As a teen, I only had vague notions of what Resident Evil 4 was all about, thinking it was too scary to even try. But after reading that month’s issue of GamesMaster and marveling at the 96% score they gave it, I had to. Five playthroughs and multiple HD versions later, I’m here to explain why that was one of the best decisions of my gaming journey. This Halloween, it could be for you too (especially if you have Xbox Game Pass).
What it’s all about…
October means many things to many people. Among these are the true beginning of autumn, and the spooky advent of Halloween. So what better time is there to play a horror classic like Resident Evil 4? Released in 2005, Resident Evil 4 became an almost instant classic in the eyes of gamers and critics alike. Holding a 96 Metacritic score, it was widely considered to be a great survival-horror game and fantastic reinvention of the Resident Evil formula.
By moving away from the slow-moving ‘tank’ controls of the original Resident Evil games, RE4 dropped its barrier of entry and became much more accessible for first-time players. In doing this, it also changed the template for how survival horror and action games could play. Many games after the fact took inspiration from RE4. The over-the-shoulder camera found its way into games like Gears of War, Uncharted and Mass Effect.
Originally RE4 went through numerous iterations. After scrapping and changing the game more than once, many worried that the state of its development was in shambles. In hindsight, Shinji Mikami’s team should have never had a doubt. After its initial exclusive release on the Nintendo GameCube, RE4 made way to every console under the videogame sun.
Going on to sell a lifetime total of 7.3 million units across all platforms, it is, without doubt, one of Capcom’s best games. So why is it so revered? The answer comes down to its rewarding gameplay and immaculately paced campaign.
Does it hold up?
For those new to RE4, the age of the game could now be a turn-off. Many players see older games as a bit clumsy and graphically outdated. They often don’t have the quality of life features that modern games allow for, and their mechanics can sometimes feel clunky. This is not so with RE4 and its numerous HD remasters.
At its core, RE4 is an over the shoulder, third-person survival horror action game. Unlike the slow-moving controls of its predecessors, it uses a more modern movement system that’s immediately easy to understand. For first-time players, however, its combat and story may be another issue.
The story of RE4 hasn’t aged as well as its gameplay, but this may still be a positive if you’re new to the game. Its dialogue can be corny, but its B-movie plot is a fun ride that has its comedic moments. It doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, and after meeting characters like Salazar, you’ll understand. In other words, it’s great for people like me, who normally don’t do well with the horror genre.
Combat-wise, most modern action games let the player shoot and move simultaneously, including recent Resident Evil games. Yet, in a very deliberate decision by Capcom, RE4 requires you to stand still any time you want to fire or use a weapon. Staying rooted to the spot while enemies surround you can be a harrowing feeling. But by restricting movement in this way, Capcom built tension into every combat encounter.
Accuracy becomes incredibly important to keep foes at bay. You’ll consistently fire off guns to deflect projectiles, and trigger melee attacks by hitting weak points. Even better: this system forces you to be aware of your surroundings. The player must make use of the environment in order to avoid being overwhelmed. Through making both movement and standstill combat equally important, RE4 never feels dull.
Some extra spice is added to the formula thanks to some differing scenarios. It throws you into situations that make creative use of the mechanics you’ve gotten used to, like using rural homes to barricade yourself inside, or defending yourself whilst sniping distant foes to protect an NPC.
While standing still to shoot might not feel as smooth as modern third-person action games, treat it with an open mind. Remember, it’s all for the sake of that classic Resident Evil tension.
Perfect by design…
This would all be meaningless if the campaign didn’t have a solid structure to support it. However, the game moves at a perfect pace, mixing in combat sections with some light exploration and puzzle-solving.
It never feels like you’re doing the same thing for too long. This is thanks to a consistent mix of linear areas, bosses, and open sections. Within these, the game alternates between combat and puzzle scenarios to boot. Puzzles often have a wide range of mechanics. Enough to make you have to stop and think, making for a welcome break between the intense action.
In addition, combat encounters become increasingly more complex due to new enemy types, and there is more verticality in the arenas. At the same time, your arsenal becomes deadlier through upgrades. This ensures you’re never too strong or weak for the enemies you take on.
When you do occasionally feel you’ve got some confidence, the hideous boss fights remind you otherwise. These larger-than-life monsters break up the flow you’ve become accustomed to, providing some pulse-pounding fights and entertaining spectacle.
Even in moments of downtime, RE4 likes to surprise. The occasional use of quick-time events (QTEs) keeps you on your toes as you mash the controller to keep Leon away from a gruesome death. And make no mistake, the game is designed such a way that you’ll want to avoid dying at all costs. These deaths are a huge source of horror in RE4.
The sheer amount of ways Leon can lose his life is staggering. So while pacing out increasingly difficult combat, intimidating bosses, and devious QTE traps, RE4 masterfully weaves in stakes that you’ll care about from one moment to the next.
Why you should replay it:
If you’ve already played this classic, you might wonder what reasons there would to play it again. But fear not! Having completed it multiple times myself, I am here to explain why it deserves to be replayed.
For players that want an extra challenge, RE4 isn’t lacking for higher difficulty modes. In ‘Professional’ mode, Leon can go down in a single hit. A different kind of challenge can be had with the time attack-based ‘Mercenaries’ mode too. In this horde-type mode, waves of enemies come at you with a time limit. Hunting for high scores is surprisingly addictive, and has that kind of ‘pass the controller to a friend’ feeling you don’t often see in games today.
If increasing the difficulty isn’t your thing, then RE4 also offers its version of New Game Plus. Through this, you can start a new game while carrying over all of your upgraded weapons. You can then upgrade even more weapons to your heart’s desire, giving you the freedom to experiment and further excuse to visit RE4’s famous Merchant. (“Whaddya buying?”) As an added cherry on top, New Game Plus offers bonus costumes for Leon and Claire. This includes the ludicrous-but-brilliant mafia costume for Leon (complete with hat twirling and a Tommy gun), and the knight costume for Ashley, making her hilariously invincible.
Since RE4‘s original release, there have also been additional campaign offerings added. The Separate Ways and Assignment: Ada minigames offer more story content with a fresh character to play. Taken as a whole, there are many modes on offer that can give some welcome variety to returning players.
Thanks to its timeless level design, impactful combat, and fun bonuses, Resident Evil 4 is as fun to play today as it was in 2005. This B-movie story can be a fun ride for just about anyone, and its scares are a fine way to have fun this Halloween.