Arisen from the ashes of many failed prototypes, Resident Evil 4 is a survival horror game made by Capcom. It diverges from the min plot of the series and is centered around RE2's Leon Kennedy and his quest to save the president's daughter from an evil cult in NotSpain.
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Something that becomes evidently clear after a few hours into RE4 is how refined the campy nature of it is. It's well acted and produced, but completely ridiculous. Just look at the giant walking statue or the oven man for proof of that. You can chalk up much of the earlier games to Capcom not giving a damn about story and the presentation of it.
But in RE4, they cared enough to make the story entertaining, with fun characters and even some proper storytelling techniques. As it stands, the plot feels as complete as it needs to be, there is very little you could cut, unless you wanted to get rid of a few bosses.
It's played straight, helped by Leon's character. He isn't as boring as in RE2, nor as serious he is in RE6. It's this great stoic yet dorky performance that serves the game well. His action hero quips are so lame that they become great, they really managed to hit the so-bad-its-good bullseye.
I think RE4's combat is a clear evolution of the ideas in the classic games. Resource management and movement is still key, but it's more complex and quite pleasant.
Movement is still bound to tank controls, but the camera has shifted to behind the shoulder. I find this to be such an improvement that I can accept the loss of the fancy camera angels in previous games. And with the quickturn and a bit of limited camera control, you have only yourself to blame for not seeing enemies coming.
And with these improvements to movement and camera, I find it possible to evade things with some regularity. A nice boon to be certain, but it's still not completely reliable. Grabs and other melée strikes home fiercly, so you should never expect to avoid them unless you disrupt enemies with a shot. Which makes it extra nice whenever you do manage to dodge something that you deserved to be hit by.
Seeing as ranged attacks are so annoying to get hit by when you don't have 3d movement, they're quite lenient in RE4. Bolts and axes lock into their trajectory quite early in the animation, letting you sidestep them with a bit of foresight. Explosives must almost be hugged before they do any (albeit critical) damage. The enemies aren't so lucky and are easy to blow up, something you'll get to enjoy thanks to the kind placement of assorted explosives.
But even so, you don't even need to dodge. Replacing the auto aim of the previous games is a proper (and sexy) aiming reticule. Not only does it allow for enemies to react in different ways depending on how they are shot, but you can shoot down projectiles too.
It's basically a subdued parry system! It's not taught explicity, but you're bound to accidentally parry something this way. Hell, if you're ballsy, you can even use the knife instead!
This wondrous knife is half of the melée system. If you manage to hit an enemy in a weak spot, you can run up and do an attack to knock down a foe. It's a very tactical thing, as a knocked down enemy on their own can be slashed to death, while the attack itself makes you invincible and disperses crowds.
It all comes together to some awesome moment-to-moment decisions as you balance riskier strategies that will probably take health and safer strategies that take more ammo.
One of the greater victories of this game is the roles that weapons play. Outside of the Minethrower (which has no static ammo drops, so I never used it), every weapon class has its use. The pistol is decent in many situations and has common ammo. The rifle let's you snipe. The shotgun is an overpowered murder machine that can knock down legions of foes. The TMP stunlocks and shreds bosses that stand still. And finally, there's the magnum, which just brings things to death's door in a scant few shots.
And you can upgrade them for further fun too. I think my one critique is that upgrading power is so much better than the other stats. It also makes it tough to not use the strongest guns in the class.
The grenades are a nice addition as well. They take up much space, but can save you in a bind. I also like that saving up a few for certain situations will reward you with easy encounters or treasure.
Keeping everything sorted in the attache case is much more fun than it should be. I can't really exlain why. It might be because moving items in 3d is just awesome, or that there are no key items to care about.
One of the things that has kept me coming back to RE4 is how much there is to master. There's the combat, but there are also a great amount of treasures to find, which is always a good time. But the game is also littered with tiny little tricks to discover and abuse.
Like taking the long way back to the church in order to hunt wolves for free with the harpoons, using flashbangs on crows and plagas, shooting the lava statues before they get into position, fighting monks in the church for money, getting free magnum ammo by upgrading and not reloading, sniping the gatling monk as he runs and so on.
It's so tempting to try and go for everything and get a perfect game where you get loaded with gold, almost never get hit and outsmart every encounter. I think I've achieved it, but I still have some doubts.
Being a regular human instead of a superspy, it shouldn't come as a suprise that the president's daughter is useless in battle. But as far as escort quests go, Ashley is an exception to the rule of them being awful.
It comes down to some very simple things. One, she stays behind you and ducks when you aim, making it extremely hard to hit her. And if you tell her to stay, she does until she dies. That means that everything that befalls her is your fault.
I haven't seen such a well-designed escort quest since, and that saddens me. Steal the good ideas people!
I don't consider the series up to this point scary, but RE4 has a few good moments. The Regenerators come to mind. And even outside of those moments, the atmosphere remains stellar. It does degrade over time as the action gets louder, but I'm happy with what we get.
Making a game such as RE4 is an arduous task. The game went through a multitude of iterations, many of which will never see the light of day. But thanks to Capcom being smart for once, they repurposed these failures into two of my favorite games.
Those being Devil May Cry and Haunting Ground. All three games have a different flavour of spooky castle, Dante isn't far off from Leon character-wise, DMC's ending is the same ”escape the exploding island” ending that RE4 has and Hewie helps you with El Gigante in RE4.
It's so cool that these games of different IPs share common blood like this. And it kinda continued with the games Clover/Platinum would come to make later with connections to DMC. It's not exactly a shared universe, but it does mean that these games aren't limited in what they're allowed to do, yet have something in common.
RE4 was one of the games to blame for the uprising of QTEs in action games. As it stands, I think the game has good ones and bad ones.
The good ones are the ones used to trigger stun attacks and dodge a few boss attacks. They're quick and feel like extentions of normal play.
The bad ones are the ones in cutscenes or those who drag on for far too long. I like when cutscenes are kept segregated from gameplay. It's often a nice reward to loosen the grip on the controller to better enjoy the theatrics. Cutscene QTEs spit in the face of this notion. The first Krauser battle is the worst the game gets about this.
It's a series of quick prompts that'll instakill you should you fail and keep you from enjoying the choreography. That's my biggest gripe really, you have to focus so hard on the buttons that you blot out the actual cutscene. Kinda stupid for ”cinematic enhancers”, eh?
Not unlike one of Shinji Mikami's other gifts to mankind, God Hand, RE4 has scaling difficulty. Only in this game, it's hidden from the player. The better you perform, the harsher the game becomes. Outside of the game spawning herbs when you suck, I never noticed it until I found out about it.
The system serves the game well, as playing well for a while will burn through health quick once you get hit, assuring that you'll be exposed to at least some tension even when you play near perfectly. It keeps the challenge strong until the finale, where it's possible to stock up on some ridiculous weaponry.
Locking the game in hard mode is another story. Once you do that, the game becomes a right bastard, where a handful of hits will end you. The few super demanding encounters in the game become ardous, but thanks to the nifty reset feature, you're free to retry in a simple fashion until you get a perfect game. And in my eyes, Resident Evil 4 is basically that.