaining boss battle with plenty of personality.
The Last of Us goes for a more realistic approach, but in doing so comes across as being less inspired and interesting. There are barely any boss fights, and there are only four major types of enemy - regular infected, clickers, bloaters and humans. About 30% of the way through the game you've seen every single enemy the game has to offer, and while they remain threatening to a point, it becomes kind of predictable and samey to continually blast the same enemies. Resi 4 wins in this department.
#3: Atmosphere - Some may disagree with me, but I prefer the atmosphere in Resident Evil 4 to The Last of Us. I think the game does a better job of creating tension, whether through its darkly-lit villages with thunder and lightning and rain crashing down, or eerie Gothic cathedrals stuffed to the gills with chanting monks, or dank and clinical laboratories beneath the ground. There is a lot of variety to the environments the player travels through in Resi 4, and each, even today - especially with the HD treatment - holds its own as being an interesting and original setting. There's little more unnerving than the part of the game where the Iron Maiden gets up and follows Leon and Ashley in the waste disposal area near the end of the game, or when Regenerators shamble around corners with their catatonic breathing and movements.
TLoU is undoubtedly a pretty game, but other than in a few sections, such as when you go down into the spore-filled environments with little more than a flashlight, there doesn't appear to be a great deal of atmosphere to many of the locations. The vast city environments, while impressive and fun to play around in, don't do much in the way of creating a particular atmosphere. And while the countryside areas in the latter part of the game give the game a real sense of place, they still don't match Resident Evil 4 in terms of building that creepy, claustrophobic environment that can scare you at every turn.
#4: Audio - Audio is an integral part of any game. The ambient soundscapes in both titles are impressive. In Resident Evil 4, there isn't a lot in the way of a musical score - instead, most of the audio comes from foot-steps and naturalistic sound effects. The voice acting is okay, although comes across as cheesy by modern standards (although it could be argued that Resident Evil does this intentionally). The enemies make a lot of great noises, however, with the monks in the castle environments chanting mysterious verses, the villagers yelling in Spanish and the mutated creatures stuttering and howling in a variety of haunting ways.
TLoU has Gustavo Alfredo Santaolalla on board as its composer, and while I never felt as if his music really stood out, it certainly created a backdrop that suited the game. Ambient sound effects are considerable, with everything sounding exactly as it should in a life-like environment. The voice acting is top-tier and frequent; the games' script is packed to the teeth with dialogue that you want to hear because of its high quality delivery. Enemies, while lacking a great deal of variety, always seem to be saying something new and create a suitable amount of tension whilst screeching. In the audio department, TLoU wins.
#5: Gameplay Variety - Resident Evil 4 constantly entertains with set pieces that are almost always engaging - running from a giant boulder; being sealed in a cage with a one-hit killing Garador; fighting two El Gigantes in a pit of fire; fighting a water-based fiend, Del Lago, on the back of a boat with a harpoon; taking control of Ashley and navigating dark and twisted environments with little to no combat abilities; the knife fight between Leon and Krauser; the first time you hear Dr Salvador revving up his chainsaw; being giving the option to take alternate paths, each with different enemies and scenarios at various points in the game...the list goes on, with a seemingly endless amount of excellent scenarios being thrown at the player.
TLoU certainly has a lot of interesting things to do - riding on the back of a horse; hunting deer as Ellie - but a lot of its gameplay seems to be the same thing repeated in a slightly different way. You tend to enter an environment that is clearly designed for combat - with objects conveniently placed in the environment to take cover behind, for example - shoot up whatever pops out, and then walk to the next location and do the same thing. There is a lot of walking-and-talking in the game, and while the tasks the player performs varies up a bit later into the game, there aren't many individual scenarios that really stuck out to me. Going down into the dark recesses of the world to find a generator stands out, but otherwise TLoU came across as a less interesting single-player experience to me than Resi 4. Simply put, there was more to do in Resident Evil 4, and it felt less like it was constantly shoehorning you into new artificial environments through linear corridors - something TLoU excels at.
