Despite having a Gamecube and loving Resident Evil, I never actually picked up Resident Evil 4 till it came out on the PS2. Maybe I was nervous about the change in style or maybe I didn’t like that the version on the cube was non-anamorphic widescreen, but regardless I waited a little longer than everyone else. I remember hearing the buzz surrounding the game, but for the most part I kept away from watching footage or reading reviews; sure I decided to hold off, but I knew I’d eventually jump in.
“You have once again stepped into a world of survival horror.”
Now before I go any further I want to make something clear: Resident Evil 4 is a fantastic game, perhaps one of the greatest ever made. I’m saying that because I want you to know that I love the game for what it is, because much of what I’m about to say is going to appear negative and that’s not because the game is in any way, shape or form, bad. Resident Evil 4 is not a Resident Evil game. It isn’t, nor is it even a survival horror game for the most part; ‘survival action’ might be a more apt moniker. Sure there are hints and call backs to the previous games, such as the herbs and the typewriters, but Resident Evil is more than just that and no, I’m not talking about the lack of zombies.
First and foremost, Resident Evil 4 is a straight line. You enter an area, fight some enemies…maybe flip a switch somewhere and move onto the next area. There’s nothing wrong with this, hell it’s perfect for this game as well as many others like Uncharted, but the Resi games never felt like that. Depending on where you went first, your own instincts and curiosity, all of the previous games could be tackled in a number of different ways. You sometimes would travel back through an area that you visited much earlier because you suddenly found the item to let you past a blockade of some kind (like say finally finding that wrench so you can get the fire hose so you can put out the fire that’s blocking a door – I love RE3.) That sense of discovery is not found in Resident Evil 4. One major complaint against the older games was the constant cries of “I HATE BACK-TRACKING!” This downright pisses me off…not every game should movie in a straight line. I loved having to learn the areas and buildings in survival horror games, looking for keys and secrets. If that ain’t your thing then cool, but not every game has to adhere to the most basic structure possible to appeal to corridor shooter fans. There’s room for variety and Resident Evil built a fan base for what it was and then changed – regardless of how great the game is, that is a little sad.
“Are the sounds of distant footsteps those of the survivors?”
Another big change was in the gameplay of course. Now the camera was over Leon’s shoulder and we had precise aiming of our weapons. Nothing wrong with that of course, it works wonderfully (so wonderfully that every other game since has copied it.) It does bring me to another big complaint that most gamers had for the original entries in the series, the fixed camera angles. This one actually baffles me somewhat as I always appreciated the fixed angles as the director choosing his shots in the same way that a film director would. “It’s only scary because you can’t see if the enemy is off screen.” Yeah no s*** Sherlock…Why is that a bad thing? That’s horror story telling 101: you can tell there’s something there, but can’t see it…only hear it. Again much like a horror film (or any film for that matter,) the game’s ‘cinematography’ enhanced the experience as it always chose what not to show and elevated the atmosphere. Giving gamers control of the camera is commonplace now, but it does lose something in doing so: if the audience controlled the camera whist watching a movie then every movie would be f***ing terrible. There’s certainly an argument to be made that games shouldn’t try to emulate other mediums like movies and going forward with new IPs that very true, but Resident Evil was designed a certain way and I loved it for that. Again I plead for variety: giving me my one game series with fixed camera angles isn’t going to take away your Call of Duty.
The third major change that irks me is the decision to divide the game into chapters. Why? It even allows the player to save game at the conclusion of each chapter, making the typewriters dotted about for saving purposes completely redundant. It might not sound like a big deal, but it robs the series of one of the first features that impressed me back on the playstation.
Okay, rant over. Resident Evil 4 is a fantastic action game with hints of the series’ past. The one enemy that reminded me of past games were those damn Regenerators…and that feeling I spoke about in previous parts about finding a save room is actually replicated here with the merchant who sells you guns and upgrades – a feature that is very anti Resident Evil, but makes for an uber fun game. It all comes down to gameplay and RE4 is some of the very best; I’d argue the puzzle elements are far too simplistic, but given the pace of the game it makes total sense. If I have one objectionable complaint it’s that the story flat out sucks. I always enjoyed the stories in RE games and 4’s just comes off as this little side story about saving a girl; more importantly, most of the villains don’t have much personality (with the exception of Krauser.) Once again, don’t get me wrong…Resident Evil 4 is a fantastic game with tonnes of replay value (new game + is a glorious thing,) and more than deserves its reputation as one of the best games ever made.
“This is my last chance…my last escape.”
Flash-forward to 2009 and Resident Evil 5 is on its way. I’ll be honest; the announcement of co-op really had me worried as it felt like my favourite series was drifting further away. Does every game need multiplayer of some kind? Regardless I purchased the game at midnight launch and played through the whole thing in one sitting with a friend. It’s a good game, but not as great as 4 by any means. Some of the sections are a little tedious and everything feels a little copy and paste from 4, but it’s a fun time (in co-op or not,) none the less and I actually enjoyed the story a little more, if only because it brought back a lot of the original characters. If I’m to make a complaint it’s that Resi 5 loses that great feeling of finding a save room by removing the merchant and instead have the upgrade store just appear in between chapters…this was a horrible choice and just makes the whole game feel a little more arcadey. Wait did I mention there’s a chapter that is entirely a turret section? Another annoyance with 5 was the decision to alter the controls from the set up the series had pretty much stuck with since the original game to something more along the lines of Gears of War – I’ll admit I’m being petty with that one, but it got on my nerves so I’m mentioning it.
I was originally intending for this to be the final part in this retrospective, but I’ve got two games still to really talk about so I guess I’ll sign off here and for the last time leave you with a…
To be continued…