Whenever someone utters the phrase survival horror, one of the first franchises that instantly pops into most peoples’ heads is Resident Evil. The first game, released in 1996, was an innovative leap for not only the horror genre, but for 3D gaming as a whole. In fact, the original Resident Evil proved so successful that it continued to spawn multiple sequels in a similar vein.
However, though at first unique, the formula became stale following the franchise’s jump to the GameCube. With a remake of the original game, as well as a prequel in Resident Evil Zero, gamers began to tire of the routine RE gameplay. For that reason, it became clear Capcom needed to do something unorthodox for its next installment.
In 2005, Capcom released Resident Evil 4 for the Nintendo GameCube. Immediately, players found the latest mainline installment drastically different from previous entries. Most notably, the game’s tone shifted significantly further into action with the new camera perspective serving as a cherry on top.
Ultimately, the game won fans and critics over. Today, Resident Evil 4 is not only in the conversation for the best game in the franchise, but for the best survival horror title as well. With an influence that spreads far and wide in addition to more ports than you can count, Resident Evil 4 earned its spot in the gaming history books.
Now, Capcom hopes to revitalize the iconic title with a ground-up remake. Following Capcom’s previous successful remakes in Resident Evil 2 and 3, the company is nearing the end of development on the Resident Evil 4 remake as well. Now, as we await our return to the village on March 24, 2023, let’s take a look back on 2005’s gaming classic.
A long way from Racoon City
Those who played the classic Resident Evil games know the general story. The pharmaceutical company Umbrella secretly experimented with viruses to use as bioweapons at various locations around the Arklay Mountains and Raccoon City. Naturally, these experiments backfired, causing the T-Virus and the G-Virus to leak and spread throughout the region. The saga ends when the government nukes Racoon City.
All of this, along with Umbrella Corporation’s subsequent fall, gets explained when you begin Resident Evil 4. However, apart from RE2 protagonist Leon S. Kennedy returning as the hero for this title, it becomes clear early on that players are in for something much different than previous entries.
Years after the Raccoon City outbreak, Leon now works as a special agent directly under the President of the United States of America. The game picks up when Leon must go on a mission to a desolate Spanish village in search of the President’s kidnapped daughter, Ashley. As a result, the game’s environments see a major shift from what fans at the time were accustomed to.
Gone are the streets of Raccoon City in favor of a rural village. And the intricate Spencer Mansion is replaced by a stylistic Gothic castle. Overall, the time jump, along with the fresh setting, are just the tip of the iceberg for the new ideas implemented in RE4.
It begins with a ring
As a survival horror game, it doesn’t take long for things to go awry, as Leon meets his first Genado while exploring an old house in the woods. Upon his reveal, the crazed villager promptly attacks Leon, kicking off a tense sequence that climaxes in the main village.
Right as you jump into the gameplay, you will already notice the next major change to the RE formula. There are no fixed camera angles and pre-rendered backgrounds. Instead, the game sticks you closer to the action as you peer closely over Leon’s shoulder for a traditional third-person perspective. However, the game’s general movement controls don’t differ all too much from its predecessors, as it still utilizes the established “tank controls”.
Modern players jumping into RE4 for the first time may find this jarring at the beginning. The over-the-shoulder perspective gives the appearance of a modern third-person shooter; however, the stiff movements (especially when looking around) date the game and can feel disorienting. Additionally, the inability to move and shoot at the same time can create a feeling of clunkiness.
Yet, from a historical perspective, these were staples across the Resident Evil series at the time. In addition, though the tank controls take some time to adjust to if you’re more used to gameplay from the more-recent Resident Evil remakes, you may begin to grow an appreciation for the classic scheme as you progress throughout the game.
Give those Genados a good kick
Another distinguishing characteristic of Resident Evil 4 is its unapologetic cheesiness. Classic lines like, “Where’s everyone going? Bingo?” not only make you laugh, but communicate early on that this game doesn’t take itself too seriously. This isn’t to say that the game has no scary elements to it. I had many encounters where enemies caught me off guard, and there are countless tense interactions that keep your heartrate up. Yet, at the same time, the campy dialogue and cutscenes offer a nice reprieve from the tense action and give this game a uniquely humorous take on Resident Evil.
However, the corny humor isn’t relegated to cutscenes and one-liners either. The game embraces its over-the-top nature in several of its combat mechanics as well. Abilities like jumping through windows not only add to the style, but it can also become very useful when maneuvering around large crowds of Genados. In addition, the game offers a sweeping roundhouse kick that you can use whenever you stun an enemy in order to give you a brief edge on crowd control.
Overall, I find that the action-heavy approach meshes well with the standard survival horror tropes within Resident Evil 4. Though some villains come off as goofy, like Salazar, getting your head chopped off by one of the infamous chainsaw guys reminds you that this game is still a horror at its core.
You’re gonna need a bigger briefcase
Another example of this game’s balance between horror and action comes in the form of inventory management. On standard difficulty, you’ll find no shortage of ammo and health items to keep you prepped for battle. Though earlier games made scarcity a priority, RE4 tackles its inventory management much differently.