#6: Customisation - Resi 4 has an excellent weapon customisation system that allows the player to upgrade weapons using money found in the game. The way this money is acquired is through a variety of treasure pick-ups, usually in the form of artifacts, memorabilia and gemstones. However, the game is clever, because it doesn't just ask the player to spend these relics at the assortment of merchants dotted around the game - while you can do that, combining treasures (for example, putting found gemstones into the side of a gem-less chalice) means that they'll sell for more. This gives the player the chance to sell quickly for an instant sum of cash, or hold off on selling in the hope of ultimately making more money down the line. Treasures can be found in environments and taken from high-powered enemies (many of whom are optional to kill), meaning that the game has a really great sense of risk-and-reward and invites players to explore its environments and look out for sparkling treasures.
TLoU's weapon upgrade system is on-par with Resi 4's, but it takes a different approach to finding the materials to do so. Dotted throughout environments, usually behind doors that require a shiv to open, are cogs worth different amounts. You use these pick-ups to upgrade weapons. While the game still invites players to search its environments, there isn't much strategy or thought behind the process. You simply locate the currency, pick it up (which can be a pain in the ass when you have to search four drawers and six cupboards in a single kitchen just to get 30 cogs in 5 cog installments at a time) and then spend it. It's a serviceable system, but the game doesn't really reward players for going the extra mile and killing harder enemies, and neither does it put any effort into having treasures sell for more by combining them. In terms of its currency and the resulting customisation options, Resident Evil 4 comes off as expertly paced and far more effective.
#7: Story - Resi 4's story is a 'save-the-girl' narrative with a deeper undertone of stopping an evil corporation. There is hope for salvation in Resi 4, and it plays like an action-hero movie, with a very clear ass-kicking protagonist making his way through fucked up environments in his pursuit of whatever he might be pursuing. It's definitely not a particularly original story, and neither is it told especially well, but you're never left wondering what you're doing or why - it's a typical 'save-the-world' story with very few shades of grey or moral ambiguity.
TLoU is a very different beast. There's no real sense of hope or salvation, and instead the game feels more like it's about survival in a world beyond redemption. There is plenty of moral ambiguity throughout, with no discernible good guys - it's every man for himself, with a few relationships (such as that of Joel and Ellie) adding humanity to an otherwise ruthless and dogmatic world. As a result, it's certainly a lot more depressing and cynical than Resi 4, but it ultimately tells a better tale. That said, TLoU is still nothing particularly special in terms of its story - the plentiful dialogue and character interactions belie a generic zombie apocalypse story that has been told countless times before (albeit not with plant people). While I'll give this one to TLoU, I still don't feel that the games' story is worthy of the praise it quite often receives.
#8: Replayability - Resi 4 has a lot of replayability - different weapons can be upgraded, situations can be handled in different ways and entirely different routes can be taken at select parts of the game. There are also different costumes to unlock for the characters, some of which radically change the nature of the game (Ashley's suit of armour, for example) and the game can be played in professional mode for a much harder gameplay experience. In addition, there are two side modes - Separate Ways and Assignment Aida - and the Mercenaries challenge mode.
TLoU also has hard modes, but while the game can be made harder, I found that my general strategy didn't change. You can still upgrade weapons, but on my second playthrough I found that I was still tackling situations in much the same way as the first time around, only exercising slightly more caution because of the higher difficulty mode. However, TLoU does have a competent multiplayer mode that keeps the player coming back, and there is also upcoming multiplayer and single-player DLC coming out, ensuring that you'll keep playing TLoU for a long time to come. Given that both games have a lot of additional things to do, this one has to be a tie.
While both games excel in different departments, I do find that I enjoy Resident Evil 4 more than The Last of Us. Having played both games recently, I still feel as if Resi 4 is the superior single-player experience. While TLoU entertains throughout, I find that about halfway through it loses its sense of adventure - you end up doing one too many 'move the ladder/raft' sequences, which can be seen as being emblematic of some of the repetitious problems TLoU faces. While it has some great aspects, TLoU is quite a samey experience throughout - without boss battles and different enemy types, it can become a bit of a trudge, and a lot of the environments in the game lack personality and pass you by without lingering in your mind as a result. I can remember certain parts of the game, although I do recall a lot of bland building interiors dominating a large portion of it.
Resident Evil 4 has a great deal more variety in terms of what the player can do. In the village environment, an optional gun can be received by shooting all the blue medallions; there are mines, sewers, labs, castles and more to explore, each with a distinct personality, and each full of traps and set pieces that constantly keeps the player on their toes. To me, Resident Evil 4 is one of the best single-player adventure games ever made, and I still find myself enjoying it more than TLoU, despite some of that games' superior elements.