Love/Hate: Resident Evil 4

Resident Evil 4 is often considered once of the greatest games of all time, having reinvented the Resident Evil franchise and whose influence changed the way action and horror games were made to this day. I was late to the party on this game – after the PS3 came out, I got a copy of the PS2 port, but could never muster the interest to make it past the first village segment. Well, after devouring Resident Evil 2 and 3‘s remakes, I finally had an itch to knuckle-down and give the game a serious try for once. With rumours of a remake on the horizon, how does Resident Evil 4 hold up in 2021? Read on to find out…

Love

  • Insanely Ambitious and Influential – You can’t really talk about Resident Evil 4 without bringing up how big of a deal it was when it came out. 2005 was a big year for the 6th generation of consoles with huge games like Devil May Cry 3, God of War, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and Shadow of the Colossus coming out, but Resident Evil 4 still manages to stand out as the biggest game of the year, if not the entire generation, and has definitely been the most influential too. For example, the Dead Space franchise owes its existence to Resident Evil 4, as its entire gameplay is ripped-off wholesale from the Regenerators, which are just a single enemy in one chapter of the game.
  • Adapts the Franchise Well to a New Design – Resident Evil 4 makes me realize that tank controls aren’t really the barrier to entry that makes me struggle with old-school Resident Evil games; rather, it’s the fixed camera angles. Resident Evil 4 is basically still using classic tank controls, but with a freed camera. It takes a bit of getting used to by modern standards, but I found it far more easy to get used to compared to REmake despite being effectively the same control scheme. It’s also worth noting that the game has third person shooting mechanics instead of auto-aim, which actually opens up entirely new gameplay opportunities. For example, having to shoot the parasites hidden inside the Regenerators’ bodies just wouldn’t work without manual aiming and having to shoot hidden items means that environmental exploration goes to entirely new heights.
  • Great Level Design – Resident Evil 4‘s levels are packed to the brim with secrets, be they hidden treasures, optional ways to get an advantage on enemies, or full-fledged mini-games you could sink hours into on their own. The game’s levels are also quite distinct from chapter-to-chapter, which keeps it all fresh. The first two chapters take place in the village and grow more horrifying as it progresses. Chapter 3 then takes things in an entirely different direction, taking place entirely within a spooky castle. People love to hate on this part of the game but honestly, it’s nowhere near as bad as they say it is, I enjoyed it. Chapter 4 then takes you into an underground cavern while Chapter 5 goes to an island military base for the action-packed finale.
  • Quality of Life Improvements – In addition to the new shooting mechanics and free camera, Resident Evil 4 also brings some quality of life changes to the Resident Evil formula. The biggest one would have to be that ink ribbons are gone entirely, meaning you can save as many times as you want to now. The game also has a checkpoint system, meaning that if you die you’re not punished for not saving regularly. These both help to alleviate a lot of frustration.
  • Leans Into the Camp – Part of the reason Resident Evil 4 is so fun is because it is so unabashedly silly and relishes in it. You’ve got the memorably-weird Merchant, Leon (and Ashley!) performing pro wrestling moves on enemies, one of the main villains is a tiny, shrill, monologuing weirdo, you can kill enemies by throwing rotten eggs at them, etc. It’s yet another reason why some series purists hate this game, but this just reminds me of the people who hate Jason X, despite it being the single funnest Friday the 13th movie. Resident Evil isn’t high art, give me more silliness of this variety because it’s really enjoyable.
    • On a related note, Resident Evil 4 is basically the original Metal Gear Solid 4. Capcom were clearly inspired heavily by Kojima’s franchise, as the game’s structure closely mirror’s one of Snake’s adventures – you’ve got the world-ending terrorist plot, over-the-top baddies, a similar sense of humour, literal codec calls, and there’s even a post-credits scene.
  • Inventory Management – I usually hate inventory management and consider it a total chore (oh hi Nioh and The Witcher 3!), so it is truly remarkable that I enjoyed this aspect of Resident Evil 4 so much. How many games are there where inventory management is a freaking highlight!? Resident Evil 4 gives you an attaché case and each item you pick up takes up a certain number of blocks of space. As a result, you’re arranging and rearranging your items to fit together and, over time, you start organizing everything in a convenient and satisfying manner. I know I was keeping all my grenades in one area, all the healing in another, ammo was all stacked together, etc.
  • Introduces All-New, Iconic Enemies – Gone are the zombies, Tyrants and Hunters of the old games, Resident Evil 4 completely shakes up the franchise with an entirely-new stable of enemies (another fact which pissed off purists). Many of these enemies are now iconic in their own right, such as Dr. Salvador (aka, the chainsaw man), the plagas parasites, the Garradors (aka, the claw man) and, obviously, the Regenerators.
  • Fleshed-out Optional Side Content – The amount of work put into Resident Evil 4 is insane. You’ve got treasures and emblems hidden all over the game world just waiting to be found. You’ve got silly little mechanics like the chickens who lay a variety of egg types you can find throughout the villages. You’ve got a freaking trick system for the jet ski that you ride for only a couple minute escape sequence at the end of the game! There’s also a shooting gallery mini-game you can find that’s so extensive that it has its own series of reward items and challenge levels. The level of detail is just ridiculous to consider.
  • Cool Boss Fights – Nearly every boss fight in this game is enjoyable, if not for their mechanics then because they all bring something unique to shake-up the gameplay. For example, the first boss Del Lago gives you a spectacular battle on a lake where you have to balance throwing javelins and avoid getting gobbled up when you inevitably fall in the water. Later you get to fight Mendez, whose transformation into a horrifying monster shakes up the cultist shootouts you’ve been having to that point. Then there’s the relentless hunters Verdugo and U-3, which can be almost Nemesis-like in their relentlessness. Krauser is a fan-favourite for the spectacle of the fight and the final showdown with Saddler is a good excuse to unload all your magnum rounds on the guy. Really, the only fight that’s more annoying than fun is against that little shit, Salazar, but it isn’t so bad that it detracts from the game.

