Truth be told, I bore a teensy grudge against Resident Evil 4. It was, after all, the first major departure from the series’ tried n’ tested set up (which I was in no way over), and became the starting line of a slippery slope that saw further games pull away from their survival horror roots, and eventually deliver the shit sandwich known as Resident Evil 6.
That’s not to suggest Resident Evil 4 was terrible. Oh lordy no, this was a game changer, a perfect evolution of an overly-repeated set of mechanics and themes. Resident Evil 4 was one of the greatest games of its generation, and a benchmark for third-person viewpoints, but it remained the game that saw me fall out of love with a most cherished series due to that evolution, and the results of it. After I finished Resident Evil 4 back in early December of 2005, I would not return to it until this, the most recent port that has arrived on PS4. Could time heal all wounds better than some Arklay Mountain herbs? Could I overcome my irrational disdain for a certified classic? The only way to find out was to once again enter the world of survival horror.
A quick recap: Resident Evil 4 sees floppy-haired protagonist of Resident Evil 2; Leon Kennedy, travel to a backwater part of Spain to follow up on a lead regarding the location of a missing person, namely Ashley Graham; daughter of the President of the United States of America. Being a Resident Evil game, things go south pretty swiftly, and before you know it, Leon has to contend with parasite-ridden villagers, monstrous mutants and insane cults. It’s not quite a trip to Bognor Regis for poor Mr. Kennedy, but the parasites and mutants do crop up in both cases.
Turns out time had reduced my memories of Resident Evil 4 to its more impactful moments. The boulder Q.T.E., the first time you set foot in a village, and the first revving of a chainsaw for instance. These, in my faded memory, took place mere minutes apart, yet the reality is there’s far better pacing than that. Resident Evil 4 unfurls and grows as a spectacle pretty steadily, throwing new little twists at you every time you get close to being comfortable with any given situation, but more on that later, for now, how’s the old bugger looking these days?
Not bad is the answer. Resident Evil 4 may be over a decade old, but it’s holding up fairly well compared to most PS2-era titles. The color palette and visual design are still walking arm in arm, in perfect harmony after all these years. Light brown, accompanied by smatterings of washed out colors, may dominate the screen for most of your stay in the rural European town that’s filled with some seriously messed up shit, but there’s such distinct detail to the place that breathes sinister life into it. From the way Leon reloads his pistol to the nightmarish way the Regenerators move, Resident Evil 4’s greatest technical strengths come from the care and attention put into its animations. The game does show its age visually in some ways, but that’s mostly down to the scrubbing up its received shining a light on textures that were born a relatively long time ago. It’s a common problem for games remastered from that era, and in some cases that can have a detrimental effect on your enjoyment of it, but because Resident Evil 4 moves so fluidly and had such tremendous amounts of detail put into it, the HD shine doesn’t impose upon the visual quality all that much.
How the game plays is a bit of an eye opener though. It was quite the ordeal getting used to those intermediate Resi controls once again. I fiddled around with the different setups for a while until I realised that it was more about me than the game. Time has moved on from Resident Evil 4’s control system. It feels as awkward and clunky now when stacked against more modern survival horror (such as Dead Space) as earlier Resident Evil titles did compared to 4 back in the day.
Yet the system does work. Time has also shown that much like its predecessors, Resident Evil 4 manages to build a game around the control set instead of conforming to what is ‘easier’ for general use. The game never throws anything at you that’s more than you can handle, and the slowness -the methodical pace even when you’re running- serves as a constant poke in the ribs, reminding you that you can only run so far, and can only handle so much before a wave of Illuminados -or worse- consumes you. It’s still an adrenaline-pumping masterclass when you find yourself outwitting enemies just as you look like you’ve breathed your last. Something that happens pretty regularly, but is paced well enough that it never feels overwhelming, even when it feels relentless.
Oh, and those ‘big moments’ still have that magic dust in them. The lake monster was still intimidating, the siege on the house was still frantic and exhilarating, the first encounter with the Regenerators still chilled my blood, and I still very much wanted to throw Ashley to the villagers during the escort mission (oh hang on, that wasn’t a ‘moment’ for the same reasons).
Time has changed my outlook on Resident Evil 4. I’ve always thought it was a great game, but I didn’t really care for it as part of the Resident Evil series because of the departure from what I had adored. Now I can see more of that Resi D.N.A. in there than before, much in the same way I see so little in Resident Evil 5 and 6 (but plenty in Resi 7). Of course, the fact that I’d kill for something closer to what makes Resident Evil work as a series to get delivered successfully in the modern era probably helps, because while Resi 5 and 6 sure as shit didn’t bring any of it, Resi 4 does. The set may be different, and the actors of a more refined breed, but Resident Evil 4 holds that same shlocky horror ethos and surprisingly deep world design as its predecessors, and that’s something I can get on board with in any year.