Resident Evil 4 is one of my favorite games of all time and my first experience with the game still sticks out as one of my favorite gaming memories. I couldn’t have been more than 10 or 11 years old at the time. My friend had bought a copy of Resident Evil 4 at a garage sale. So he brought it over to my house and we waited for my mom to fall asleep so we could play it without getting caught (neither of us were allowed to play rated ‘M’ games at the time). As soon as the title screen came up and that voiceover growled “Resident Evil 4” I was captivated. I had never seen anything like it. From the horrific atmosphere to the brutal gore and grotesque monsters, it was my first taste of Horror and it would become an unquenchable thirst for me later in life. However we very nearly didn’t get the game that would turn me in to a horror junkie for life as Resident Evil 4 had one of the most troubled developments of any video game.


Biohazard 4 started its development with Hideki Kamiya, who directed Resident Evil 2, returning to the director’s chair. However, as development continued Shinji Mikami decided that the Biohazard 4 Kamiya had been working on it was too different to anything that had been done in the series before due to its focus on intense action so he put Hiroshi Shibata, who led the pre-rendered backgrounds team for Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, in the director’s chair. Kamiya then spun the game off into its own IP which would later be released as Devil May Cry.


Now with Shibata in the director’s chair, work began on the next version of the game which would become known as the “Castle” version. In it Leon Kennedy would be infiltrating a european castle owned by Oswell E. Spencer. A trailer for the Castle version was shown at the Tokyo Game Show in 2002 and was scrapped at some later point.


Then came the “Hallucination” version which is the most widely known version of the game before it’s final version as a trailer was shown for it at E3 2003. This version of the game featured more paranormal elements but you can start to see the threads of Resident Evil 4 coming together. However at some point this version of the game was also scrapped and work began on the next proposed version of the game which would have gone back to having zombies. Soon after this idea was deemed too formulaic by management at Capcom and Shinji Mikami took the reins back for the first time since the original Resident Evil and began work on what would become the final version of Resident Evil 4, which would finally see release in 2005.


This version of the game would still be very different from its predecessors though. Gone are the fixed camera angles and pre-rendered backgrounds, now replaced by an over the shoulder perspective. It also has a more action focused design while still retaining elements of survival horror unlike the next two entries in the series. The basic rundown of the story is that the President’s daughter has been kidnapped and taken away to Spain. You play as Leon S. Kennedy from Resident Evil 2 who has been sent in to rescue her. Once you arrive you realize that the villagers of the town have been infected by a virus called “Las Plagas” which kind of turns them into more conscious, non-undead zombies.


However, while the atmosphere and enemies are certainly terrifying, the overall story is very deliberately campy. From Leon’s one-liners to a squeaky Napoleon wannabe it’s quite obvious that the overarcing plot is not meant to be taken seriously and is just a vehicle to take you through the world of the game. One of the best decisions Mikami made with regards to the story is almost entirely disregarding the previous Resident Evil lore which had become extremely bloated and convoluted at this time. This allowed the game to reach new fans with its reinvented style of gameplay.


While the plot of the game is campy, the atmosphere is unparalleled. The first scene of the game sets the tone and is an absolute masterpiece. As you enter the village the inhabitants start attacking you and you have to move through a small section of the village avoiding them. Eventually one of the Ganados will show up with a burlap sack on his head and a chainsaw that can kill you with one hit in tow. From there you grab a shotgun off the wall and have to run around keeping the enemies at bay and try to avoid being beheaded. It’s a masterwork of horror and tension and one of the greatest scenes in any video game. The game’s atmosphere also sees several large shifts throughout the game, the first one being when it goes from day to night and rain begins to fall. Previously the fog covering the village created a low-light day setting which gave you the feeling that something was not quite right. As soon as it shifts to night and the Plagas are introduced it becomes all out horror.


Then once you move to the second main section of the game, the castle, it takes on much more of a secret cult type of horror with lots of brilliant torch-lit areas. Then the third major area of the game, the island, replaces the atmosphere with science induced medical horror by way of the introduction of the Regenerators. Even in the high tech medical labs of the island everything feels rusty and run down. It still amazes me to this day that the game can undergo so many major shifts in atmosphere, constantly putting you in fresh locations, and still retain the same overall feel to each of the areas.


The soundtrack to the game is brilliant as well. The track “Serenity” that plays in the save areas stands out as an excellent piece as it feels calm and comforting but still oozes the feeling of something not being right. The “Regenerador” piece that plays when a Regenerator arrives on screen is an excellent soft noise composition that still makes the hairs on my neck stand up every time I hear it. The sound design in general is excellent at reinforcing the atmosphere. The first time the Regenerator is introduced you can see it unconscious on an operating table and you have to walk past it to grab an item in complete silence. Then you hear a thump behind you as it rolls off the table. Then it begins it’s labored breathing and that track kicks in. It’s a truly spine-tingling moment.


With regards to gameplay it wouldn’t be a Mikami game without absolutely brilliant gameplay. While it is less of a survival horror game than previous entries in the series, ammo is still scarce so there are many tactics you can use in combat to preserve ammo. For instance, you can shoot an enemy in the leg and have them fall to their knees allowing you to perform a variety of melee attacks such as a kick that will send them, and any enemies in their proximity, flying backwards. You can also use your knife to attack enemies and a skilled player can play through most of the game using just their knife. The game also has another unique mechanic in the form of Plagas. If you shoot an enemy in the head there is a chance that a Plagas will burst out of their head. These Plagas have a much longer reaching attack that can deal massive damage and they take many more shots to kill than a standard enemy, so the game once again incentivizes non-standard shooter gameplay.


You can also upgrade your weapons via the merchant who is at this point an iconic character in his own right. Each weapon has upgrades for magazine capacity, firing rate, stopping power etc… and one unique upgrade once all of those upgrades have been maxed out. You can also find treasures throughout the game to sell for more cash for these upgrades and to purchase new weapons and equipment. The treasures are more interesting than simply finding something on the ground to sell however. For instance in one of the early areas of the game there is a pendant dangling above a well filled with muddy water. You can simply shoot it down to get a muddy pendant or you can shoot a plank holding a cover open and then shoot it to keep it in good condition. There are also a few treasures that you can find early in the game that can be socketed with other gems found throughout almost the entire runtime of the Resident Evil 4 to create a much more valuable treasure.


The boss fights are nothing short of amazing either. Kiting Chief Mendez through a flaming barn and hoping to get a few shots off on him with my TMP as he uses his claws to swing from the rafters for the first time is an experience I will never forget. Or the mountain pass where you can choose between two different paths, one that leads to a lumbering giant, and one that leads to two female versions of the chainsaw Ganado that I mentioned earlier.



Resident Evil 4
Overall Resident Evil 4 is an unforgettable masterpiece and one of my all time favorite games. With the recent backlash at Resident Evil 6 and the increased interest in the older Resident Evil titles, I hope Capcom is able to look back and realize what people loved about the older Resident Evil titles while still innovating like they did with Resident Evil 4.
10Overall Score
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