So the day has finally come… Ever since it’s creation, Resident Evil has always been a series that has received critical acclaim and loved by die-hard fans and casual gamers alike. Up until this point, there were some hiccups yes but ultimately it was pretty consistently good… And then Resident Evil 4 was released and the whole world collectively came in their pants after giving the game a play. Heralded as one of the greatest games ever made and the greatest game of the Resident Evil series, RE 4 is a game that has certainly gotten a lot of criticism thrown its way. Damn near all of it positive… and I’m really going to be no exception. I really hope nobody honestly thought I was about to blast RE 4 for being a ‘bad title’ or a ‘bad title in retrospect’. Not in the slightest. If anything, the game has gotten better as the years have progressed and truly shown it to be ahead of its time on controls and visuals.
And let’s not forget… This game was pretty damn ballsy when you think about it. Up until this point, the Resident Evil series had become pretty predictable all things considered. It was a basic survival horror franchise, you take a protagonist and navigate them through several locations as they kill mutated bad guys and zombies while trying to solve crazy puzzles and there really was no game that deviated from this path. But then RE 4 came out and the franchise would never be the same… But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The story of RE 4 starts off six years after the Raccoon City Incident. During that time, Umbrella Inc has hit bankruptcy after the Incident was made public and the remnants of Umbrella’s Bio-Weapons division are being hunted down. Our old buddy from RE 2 and arguably the most popular character in the series, Leon S Kennedy has grown up since his ill-fated day in Raccoon City and has now become a federal agent. He is sent to a small village in Spain in order to rescue the President of the United States’ daughter Ashley Graham from a mysterious cult. When Leon arrives, he learns that the whole town has been infected with a new plant-based parasite known as Las Plagas which effectively turns the towns folk into subservient zombies to a group known as Los Illuminados (Get it? Illuminati?! Clever!). The story then follows Leon as he attempts to find and save Ashley Graham and get to the bottom of what is going on with the Las Plagas parasite. On the way he meets a new and mysterious researcher named Luis Sera as well as the thought to be dead Ada Wong.
The Story is a Refreshing Change of Pace
It is always good to inject new life into a franchise. Even though there are many gamers who still wish to play the game that they grew up and fell in love with, when something gets stale it is great when developers notice this and strive to change… And man did Resident Evil need that fresh injection into their games. Code Veronica and the first Outbreak were pretty popular gaming titles but really compared to the popularity of RE 1-3, they really can’t compete and then let’s not forget about the terrible games that followed three which included Gaiden and the Gun Survivor Series. If there was any time for CAPCOM to give new life to their franchise, this was it. They still had their strong fanbase, but other than that they really weren’t bringing in new gamers so RE 4 was something the franchise needed to survive. It was a huge risk in retrospective, this game was a complete change. They did away with Umbrella Inc, The T-Virus, the G-Virus, damn near every virus you can think of, they changed the setting, they changed the camera angles, and just about every other way you can think of, this game was a make it or break it moment for CAPCOM, either they were going to revitalize their franchise or it was going to crash-land in an open field with the flames being seen for miles… And luckily for them it was the former.
In the world of video games, chances have become something of a rarity. Companies do like to play it safe and sell what they know is going to sell. So it is good to see a company like CAPCOM that was willing to take the risk and create a game that was new and by all accounts revolutionary.
The Graphics and Gameplay Paved the Way for the Next Generation of Gaming
This game was truly ahead of its time. Games like Uncharted and The Last of Us have RE 4 to thank when it comes to how a game is played and presented. It is almost hard to believe that this game was released on the PS2 and GameCube when I could honestly see the graphics being on par with many games in the most recent PS3/360 era of gaming consoles. This game also took a huge risk by doing away with the annoying and disorienting fixed camera angles that the series had become infamous for and instead gave us an over the shoulder, third person perspective. This type of gameplay would become the norm for later RE games and inspired any games that involved gunplay that was not in the first person perspective to tailor their game in a similar fashion to RE 4.
