It is officially All Hallow’s Eve! Over the past month, we have been talking about quite a few horror games, and for the big finale, it is only fitting that we bring out one of gaming’s classics: Resident Evil 4! Or, as I like to call it, The First Time You Were Introduced to Escort Missions.
For some of our younger readers, this piece is going to serve as a bit of a history lesson. I’m sure most of you have heard of Resident Evil 4 at some point, but it is held in high regard even so many years after it was released for changing the genre of third-person shooters forever by implementing an over-the-shoulder point of view. This change is something I feel many of us take for granted when playing games like Gears of War, Uncharted, the new Tomb Raider titles, and onward. It is hard to wrap your head around how such a simple change could have caused this butterfly effect and influenced so many other games out there.
Going past that, Resident Evil 4 was a big change for Resident Evil at the time. Remember how some people were upset about Resident Evil VII being from a first-person perspective? That reaction was very similar to that which people had to this game when it stepped away from the fixed, cinematic angles of the previous games and into the realm of third-person shooters. This frustration wasn’t helped by a distressingly long development cycle that saw the game rebuilt from the ground up at one point due to Capcom entirely changing the direction the project was headed in. Many fans of the first three Resident Evil‘s were outraged by the new direction, feeling it diverged too much from the formula and would end up tanking the esteemed series. Once the game finally released, however, these concerns were put to rest as a surge of praise crashed upon the game for deftly balancing action with horror in creating a new standard for the franchise moving forward. Unfortunately, as we know with the gift of hindsight, the new action-infused direction began leaning towards ridiculous, over-the-top blockbuster flavor culminating eventually in the soft reboot we got this year with the seventh main installment.
So, as we look back, why is Resident Evil 4 regarded by many as the peak of the Resident Evil series? You play as Leon S. Kennedy, perhaps Resident Evil’s most beloved character, who has become a secret agent working for the United States government after the Raccoon City incident which was covered in Resident Evil 2. He has been tasked with rescuing the President’s daughter, Ashley Graham, or as one of the key characters Luis Sera puts it, ‘the ballistics.’ She has been kidnapped by a religious cult in the dismal Spanish countryside, and when he arrives, things are worse than expected. He finds himself chased by brainwashed villagers and priests alike with a penchant for burning police and infecting tourists with a parasite known as Las Plagas. Controlling Leon, you must fight off all these crazed individuals and keep him and Ashley alive as they go through trial after trial, puzzle after puzzle, and wave after wave of infected enemies.
From the very beginning, there is a potent sense of tension and unease, mixed in with some levity as Leon cracks a few jokes here and there as you go through all these different sections on a linear adventure. What makes gameplay terrifying and exhilarating is, as per Resident Evil tradition, your small inventory space. You are going to have to choose what weapons to carry with you and which to sell off. This is not the type of game where you pick up every weapon you can find and suddenly turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger from Commando like Resident Evil 5 or, especially, Resident Evil 6. Instead, you are going to have to be very tactful about how much room you leave yourself with. You’re also going to want to be very conservative with your money as you never know when you may need it. Just because you can upgrade your weapons once said upgrade becomes available doesn’t mean you should automatically purchase it. That’s not a smart way to play, and it will end up costing you down the line.
The environments, while rough on the eyes after so many years, even on the remastered PS4 version, do convey a sense of dread and misery. It further adds to the atmosphere and makes your traipse through woods, castles, and secret facilities feel even more oppressive. When you are tasked with solving puzzles, this serves to break up the tension and give you enough of a breather while stimulating your problem-solving skills. Pair all that with an excellent score that ramps up every time you encounter enemies and sound design that is still highly effective to this day, and you have a horror experience that remains timeless.
I must address the elephant in the room before we close this out: escorting Ashley. This is the gameplay feature Resident Evil 4 is most notoriously known for. Having played through the game again just recently, I would wager that you need to escort Ashley less than half the time you spend playing, but taking care of her while also dealing with enemies can sometimes be tiresome and frustrating. Not to mention that many enemies will try to make a grab for Ashley to carry her off, and if you miss when shooting them, you might just kill Ashley instead. It makes the difficulty feel a little artificial when you need to play these parts. It is no surprise that such a reviled mechanic would be irritating to deal with in an older game such as this one, but it does bring enjoyment down a little because we’ve seen this exact mechanic done so much better in more recent game like The Last of Us, or even Team Fortress 2 and Overwatch with its payload escort mode as examples.
Despite that, escorting Ashley is also not as much of a grievance as some may remember it to be, at least in my experience. You are going to be aggravated, it will take time to adjust to, but you can also have her hide or move on your command, and she will always get out of the way of where you are shooting. It’s not a perfect system, but it is a far better and manageable incarnation of this type of mission than some may remember.
The bottom line is that Resident Evil 4 still holds up very well. Its puzzles are well thought out, the difficulty is challenging (while being fair most of the time), the tension is still palpable, and you have the best Resident Evil game ever. It’s on current-gen consoles as a remaster, but I would wait for a price drop before grabbing it, since I got the PS4 port on sale for ten dollars. Otherwise, if you still own an earlier version of the game, just go back to that. It is an excellent title to play during the Halloween season.
For more gaming content, please keep checking back right here at Geeks+Gamers, and furthermore, all the staff here want to wish you guys a petrifyingly awesome Halloween.