Resident Evil 4 is a game that is perhaps most famous for popularizing the “over the shoulder” camera angle later most famously used in Gears of War. Some consider it to be one of the greatest games ever made. The game did come out twelve years ago, and a lot has changed in the game industry since then. So does Resident Evil 4 still hold up after all this time? Well, RE4 has some weak points to be sure, but it absolutely holds up as a game worth playing today.
You play the role of Leon Kennedy, a U.S. government agent on task to save the president’s daughter from captivity in a strange town in Spain. Yeah, saving the president’s daughter isn’t the most original game plot, but uncovering the story behind this Spanish town is what keeps the game’s story so interesting. The villagers here come at you with hostility from the get go, throwing torches and waving pitchforks at you. Put simply, there’s no way to get through to these villagers in a friendly way. If you don’t act, they will kill you. They speak a foreign tongue, vaguely Spanish sounding but different. You later learn these people are part of a religious cult, the “Los Illuminatos”. The story is delivered in cutscenes, but also in notes left in obvious places throughout the game. The notes are most informative, and often give you hints about what’s going to happen next. I really enjoyed learning about the story this way. I thought the story in general was handled very well, both in terms of writing and pacing. There are surprises along the way, and I was never disappointed to be at a cutscene. Even the voice acting is well done, which is rare for a Japanese game from 2005.
The action of the game revolves around attacking the hostile religious followers. You start out with just a pistol, but you encounter an arms dealer frequently throughout the game (the famous “What are you buying?” and “What are you selling?” guy) who can sell you things like a shotgun and a submachine gun. Rather than relying on monster closet cheap thrills like in past Resident Evil’s, you pretty much see your attackers right from the start. If not, you need to scan your surroundings, but they’ll let out a noise well in advance instead of sneaking up on you.
Combat is often about using the right tool at the right time, for example using a grenade to take out a group, or using the pistol if you’re facing a few enemies up close. You can’t go guns blazing, as there is limited ammo, so lining up shots is key. There’s also limited health that doesn’t regenerate, so taking a hit is serious. I found each set of enemies was sort of like a puzzle, and you might get a game over until you get it right. This can be a weakness, as you’re likely to get frequent game over’s in the trickier parts. Still, combat is undoubtedly a highlight, and likely a big part of why RE4 is so fondly remembered. There’s real tension in having to switch between weapons because you’re low on ammo. There’s real strategy in knowing when to throw a grenade. There are times you just barely make it through to the next room with the enemies absorbing all your ammo and sapping all your health. It’s really exciting to get through these spots, and you’re left with a sense of reward for doing so.
There are boss fights, but it’s not what RE4 does best. Typically boss fights are just hitting the boss until it dies, or hitting the boss until it exposes its weak point which you attack until it dies. You’re going to use a lot of ammo with bosses, but the game does a good job of making more ammo available to you after a boss fight is over. If nothing else, bosses break up the monotony of going around attacking folks, but in my mind the time could have been filled with something different, like clever platforming puzzles.
The game is divided into three acts, the hostile village, a castle, and *spoiler alert* a secluded island. The second act is the longest, which is sort of nice because at times, it resembles the mansion from the first Resident Evil. The castle is filled with puzzle solving, getting a two pieces of a crest (or something like that) to fit in a slot in a door to unlock the door, not unlike a puzzle from RE1. The village sets up the game nicely, while also having it’s own town-gone-way-wrong charm. The last act is a satisfying conclusion. No act is bad, and they all have their own unique appeal.
I played on PC, and for a game from 2005, it looks great. With anti-aliasing up to 8x and a locked framerate of 60fps, the game is quite a sight to behold. I understand (as of early 2017) there’s a group of dedicated modders working to increase the texture quality of the game by redrawing texture art. I can only imagine how great it will look then. I played with a Steam Controller, and have no complaints. Truth be told, you rarely use the right analog stick or, with the Steam Controller, the right haptic pad, so you’re mostly using all the standard buttons the Steam Controller already has: a left analog stick, face buttons, and the triggers.
The PC port isn’t without it’s flaws though. There were multiple times when the game glitched on me with the same glitch. It consistently wasn’t registering a button press each time I pressed it which was required to progress through the game. I had to do some Google-fu to find a workaround that let me get past that point. It was a major letdown that it happened, and also a letdown was the amount of time I spent trying to press that stupid button. It would be nice if Capcom could patch the game, but it’s so old I don’t think they care.
I feel better for having played Resident Evil 4. It’s filled a gap in my video game knowledge, where I now know why so many people talk about and like this game so much. Though combat has it’s frustrating moments and the boss fights can be lame, the game still belongs on a Top 100 Games of All Time list. It really changed survival horror in a way no one could have predicted. I’d like to finally finish the first RE, but I know I’m not going to have as much fun. In the meantime, Resident Evil 4 is in my Steam account, ready for the next time I feel an itch to play it.