Resident Evil 4 from 2005 was a huge hit back in the day and being a fan of old horror games, I finally got around to playing it on the PlayStation 2.
You play as Leon Kennedy, an American special agent sent to retrieve the US president’s daughter Ashley Graham, who’s been kidnapped by a mysterious cult. The game begins with Leon arriving in a “rural and lonely part of Europe” (we later learn it’s Spain). The opening scenes are promising, introducing you to impressive cutscenes, believable environments and the basis of the story of barging into places and shooting people. Conveniently, the villagers seem to have been infected with a parasite that has stripped them of their autonomy and humanity, so killing hundreds won’t be considered a war crime. The bad guys are also ‘terrorists out to destroy America because they’re evil’ and ‘insane’, which is always a solid story motivation in action games.
I was expecting the gameplay to be off-putting and hard to get used to as the game is almost two decades old, but I was surprised to find I ended up really enjoying it. The action-packed gameplay operates with an over-the-shoulder view and consists of Leon fighting waves of enemies, escorting Ashley, solving puzzles and beating boss fights. The thing that I was expecting to bother me was the fact that you can’t move while engaging in combat, which means that you have to position yourself before fighting or shooting. It didn’t take too long to get used to, though, and overall adds to the tension and strategizing of the combat. Other aspects such as the somewhat janky movement controls and action-button scenes haven’t aged as well and caused some frustration, as well as the sudden quick-time events, where you have 0.2 seconds to react or you die (got me many times). The enemy design is commendable, and I love how towards the end of the game they get more grotesque and insect-like.
The level designs are fun and leave a lot of room for innovative gameplay solutions, though they get repetitive at times. The different environments are well designed and get progressively creepier, which I enjoyed. Overall, the game gets more intense gradually, but not in a scary way. It consistently reaches levels of ridiculousness with random lava floor moments, facetiming the antagonists during cutscenes and plenty of bombastic explosions. All this excess is seemingly deliberate and is a strong point of the game, as it keeps the action fun and engaging. This is balanced out with quieter scenes that build atmosphere with a soothing soundtrack. The dialogue is cheesy and often follows the formula of the antagonists calling you to let you know they’re sending a worse monster after you that will surely kill you this time, and Leon dissing them with snarky comebacks.
The characters are all quite one-dimensional, but this is not necessarily a big flaw. It’s part of the reason why they’re so fun. The characters of Ashley and Ada do deserve some criticism, though. Throughout the game you’re constantly saving and escorting Ashley. It seemed off to me that often her character is incapable of doing anything but ducking to the ground and screaming when the zombie-like enemies appear, when later she suddenly runs through a room full of enemies unfazed. She could’ve been given more agency. Ada Wong is a character introduced a bit later to the game. She’s a sexy assassin femme fatale special agent wearing a long slit red dress, heels and a choker as her uniform. Though the outfit alone had me shaking my head at all the tropes of female video game characters, she’s also so comedically over-the-top that she remains an enjoyable character. Overall the characters are a bit random, but fun, like the merchant that teleports anywhere you go.
I would wholeheartedly recommend the game to fans of survival horror and action-heavy shooting games. It’s a wild ride.
Platforms: GameCube, PlayStation 2, Windows, Wii, iOS, Zeebo, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Android, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Oculus Quest 2
Release Date: January 11, 2005 (GameCube)
Genres: Survival horror, third-person shooter, action
Photos: Official promo pictures for Resident Evil 4 (Capcom)
A media student passionate about gritty story-based video games, pop culture from the 2000's and the wider cultural representations in games. Loves discussions about art direction, music and different interpretations. Enthusiastic about scheming-based board games.
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