BY NICK McCOY
There are few games out there that can be considered timeless masterpieces. Games that, despite being decades old, have survived the passage of time and are just as playable as most games today. Games that have changed the landscape of the industry in numerous ways, which most players nowadays may not even be able to comprehend. This prestigious title absolutely belongs to “Resident Evil 4.”
Truly, there aren’t enough words to describe how much Resident Evil 4 changed the gaming enviornment when it was released all the way back in 2005. It is, to this day, probably the most influential third-person shooter you can pick up. Its over-the-shoulder perspective influenced countless franchises over the years, and it revolutionized third-person survival horror. Now, how does a game released over a decade ago fair in today’s age?
Like fine wine, that’s how. After finally getting a chance to play it, I can say with full confidence “RE4” deserves every amount of praise it gets. Even if you look past its everlasting influence, “Resident Evil 4” is an insanely fun time. With an excellent story, memorable characters, impressive graphics even now, and an ever-so-addicting gameplay loop, “Resident Evil 4” has earned its title as a timeless masterpiece.
Released on January 11th, 2005, “Resident Evil 4” is actually the 15th game released in Capcom’s landmark Resident Evil series, if you count the remakes, spin-offs and mobile releases; however, it is the fourth game chronologically. It was both produced and published by Capcom and directed by Shinji Mikami, who has worked on several other Resident Evil games and many of Capcom’s franchises. Players control Leon S. Kennedy, returning from “Resident Evil 2.” Taking place six years after the events of “RE2,” Leon has gone from rookie cop to government agent, working to stop various bioterrorist threats. This time, guided by his dispatcher Ingrid Hunnigan, Leon is sent to a rural village in Spain to save the president’s daughter, Ashley, from a mysterious and dangerous cult.
During his mission, he must deal with the infected villagers (referred to as “Ganados,” which translates to cattle or livestock), under control of the cult, called Los Iluminados, through the use of a mind-controlling parasite called Las Plagas. Leon also meets several characters, both old and new – including a returning character, seductive and mysterious spy Ada Wong – who originally appeared in “Resident Evil 2” alongside Leon. Other characters introduced in “RE4” include Spanish researcher Luis Sera, Leon’s former comrade Jack Krauser, and of course, the main villains; Village chief Bitores Mendez, Count Roman Salazar, and the leader of Los Illuminados, Osmund Saddler.
Aside from the main story, players have access to a few different game modes and extras. These new game modes include Separate Ways and Assignment Ada, both starring Ada Wong, which offer two distinct experiences. Separate Ways is a side campaign that puts more context into Ada’s mission as she works for legendary RE villain Albert Wesker, while Assignment Ada is a non-canon minigame where Ada must collect five Las Plagas samples. Last but not least, there is Mercenaries, an arcade-style mode where players can take control of Leon, Ada, Krauser, Wesker and HUNK, a character last seen in “Resident Evil 2’s” ‘The 4th Survivor’ mode. Mercenaries task players with killing as many Ganados as possible within a strict time limit, using your character’s varied loadouts. All of these modes provide plenty of extra fun while also gifting players with new weapons and tools to use in the main campaign.
Unsurprisingly, “Resident Evil 4” was immensely successful upon release. It sold 11 million copies and was ported to 13 different systems across its lifetime. It became a landmark title for Capcom, and not only inspired the company itself with future titles, but would go on to become a major influence on many other landmark games. “Gears of War,” “Dead Space,” and “The Last of Us” can all thank “Resident Evil” for bringing them to life in one way or another. A remake of “Resident Evil 4” was also developed by Capcom and released in 2023.
“Resident Evil 4” is a drastic departure from previous games in the series. It ditches the fixed camera angle of its predecessors in favor of an over-the-shoulder perspective. Rather than the camera being stuck in a cinematic position, it is now glued to Leon’s back. This camera angle was used exclusively for most other entries following 4, up until “RE 7” which used a first-person angle. Another major departure was a much heavier focus on action.
While the previous entries emphasize atmosphere and inventory management, “RE4” is more in line with a standard third-person shooter. It still maintains some elements of survival horror, and there are genuinely creepy moments, but for the most part, the horror is toned down slightly. This hardly does anything to derail the experience, however.
For a game released so long ago, the graphics hold up astonishingly well. While most people nowadays might not think the graphics or textures are too impressive, it feels natural just going back and playing such an old game. In particular, the character models and animations are smooth and natural and actually look like human beings, contrasting the usually robotic movements of the original three games. I would say the most impressive aspect of “RE4’s” graphics presentation is the timelessness of it all; none of it looks dated or old school, and the environments rarely look out of place.
