Ghosts of Games Past: Resident Evil 4
Another week, another game that we’ll be covering from ye old days. This week we’ll be looking at another veritable classic; this time from the Resident Evil series. The original game in the franchise created the entire “survival horror” genre and blazed a trail with its unique gameplay and tone. While the Resident Evil series has at times struggled with a complex mythology, along with games that faltered beneath the weight of its mythology (looking at you, Resident Evil 5), it has for better or worse been a staple of video games as a medium. However, one particular game in the series will always stand out: Resident Evil 4. The game that revived the series and dragged gaming to new heights with it.
Resident Evil 4’s initial move is one of its greatest ones. It largely ditches the cumulative weight of the bloated mythology the series around which the series had built itself. Namely, it finally moved past Umbrella, Raccoon City, and the other tertiary minutiae with a time skip. Leon Kennedy, the survivor of the Raccoon City incident — now a federal agent — is sent into a small European village to locate the President’s daughter. Naturally, things go south quickly, and Leon gets more than he bargained for when he takes on the Los Illuminados cult that controls the area — as well as their army of Ganado.
Resident Evil’s static camera was scary for the time, but its shift toward a more action-oriented game required a different set of tools. Its biggest strength by far is the use of third person perspective via an over-the-shoulder camera. In that respect it changed gaming forever. In terms of how that impacted the gameplay though, it both openened up different avenues of gameplay, and infused a metric ton of tension due to your point of view being relegated to the immediate area within Leon’s field of vision. While the tank controls are somewhat annoying to deal with in 2018 after well over a decade of advancement, it still has its charms. It’s also hard not to appreciate the level of depth given to your approach in combat with the Ganados, how quickly a situation can go from you mowing down enemies with a shotgun, to being outflanked and boxed in with dynamite and pickaxe-wielding foes. While it may be a bit strange moving from the somewhat more exploration-oriented gameplay to this, it makes for a very exciting experience.
It also helps that Resident Evil 4 took full advantage of the technology of the time. While graphics have obviously marched on over the last decade, it’s still astonishing how gorgeous the game looks with the dark and brown hues that define most of the areas through which you travel. And while even playing on HD doesn’t quite alleviate how dated the graphics look, art is art and this is a game that really knows how to set its atmosphere.
All told, Resident Evil 4 is still a game that, while a bit dated by modern standards, is absolutely worth playing. It’s a blast being able to go back to such an exciting time in gaming and to look at such an awesome construction with new eyes and the knowledge of what it helped to define. There’s definitely a reason the series has had such trouble topping this particular chapter.
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