Still The One
HIGH The secret boss of Waterworld!
LOW Attack of the giant-pixel FMV!
WTF The secret Del Lago death.
It’s debatable whether Resident Evil 4 was, ultimately, a good thing for the franchise.
It was a huge seller of course, but beyond financial considerations it sent the series down a creative path which led to critical derision and audience exhaustion. Resident Evil had always been as much about machine guns and rocket launchers as it was about dread and jump scares, but the move to a third person camera and free-aiming signaled a change in priorities. No more cinematic shot construction guiding players through a gory funhouse — from that point on, players were going to be inside the world of survival horror.
While some may disagree, to me this shift was fantastic, and it still is.
Putting players in the shoes of RE2‘s Leon Kennedy, Resident Evil 4 takes them on an epic journey across a fantasy version of Spain filled with primitive villages, foreboding castles, and huge offshore refineries. Judged by the sheer amount of content, it has almost no peer in the world of action games. Enemy-wise, there are three distinct groups of zombies – one for each of the game’s acts, all with different weapons and tactics, as well as a horde of memorable beasts plucked from the various films which inspired the series.
The combat which makes up most of the gameplay is incredibly well-tuned and unexpectedly deep. The player has a limited inventory in which to store weapons and they require upgrading to be truly effective, so it’s up to them to pick a combination that works – there are no wrong answers, just different ways of engaging with enemies.
Traditional players may want a reliable pistol, a shotgun for groups, and a sniper rifle/magnum for bosses. It’s just as viable to focus on SMGs and mine throwers since the enemy encounters are universally well-balanced, and any well-executed strategy can lead to success. By adding in treasures to collect and shopkeepers to purchase supplies from, Capcom eliminated the threat of late-game resource scarcity. RE4 understands, to an extent that no other game in the series does, that players want to be shooting zombies in an action game instead of scrounging for scraps, and it makes sure that there’s never a slowdown in the action down for long.
Despite how fundamentally solid as the combat is, what makes Resident Evil 4 such a memorable title more than a decade after its release is the developers’ unmatched skill with setpiece action. Every one of the boss fights is a genre high point, but beyond that, the game is packed with intense and unforgettable moments — being chased through a hedge maze by dogs, battling two trolls inside a foundry, rescuing the President’s daughter from a church only to discover that the graveyard outside is teeming with zombies — the game never goes more than ten minutes without offering up a new brilliantly-crafted encounter.
Even the controls are perfect, in their own way. While not being able to strafe while walking or move while aiming may seem restrictive at first, as the player makes their way through the game, they’ll realize that the levels are perfectly constructed to allow the player to manipulate enemy movement. The maps are largely oblong, offering great sightlines for snipers hoping to thin out the ranks before they get close. They’re also packed with small obstacles and chokepoints, giving players the opportunity to gather numerous foes in a single location to be wiped out in one fell swoop. Sure, the controls restrict what the player could accomplish in an ideal world, but the entire game is built around them. Once players have familiarized themselves with how it works, they’ll never be let down.
I looked hard for something wrong with this re-release of RE4, but I found… nothing. I suppose some could fault the developers for not adding a quick weapon switch to the D-pad (going into a briefcase to switch weapons has never been ideal) and it’s disappointing to see that the FMV sequences weren’t given the same visual overhaul as the rest of the title. Beyond those small quibbles, however, the game remains as good as it’s ever been. The campaign is the best in the series, the bonus chapter offers a huge amount of new content, and the costumes change the way the game is played. This really is one of the best games ever made, and over a decade later, it hasn’t lost any of its cachet.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Capcom. It is currently available on PS4, XBO. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBO. Approximately 30 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Mature and contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, and Language. This is hardcore, folks. Swearing, violence, threatened rape, exploding heads, giant catfish that can swallow you whole… it’s as brutal as the series has ever been, and is absolutely, 100%, without equivocation, not for children.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Sadly, sound is pretty vital for the game. With the camera right in on Leon’s shoulder, threats outside of the 100 degrees in front of him can prove quite deadly if players don’t know they’re coming. The upside? They make a lot of noise. The downside? There are no visual cues. Worse still, I couldn’t manage to get the game’s subtitles to work. There’s an option in the menus, but for some reason it was greyed out when I tried to turn it on. I don’t know if this is a bug, or something that’s going to be patched in later, but it was extremely inconvenient.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.