One aspect that is still present in “Resident Evil 4” from previous games is tank controls, and for some modern players, I can see how this might be an issue. Tank controls were a staple of the old “Resident Evil” titles, and are vastly different from what most are used to. Basically, instead of having movement relative to the game’s camera, movement is based on the character’s position. Because of this, Leon doesn’t exactly move in the most natural way; He can’t strafe left or right, and he doesn’t turn around all that quickly. He also can’t move while shooting his gun; while aiming down sights, you are stuck in place. I’ll be the first to admit this new control scheme caught me off guard. I struggled against the first enemy, and barely made it through the first enemy arena.
Another part of the game which may alienate newer players is the inventory system. In “Resident Evil 4,” there is no quick switch option for weapons; instead, players will need to pause the game in order to select a new weapon. At first glance, this system may seem clunky, and it could be argued that it takes you out of the experience. Aside from that, managing inventory space may also be a pain for some. The player is going to be spending a lot of time in the pause menu manually organizing every weapon, ammo, health item, and treasure you have collected.
At the same time, I got used to both of these systems incredibly quickly, and over time it’s amazing how natural the game feels. Also, a lot of the standard gameplay is made for this movement and playstyle. While Leon can’t turn all that quickly on his own, there is a quick turn feature that instantly turns him around, which is incredibly useful for evading and fighting enemies. When it comes to aiming, each weapon has a red dot sight that tells you exactly where your shots will land. You will also get used to the inventory system very quickly, and pausing the game to select a new weapon will become second nature to you as you progress. On top of that, organizing the inventory space can be oddly satisfying, especially when you put all of your kit in the exact places you want them to be.
The game is also tailored around Leon’s movement to make it more balanced. Due to the fact he can’t move and shoot, enemies don’t swarm you at aggressive speeds. Instead, they move relatively slowly, aside from the occasional strafe and sprinting charge. These make fights much more fair, even during the more difficult stages of the game. Leon can also perform various moves which give you much-needed space; he can kick stunned enemies, which knock down anyone nearby, and he can knock down ladders to keep them from climbing up to him.
Various audio cues are also present, which help give away certain actions. The whispering of the Ganados lets you know where they are, and things like a fuse being lit and a distinct woosh sound let you know when dynamite is being thrown and when axes and scythes are being hurled at you. It’s these tweaks which greatly improve the overall experience and make fighting off enemies easier, yet still satisfying.
Leon faces several different enemies as the game progresses, which are much tougher than the regular villagers. One of the most iconic is Dr. Salvador, more commonly known as just the Chainsaw Ganado. This enemy wears a burlap sack over their head and, you guessed it, wields a chainsaw. Not only are they much tougher than standard Ganados, but they will kill you in one hit if they get too close. Another iconic enemy is the Regenerator, which you encounter in the latter half of the game. These are some of the most nightmarish enemies ever put into a video game, for a couple of reasons.
For one, their design and the sounds they make are guaranteed to unnerve you. Second, as their name suggests, they regenerate from any damage you deal to them. Thankfully, they are made easier to deal with due to the inclusion of the Thermal Scope, which shows the Plagas inside their bodies. Shoot these, and they’ll pop like balloons. Other enemies and mini-bosses encountered in RE4 are the giant troll-like El Gigante, the water-lurking monster Del Lago, the blind, claw wielding Garradors, the insect-like Novistadors, and the sub-bosses Verdugo and X-3. These enemies not only provide plenty of variety to the enemy encounter but their own challenge.
“Resident Evil 4” also gives us some incredibly memorable boss fights. In total, there are eight boss battles that Leon faces throughout the game; El Gigante, Del Lago, Verdugo, U-3, Mendes, Salazar, Krauser and Saddler. To say these battles are a spectacle is putting it lightly; They each take place in different arenas, and some are much more challenging than others. I wouldn’t say any one of them is crushingly difficult, although there are those which will cause you more trouble for sure; The U-3 and Krauser were the ones I struggled with the most.
In addition, each boss has its own gimmick to deal with; Mendes’ boss battle takes place in a cramped, burning barn, the Verdugo is incredibly durable yet can be frozen with liquid nitrogen, the Del Lago fight takes place on a boat and must be shot with harpoons, while Krauser is a tough battle at first, but he can easily be defeated with the knife. These certainly aren’t the greatest boss battles in video game history nor are they that challenging, but will provide plenty of amazing setpieces and memorable gameplay sections.
Now, dealing with these various enemies wouldn’t be as fun without some toys to play with. Thankfully, “Resident Evil 4” truly contains an incredible selection of weapons. Starting with a standard 9mm pistol, Leon’s arsenal evolves to include a pump action shotgun, a TMP (a submachine gun), a scoped rifle, a magnum, a rocket launcher, and plenty of others. Weapons can be purchased or found naturally as they progress through the story, and some specific weapons, such as the Infinite Rocket Launcher and the Chicago Typewriter (A powerful Tommy Gun with infinite ammo), can be unlocked through specific parameters.
