Finally! I’ve played this one before! Guahahahahahaha!
As I’ve said countless times, Resident Evil 4 was my true introduction to the Resident Evil series. By 2005, I had managed to dodge past much of this series without incident. Then 4 was released, and I couldn’t dodge that positive buzz. People I knew were raving about it. Reviewers I trusted were heaping praise upon it. I had seen videos of it, and it looked nothing like those old games. I probably still was having flashbacks to the licker incident, but it certainly didn’t end up deterring me. I jumped right in. I never really climbed out.
Over the years, I always remembered this game fondly. When going forward with this Resident Evil fest, I was looking forward to playing 4 again after all of these years. I had only ever played the game on GameCube, and thus missed a few things that were added to the other ports. On the PS3, I was able to enjoy it with the nice little HD upgrade. Hard to argue with that.
And yes, I did fully replay it. I plan on replaying all of the ones I’ve already beaten. Even 6. Sadly.
Resident Evil 4 was released in January 2005 for the Nintendo GameCube. Over the years, it would systematically be ported to the PS2, the Wii, the PS3, the XBOX 360, Windows, and even cell phones. It follows Resident Evil 2’s Leon Kennedy 6 years after escaping from Raccoon City. Leon has moved up a bit in the world, even if his luck hasn’t improved much. Working for the President of the United States, Leon is tasked with tracking down and rescuing the President’s daughter, Ashley Graham, who was kidnapped under mysterious circumstances. Following a lead, Leon finds himself drawn to a European village with a very peculiar religion and a threat that could pose to be far more dangerous than the T-Virus ever was.
Resident Evil 4 is a huge departure from everything that came before it. Instead of the preset camera angles, the camera now follows closely behind Leon’s shoulder. Instead of being placed into a environment that you slowly uncover throughout the campaign, you find yourself traveling down a fairly linear path. Most attempts at Horror have been completely wiped away, where only one part of the entire game ever really caused me to be anything resembling scared. Leon finds himself armed with a decent selection of weapons, most of which can be upgraded at a local merchant using money you gather. Enemies now drop items and ammunition. There isn’t a single zombie in the entire game. Hearing all of this, you’d be hard-pressed to imagine that this game is any good at all.
It’s fucking awesome.
Resident Evil 4 marches to its own drum. Capcom seems to have realized, with RE 3 and CODE: Veronica, just how far the old style could take them. While Veronica was, in my opinion, the best game in the series so far, I can understand why the folks upstairs wanted to move forward into the new generation. The old style had very finite rules. As amazing as Veronica was, the routine was growing old. They were all building off of what the original game had done, and not moving forward in their own way. Resident Evil 4 changed all of that.
One of my favorite elements of the older games was the feeling of exploration. I admit that I miss this. While you do swing past the same areas a few times, at no point are you not following an extremely linear path from A to B during the game. Still, the game has a very tight focus and a much clearer emphasis on telling a story. This is easier to pull off on a completely linear game. It is, also, more newbie friendly. While that isn’t necessarily a plus, it is an important distinction for me. This was the game that hooked me into the series, and I’m not sure if I would have had the patience to deal with the older style at that place in my life. It’s very possible that this chance is the reason you’re reading any of these Resident Evil reviews right now. Big whoop, I know, but still.
The abandoning of the Horror element isn’t actually that big of a deal for me. It may be because I only just recently played the older games, but I was never scared by those games. Maybe a few times I jumped, but I was never truly on edge about much of anything going on. I enjoy the games not for the Horror, but for the atmosphere. Despite a near-complete abandonment of Horror, though, the game still has a fantastic atmosphere. The world of RE4 is very lived in. The details spread across the world, more easily appreciated with the new camera system, help enhance your experience. The three main areas you travel throughout the game are varied and interesting, and each presents slightly different ways to approach situations. Like I mentioned before, too, there is a point about two-thirds of the way through the game that actually had me on edge. The atmosphere, sound design, and gameplay all combined to probably create more tension in me than any of the previous games managed to do. While the section isn’t incredibly long, the enemy type you deal with there is memorable and must be defeated in a way unique to every other enemy in the game.
