It’s hard to believe that Resident Evil 4 is more than ten years old. The remarkable, ground-breaking video game brought new energy to a lagging franchise and ultimately changed video games forever. There are many current games that were heavily influenced by the brilliant and intense gameplay mechanics of RE 4. Simply put, this is a game worth celebrating as much as we can.
Now that Xbox One and PS4 owners are able to play this classic game, it felt like time to take a look back. So let’s examine what set the game apart and applaud what is still one of the greatest game ever.
Resident Evil 4’s Spooky Story
Resident Evil 4 was different. Very different. Different not only from the predecessors in its series but also other video games of the time. Like previous Resident Evil games, 4 had a deep, complex story with multiple characters informed by their backstories and relationships. It’s melodramatic, moody and doused in emotion and heightened stakes.
RE 4 is unlike previous games in the series in terms of story and location. It moves the action far away from the evil doings of the shadowy Umbrella Corporation and Raccoon City, instead taking place across the ocean in Spain. It stars Leon S. Kennedy and other RE notables but still feels far removed from the detailed plots of the games that came before it. Resident Evil 4 was definitely a Resident Evil game but it felt like a new start, a breath of fresh air that was simpler and basic in the most exciting ways.
This was a brilliant move by Capcom. Like comic books or soap operas, the RE series was getting too cluttered and full. Diehard players were still enjoying the franchise but it was a bit much for new fans. RE 4 allowed both new and old players to dive in. It retained many of the backstories but also built a new foundation for newcomers. It was a perfect mix of old and new and pleased nearly everyone who played. This was especially true for someone like me, a lapsed Resident Evil fan who hadn’t played one of the games in years. 4 drew me in and made me excited for what would come after.
Gameplay: Out With the Old, In With the New
Here’s the biggest change that set Resident Evil 4 apart from its predecessors and other games: the way it was played. For years, the RE games were known for their static shots and cumbersome controls. You would enter a pre-rendered scene and clumsily try to guide your character from one end of the screen to the other. The games were hard already and the old-fashioned (but also creepy and atmospheric) design made them only trickier.
Resident Evil 4 threw that all out the window. This was a very new, very different take. The camera was set behind Leon, allowing you to aim and take out bad guys like you were sitting right on his shoulder. This was transcendent and, more importantly, masterfully executed. It was so impressive that the technique has since been used in multiple games. Titles ranging from Gears of War to the upcoming God of War have all successfully picked up where RE 4 left off. This simple change of camera placement made an aging series feel radically fresh. It put you right in the action and made each sequence intense, dangerous and so gratifying.
Hidden Treasures and New Features
It wasn’t just the camera direction that made Resident Evil 4 different, the entire game was shaking up the franchise. Command button prompts forced you to interact with the game during cut scenes, requiring you to stay attentive at every moment.
As well, the game rewarded you for destroying boxes, vases and so, so, so many wooden barrels. Previous games in the series were very conservative with ammo. You could go ages without being able to reload your weapons. Not so with 4, which had lots and lots of ammunition dispersed. You needed that ammo too since the villains in this game weren’t slow-moving, shambling zombies but high-energy ghouls that would sneak up on you, throw pitchforks and even shoot at you. Oh yeah, you definitely needed your guns fully stocked.
Some Resident Evil faithful decried the changes, insisting that the series wouldn’t be the same if the tried and true style changed. But RE 4 proved that sometimes change is necessary and even revolutionary.
Resident Evil 4’s Zombies (Or Lack Thereof)
The Resident Evil series is about many things – conspiracies, corporate villainy, backstabbing, and trust – but at its core it’s about one thing: zombies. That’s the bread and butter of Resident Evil. RE 4 was still basically a zombie game but these weren’t the zombies we were used to. Instead, these were Spanish villagers infected with a mind-controlling parasite known as Las Plagas. Moving in unpredictable and menacing hordes, the infected sometimes felt like zombies on steroids.
And they only got harder. Early levels feature villagers with no more than a pitchfork or torch. However, they become increasingly harder as the game goes on. Later, they start using weapons like crossbows and guns. By the game’s end, their heads explode, releasing something akin to massive, whipping scorpion tail. Then there were the boss villains, including giant trolls, chainsaw-wielding madmen, and grotesque giant fish.
Changes for the Better
While Resident Evil 4 once again altered a foundational tenant of the series, it did so for the better. All the changes in the game made it stronger and ultimately more exciting for every fan. It kept the spirit of the series alive. It also tweaked things, allowing the franchise to move forward with new energy and new possibilities.
The freshness of Resident Evil 4 didn’t last for long, sadly. Resident Evil 5 didn’t pack the same punch as 4 and by the time Resident Evil 6 rolled around, everything had grown stagnant once again. Many are hoping that RE 7 will once again revolutionize things and push the games forward. If it’s even half as exciting, fierce and different as Resident Evil 4 then we are all in for a chilling treat.