Weapons, along with various other goodies, can be purchased from the Merchant, a mysterious yet friendly Ganado that provides a safe haven for players. Using Ptas, a currency found throughout the game world, players can purchase things such as health sprays, larger inventory space, and maps of specific areas. Players can also sell various treasures and gems they find while exploring the world. Later on in the game, players also gain access to his shooting range, where they practice their shooting skills and earn bottle caps, and collectibles which are figurines of most of the game’s characters. Not only is the Merchant a Godsend who provides many useful tools, but he also gives some of the best lines in the game. I’ve never heard somebody turn a line as simple as “What are you buying?” into something so magical.
Now, there is one part of this game that some people will swear up and down is the worst part of the experience: Escorting Ashley. Considering it’s the main reason Leon is in Spain in the first place, a large portion of the game revolves around leading Ashley through various arenas and levels. So many players consider escorting Ashley as an absolute nightmare, and that she is beyond annoying to try and keep alive. Keep in mind: I am someone who absolutely despises escort missions, and thinks they should not exist. Next to water levels and forced stealth sections, I can’t think of any other mission type which gives me as much frustration as escorting some NPC through hordes of enemies.
Yet, despite my feelings about escort missions, the hate for the Ashley sections is extremely overblown. Now if you want to argue that Ashley is a completely useless character, then I’ve got no arguments; basically all she does throughout the game is follow Leon, and get captured like three separate times. Gameplay-wise, however, the act of leading the president’s daughter through danger is a perfect example of an escort mission done right. The main reason why escort missions are usually such a pain is because the AI is so braindead that they will often either get themselves killed, or will straight up get in your way and cause your demise.
Ashley, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. She is constantly glued to Leon’s back, and if she does manage to wander into his line of sight, she will duck down when he’s aiming his weapon. On top of that, you have the option to make her wait outside of the enemy arena, and some stages let you hide her in a dumpster, making her completely safe from any danger. If she is ever grabbed by an enemy, the scream she lets out is absolutely grating, but that’s the point. If she gets caught, it is entirely the fault of the player. The most annoying thing about Ashley is the fact she has her own separate health bar, so you are required to share health items with her. However, I am man enough to admit that the times Ashley died during my playthrough were entirely my own fault; the result of my terrible aim and my completely forgetting about the wait command. So, all in all, people need to stop complaining about these sections. They are not that bad, and considering my thoughts on escort missions as a whole, that should speak volumes.
Lastly, I want to discuss the main reason I would say “Resident Evil 4” is so beloved by RE fans: the writing. Now, “Resident Evil” has always been pretty goofy, from the very first game in the series. It had this B-Movie cheese to it, which added so much charm to the characters and story, and anybody who thinks “Resident Evil” hasn’t been ridiculous clearly hasn’t been paying attention. “Resident Evil 4” takes that B-Movie cheesiness and amps it up to 11, to the point where it’s impossible not to love it.
Leon, despite being a highly skilled government agent, is a bit of a dork; spouting one-liners that would make a middle schooler groan (“No thanks, Bro!” and “Your right hand comes off?”), along with some pretty hilarious quips (“Where’s everyone going? Bingo?) and dealing with the most bizarre situations with an astonishing level of indifference. The main villains, Saddler and Salazar, are two of the most entertaining antagonists ever put to screen, and their radio conversations with Leon do a lot to make the story worthwhile. Whether it’s Salazar’s slimy, pompous attitude or Saddler’s delightfully devious delivery, these two steal every scene they’re in. Krauser is also a memorable antagonist, due to his personal relationship with Leon, his intriguing motivations and an incredibly tense boss fight. The writing does fall into traditional conventions sometimes, namely, the villains not killing Leon when they had the chance, but considering the ridiculousness of everything around him, it’s easy to look past these aspects.
If the villains can be endearing and entertaining, then you can be sure that this translates into the other characters. The interactions between Leon and his allies give birth to not only some iconic moments but some of the best lines in video games. Luis, a character who doesn’t even appear in the game all that long, is given such a likable and entertaining personality that makes you wish for more. Luis also gives us the famous “Ballistics” line, which is one of the best quotes in the entire game, if not of all time, and I don’t care what people say.
The interactions between Leon and Ashley are also golden; while you can argue all day that Ashley in the original isn’t the most developed character, some of the dialogue she shares with Leon is still a joy to listen to. Lines such as “I knew you’d be fine if you landed on your butt” and Ashley’s request for “Overtime” at the end will leave you with a smile on your face for sure. Even if you don’t like the gameplay, the game’s goofy charm and dialogue are sure to bring you in.
“Resident Evil 4” is a game everybody needs to play at least once. Even if some players might not be able to truly appreciate its influence nowadays, the game’s frantic action, tightly balanced gameplay, enjoyable story and undeniable charm will certainly make them appreciate “Resident Evil 4” as a game on its own merits. I can confidently call “Resident Evil 4” a timeless masterpiece, one of if not the best games in the “Resident Evil” series, and one of the greatest games of all time. I hope anybody who plays it comes out of the experience feeling the same way I did.