Mixed

  • Ashley – People like to hate on Ashely, but honestly she was completely fine in this game. For an AI companion who can be kidnapped or killed, and who is susceptible to friendly fire, she only got captured once and walked in front of my gun once in the entire playthrough. Honestly though, if anything Ashley may be under-utilized as a game mechanic. I only really had to hide her from a horde of enemies once and she’s separated from you for large chunks of the game, so she’s not that much of a factor most of the time. That said, she could definitely get annoying if she became more of a burden so it may be for the best that she’s mostly a non-factor.

Hate

  • Controls Take Getting Used To – Resident Evil 4 feels very sluggish and archaic by modern standards, so there’s definitely a frustrating learning curve in the opening hour or two. It doesn’t help that the first encounter of the whole game is the tense siege segment where you’re getting swarmed with Ganados and a Dr. Salvador, so you’re probably going to die several times just due to being unfamiliar with the game’s tank controls and the stiff aiming at this point. However, things definitely get easier quickly and soon it all becomes second-nature. I also suspect that the starting pistol is part of the reason why this opening is so painful is because the starting pistol seems to be intentionally sluggish to aim compared to the weapons you get later. As soon as I got the Punisher the game suddenly became significantly easier from there onward.
  • The Water Ski Segment – Oh my God the water ski escape at the end of the game was by far the most frustrating moment for me in the entire game, to the point where I died there more than any other part of the game. Hell, I died there more than I did in entire chapters of the game. Why’s that? Well, because you have to maneuver around pillars while a tidal wave is chasing you and if you aren’t going fast enough, or if you hit an invisible, ambiguous kill-point, you die. Seriously, I swear I was avoiding the pillars but it wasn’t good enough for the game and it pissed me off so much. Worst of all, it’s literally the last bit of gameplay in the whole game, so you’re stuck doing this new mini-game in order to finish the game you’ve basically already beaten.
  • No Hotswapping – One unfortunate design that Resident Evil 4 carries over from its predecessors is that you have to dive into a menu in order to change your weapon. It really hurts the pacing and tension when you’re constantly pausing the action in order to switch to another weapon or grenade. This feels particularly egregious to me for two reasons. First, the game isn’t using the d-pad – it’s used here to literally just double the function of the left analog stick, which in itself is a legacy control scheme left over from when Resident Evil games didn’t even have analog sticks to utilize. Secondly, the game is already drawing inspiration from Metal Gear Solid, it couldn’t use that game’s item and weapon menus to make things a bit more convenient?
  • Quick Time Events – Resident Evil 4 introduces QTEs to the franchise and they’re a blight on the game. You never know when one is going to happen and when they do you’ve got about a second to pull it off or you get punished for it. Worse, some of them will even one-shot you if you fail.

Resident Evil 4 is still a fantastic game. While Resident Evil purists love to vocally hate it to this day, I had an absolute blast playing it from start to finish. Given how readily available the game is and how minor its issues are, I’m adamant that the game is not in need of a remake at all. Hell, REmake is more in need of a remake at this point than this is.

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