28th Apr2020

RETRO-spective: Resident Evil 4

by Xenia Grounds

With the release of Resident Evil 3 Remake, I was debating which game in the series to talk about for a retrospective. It was between Resident Evil 4 and RE Remake for a while. Then I heard the rumours floating around about Resident Evil 4 being the next game in the series to get the remake treatment which I have mixed feelings about. It’s a great installment and it’s never a bad thing to see more of it but Resident Evil 4 isn’t one that needs a remake because it holds up fifteen years after its release.

Resident Evil 4 acted as a very soft reboot of the franchise at the time. It moves away from the horrors of Raccoon City, S.T.A.R.S, zombies and Umbrella and took things to a more global level which the series kept going until 7. The story of 4 takes place six years after Raccoon City. In the time since Resident Evil 2, Leon Kennedy has become a government agent working directly for the president and he’s been sent to a remote area in Spain (the game never says that but it’s heavily suggested) in order to rescue the president’s daughter, Ashley, from a group of kidnappers. As expected, the mission grows more complicated when it’s revealed a cult is at work with a plan to use a mind-controlling parasite called Las Plagas that has been injected in Ashley (and is injected into Leon early on too) so they can take over America upon her return. It then becomes a rescue mission and a mission to find a solution before time runs out and they both become pawns in a deadly game.

While the summary I wrote above may suggest otherwise, you can play Resident Evil 4 knowing nothing about Resident Evil at large. If you know the lore of prior games then things fall into place more quickly and there are a few references here and there but other than that, Resident Evil 4 is its own thing. It’s hard to forget but at the time, Resident Evil was considered an old-fashioned series that was stuck in its way with the tank controls and the survival horror genre losing some of its original steam in the 2000s. That’s why the changes Resident Evil 4 made were needed for the series to move forward or it would’ve become irrelevant.

What Resident Evil 4 did was shift gears in regards to its tone. It’s not a horror game but chooses to focus more on action. There are elements of horror with the creatures you face but they don’t create the same level as tension or heart pounding fear like Nemesis or Mr.X did. The only exception to this are the Regenerators which are encountered very late into the game and don’t stay around for too long. The emphasis on action is made clear quickly with Leon’s character and how he plays. Leon can literally round kick someone’s head off without breaking a sweat and can use a variety of weapons from handguns to rocket launchers if you choose to buy it. He delivers funny quips and cocky one-liners like the Resident Evil version of James Bond which he has continued to be in the games and CG movies since 4’s release. You also don’t fight the undead in this game. These people are controlled with a parasite and have higher brain function which means they can use weapons like chainsaws, sickles, molotovs and guns which means you’ll be doing a lot of running and gunning. Some enemies do have one-hit kill attacks if you don’t dodge in time so always maintain distance between you and them. It’s not about shooting them in the head. More often than not, you can probably blow goons away with a shotgun.

This change in direction may also be the controversial part of 4 as well because after this game, Resident Evil really delved into action packed sequences after this installment was so successful to diminishing results like in 5 and 6. If you’re looking at critical reception rather than sales, that is. It’s a well known fact that Resident Evil 4 is considered one of the best games ever made and many third person shooters were inspired by Resident Evil 4. The most obvious being the first Dead Space game. I think what Resident Evil 4 got right about this shift to campy action set pieces that Resident Evil 5 and 6 got wrong is that Resident Evil 4 didn’t go too big and try too hard to emulate the success of military shooters. 4 was very self-aware with the corny one-liners, over the top villains, a damsel in distress with Ashley and later games took themselves a little too seriously when they were even more dumb than Resident Evil 4 ever was which didn’t stop until 7 was released.

For the most part, Resident Evil 4 can feel like one long escort mission because of Ashley who has tested the patience of many people who played this game. It may have been deliberate but Ashley is aggravating in how she’s performed and during gameplay. She doesn’t fight (and that small section in Chapter 3 doesn’t count) and is ridiculously fragile. Basically, you are tasked with keeping Ashley safe which can feel like a frustrating chore because if she gets kidnapped then she will not stop screaming for Leon in the most shrill voice you will ever be cursed to hear. The worst case scenario being she gets in the way when you’re in the middle of a firefight and she gets accidentally shot. In comparison to other characters, all it takes is one bullet and she immediately dies which is an automatic game over. To the game’s defence, you can tell her to hide so she doesn’t get in your way but in those moments when you can’t, make sure to not get too close to the enemy which can be a little hard to do when you can’t move while shooting and you don’t move that fast to begin with. Regardless, you’ll be more inclined to leave Ashley especially in scenes where she acts like a real brat or press the mute button when you hear her scream ‘Leon!’ repeatedly…trust me, if you turned it into a drinking game, you’d be dead.

If there’s anything a remake of this game may improve on, it’s getting rid of the QTEs. Unfortunately, Resident Evil 4 made QTEs annoyingly popular and thankfully the series got rid of these after 6 but the amount of the cheap game overs that can happen in this game if you haven’t got fast reflexes is frustrating to say the least. You just can’t put your controller down during this game because QTEs are in the cutscenes so don’t even think about getting up and stretching your legs because a cutscene is playing. They also tend to change the button/s you’re meant to press so you don’t get too comfortable in a repeated playthrough.

You’re constantly moving in Resident Evil 4 from a rural village, a medieval castle and scientific island and each focus on different horror tropes like zombie, puzzles and science. My personal favourite part was the castle because it’s hilariously camp from cliched pitfall traps, giant statues that start chasing after you for no apparent reason and roller coaster mineshaft rides. The antagonist for the castle segment, Salazar, is also pretty ridiculous but intentionally so with his Napoleon stature and outfit and by the time you get to his boss fight, you are pretty tempted to blow his face in with a rocket launcher.

While I’m on the subject of boss fights, I’d argue that the best is probably Krauser (minus that first encounter which is just one long QTE) because of his connection with Leon and the way it plays. Conventional weaponry doesn’t factor into the fight. Instead, you have to rely on your knife and wait for an opening to take advantage for the first two stages before going to town with guns during the third stage. It also does a pretty decent job of making you curious about the history between Krauser and Leon which you can now find out about in Darkside Chronicles.

Overall, I’d say Resident Evil 4 still holds up really well. It brought Resident Evil into the 21st century which is the reason it still exists as a franchise today. It’s like an old-school action movie in all the right ways but without totally forgetting its roots. For better or worse, this is the entry that took the Resident Evil franchise to the next level and it’s one of the most defining games of the 2000s.

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