The president’s daughter has been kidnapped and Leon Kennedy is our only hope. If only Chris could have made it…
Genre: Action, Horror
Release date: 27 Feb, 2014
It’s the early year lull for game releases and this year I’ve found myself passing the time by diving headfirst into the Resident Evil franchise. Though I’ve played a good number of the RE titles over the years, I’d never played through 5 until a friend and I decided to co-op it just after New Year’s. To say the least, I enjoyed it more than I expected. It sent me down the rabbit hole and soon I found myself diving into a replay of 4 over a decade after I’d originally played it and I’m currently playing through Revelations for the first time. I’ve been having a blast so I decided to add one of my favorite series to my list of reviews.
The Rook’s All Grown up
Resident Evil 4 has us returning to the role of Leon Scott Kennedy who is now a federal agent in a counterterrorism organization instead of a fresh-faced and bushy-tailed rookie in the Raccoon City police force. Thanks to this impressive new position, when the president’s daughter is kidnapped and it’s assumed to be an inside job, it’s Agent Kennedy that’s tasked with recovering her all on his lonesome. The mission starts out with him exploring a village packed full of particularly aggressive residents and leads through a dreary countryside, dark subterranean passages, and even a castle that would make Bowser jealous. Throw in a mysterious merchant who seems to always be wherever you need him to be and a variety of weapons to get your hands on and there’s a good amount of content to keep you occupied throughout the length of your rescue attempt.
A Break from Tradition
The classic Resident Evils (1-3) all felt similar from a gameplay standpoint. They were clear survival horror titles where it was just as often wise to navigate around and outmaneuver enemies than it was to murder them. There were certainly epic boss fights and it wasn’t rare to eliminate enemies that were in a particularly inconvenient position, but the action came secondary to the oppressive atmosphere.
Resident Evil 4 was the first to stray from this path. The tank controls were touched up and modified, free aiming became possible, and an over-the-shoulder camera was adopted that replaced the cinematic angles that the previous titles were known for. Survival horror plays second fiddle to the action of 4, though it wasn’t almost entirely forced out like the titles that would follow. It’s an exciting change, but one that also feels like something has been lost.
Leon, Help! Help Me, Leon!
The atmosphere of Resident Evil 4 is a step down from those that came before it. Though the countryside is designed in a way that you truly feel like you’re in a hostile and foreign land, many of the environments have clearly been made to prop up the combat system. This means that most maps are much larger than they’d need to be in a tighter horror experience; with far more territory to explore, each individual area loses some of what makes it stand out as unique. As a matter of fact, some areas don’t stand out from those around them at all, a far cry from the Spencer Mansion which many of us vividly remember every room of.
Without question, the most underwhelming element of the experience is Ashley Graham, the president’s daughter. The writing of her character isn’t noticeably worse when compared to the rest of the cast that surrounds her, though she brings with her Capcom’s first attempt at a heroic duo in the series and it’s ugly. When she’s around, you’ll have to watch out for her as she’ll be attacked by your foes as readily as they’ll come after you and she’s nowhere near as talented at avoiding them. If they don’t maul her to death and instead opt to throw her over their shoulder and take off with her, you’ll be picked them off instead of enemies that are more of a threat to you. If she goes down or is carried out of the scene, it’s a game over. Fortunately, it’s more annoying than difficult to keep her out of harm’s way and the auto-saves are placed in ideal locations throughout the adventure.
Resident Evil 4 breaks away from the survival horror mold of the previous titles in the series and creates its own identity as something of a hybrid of the old and the new. Pulling off a second playthrough after over a decade away has proven to me that it’s entirely worthy of its classic status as it still remains an excellent experience that hooked me from start to finish in a way that most modern releases are unable to. It holds up well after all of these years, particularly with the upgrades that came with the Steam version, though you won’t want to jump into it expecting a fully modernized shooter or mind-blowing graphics. If you’re considering revisiting it for nostalgia’s sake, I find it unlikely that you’ll be disappointed. If you’ve never played it before, what are you waiting for?