Because of the surplus of resources dropped by enemies, you may encounter numerous instances of not having enough space in your tactical briefcase to fit useful items. Nevertheless, the game offers a fun new way to make room within the inventory screen.
Each weapon or resource can take up a different number of slots within your inventory. However, you can now rotate the items around to your liking to organize your equipment in a way that maximizes the limited room you have. Therefore, if you find yourself struggling to fit that box of handgun ammo an enemy just dropped, rotating one of your guns vertically may be all you need to get everything to neatly fit.
What are you buying?
Enemies don’t just drop ammo and health either. In Resident Evil 4, many of the Genados will drop money when you kill them as well. But why would you need money in a horror game? Well, amid the chaos, one savvy entrepreneur in the village found the perfect opportunity to grow his business.
I’m probably not alone when I say that Resident Evil 4’s Merchant is one of the best characters in not only this game, but the series as a whole. Showing up from time to time throughout the game, the Merchant has, in his own words, “plenty of good things on sale, stranger”. From new weapons to powerful upgrades, spending your hard-earned PTAs on his wares makes for a rewarding progression system.
You’ll normally find him lingering around save stations, where you can then interact to sell treasures you collected and make big purchases. While it may seem like you have no shortage of cash, however, new items and upgrades become more expensive throughout the game. As a result, strategically planning your next large purchase becomes a crucial part to progressing with the player build you want.
For example, I tend to prioritize raw power. Therefore, most of my in-game money went towards buying powerful weapons and incrementally upgrading their damage. However, other players may favor spending their PTAs on upgrading capacity to minimize the frequency of reloading. In short, how you spend your money at the Merchant is up to you, but you’ll need to think it through, as you only have so much to spend, even with the treasures you sell.
Secure the ballistics
Another mechanic that keeps you thinking on your feet involves Ashely. As you know, it’s Leon’s mission to save her from the evil Los Illuminados cult and return her home to America. Therefore, once you find her, keeping her healthy becomes just as important as keeping yourself alive.
One way the game encourages you to use your head is by giving you the option to either command Ashley to stay by your side or wait behind you. Sometimes, it makes more sense to leave her behind as you clear the room to create a safe passage. However, be careful, as enemies can come from behind and kidnap Ashley if you don’t keep close watch. Therefore, there may come times where your instinct tells you to make her wait, but dragging her with you into battle is actually safer for her in the end.
You can use health items on Ashley. This can also create some tense moments if you have limited resources, as you’ll need to carefully choose whether you or she needs to heal more. Fortunately for the players (or unfortunately for Leon and Ashley), she gets re-kidnapped multiple times throughout the story. So, the added difficulty of managing her health and well-being never overstays its welcome.
Your right hand comes off?
Apart from your standard Genados, Resident Evil 4 also features some amazing and memorable boss encounters. From facing off against giants to taking down mutated forms of the game’s central antagonists, each fight brings different strategies to the table.
One notable encounter sees you facing off in the sewers against Salazar’s “right hand.” Before the actual fight begins, the monster will stalk you from the shadows as you make your way through the corridor to turn the power on to the elevator. Periodically, you’ll need to perform quick-time dodges as the creature watches you from above.
Upon turning the power on, it reveals itself as you now must face off alone in a tightly enclosed room until the door opens. From there, you still have to wait approximately four minutes for the elevator to work. So, it’s your call whether you want to take the monster on or evade its attacks until the elevator is ready.
However, to fight the creature, you need to use your environment to your advantage. Tanks scattered throughout the underground corridors can freeze the enemy for brief amount of time, opening it up to attacks. The unique approach of running around to set up environmental traps makes this encounter a standout moment of the game.
That isn’t to say the other boss fights aren’t memorable. However, this review may never end if I go in depth on each one. Instead, I want to touch on some of the interactions Leon has with two of the game’s bosses that lead up to their eventual battles.
Specifically, Leon encounters Salazar and Saddler multiple times throughout the story in cutscenes that build the tension between the characters well before they ever fight. In addition to Leon’s humorously bad one liners, these moments also highlight the villains’ eccentric personalities.
Concluding thoughts on Resident Evil 4
Overall, Resident Evil 4 is a standout entry in the series. Even if elements of the game appear dated by today’s standards, its innovations at the time and historical influence alone make it one of the best in the series. Apart from getting used to the tank controls, much of the game does hold up today when compared to contemporary releases. From its expertly blended mesh of action, horror, and comedy to the memorable enemies and locations, this title is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece in nearly every aspect.
In many ways, Resident Evil 4 marked a transitionary title for the franchise. Though some may argue that RE4 marked the beginning of the franchises low points, with 5 and 6 leaning even heavier into the action elements, this title gives players the best of both worlds.
So, if you’re excited for the remake but never played the original, I encourage you to give it a try. After all, it is on nearly every gaming console made from the GameCube to now. I’m not hiding the fact that my last playthrough was on Xbox One.
For those who grew up on Resident Evil 4, do you agree that it’s one of the best survival horror games of all time? Or is it overrated compared to other titles in the RE series and beyond? As always, let us know what you think down in the comments!