Whelp, Resident Evil 4. I won’t do myself the disservice of trying to intelligently rate this game because what it did for the industry (and my life) is without adequate description. RE4 is one of those rare games that come out that are so extraordinarily crafted that they put themselves into a category above criticism. It achieved classic status instantly and from it‘s release onward we all just sort of thought of it as always having been around.
Make no mistake, Resident Evil 4 is a perfect 10 in almost every version of common review structure. In terms of gameplay, control and graphics it had no equal in the GameCube’s library. It seemed to match even Nintendo’s own first party software in terms of polish, presentation and just overall quality. It’s foolish to attempt to critique anything about this game other than the story because it’s just that well made. Hell, my RE4 Wii-make still outshines 95% of the Wii, Xbox 360, and Ps3’s libraries, too (including that embarrassment they called RE5). So what does that leave me to discuss here then? Well I can say shit other people won’t say, like this is easily the best Resident Evil ever made and ever will be made. Oh and Leon is the franchises best character.
I guess we should briefly examine its creator Shinji Mikami to get a better understanding of the series. You could say the guy is mostly responsible for popularizing the survival horror genre. In fact, our modern day definition of a ‘survival horror’ game is mostly thanks to Resident Evil . The tank controls and ammo conservation of the earlier iterations were clever ways to increase the tension and fear that the franchise was once known for. When Capcom suddenly signed a Resident Evil exclusivity deal with Nintendo to release the next major RE (after 3) on the GameCube, people were stunned. Shinji Mikami kinda wasn’t. He seemed to relish the idea and openly backed the move, going as far as to say that if Resident Evil 4 was ported to any other systems he would cut his own head off. What I’m trying to say is that RE was Mikami’s baby. There would be no Resident Evil without him, and by default probably not a whole of lot what we have come to love in our horror games as well.
What a strange thought! What if Resident Evil 4 never existed? This one game introduced and perfected so many amazing concepts that every game design course should have a few weeks devoted just to it. The gameplay is finely tuned, the graphics are incredible (still) and the sheer length of the game itself is ridiculous. Those are just a few bullet points in the 20 page long list of bullet points of why RE4 is one of the best games ever made.
There’s a subject here that I need to tackle regarding this game and I guess the Resident Evil franchise as a whole: Characters and story. Arguably the weakest point in a franchise that emphasizes gameplay and graphics, the mythology of Resident Evil is an incredibly clichéd, poorly told story with a stable of pretty cool characters. For whatever reason there is this ‘every other’ sort of mentality when it comes to telling parts of it, too. Resident Evil 2 and 4 focus on Leon Kennedy, Ada Wong and their antics. 1, 3 and 5 are Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine. It’s an interesting concept that I personally don’t think works very well considering all of these characters could potentially just all be together in a game (actually they SHOULD be). It‘s actually kind of frustrating when you realize that the characters in the game you’re playing as won‘t be revisited until the game AFTER the next game. Because of this it seems that Resident Evil players have been almost forcibly segregated into separate teams who are then required to wait really long periods of time before the storylines for the characters they like are continued.
Hey you liked Resident Evil 2 and thought Leon was pretty bad ass? Well fuck you, says Capcom. RE 3 is going to deal with Jill, so just forget about that. Even worse…better wait out Code: Veronica and Zero before you even THINK about seeing Leon again…if ever again at all. EVEN WORSE YET…if you like Chris and Jill (and their stable of sub characters) you better fucking hold on because not only does RE5 not really deal with anything other than JILL AND CHRIS EXCLUSIVELY (which is an overstatement because we don’t know ANYTHING about what Chris has been up to AT ALL) in addition to adding a NEW CHARACTER, SHEVA. WHERE’S CARLOS, WHERE’S SHERRY BIRKIN, WHERE’S FUCKING CLAIRE!!!??? WHY AREN’T THEY ANSWERING THESE QUESTIONS??? The storylines in these games are handled with a blatant disregard for any sort of polish or continuity that it’s downright embarrassing.
