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Resident Evil 4

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Released: 2005

Genre: Action Adventure

Publisher: Capcom

Developer: Capcom Production Studio 4

The Background
It was to be the final Resident Evil. Five years in gestation, evolving through multiple forms, it was in danger of losing semblance to the trilogy that went before. Even today there are fans of the series that feel Resident Evil 4 was too much of a departure (while still bemoaning the awkward controls of the originals). Yet, with hindsight, Resident Evil 4 is regarded as not only the best of the bunch, but also one of the greatest videogames ever, claiming an XL Attaché Case full of awards.

At the time of its GameCube release in 2005 Capcom’s survival-horror saga was facing challengers from all sides. Konami’s spooky Silent Hill had reached its fourth installment with the hallucinatory The Room, there had been two Fatal Frame outings from Tecmo with a third on the way. Hideki Kamiya’s trailblazing ‘Stylish Hard Action’ Devil May Cry had been cutting everybody’s work out since 2001.

News of Shinji Mikami being back at the helm combined with a five-year absence reminded gamers how hungry we all were for a comeback. And with Japanese horror becoming fashionable through movies such as Dark Water and One Missed Call the stage was well and truly set.

RE4_GameCube4The Game
Peering over the shoulder of Leon S Kennedy, jogging down a countryside track, we are thematically, geographically and mentally very far removed from Raccoon City. Exposed in the open, in broad daylight no less, this doesn’t feel like Resident Evil at all – not yet. However, there is something eerily compelling about the found-footage Eighties video-nasty vibe to proceedings that, okay, this is already scary.

We remember thinking, upon our first playthrough of RE4 almost a decade ago, “I wish this guy would just get out of the way…!” A pseudo first-person approach, with its tactical aim bolted on, was a giant leap out of the magnetic boots experience of Resident Evil 1-3. Yet during the 18 hours or so it takes to reach the end of Leon’s presidential mission, deliberate and measured action is something that you learn to appreciate. Sure, it seems odd that Special Agent Kennedy is unable to run and gun, dive and shoot. For Resident Evil, though, it works. You can keep your Wii controls.

Initially the striking thing about Resident Evil 4 was how we were seeing Resident Evil: Remake quality environments in real time, and added to that so much freedom available to make tactical choices in these environments. Dealing with this kind of overshadowed the Los Illuminados narrative for a while… at least until the point that the Ganados (infected Spanish villagers) started sprouting tentacles from their necks.

Capcom’s design and animation is exemplary throughout this trek that takes in six chapters across three main acts. Equally admirable is the difficulty progression, something of a lost art, which keeps players in sight of hope no matter how many times the “You Died” message is smeared across the screen.

Managing the contents of Leon’s attaché case, deciding between precise distance or close-quarters rapid-fire arms, becomes an obsession all by itself. Considering which weapon serves best versus specific enemy archetypes becomes self-rewarding in time for our first incredulous encounter with El Gigante (mountain of a mutant man). Briefly, on the subject of El Gigante, quick-time events are brilliantly integrated. They especially make chapter 4-1’s Verdugo boss battle a heart-in-mouth experience, but in every case they’re unobtrusive, logical and keep us on our toes.

Returning to Resident Evil 4 after such a long sojourn, it’s surprising how entertaining it still is even after dallying with Gears Of War or The Last Of Us. We’re kept guessing as to who the ultimate evil is among Bitores, Salazar, Krauser or Lord Saddler. Their respective minions are among the most imaginative ever to grace a monster hunt.

In the tradition of saving the best part until last, boss battles – in particular Salazar – are simply out of this world. Whether trying to land the world’s biggest fish, dazing a distorted skeletal priest, aiming for the heart of a dwarf amid writhing tentacles or dashing between collapsing platforms buying time to flee a Plagas-powered fiend, these are frankly astonishing scenes that have rarely been matched nor bettered.

RE4_GameCube2Why It’s A Future Classic
In showing its age, rather than being a negative, Resident Evil 4 presents one of its greatest assets: that it proved so influential. It raised the bar in production values, wrote the book on ‘How to QTE’ (though it didn’t invent the mechanic), and gave Epic Games half its blueprint for Gears Of War – the other half being Namco’s cover-based shooter Kill Switch.

The visuals, maxed out at 480p, are more than a match for most games released a decade down the line. Indeed, the fuzziness combined with the subdued colour palette, add to the distinction. Here is a colossal adventure for starters, around 20 hours average, but it’s just as enjoyable to revisit after settling upon a preferred set of tools and tactics. A masterclass from Shinji Mikami.

You can read the original article in issue 132. Buy it now from GreatDigitalMags.com

Retro Gamer magazine and bookazines are available in print from ImagineShop

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