Reviewed on PC.
To be honest, the main reason I went with the Halloween reviews was so that I could review a game I adore that roughly fits into the ‘horror’ box – Resident Evil 4.
In Resident Evil 4, you play as Leon S. Kennedy, a floppy-haired special agent who is tasked with searching an unnamed Spanish village for the President’s kidnapped daughter, Ashley. Upon arriving, Leon finds the occupants of the village are hostile, zombie-like, and under the control of a sinister cult. Once Leon finds Ashley, the two are pushed further into the village and come across increasingly bizarre locations and creatures. Resident Evil 4 was the first game in the series that seemed aware the dialogue and plots of the games often ended up being extremely cheesy, so it played up to this and went wild with hilarious setpieces and characters. Leon is a caricature of the American action hero, roundhouse kicking zombies in the face and spouting terrible jokes. Salazar is an inept, 3-foot tall villain who tries in vain to appear threatening. Then there is possibly the greatest video game character of all time – the merchant. The merchant is a chuckling hunchback, with an accent that sometimes sounds cockney and sometimes sounds like a pirate. He wears a longcoat that apparently has enough space to hold several attaché cases, maps, and precious stones, alongside a sizeable selection of firearms. The merchant is always close by, ready to barter with wealthy strangers. In addition, he has a part-time hustle hosting a shooting range where he offers up novelty bottle cap toys as prizes. As the single most interesting character ever, it’s a big surprise that there wasn’t a spin-off game where you play as him, intercepting strangers so that they can peruse your selection of good things on sale.
Despite the B-movie angle, Resident Evil 4 demonstrates an ability to create a really effective horror atmosphere, exemplified by the game’s sewers, laboratory, and in particular, the opening village. The twenty minutes preceding the title’s appearance have you walking down an autumnal, quiet road, occasionally stopping to fight handfuls of enemies as you get to grips with the combat system. Once you reach a cluster of houses, you then need to hold back a seemingly endless horde of zombies, with a masked, chainsaw-wielding man slowly pushing his way towards you. When it wants to be, RE4 is a fantastically oppressive horror game.
The game’s over-the-shoulder camera placement was such an effective way of facilitating third-person shooting that pretty much every game with that perspective now uses it. That said, it’s initially a little jarring when compared modern third person games, in that you can’t move it around much and aiming causes you to stand still. While this might seem clunky, it quickly becomes apparent that these factors help increase the tension of the game; to be successful in combat, you need to pick a good spot to stand your ground, shoot precisely for maximum effect and be aware of threats outside of your limited field of vision.
There is a good range of enemies to fight, with new foes regularly being thrown in to shake up the regular crowd control encounters. Many creatures have memorable and disturbing designs, and they each have vulnerabilities and strengths that you need to be aware of in order to efficiently defeat them. The best example of this is the moment when a villager’s head explodes to reveal a tentacle that can do considerable damage from range and you realise that headshots are going to be a lot riskier from now on.
The selection of weapons is also great. There are various pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles, and magnums, as well as some more unique weapons. Rather than having the guns available later on be instantly superior, each has a distinct advantage compared to the other weapons in its class, and all weapons can be extensively upgraded to become devastating. For anyone interested, my pistol of choice is the Blacktail.
Like other games in the series, the game includes some puzzles that some villain thought would be a better way of securing a door than a lock and key. Some of these are pretty fun (I really like the stained-glass window one), and they provide some downtime between combat without being so challenging they harm the pacing.
RE4 uses music very well. Like other games in the series, 4 treats you to a gorgeous track whenever you reach a safe room, and the game regularly uses droning, ambient soundscapes to heighten the tension of combat and exploration. There are also stretches of time without music, and hearing nothing but your footsteps for a while can itself be a little unnerving.
Though it was obviously designed for controller, the mouse and keyboard controls are actually quite good, and in some ways superior. On the controller, you hold the left trigger and use the left stick to aim, a scheme that is counterintuitive to newer games that all use the right stick to aim, whereas using the mouse you use the ‘same right mouse to aim, left mouse to fire’ found in the majority of shooters, with the bonus of extra precision. In addition, having quick turn as a single press of a key as opposed to a button combo is also more convenient. However, the mouse and keyboard controls are inferior for turning, as accurately rotating to get a better viewing angle is a lot easier with analogue sticks. One thing that would have been appreciated for the PC version would have been weapon hotkeys. While they wouldn’t have been true to the original, they would have eliminated the few seconds where you pop in and out of your inventory to change guns, which can affect the flow of the game.
The one thing I really do not like about the game is the presence of quick time events, including those of the ‘furiously mash’ and ‘frantically wiggle’ kind. One in particular sticks in my mind, as you are forced to do a really unforgiving ‘furiously mash’ at the end of an extended sequence, and if you fail you are sent back several minutes to the start of the sequence.
The main technical issue I encountered when playing was enemies’ arms clipping through walls and doors. While this might add to the spookiness, it wasn’t intended and looks pretty tacky, especially since it undermines the moments when they break through a door between you. The frame rate also causes a couple of issues; a few animations play at 30FPS as opposed to 60, causing a really jarring effect where one character is moving at half speed, and while I have never experienced this problem, some people have reported slowdown if the frame rate drops.
Simply put, Resident Evil 4 is an incredibly accomplished title that continues to inform action games to this day. Along with the thoroughly enjoyable main campaign, the remastered versions contain two bonus campaigns and a challenge mode, making it extremely good value for money. Highly recommended.