By Daniel Lein
Many have made claims that Capcom’s smash title Resident Evil 4 is the greatest survival horror of all time. Even after 11 years and at least a half dozen different iterations, Resident Evil 4 may still have a right to that “greatest of all time” moniker.
RE 4 is brilliant in a myriad of ways, but perhaps most brilliant is its existence as the perfect analogue to the campy genre of B Horror movies. The plot follows special agent Leon Kennedy as he searches the boonies of Spain for the strange group who has captured the US President’s daughter, Ashley. From there, the story explodes into a gory mess of plot points and characters. Secret organizations, demonic cults, genetically engineered parasites that control minds, world domination, a smoking hot double crossing female agent, and, to top it all off, a rogue American operative who has been genetically modified to be the perfect killing machine! Now normally I would look at the convoluted plot of RE 4 and simply laugh, but when I factored in the corny one liners, dramatic acting, and over the top gore, I started to feel like I should be munching popcorn and sipping a beverage whose size can only be described as “Big Gulp”. When it comes down to it, RE 4 doesn’t try to say anything deep or meaningful, it’s just a fun, action packed, and slightly scary ride through hell and back. This campy approach allowed me to forget the story, and freely experience the ridiculous set pieces and tense combat.
Speaking of tense combat, Resident Evil 4 manages to deliver it time and time again. Aside from a few stupid boss battles, RE 4 consistently delivers combat that forces the player to manage what few resources they have and act on their feet. The atmosphere and grotesque monsters certainly add to the pervading sense of dread, but it’s the game’s difficult combat and claustrophobic encounters that put me on the edge of my seat.
In addition to making the fights difficult, ammo scarcity restricted me from ever feeling comfortable with any of the games hard hitting weapons. There were many times when I had to resort to my sniper rifle for an enemy that was no more than a few yards away simply because it was my last gun with any rounds. Resource management is a sort of mini game within itself. All of your weapons, ammo, and health items must be kept in a briefcase that has a limited size. Organizing your equipment in a suitcase that could always use just a few more spaces is as fun and unique today as it was back in 2005.
The last thing I’ll say on ammo scarcity is the effect it has on your actual aiming. Normally, a shooter rewards players for being accurate, giving extra points or damage to a well placed headshot. Resident Evil 4 however, flips the script by punishing the player for being inaccurate. In the latter stages of the game, any shot that isn’t a headshot feels like a waste of ammo. As a side note, Resident Evil 4 also uses quicktime events to ramp up the tension. Though these QTEs are often effective at jumpstarting a situation, they can also be a drag when you have to repeat them and a cutscene to progress.
Though it is by no means Resident Evil 4’s best quality, the game’s atmosphere cannot be overlooked. There are moments in the game where the music and the haunting imagery delivers a sense of dread. Despite the game’s age and dated art style, these sections, full of subtle audio cues and and some gruesome environmental storytelling, prove that the game can be scary without action. I played the Wii version for this review and was pretty impressed with the graphics. Some of the muddy textures haven’t aged well, but others, especially Leon and a few of the indoor environments, still look stunning today. Similarly, the music sounds great. Most of the tracks add an extra pep to enemy encounters, or increase the fear factor in a given section. The only criticism I have for the music is that, on occasion, the music doesn’t really fit the events that are going on.
After 11 years, Resident Evil 4 still manages to scare. Between the intense combat, ridiculous story, and decent atmosphere, RE 4 delivers a B-Horror Movie experience that is still unique and largely unmatched in quality. If you’re like me, and are coming to this horror classic late, then don’t hesitate another second.
Resident Evil 4 earns a 9/10