Schlocky And Stiff, Resident Evil 4 Nevertheless Remains A Classic

Schlocky And Stiff, Resident Evil 4 Nevertheless Remains A Classic

Well over 10 hours into Resident Evil 4, there’s a pertinent moment that says a lot about the game’s essence.

Leon S. Kennedy, our hero and veteran of Resident Evil 2, has bettered all manner of mutated meanies — villagers with significant social shortcomings, a giant fish with an appetite for former Raccoon City police officers, midget castellans — prior to going one on one with a turncoat ex-comrade, Jack Krauser. When the pair’s quick time event-guided knife fight is interrupted by the intervening Ada Wong, Krauser departs with some pertinent prose: “You may be able to prolong your life, but it’s not like you can escape your inevitable death, is it?”

The Guile lookalike is on the money. Despite the player’s continued attempts to preserve Leon’s immaculate just-to-the-side parting, by keeping him stocked with first aid sprays bought from some creepy, clearly teleportative trader (who forever refers to him as “stranger” — surely this repeat custom warrants a friendlier welcome, not to mention a discount?), you simply can’t avoid the bloody lettering that spells out your repeated demise: “You are dead.”

Resident Evil 4 — Almost Every Possible Death (spoilers!)

Die, die, and die again. This is the pattern of a first-time playthrough of Resident Evil 4. As someone currently between consoles — well stocked with seventh-gen games, but yet to make the expensive leap to the main contenders’ shiny new boxes — I’ve been turning back the years to attack titles that, for whatever reason, I missed first time around. I’m sticking to the so-called classics. And Resident Evil 4 is firmly amongst the sacred cows of console gaming.

The game was featured as an Untouchable by Edge in 2012, although Silent Hill: Shattered Memories design director Rhys Cadle’s comments didn’t exactly sell it in the greatest play-this-immediately light. “I look back at the experiences in games that I cherish,” he told the magazine, “and Resident Evil 4 didn’t really have any of those.”

I can relate. Played today, after so many games that it has quite clearly influenced — from Dead Space to Gears Of War, not to mention a slew of second-rate survival horrors — Resident Evil 4 can feel like a real slog at times. It’s a long game, made longer still by cheap deaths and controls that feel prehistoric compared to subsequent third-person shooters. Aim for headshots and Leon’s feet stick in the mud — the game moves from frenetic, kinetic adventure merging supreme atmosphere and high-energy action, to locked-in-place shooting gallery. Played on the PlayStation 2’s second-gen DualShock pad, responsiveness can be lethargic — a killer scenario when presented with unforgiving QTEs.

It could be argued that I’m playing it on the wrong system. Resident Evil 4 began life as one of the Nintendo GameCube’s ‘Capcom Five’ — the other titles set to be exclusive to said platform being Killer7, Viewtiful Joe, Dead Phoenix and P.N.03. The latter did remain GameCube-only, but Dead Phoenix was never released and the other three games found their way to the PS2.

Schlocky And Stiff, Resident Evil 4 Nevertheless Remains A Classic

So it’s the GameCube Resident Evil 4 that remains the ‘true’ original, but for its PS2 port Capcom crammed in some enticing extra content. Play through the game once and you unlock Separate Ways, a bonus mini-campaign starring Ada Wong as protagonist, as she tracks Leon’s movements in pursuit of his quarry: the American president’s daughter, naturally. Of course, you’ve got to reach the end first, which isn’t easy off the back of newer games with a gentler difficulty gradient. As if it needs repeating: Leon is going to witness a lot of death on this mission, mostly his own.

We’re not talking Dark Souls levels of punishment, but Resident Evil 4 will test the patience of those unwilling to accept its loose concept of fairness. It’s entirely possible to overcome what seems like a formidable foe in easy fashion only to be unexpectedly beaten by base-level grunts. One example of this happens to me relatively early in the game’s mid-section castle setting.

Sent down to a prison cell to activate a switch turning off some pretty impassable fire, I swiftly defeat a mean-looking but completely blind garrador — to return to a Street Fighter II parallel, think Vega gone Game Of Thrones — only to be surprised moments later by generic monks bearing crossbows, lurking around a corner. And it’s not even Leon’s death that prompts the restart — it’s the president’s daughter, Ashley Graham, who dies.

When in Leon’s company, Graham’s a constant target — for enemy weapons, and your own if your aim’s somewhat off (unlike BioShock Infinite‘s Elizabeth, this NPC colleague will go down under friendly fire). When she dies, it’s game over — no bleed-out window of opportunity to administer some herbal remedy. Acting as a chaperone amongst the chaos, Leon can issue but two instructions to Ashley: stay put, or follow behind. But never assume that anywhere is wholly safe to leave her alone — on more than one occasion I found myself backtracking desperately to save her from the clutches of the game’s antagonists, Los Illuminados, failing to do so, and then restarting only to die myself in grizzly circumstances. And then do it all again. And again. And again.

