When the nostalgia hit me like a tidal wave of bricks and the idea for this article presented itself, I was tempted to write my reasoning behind it as “because it fuckin’ is”, followed by issuing a challenge inviting anyone who disagrees to come and fight me and end it there.
Eloquent and classy, I know. But I’ve found after conversing with fellow gamers that this seems to be a pretty popular opinion so my reflexive reaction to duel for the honour of my opinion may be unneeded.
With the remastered release of Resident Evil 0 fast approaching and the remake of Resident Evil 2 on the horizon, I want to break down, in my own haphazard way, why I think Resident Evil 4 is easily the best of the franchise.
Originally released in 2005 for the GameCube, the game focused on Resident Evil 2 veteran Leon Kennedy, on the first day of his new job as a special agent. What was originally meant to be a routine bodyguard job for the President of the United State’s daughter ended up being a rescue mission in an eerie village in rural Europe after she gets kidnapped.
It was the first game of the franchise that did a departure away from your classic, shambling “braaaains…” zombies as enemies into more of a monster mania with a new virus known as the Las Plagas.
And with a new virus, comes all new creepy enemies, including mind-controlled villagers (referred to as the Los Ganados) that are linked to a mysterious cult known as the Los Illuminados (“The Enlightened Ones”), who are responsible for abducting the POTUS’ daughter.
It set a moody, ominous atmosphere with its grey overcast in the beginning of the game, effectively immersing you in this sinister setting and holding your attention throughout with their varied enemies, detailed environments and perfect pacing.
It was also the first installment in the Resident Evil series to feature a third person over-the-shoulder camera angle, as opposed to the older, typical survival horror niche of having fixed camera angles to instill a sense of dread in the player.
It was revolutionary, and for the first time in Resident Evil‘s history, the combat was actually fun. You had the freedom to explore your surroundings without feeling confined, while still maintaining tension. You could have an enemy in your line of sight and shoot it in the head to end it quickly, or in the leg to cripple its movements.
This mechanic was – and still is – a staple for first person shooters, but something totally new and exciting for the third person shooter genre. Dozens of developers have openly credited Resident Evil 4 for inspiring the combat in their games, such as Gears of War, Dead Space, Uncharted and many, many others.
It was a refreshing breakaway at the time of its initial release, a perfect blend of old and new, with exciting action that didn’t wholly remove itself from the survival horror rules and mechanics. Subsequent Resident Evil games, unfortunately, began to focus more on the action aspect than the series’ roots with horror.
Nobody talk to me about that stupid fight with Wesker at the end of RE5 in the volcano because I’m still salty about that years later. Quick time events, context-sensitive controls, all of this is pretty standard fare in video games today but at the time, this was a pretty big deal for fans of the RE games.
The game had some pretty heavy, gruesome death animations tied to dying in combat or failing a QTE. These are, naturally, incredibly fun to watch if you’re morbid like me and is probably one of the only games where I intentionally die over and over just to see what I can put the poor, unsuspecting main character through.
In one of its scrapped versions, the game even featured dialogue choices, though the “hook man demo” (as this version is affectionately called) that this was in had some seriously weird aspects to it, like an otherworldly focus that had an infected Leon hallucinating and fighting suits of armour and living dolls in a spooky, complicated mansion. So essentially, it was what the Evil Within ended up being.
The final version of RE4, which eventually got released over multiple platforms, received critical acclaim, in addition to numerous Game of the Year awards.
It’s even been listed as one one of the best video games of all time. It had the potential to be a complete failure, with the development hell it was in since 1999 where Capcom didn’t know where to go with the series after Resident Evil 3, but it completely pulled through in the end with flying colours, a testament to the work the development team put into it.
Even the voice acting had gone from being laughably cheesy to more self-aware and of higher quality. Leon came across as cool, calm and collected – an admirable protagonist, one you rooted for. And this extended to the supporting cast as well – we wanted to trust Ada and Luis, but something about the edges to the tones of their voices made us doubt if we could. And when we finally rescued the president’s daughter, we all wanted to hand her back to Saddler with a note of apology and silence her “Leon! Leon! Leon!” for good.
However, as a core aspect of the series, the camp blessedly remains ever present. The merchant’s “What’re you buyin’? What’re you sellin’?” now sits in the hall of fame of gaming dialogue, right up there with “You were almost a Jill sandwich!” and “Don’t be a hard dog to keep under the porch, Barry.” Maybe not as cringe-worthy, but it remains a fond memory nonetheless.
The inventory is one last thing I’d love to praise RE4 for. It turned what used to be a complicated, confusing mess into a fun mini-game where, if you were any good at Tetris, you’ll love sorting through your guns and herbs to make it all fit into one compact space.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t sat there for a good twenty or so minutes trying to come up with the best looking set up for my inventory, only to have it ruined by the need for another herb or the finding of a new gun. Oh well, back to square one. Pun intended?
Of course, Resident Evil 4 isn’t perfect. It has its faults, as every game does. But you can’t deny the impact it has had on the industry since its release and the way it effectively revolutionised the third-person shooter genre. It was also amazing in proving that sequels are not always subpar to the original, and can even surpass it in quality and re-playability. A good thing to keep in mind for pessimistic gamers and a lesson to learn for developers.
You can disagree with Karly on Twitter @puckishrogue94 if you want her to sort out the cutscene for your demise. Follow LoadScreen on Twitter, @load_screen, and like on Facebook for more gaming news and reviews.