The story for RE4 isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t anything special either. The antagonist is kinda interesting but completely one-dimensional, and the story never goes in any direction that ever managed to surprise me. Some of the secondary antagonists are memorable, though, and a difficult and long battle against one of them, Krauser, is one of the highlights of the game. Leon is a likable hero, full of swagger and sarcasm. While he isn’t exactly a deep character, his charm works wonders on keeping you invested in him. Ashley is the annoying damsel in distress, though she does have a decent moment or two throughout the story. You’ll still groan every time you need to keep her safe from enemies, though. Ada is also back from the second game, just as mysterious as ever. She weaves her way in and out of Leon’s story, and always seems to be working on something behind the scenes. The voice acting for everyone is solid, easily the best in the series. The only voice that might get on your nerves is Ashley’s. If I never hear her calling out “Leon!” again, it’ll be too soon.
The turn from Horror means a much greater focus on action. With the camera now behind Leon, it’s up to you to actually aim your weapons. You can’t just rely on pointing your guns in the correct direction anymore. This makes the action much more engaging, and you won’t find yourself just planting yourself at the end of a hallway and pressing the shoot button until everything stops moving. Sadly, you still move Leon like a tank. With the shoulder-camera, too, that means that you have huge blind spots behind you. You also can’t move and shoot at the same time, something that many third-person shooter fans might be driven crazy by. You control your aim with the same control stick as your movement. The right stick is relegated to merely swinging the camera around in incredibly unhelpful ways. While some of these take getting used to, it shouldn’t take too awfully long.
The ability to shop at the merchant and upgrade your gear also creates a very different kind of resource management. There are no item boxes in RE4, but to counteract this, all key items don’t take up any spots in your inventory. Leon’s inventory only requires management for weapons, ammo, and healing items. Instead of just taking up 1 or 2 slots, though, the items are spread across a grid that requires you to position them in ways that allow you to fit as many things as possible. The addition of money also presents an issue, as you won’t ever have enough money to buy and upgrade everything in the game. Knowing what to spend your money on, and knowing what items you can and can’t keep because of inventory space, provides a different strategy than the older games, merely deciding which eight or ten items you would have on yourself at any one time.
Graphically, the game is solid. It looked great on the GameCube for its time, and the HD version on the PS3 and 360 look awesome. While you won’t quite be fooled into thinking that they’re modern games, it still is one of the best HD re-releases I’ve played through. The sound design, just like every game in the series, is fantastic. All of the weapons sound distinct, the cries of the various enemies is chilling, and the ambient noise is constantly working to enhance the atmosphere. During the slower moments, the quiet chords will have you glancing at every corner. During the action set-pieces, the music will have your blood pumping as you take down waves of enemies.
The campaign for RE4 is decently long, clocking in at about 10-15 hours for most people’s first time. Once you beat the game, you unlock a few extra game types. You can play The Mercenaries, where you play as one of five characters and attempt to survive and earn points against an endless horde of monsters while you also hunt certain items that counteract the time limit constantly ticking against you. It’s a fun game mode that can waste some time, but isn’t really all that deep of an experience. I still had a good amount of fun with it, though. Operation Ada is also unlocked, and is a short non-canon story where you play as Ada and have to collect 5 different samples. It’s challenging but pretty forgettable. For all of the versions save the GameCube, you also unlock Separate Ways. This is a second campaign where you control Ada again, though this time you are running parallel to Leon’s journey and giving additional depth to a few things that happened without proper explanation in the main game. While this is fairly fun, it isn’t very long. I was able to complete it in three and a half hours. It was fun to play it, though, as I never had before. Damn GameCube version. Oddly enough, also, cutscenes in Separate Ways weren’t given the HD remaster, even the cutscenes taken directly from the main scenario. It’s jarring for almost the entire thing, with in game graphics becoming superior to the cutscenes. Just like in CODE: Veronica.
This game is great. There’s no two ways around that. It has a nice, fairly lengthy campaign. It has better gameplay than the previous entries. While the story isn’t too memorable, it has a likable cast and a few interesting villains. Most of all, while it embraces the action side, it doesn’t do so at the expense of its atmosphere. Somehow, despite all of the changes, it still feels like a Resident Evil game. Many of these changes are natural evolutions of where the franchise was going, and after playing all of the games right after one another, this drastic change doesn’t feel too jarring. It almost feels expected.
The gameplay is fun, inventory management is a constant and pressing concern without ever feeling obstructive to your progress, and learning to manage your money and choosing which upgrades or items to buy can make or break you during various moments during the game. What it truly comes down to is that Resident Evil 4 is a fun damn game. You feel challenged, but empowered. While there are still moments of fright, it was the game that finally felt confident in taking the series in a bold new direction. In many ways, that game is so much better for being that bold.
Sadly, also, it will always be remembered as the beginning of the end.