Schlocky And Stiff, Resident Evil 4 Nevertheless Remains A Classic

And yet, onwards I battle. Every time I think that Resident Evil 4 has defeated me, that it’s got me floored, that I think it’s just too old to engage me, I fire up the PS2 again and edge a little nearer to its quite ridiculous final boss battle. Through the trudge, a grim grind through a gallery of grotesque adversaries, I find reasons to love this game against my better judgement, as antiquated as it is experienced for the first time in 2014. And it really does resonate with that so-difficult-to-design X factor: the quality that presses the player to pick up their tossed pad and try again, just one more time.

I see how its over-the-shoulder perspective is as influential to games-makers as Pong‘s paddles were more than 40 years ago — even with the whole concrete boots thing. I drink in the hammy dialogue, clattering through conversations with helpful NPC Luis Sera without really minding that his attentions are as much on Graham’s chest as they are saving anyone’s bacon. His referring to breasts as “ballistics” is undoubtedly the least tasteful moment in a game featuring innumerable alien appendages erupting from the grimy bodies of hairy foreigners.

Cadle called Resident Evil 4 a “blockbuster” several times in his Untouchables exchanges, but the game lacks the sort of constant-excitement characteristics synonymous with today’s chart-toppers — it can’t compete with the breathless nature of your average Call Of Duty campaign, or Grand Theft Auto V‘s ever-increasing spectacle. Rather, by contemporary standards it’s a B movie of enduring intrigue, where the quirks and kinks — slightly rusted mechanics, schlocky storytelling and schizophrenic puzzles — ultimately become part of its overall appeal.

Its tension has slackened a little, its aesthetics have become fuzzier, its action focus inarguably responsible for a pre- Outlast and Alien: Isolation diluting of survival horror’s truest terrors — although The Evil Within is something of a return to type (even down to its zombie reveals). But seeing Resident Evil 4 through to its somewhat James Bond-like, sunset-over-the-sea ending, feels more fulfilling than finishing several subsequent games in this (sometimes bafflingly) enduring series. In the context and company of its myriad brethren, it truly earns sacred status.

Schlocky And Stiff, Resident Evil 4 Nevertheless Remains A Classic

This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK, bringing you original reporting, game culture and humour with a U from the British isles.


  • Resident Evil 4 is one of the main reasons I got a gamecube. Definitely a love hate relationship with the game tho. I kinda hate playing it, but can’t stop playing it at the same time.

    I find the ultimate reward in the game is being able to get revenge on all the bastards that killed you first time round, by playing through the second time with your fully upgraded Red9.

  • Resident Evil is the best “in theory” game series of all time IMO.

    I’ve bought the 1st one on a few different consoles, played the second one about half way through, bought 4 on the Gamecube and again on the Wii, bought 5 and 6 really cheaply on Xbox live during sales (<$10).

    I’ve never once finished any of them. Terrible, terrible controls, idiotic puzzles (particularly early on), archaic game design clichés regurgitated time and time again (slash the box to find the glowing herb)….. Capcom just have a fantastic ability to mix awesome potential and cool looking themes with incredible frustration that ruins the experience.

    The fourth game is clearly the best IMO and certainly the game I played the most of, but in the end the frustrating controls just got the best of me (even after I bought the Wii version just to get a new control scheme). I hoped that the action focus of 5 and 6 would cause Capcom to shake up some of the more rusted on issues with the series but once I realised they hadn’t I’ve basically given up on the series now.

    • REMake and Resident Evil 2 are the best. By a long, long way. Despite its problems, 4 is still a great game, though.

  • It is the best resident evil imo. I have very fond memories of going “life for life” passing round the controller with my brother and my cousin one long summer. I will never forget the scene/area where you are introduced to the chainsaw guys. Fun times, revelations was also quite good (incredible for a handheld) on 3DS too.

    • Revelations is fantastic. Pumped so so many hours into it.

      Bummed the sequel isn’t getting any Nintendo love at all, would’ve been looking forward to it otherwise.

      • Yeah! Capcom rakes in the dough thanks to mh being on the 3ds, then goes AWOL with the sequel to a sort-of exclusive.

        Sad panda.

  • Easily in my Top 5 of all time. The upgrade system makes it so replayable. I remember I beat the game twice in one day as I unlocked the elphant killer right at the end of one run and just had to keep playing to test it out next minute roll credits.

  • So many great memories. Unlocking all of the weapons was a true challenge, but when I stood there, holding the Handcannon, it’s parts jittering and trembling with barely-contained power, all of the deaths and piss-the-couch terrifying moments of being chased by multiple Dr. Salvidors in Mercenaries was made worthwhile.

  • I couldn’t finish it, escort missions are the worst and this game seemed like one great big escort mission.

  • It was my personal pick for game on the generation (might revisit that at some point). Masterfully paced. Slowly plodding through Evil Within at the moment. It makes me pine for more RE4

  • Considering earlier Resi games I think it’s hard to fault Resi 4. It blended action with survival horror pretty damn well considering how stagnant the earlier games got. Shame that Resi 5 was just a co-op version and 6’s story was a total mess, neither brought anything “new” in the way 4 did.

  • The Wii version was the definitive version of this game. All the extra PS2 bits plus the Wii aiming. I played the hell out of on the Cube (finished a couple of times) and went through it a few more times on the Wii. I found it much easier and was able to Ace all the extra mission scenarios I could never quite beat on the Cube.

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