12 Angry Men (Lumet, 1957)

Resident Evil 4 (Capcom, 2005)

Ahead of its re-release on current-gen platforms at the end of this month - I thought it would be a good idea to discuss what made Resident Evil 4 one of the best action adventure horror games ever made. Unlike the titles in the series that were to follow, this game didn't take itself seriously in the slightest - which means that as well as the stellar gameplay we were paradoxically treated to some wonderfully awful dialogue with the most extravagantly cheesy and over the top villains in the series. 

resident evil 4 review

I was a few years late to this game, I picked up the Wii version around the time when I was in college (2009/10) and despite it being regarded as one of the best games of all time I had no expectations as I'd been ignorant to such reviews prior to making the purchase. The story is a fairly generic tale of secret agent Leon Kennedy who is sent to rescue the presidents daughter from a group of cultists that all turn out to be infected with a virus. But really it doesn't matter, Resident Evil 4 is like playing your way through a b-movie written by a ten year old (watch this cutscene for evidence). This isn't a criticism though, the creators seemed to know they were making a game that was goofy, campy fun and in no way deep or intellectual - and it's so much more fun because of it. 

Resident Evil 4 marked a massive shift for the beloved horror series, fixed camera angles and lock-on aiming were removed, puzzles were simplified and exploration no longer required you to rely so much on a map. Much of what was was included and taken away served to make it much more of an action game than survival horror. The new free-aim feature for example meant that combat had much more strategy built into it, as shooting at different body parts of the enemies yielded various useful animations depending on what part of the enemy you damaged. How you used such tactics would change depending on each and every encounter, for example if you were surrounded it would usually be best to spray your machine gun bullets low at the enemies legs to trip them all up, giving you time to make your escape, while at other times it was sensible to simply go for a headshot. Despite this action focus you never ever feel overpowered, in fact at any one time you're usually running around with less handgun bullets than you are in Silent Hill 2. Added to this there are lots of one-hit kill enemies that you must face, and it's wonderfully panic inducing when you've run out of bullets are are left to scramble around the environment breaking boxes while the sound of a chainsaw wielding mad man is behind you.  

Lots of other mechanics work together in order to create a great tension. First off you can't move while shooting, and the over-the-top camera perspective zooms in whilst readying your gun - severely restricting your field of vision. The enemies tend to walk straight towards you but the levels are fairly open ended which means there are lots of blind spots where your vulnerable from enemies swarming you on all sides.  Silent Hill's distant camera angles were employed to make you feel more alone in a large & sprawling town, but Resident Evil 4's claustrophobia meant that you had to constantly move Leon to avoid getting ambushed. 

Secondly, the tank controls serve to make this movement much more drawn out compared to modern third person games like Max Payne for example. Luckily there is a button function that allows you to quickly snap Leon around 180 degrees should you need to run away (and that will happen, alot) - but these controls are not what I would describe as fluid. Again this isn't a criticism, it's a restriction that was an intended stylistic choice that further increases how vulnerable you feel in a firefight and it's impossible to imagine this game without it. There is alot of backlash against this 'tank' style of control and while the inability to strafe when aiming may not be realistic, the alternative would probably end up making Resident Evil 4 look and play like Gears Of War. 

Thirdly, the enemies themselves are incredibly varied, ranging from simple, shuffling human-like beings, to giant mosquito's and infested wolves (also, lest we forget - a midget Napoleon man who transforms into one of the biggest bosses in a game littered with them). Despite being a pretty long
game, you never get tired of fighting these bad guys, alot of them have weak spots that are pretty easy to notice, this stops the combat from turning into a simple shooting gallery. Furthermore, there is often a vertical nature to the level design so you'll not only have to contend with the melee attacks that enemies deal when they get close to you but also the zombies who are positioned on a higher level shooting bows and throwing dynamite. It's not necessary a scary game, but the grotesque creature designs and Leon's violent death animations really get under your skin, and there isn't a moment where you're not on edge dreading the next big fight.


As well as creating dread when you can hear the muffled noise of enemies whispering or readying their weapons in the distance, it uses music to establish its moments of relaxation too. Rather than constantly ramping up the action and maintaining a unending stream of bad guys so much so that you become desensitised - it knows that there will be many occasions where you have escaped from a particularly hairy fight from the skin of you teeth and will give you a little respite. The castle section arguably drags on a bit, but yet again the satisfaction you get from the combat means that at no point does it feel like a pain to play. Unlike many first person military shooters, the pacing in Resident Evil 4 shifts between high octane scripted sections and exploration where you're free to collect the ammo from the bodies of the ten hundred zombies you've killed... just in  time for another barrage of them. In keeping with the plot that makes no sense, there is a merchant who seems to follow you around, popping up every so often to give you a chance of selling the treasures you've just looted, buying new weapons and upgrading those you already own. Often these encounters will be accompanied by ambient music to let you know when you're finally safe. (If you've already played this game than you know this song - it let's players know that they can breathe a sigh of relief, at least for a few minutes)


The only criticism I have of the game is its habit of randomly interrupting cutscenes to make you play a QTE - they come out of nowhere and are only in a tiny fraction of cutscenes so it's impossible to be prepared for them, especially on harder difficulties when they're incredible unforgiving - and if you fail it's back to watching the whole dialogue exchange again. The ones that occur during gameplay are perfectly fine, during combat, a boss battle or a running sequence they do a great job of adding adrenaline to your play through, but the ones in the middle of cutscenes come off as just frustrating. Also, Resident Evil 5's inventory management system was dumb (how does a grenade launcher take up the same amount of space as a herb?) but I liked how you had to look after your health and ammo in real-time. You attache case in Resident Evil 4 is a great addition because arranging your items to optimise space is a puzzle in itself, but it would have been nice to have seen how it worked without it pausing your game when you opened it.

But this is nitpicking, play any third person action game today and chances are it's been influenced by Resident Evil 4. The quick time events, the camera angles, the set pieces, the weapon upgrade system... it reinvented the series and helped to set the reference point for a generation of games after it. Resident Evil 5 was relatively unchanged in terms of combat so it was still fun to play, but it took a much more serious tone with its story so was not nearly as memorable - remember, the first Resident Evil had this cutscene in it, so why they would ever attempt to scramble any kind of normality out of the series continuity is difficult to understand. But if you've never played it, do yourself a favour and grab a copy of Resident Evil 4 this month - there is simply no other horror game that you'll have more fun with.  

(Don't just take my word for it, Badger and Skinny Pete like this game too it seems, but for completely different reasons)

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