It wasn't easy being a Nintendo fanboy during the last console generation. While the PlayStation 2 dominated the gaming landscape with incredible exclusives, the GameCube was left with some pretty paltry 3rd party offerings. Being offered Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg
was a virtual kick in the teeth when you could look across the fence to see Shadow of the Colossus
and Kingdom Hearts
being enjoyed by your most hated of all enemies. Even though Nintendo's 1st party exclusives were predictably fantastic, they could only carry you so far in a ridiculous fanboy argument.
I was in a desolate place, questioning my own fanboy beliefs. Why was this happening? What did I do to deserve P.N. 03
?! My vision blurred by tears and close-mindedness, I dropped to my knees and prayed for a 3rd party exclusive that would make all the other fanboy jerks totally jealous. A game that both flaunted the GameCube's underrated power and delivered an unparalleled entertainment experience. Then, in my darkest hour, my prayers were answered. A heavenly being appeared before me, paralyzing me with her enchanting gaze. She told me her name was Resident Evil 4
and that everything was going to be alright. Overcome by jubilation and gratitude, I allowed her angelic warmth to consume me.
Having played most of the previous games in the series, I had an idea of what to expect. Ammo conservation, static camera angles, lots of back-tracking, spotty combat, cheesy dialog and (perhaps most importantly) zombies were all things synonymous with the Resident Evil
name. While I enjoyed those games for what they were, I was far from being a loyal fan. They had their issues but seemed to be, if nothing else, consistent. Well, unbeknownst to me, nearly all of those traditions were getting tossed out the proverbial window and replaced with an intense action/horror hybrid - and it blew my mind repeatedly
The path of righteousness
The most noticeable refinement was the change of perspective. While the old static cameras provided a certain cinematic style, they were clumsy and confusing every time they changed the angle. Now, with the camera peering over the main characters right shoulder, the combat was far more streamlined (i.e. fun) and allowed for the dramatic shift in gameplay that defines this sequel. It made enemy encounters far more intimate as well. Instead of watching my character get attacked through what looks like a convenience store security camera, I'm thrown face to face with my assailant. I can see their gaping mouth and the crazy look in their eye. It also allowed me to accurately shoot the ganados in the knee caps, stunning them just long enough for me to run up and suplex them to death
Aiding this new focus on combat is a liberal item drop system. No longer did I have to desperately stab an entire pack of zombie dogs because the Raccoon City Police Department only had 7 bullets dispersed throughout its entire precinct. That's not to say Leon is constantly tripping over ammo crates throughout RE4
, but his quest is rarely stifled by a lack of firepower. Multiple pistols, submachine guns and shotguns have different stats (obviously) but don't necessarily negate each other. The generous upgrade system not only encourages multiple playthroughs but allows each and every weapon to become a valuable tool of destruction in its own right.
This brings me to what I'm not ashamed to admit is my favorite aspect of Resident Evil 4
- the attache case! This giant briefcase stores all the weapons, ammo, herbs and grenades that you'll collect along the along the way and can be upgraded as well to hold more stuff. It's divided into a grid and each item in your inventory takes up a specific number of squares. Like Tetris
, it's in your best interest to pack these pieces as tightly as possible to maximize the limited space. I've spent countless hours of obsessive enjoyment organizing and re-organizing all my equipment for optimum performance in the heat of battle. Lining up ammo boxes parallel to their appropriate weapon is a must, as is color-coding grenades, eggs and herbs. Thankfully, story specific items like keys, important notes and emblem shards are stored elsewhere so as to not hog all my valuable egg space.
The village people
While some of the traditional horror moments may have been lost in the shuffle, they're replaced with ample amounts of panic and distress. Defending a small crumbling shanty from thirty or more drooling psychos creates an entirely different kind of tension than tiptoeing down a shadowy hallway populated by a few hungry soldiers of the undead. When the sound of breaking glass and a faint revving chainsaw can barely be heard over the barbaric screams that fill the room, your every decision and movement is crucial to survival. Many moments in this game hinge on the player's ability to handle multiple foes at a time, leading to some truly frantic escapes.
In a puzzling move to some, you cannot move and shoot in this game. I know, crazy right? Not really. It may not have been popular, but it was essential for both preserving a sense of familiarity and keeping Resident Evil
from becoming just another third-person shooter. Stopping to raise a weapon before shooting feels far more deliberate than most games in which the main character constantly runs around with his weapon outstretched and a reticle perpetually in the center of the screen. However, standing still too long can lead to being surrounded. It's often necessary to pick up and run to a safer location, turning your back on the angry horde. This fight or flight mechanic defines this game and constantly requires the player to make choices on the fly. Do I pop off a few more heads and risk being attacked from behind? Should I run into the nearby house for more ammo and risk being backed into a corner?
Hello Mr. Kennedy
Enemies run the gamut from pitchfork wielding farmers to demonic chanting priests. As the game progresses, these once common adversaries begin to mutate into disgusting organic atrocities, often requiring more than just a headshot to take down. Enemies once thought to be dead will rise from the ground with bladed tentacles writhing angrily from their neck holes. Parasites will break away from their dead bodies and lunge at you, desperate for a new host. The diversity extends to the bosses as well. One of the earliest boss battles pits Leon against a Gigante (giant) who uproots an entire tree to use as a club of sorts. Another takes place on a rowboat being drug around a lake by a massive salamander as you hurl harpoons into its back.
One final aspect I would like to touch on is the multitude of ways Leon S. Kennedy can die. Most games make you watch the same freaking death animation over and over, punishing you for dying. In RE4
, dying is fun. It's a joy. The first time I had my head cut off by the chainsaw wielding maniac is still one of my most cherished gaming moments. I was on the second floor of a small house and had a crowd of villagers bearing down on me. When I turned to run, a giggling psycho with a burlap sack over his head immediately tore into my flesh with the blade of the chainsaw, decapitating me within seconds. I screamed. The death was so shockingly violent and like nothing I had never experienced in a video game. Some other personal favorites are having my face melted off by acidic vomit and a particular boss fought entirely through QTEs. If you've already played through the game or don't care about massive spoilers, you can check out this video
for a montage of them all.
In a bold attempt to revitalize a stagnant franchise, Shinji Mikami and his crew at Capcom went against conventional thought and crafted a genre-defying masterpiece. This once GameCube exclusive was later released on Playstation 2, PC and more recently the Wii. It even inspired some modern day classics like Dead Space
and Gears of War
. I can say with confidence that Resident Evil 4
is unquestionably my favorite game of all time. It's a wild ride full of memorable villains, questionable allies, gloriously cheesy dialog and a blissful combat system. In fact, I think it's about time to welcome her magnificent embrace all over again.