Looking back, 2005 was a pretty impressive, even notable year for video games. Most of what was good concerned Sony’s black box. Then five years into its stride, the PlayStation 2 released a ton of games within 12 months that would go on to define the platform.
Late in October 2004, the system had debuted Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas – still the most fun GTA game in the series. March brought forth God Of War; in October the classic Shadow Of The Colossus. And somewhere in between all this, at the very start of 2005, on January 11, we got Resident Evil 4.
That’s a name that’s been in the news a lot this week, thanks to developer Capcom’s announcement that – hot on the heels of 2019’s Resident Evil 2 and this month’s Resident Evil 3 reimaginings – they’ll be reworking the classic title for a 2022 release.
It’s fair to say that the news hasn’t been universally well received. “Don’t mess with a masterpiece!” cried Twitter, only using naughtier words than are present above.
Unless you’ve just landed on the planet, dumb, naked and writhing in goo like some kind of alien space-egg-man, you’ll know that Resident Evil 4 is one of the greatest video games of all time. Its status among video game fans is beyond reproach, a little bit like Princess Diana only with tentacles where her head should be.
Upon its release, RE4 revitalised a franchise that wasn’t quite flagging – sadly, that would soon come – but was ready for a new coat of paint. Capcom’s fourth contribution to the main story arc – fifth if you count 2000’s Resident Evil – Code: Veronica, the Resi title many would have liked to have been remade instead – didn’t just get out the imulsion, but bulldozered the series’ central tenets. It doesn’t have zombies in it! Somehow it replaced them with something even better! All across its running time, it built something astonishing out of the rubble and debris.
What Capcom created with Resident Evil 4 was still survival-horror. The game’s third-person, over-the-shoulder shooting and the influence it’s had on a generation of action games that followed means its contribution to the demise of the classic usage of that term is often overstated.
But it was certainly a different take. The camera was no longer static. The action often took place in open spaces and not the claustrophobic corridors that had defined the series to date. And RE4 was now a shooter, no question, but how you used firearms did contribute to the survival element significantly.
If you were low on bullets – and this was a game when you almost always were – you could disable your enemy, make them ignite themselves with a burning torch or shoot them from a ladder. You now didn’t ration your equipment, but make decisions as how to use it. Also, the game is the last Resident Evil title to date to feature really good puzzles.
As for the horror part?
Whether it was the crazed Dr. Salvador, a cloth sack on his head and a chainsaw in his hand. Or the living pin-cushions known as Iron Maidens. Or the Garrador… sweet bejesus, the Garrador… Resident Evil 4 was a thrill ride from start to finish.
Its lore was rich, it’s plot absolutely (but brilliantly) batshit, and, much like the preceding Code: Veronica did by setting its narrative in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica, it took Resident Evil out of the now-levelled Racoon City and the United States to deepest, darkest, buttfuck Spain. In fact, it opened up new possibilities for what the series might now be.
It’s not Resident Evil 4’s fault that that was never really delivered upon until 2017’s similarly innovative series reset Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. It’s not RE4’s director/writer and franchise godhead Shinji Mikami’s fault either. Following a row about how exclusive to Nintendo’s GameCube machine RE4 should be, Mikami left Capcom – after his greatest moment was wrapped up and shipped.
A masterpiece, then. A game worthy of all the acclaim that’s directed at it. And, with almost eight million copies sold and the seemingly immovable holder of Capcom’s highest Metacritic rating ever, there’s been plenty of that.
But have you played Resident Evil 4 recently? Actually sat down and spent some proper time with it? Chances are you might; it’s been ported (never remade, though there was an HD remaster in 2011) to every electronic device other than your toaster. But if you haven’t, it’s not quite what you might remember…
The camera is far too close to the returning Leon S. Kennedy’s shoulder. It takes too long for your avatar to turn, a bit like you’re pirouetting in the middle of a cowpat. The visuals are muddy. It’s a minor point, but Leon’s hair, for so long his greatest asset, looks like it’s made out of straw. The quicktime events couldn’t be more 2005 if they were soundtracked by Franz Ferdinand.
If you’re a player who didn’t own a PS2 – blimey, didn’t own a PS3, a Wii or an Xbox 360, let alone a GameCube, the system which runs RE4’s definitive version – then you’d probably think, “Hmmm, what’s all the fuss about here, then?”
Truth be told, if Capcom hadn’t done such a brilliant job with the recent reimaginings of Resident Evil 2 and 3, I wouldn’t have given the idea of Resident Evil 4: Redux a moment of thought. After the unparalleled terror of game number seven (or at least the brilliant first few hours of it), I’m much more interested in seeing what cursed land the eighth game proper settles down upon. But they have and I do, and I want this now. Admit you do too. Go on. It could be genuinely brilliant.
And if you can’t? Seriously, I recommend you revisit the game as it currently stands.