Resident Evil 4 is one of the finest video games ever made. It’s got some cringe-worthy dialog, ridiculous writing, and one of the more convoluted plotlines of any entry in the storied horror franchise. But none of that stops it from being the best of the Resident Evil series. In fact, some fans argue that the cheesy nature of the story is pivotal for the game to function.
In RE4, players control Leon Kennedy, one of the protagonists from the second Resident Evil game. After the harrowing events in Racoon City years earlier, Leon has become a high-ranking agent for the US government. After the president’s daughter, Ashley Graham, is kidnapped, the government sends Leon to a remote village in rural Spain to find out what happened.
The ensuing adventure is scary, thrilling, and memorable. RE4 helped redefine the modern survival-horror genre, and many critics argue that it was pivotal in shaping the future of action video games, too. On a more personal level, I got the game when I was just 11 years old–arguably far too young to be playing such a frightening game. But let me tell you, I was hooked.
When I was a kid, I was a big fan of Nintendo titles. My first console was a GameBoy Color, and I quickly graduated to a full-scale Nintendo 64. So, when the GameCube came out, I begged for one for my birthday and my family scraped together the resources to get me one. While I devoured Nintendo first-party titles like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Super Mario Sunshine, I knew that several of my friends gave the little cube-shaped console grief due to its lack of more “serious” games.
When Capcom announced that one of its biggest releases of the console’s generation was going to be a GameCube exclusive, I was stunned. Resident Evil was a PlayStation franchise. I’d played it at my friend’s house a few times, and I was always too scared to hold the controller for more than a few minutes at a time.
When I heard several of my pals at school complaining that it wasn’t fair that Nintendo was getting a Resident Evil title, that the system was for babies, and that its fans wouldn’t appreciate a horror game, I took it as a personal challenge. No longer would I be too afraid to play Resident Evil; I was going to play this game and beat it and master my fears.
It turns out, “mastering fear” was something Capcom had succeeded in doing while developing Resident Evil 4. When I rushed home from the game store after using my allowance to buy the new game, I was so excited to play it that I stormed into my room, slapped the tiny disc into the GameCube, flipped the light switch, and got ready to get scared. My mom was, naturally, quite confused by this whole ordeal–why was I in such a hurry to play the game and stuff the case under my stack of old games?
Well, Resident Evil 4 is rated M for Mature. That means that an 11-year-old has no business buying it from the game store down the street. Thankfully for me, the clerk didn’t ask any questions when I plopped down various small bills and assorted change to pay for my forbidden horror game. My mother wasn’t exactly a puritan or anything, but she might have had a few questions if she saw the age rating on the box.
Upon booting the game up, I was greeted by the eerie sights and sounds of a fictional stretch of Spanish countryside populated by cultists and giant monsters. Resident Evil 4 wastes no time introducing players to Las Plagas, a bioweapon that can grow inside humans and become an insect-like creature that bursts forth from their bodies. You know, stuff that an 11-year-old is totally ready to see.
It All Works
The dialogue is just as far-fetched as the premise of the game, and yet it works. Leon quips one-liners while facing down endless hordes of zombie-like monsters. Ashley tries to flirt with her rescuer as they flee from mind-bending monsters. The once-realistic setting of a rural village quickly gives way to a medieval castle, complete with torture devices and more outlandish enemies.
This dramatic clash of tones–the goofy writing and the genuinely unsettling atmosphere–helped to propel the game into its own league upon its release in 2005. The initial GameCube version of the game, the one that was my prized possession as an 11-year-old Nintendo fanboy, didn’t exactly break any sales records. The game was swiftly ported to the PlayStation 2 in 2006, where it drew a massive new fanbase.
Naturally, those friends of mine who’d moaned about the game’s exclusivity the year before were ecstatic to play the game for themselves after hearing my breathless explanations of the various boss fights and puzzles. And their takeaway was the same as mine: after this game, the Resident Evil franchise couldn’t go back to how it had been before. Something was different, and horror games were better for it.
RE4 is a completely different beast from its predecessors. Earlier entries in the series had a fixed camera angle that changed as the player moved around its pre-rendered environments. This allowed the game to basically “fake” a better graphical resolution than the PlayStation and PS2 hardware were capable of handling at the time. Still, this design philosophy proved extremely frustrating for fans, as it made movement more difficult than it needed to be. Often, the player could die because a zombie would attack from just off-screen. That’s not scary; it’s just cheap.
Likewise, the games used outdated “tank controls” movement mechanics that made characters sluggish, unresponsive, and unwieldy. If you wanted to dodge a zombie, you couldn’t simply run to the right. You needed to turn ninety degrees to the right, then run straight–you know, like a tank. This was meant to add to the tension. After all, regular people aren’t going to be able to move like Olympic athletes when presented with death-defying monsters, right?
RE4 threw these design conceits into the garbage by moving the camera to a tighter, more claustrophobic over-the-shoulder position. Now, when chainsaw-wielding madmen descended upon Leon, the player would get an uncomfortably close look at the blood splattered along those chainsaw teeth. The action was more immediate, more pressing, and, most importantly, more terrifying.
All the Ports
The port to PlayStation 2 wasn’t the last time Capcom dusted off RE4 for a re-release. The game has been ported as many times as Skyrim, getting updated to systems like the Wii, Windows PCs, every iteration of the Xbox and PlayStation since its release, the Nintendo Switch, and even Android phones. Don’t bother with that Android port, though; it’s borderline unplayable due to the touch-screen controls and tiny screen resolution.
Some of these ports were better than others. The modern version on Switch, PS4, and Xbox One is the definitive edition of the game, sporting numerous add-ons like a “Mercenaries” mode that allows you to fight arcade-style waves of enemies, a side-story starring Ada Wong, and other fun goodies. If you’ve never played through Resident Evil 4 with Leon’s unlockable Mobster outfit and Tommy Gun weapon, you’re missing out.
These ports are largely just new coats of paint on the existing, excellent GameCube version of the game though. Outside of the VR-exclusive Oculus Quest version of the game, these ports mostly just serve as new ways to play the existing game. Capcom will change that soon, though, with the announcement of Resident Evil 4: Remake.
Why Are Fans So Excited for a Remake?
Modern Resident Evil starts with the fourth entry, so it’s understandable that fans have been eagerly awaiting this remake. Capcom has been systematically working through its recent run of HD remakes of the classic horror franchise. While the remake of the first game came out nearly 20 years ago on the GameCube, it took much longer to get a proper remake of RE2: that game hit the PlayStation 4 in 2019.
Capcom somewhat dutifully remade Resident Evil 3 in 2020. While the game has its share of fans, it’s definitely the black sheep of the mainline numbered entries in the franchise. The biggest thing that the remake of RE3 did for the fanbase, sadly enough, was show that Capcom was serious about remaking all of the classic entries in the franchise.
When the company announced the remake for RE4 in 2022, fans lost their minds. Finally, the game that reinvigorated the long-running series was getting the lavish remake treatment it’s always deserved. And, thankfully, it looks like the game will keep the hokey one-liners and goofy plot that made the original such a gem back in 2005. As for me, I’m ready to be transported back to my pre-teen years, eagerly steeling myself for what I knew was about to be a harrowing experience.