I latched onto Leon personally because as a character he seemed to be the most different from what the series was used to. The two games devoted mostly to him seem to be almost side stories in the greater Resident Evil story arc. One day he’s having the worst first day ever as a rookie cop and the next he’s sent to rescue the president’s daughter from ?, against a bunch of ?, in a place called ?. Leon as a character handles these really unfortunate random situations with style and a slightly lighter tone than the other RE characters. This has led him to be somewhat looked down upon by the fans (sorry he’s not a hulking 300 lbs. of muscle military robot). Instead of getting needlessly disappointed that my RE character isn’t some really serious, poorly voice-acted and very predictably written military type person, I actually quite enjoyed the refreshing take on the zombie infestation that Leon brought with him. He had some genuine personality. Leon was a fairly modestly built guy with a Leo DiCaprio haircut, a bit of sarcasm and a run of extremely bad luck (something he himself seems to recognize). It helped his case that he spent half of the game having to deal with a teenage girl, too. There is just simply a different feeling to Resident Evil 4 as a whole than the feeling the other games in the series portray and I welcomed it with open arms. I’m not saying that the other games didn’t evolve the genre or weren’t great, but I think RE4 was the true step forward that Mikami had been working toward.
I think the long time fans have a really hard time placing Resident Evil 4 in their own personal rankings. They struggle with the simple fact that it is clearly (gameplay-wise, graphics, length, options, pacing) the best, but it stars Leon. That seems to be the unwarranted major blight on RE4’s record. Nobody has the balls to criticize it for that but I think that maybe the purists secretly don’t like it for that reason. For most of them it wasn’t until Resident Evil 5 that they got to continue what they consider the ‘real’ storyline (but did they?).
I figured this review would be longer, as I could go on and on about how many fantastic things RE4 did that no other game has ever done or maybe never will, but I think for us non 14 year olds it’s self explanatory. Here’s a list of stuffs that’s awesome.
– The fact that after like 10 hours when you thought finding Ashley was the end, YOU WERE ONLY HALF WAY THROUGH. Not only that, but shit just kept getting more real each hour after hour.
– El Gigante. Yeah, we’d seen big bosses before, of course. But you fought him 1v1. I’m sorry RE5 you didn’t have the balls to do that, did you? Just fight it from an overpowered truck machine gun (so stupid). No, you actually have to bring this fucker down by YOURSELF…ON FOOT. This was a moment that a lot of the trailers spoiled pretty early on but it lived up to everything and more.
– Besides El Gigante, an incredibly memorable cast of baddies and bosses. THE CHAINSAW GUY!!!! HOLY SHIT RUN YOU’RE FUCKED. THE WATER BOSS. Are you kidding me? That blew my mind (or getting eaten by it if you shoot the water from the dock). The fucked up vega guy who couldn’t see but reacted to sound. Genius. One hit-kill head poppers, zombie monks that throw their scythes, KRAUSER, freezing the predator guy down in that tunnel area with the nitrogen canisters. Yeah, this game is so fucking sweet.
– Mercenaries! So much fun. I actually took the time to get 5 stars on every stage with every character…TWICE. It was just that good.
– QTEs. Most games butcher these thanks to God of War, but RE4 represented QTEs the way they were invented to be (thanks to Shenmue). You won’t be getting deathblows on bosses thanks to QTEs, or performing outrageous shit that is out of character for Leon. They’re there strictly for surprise and immersion, and fun. And they work.
– The Merchant.
When I write these reviews I usually get a few windows open. One is typically the wiki page for the game, another a thesaurus/dictionary page and another a website that has images and information about the game I’m reviewing. For this one, I didn’t use anything. I didn’t have to. I don’t need to look at screen shots or watch videos of boss battles or look up names of stuff. I just know it all already. I remember it, almost every second of it. When I made my to-do list, I didn’t even think of playing RE4 again to get a fresh feel for it because of how memorable it is. It’s almost as if Resident Evil 4 the game, the concept was just beamed into my mind at some point a while ago and is now just a part of my functioning consciousness. In fact it’s one of the rare titles on the list that I haven’t played in a while that I didn’t have to replay. Why should I? It hasn’t aged…it’s timeless. It just was and always will exist as one of the very important and memorable experiences in my life, gaming or otherwise. Resident Evil 4 is the best Resident Evil game hands-down, please get over it.