This was also one of the first games that really rewarded players for making precision shots. In previous games, no matter if you shot a zombie in the head or in the body, the thing usually took a couple of shots to go down. Granted in some games if you did not kill a zombie with a headshot they turned into the seldom remembered Crimson Heads but that eventually faded into the realms of RE obscurity. This was the first game that not only gave the players firm control of where they placed their shots instead of just moving the analog up and down and giving a general direction, but rewarded players for making the precision shots required.
The Cast is Smaller and as such, Are More Fleshed Out
One problem with the RE series up until this point is that the cast was a little… Well big. With the exception of the Gun Survivor Series, the smallest cast of characters was Code Veronica with around 7 or 8, dependent upon if you count characters that become BOWs. Other games sported anywhere between 10-20 different characters, some of them well fleshed out and others… Well not so much. For RE 4 though, the game dramatically shrinks the cast. Really the amount of protagonists or anti heroes has been shrunk to Leon, Luis Sera, Ashley Graham, the omnipresent Merchant, and Ada Wong. As far as baddies go you still have Jack Kauser as well as Osmund Saddler as well as Ramon Salazar and Bitores Mendez and the latter two really only serve as bosses for different levels and do not need to be as fleshed out as others. Also the omnipresent Merchant just serves as a sort of in-game way to trade and level up your weapons. Eliminating them from the list you only have 6 characters to really flesh out and I do feel the game benefits greatly from this. Granted the body count is not as large as in other games, but as I have said many times, a body count is really pointless if you don’t give a shit about the characters. I would rather play a game where I am emotionally invested in 4-6 well fleshed out characters than play a game where there is a cast of 18 and only 2 or 3 are really vital to the plot.
Is it just me or whenever you have a game that is called one of the greatest of all time, the main character always seems to have a sidekick of some sorts to accompany them? Mario has Luigi, Booker has Elizabeth, Sonic has Tails, Joel has Tess and Ellie, Link has Navi, and Leon Kennedy for this game has Ashley Graham and oh boy the character is so annoying it is enough for you to want to pull your teeth out. As an AI companion, Ashley Graham is the quintessential annoying sidekick who can’t do jack shit but get in your way and ruin your time by dragging her inept ass through an escort mission from hell. If you were to look up annoying AI sidekick in the dictionary then you would see a big picture of Ashley Graham staring you in the face.
… And really, as annoying as she is you all know damn well that her mere presence makes the game that much more memorable. Let’s face it, what would Ocarina of Time be without Navi constantly saying ‘Hey!’ ‘Hey!’ ‘Hey!’ every ten seconds? Even though Tails is an annoying little shit and can’t pass mustard next to Sonic and Knuckles, you know that if you removed Tails then there is just something missing from anything Sonic related. So I will say it, as annoying as the Ashley Graham character is and as much fun that gets poked at the character and the still ‘work in progress’ AI that runs her, we all know damn well this game would not be as good if it didn’t have Ashley in it. Most of the memes that involve RE4 or the tongue in cheek videos I see on YouTube involve Ashley and anytime someone brings up the words ‘escort mission’, someone always chimes in with the name Ashley Graham. Leon is badass and an all around fun character to play as, but Ashley deserves some credit in her own right for being a major addition to this game as well.
This is the one area where looking at this game in retrospective does seem to hurt it. This game is phenomenal, but what it did do was change the way that RE games were made and geared the series to a more action and adventure type of shooter and away from its survival horror elements. This would later lead to the poor performances that RE has been having in recent years. While this game is a classic, it didn’t do any favors for the franchise in the long run as RE 5 and RE 6 were considered major disappointments by comparison.
This game truly is one of the greatest ever made. The graphics and gameplay are revolutionary and on par with many games that are being released to this day on the 360 and PS3. The story is phenomenal and the characters are well fleshed out. Not to mention, it was a big risk/big payout for CAPCOM who finally delivered to fans the game that they had been waiting for for many years.
The only problem now with the game is the legacy that RE 4 leaves behind with the franchise. We have RE 4 to thank for the games to follow with RE 5 and RE 6 for better or for worse. But this still shouldn’t take away from one of the greatest video games to ever be released.
Final Score 5/5
Thank you for reading. As always please like and subscribe for more reviews from me and more from the Retrospective. Next on the Retrospective we will be heading towards the finish line as we will be taking a look at Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles.