The horror genre is one that I don't have very much history with, for one reason or another, I've had a hard time getting immersed in the experience presented within most horror games. Lately, I've found myself yearning for some of these darker atmospheres that the horror genre excels at, and decided to go back to some of the more modern horror gems. Of course, this eventually led me to what is regarded as one of the greatest video games of all time, Resident Evil 4. Its a game that has been recommended to me by dozens of friends over the years and I simply wanted to answer my own question; is Resident Evil 4 a game that was simply crafted with care, or is it a game that's remembered fondly but doesn't stand the test of time?
Capcom published Resident Evil 4 back in January of 2005 for the Nintendo Gamecube, the game eventually found its way to the PlayStation 2 and almost every other modern home console to date with just a few exceptions, making it one of the most ported games in history.
It's difficult to go back and play the older Resident Evil games on the original PlayStation, mainly due to the tank-like controls that are directly attributed to the wonky camera. This problem was solved in Resident Evil 4, where the developers decided to implement a behind-the-shoulder camera angle when aiming your weapons. It's a solution that has since become the industry standard for third-person action games. So even if Resident Evil 4 was a complete dumpster fire of a game, it would still be remembered as one of the major cornerstones behind modern video games.
Resident Evil 4 is a weird game, it excels at so much but the way its structured is so incredibly flawed at the same time. You play the game as Leon Kennedy who is sent to some foreign Spanish-speaking country to save the daughter of the United States President. There isn't really a ton of backstory on how she was captured or why, or maybe there is and I simply ignored it. You see, that's one of the biggest flaws in Resident Evil 4. The story is extremely convoluted and poorly paced. There are a ton of boss characters working in the background, many of which will show up out of nowhere and just as quickly disappear.
The story will be a challenge to follow, maybe some of the collectible journal entries that you'll come across could help plug some of the questions that ran through my mind but honestly I was never motivated enough to read through them. On the surface, this probably sounds incredibly cringey and overly complicated but the truth is, Resident Evil 4 didn't need a story to be a great game. The gameplay and level design are so incredibly sophisticated that it doesn't need anything else to make it fun.
In my opinion, one of the biggest problems that plague the horror genre would have to be the slow-paced gameplay. While there have been developers in the past that have created amazing experiences using this model, a lot of them actually suffered because of it. RE4 is the first game to challenge that formula; it blended the dark and creepy atmospheres with the enjoyment of trying to survive high paced action sequences to create an extremely balanced experience.
Resident Evil 4 starts off a little slow, you get dropped into a small village that at first sight doesn't seem to be very intimidating or interesting. Your only weapon is a simple hand-gun and you're being attacked by crazy villagers for a reason that honestly doesn't matter. It doesn't take long for you to eventually find the shotgun within one of the houses and at this point, you start maneuvering through the land to find Ashely, the President's daughter.
The potential problem with this first area is that it basically acts like a tutorial but its arguably one of the hardest parts of the game. A first-time player might struggle to find enough ammo or healing supplies to survive and the controls are a little tight. Not being able to move while aiming is also something that provides an additional challenge to people who have grown accustomed to more modern games. I called this a potential problem but only because I could definitely see this being a possible deterrent for people who lack the patience. Still, I think the first area of RE4 is masterfully crafted. You learn almost everything you need to know within the first hour of the game. From learning to aim to finding the proper positioning before going on the offensive, even learning that you can deflect projectiles like knives; this becomes incredibly helpful later on in the game when enemies start throwing dynamite your way.
Normally, I'd tell you that any game where you have to get used to the controls or gameplay is probably a bad game but honestly, Resident Evil 4 is the exception. As soon as you learn the basic fundamentals for controlling Leon, as well as the limitations that both you and the enemies exhibit, you'll start to find other weapons that really open up the gameplay to suit your individual play style.
A big pet peeve of mine in video games would have to be the lack of creativity when it comes to enemy designs. Often times, enemies that you encounter in later sections of a game are simply buffed up or reskinned versions of the losers that you've already defeated. While Resident Evil 4 is guilty of doing this to a certain degree, it also had its fair share of creative opponents for you to struggle with and the difficulty in taking them down always felt extremely balanced, this helped provide a challenge without bringing out the desire to break something.
A nice variety of enemies is incredibly important in this game because of the fact that you'll find an abundance of options in the weaponry department, all of which serve a purpose and are incredibly fun to handle. One of my biggest concerns came when I found out that you couldn't move while aiming, I wondered how challenging it was going to be to get an enemy stationed across a large room without putting myself in danger. Luckily this was addressed by simply adding a red laser sight to each of the weapons, making it incredibly satisfying to shoot from a distance and pop those villager's heads.
Nearly all of the weapons can also be upgraded in the shop. You'll be able to upgrade the firepower, capacity and reload times for most weapons, the only execptions being the specialty weapons like the Rocket Launcher for example. Once a firearm has fully been upgraded, you can unlock a power-up for it. Each gun has an exclusive power-up, something like adding critical hits to the firearm or possibly extending its range. All the detail put into the weaponry system really motivates the player to try new things and adds a layer of replayability to the game.
The only part of the combat system that I despised would be the grenades. To my knowledge, there are three different grenade types in RE4. Flash grenades, which basically stun enemies for a moment, giving you time to position yourself properly or reload your weapons. Then there was the incendiary grenade which is pretty self-explanatory, and lastly, you had your standard hand grenade which made things go boom. I believe each grenade was super-effective against certain enemy types and that was fun to discover but the problem with the grenade system would have to be the way you aimed your throws. There is no indicator of where the grenade was going to land, so you kind of had to just experiment with it. I ended up hurting myself on multiple occasions because of this, this could be attributed to the fact that I suck at video games but I still felt the system was flawed.
I should probably also mention that you have a knife, which I only really used when I was low on ammo or if I got an enemy on the ground; I'd slice them up at that point to conserve ammo. I know a lot of people really like using the knife to add a challenge to the game, some even going the distance and doing knife-only runs. Personally, I didn't find it to be all that useful, of course my playstyle for most of the game saw me hiding in a corner and just shooting anything that came at me from a distance; that's what's so great about RE4, you can play it in a number of different ways and there isn't really a wrong way. I do however advise you not to purchase more than one of any firearm type at a time. I live streamed my playthrough of this game and was HEAVILY mocked for having two different shotguns at the same time, apparently, that is the one wrong way to play RE4.
Resident Evil 4 is beloved by most, however, there are definitely some people who claim that its nothing more than a giant glorified escort mission. Once you get through the first part of the game you'll find the President's daughter and you'll have to protect her from enemies for most of the game while you try to escape the monsters in your path. But if I'm being honest, I really don't understand the criticism surrounding Ashley. Outside of a few cringe moments that seemed a little too rapey for me, I don't think she was really a problem. At some point in the game, your weapons start to do some serious damage and you'll almost never run low on ammo. That's when the game starts to feel a little less challenging and that is quickly solved with the introduction of Ashley. Having to consider both your own health bar as well as hers, and whether it'd be safer to leave her behind at some points before moving on to the next room added another needed layer to the equation. There were definitely some moments where Ashley would get in my way or I'd accidentally shoot her, making me restart from the last checkpoint but for me personally, this was pretty rare.
Overall, I'd say that Resident Evil 4 can be a little challenging to pick up if you've never played it before. There are certainly some aspects of the gameplay that can be considered dated but it really doesn't take long to get used to these things. As for the story, it's overly complicated with a ton of boss characters and twists that didn't really need to be in the game but despite all of its issues, it still remains one of the best crafted third-person action games that I have ever played. The innovative camera angle when aiming your firearm, the depth that every weapon in the game had as well as the carefully crafted level design makes Resident Evil 4 an all-time classic that 13 years later still holds up. It isn't just one of the best horror games ever made, its one of the best games ever made.
Rating - Great