Capcom’s attempt to recreate the storied survival horror series was a fantastic success, earning critical acclaim and numerous game of the year awards. It also influenced the design choices found in many recent video games on current generation systems. Having recently been made downloadable on both Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, it is remarkable how well Resident Evil 4 has stood the test of time, and is still thoroughly enjoyable to play today.
For those unfamiliar with the game, you play as Leon Kennedy, who returns to the series after first appearing in Resident Evil 2. Leon is sent on a mission to save the daughter of the President of the United States from a European village. Upon arrival, it is clear that something is very wrong with the townspeople, having been infected by the Las Plagas virus, and pledging allegiance to the Los Illuminados cult and its leader Lord Saddler. Leon’s task is to find the girl and get them both out alive, surviving the various obstacles in their path.
It is clear from the very start that Capcom intended to create a game distinctively different from the original Resident Evil trilogy. The camera is now fixed directly behind the player, zooming in on an over-the-shoulder view when ready to shoot, creating a faster, more action-orientated game than previous iterations. This style was the first of its kind, and has since been adopted in a number of third person action games, including Dead Space, Gears of War, and Batman: Arkham Asylum. Another prevalent gameplay element is the use of quick time events (QTEs), which are when during a cut-scene or gameplay, the player has to quickly react to the button command shown on screen to avoid danger. Although this was not the first game to have this feature, with it of course having been created by Sega in the Dreamcast classic Shenmue, Resident Evil 4 brought it to the mainstream and popularised it. QTEs were most recently included in Final Fantasy XIII-2’s battle sequences.
While these aspects of gameplay feel very modern and up to date, there are some signs of ageing. The inability to move while aiming is an inconvenience, and will need some getting used to for newcomers. Also, having to repeatedly go to the inventory screen to select weapons and items is an annoyance, especially when the D-pad has no use in the game at all, and could have easily customised to hotkey items to a direction on the D-pad, which would have been a great help to the player in a frantic situation. Most obviously, in the era of Mass Effect and Killzone, the graphics that were once the best around do show their age, but this is to be expected.
When this game first arrived in 2005, there was some debate as to whether the changes in gameplay were too much of a departure from the series’ roots, and the action and did not have enough survival horror elements that the Resident Evil moniker is known for. I would have to disagree with this point of view, believing that the game is a perfect blend of action, suspense, horror, and a fantastic atmosphere. There are times during gunfights where you find yourself running out of ammo, having to conserve what little remains you have by knifing enemies down, all the while looking frantically for ammo. Resident Evil 4 is a great mix of action and horror elements, creating a new path for the series yet still retaining the feel of past iterations.