Thumb-cramping controls, trudging gameplay, and a refreshing lack of zombies make now a perfect time to try this classic.
I didn’t play Resident Evil 4 at the time when it was released and duly praised as one of the best things to have happened to anyone ever. Despite having completed the first three games in the series, the tipping-point fourth entry eluded me as I was going through a PC phase of my life, with no games left for my dust-gathering PS2 apart from TimeSplitters: Future Perfect (the best local multiplayer shooter to this day).
Over subsequent years, I had plenty of opportunities to play Resident Evil 4, but somehow its shanty-town successor landed in my hands first. After playing Resident Evil 5, I was disappointed at how far from its roots the series had strayed and scorned Resident Evil 4 under the understanding that it was the game that tipped the series from survival horror into clunky third-person shooter.
Nonetheless, when the supposed Ultimate Edition of Resident Evil 4 appeared on Steam the other week, I finally yielded. Despite my personal biases, what sort of gamer shuns a game that made so many 50-greatest-of-all-time lists while simultaneously setting a gameplay precedent that ruined every subsequent game in the series?
Sluggish controls feel strangely refreshing
Most gamers will know by now that Resident Evil 4 is good – very good. But I would go several steps further and say that it’s a game whose dated-ness now works in its favour. Those who played the game ten years ago would’ve regarded Resi 4 as smooth, fast-paced and intuitive – a massive evolution on the limited, fixed-angle style of its predecessors. It was a 3rd-person shooter with a hint of horror, and revolutionary gameplay.
Gaming since Resident Evil 4 has spoiled us with responsive controls of modern 3rd-person shooters and a forgiving death system which usually rewinds the game to about 10 seconds before you died. As such, from the moment I started playing Resi 4 I felt like a jellyfish driving a tractor: terrified, helpless, and expecting imminent death. No running-and-gunning? No cover mechanics? A slow, shakey aiming reticule? Was this game developed in the dark ages, or have my gaming skills actually regressed?
Whatever the case, Resident Evil 4: Ultimate Edition felt daunting and refreshing.
Like a pungent but delicious French cheese, the game has matured over time. The gameplay is gruelling, with ammo. But Resident Evil 4 was never designed in a way that relied on a creepy, foreboding atmosphere as much as its predecessors. This game was always designed with the intention of making you feel constantly vulnerable, constantly low on ammo, constantly the prey. It’s easy to miss save points – what shooter of today would dare to be so tough on you?
I’ll take bumpkins over zombies any day
At first glance, the Spanish bumpkins of Resident Evil 4 aren’t as horrifying as flesh-eating zombies; they certainly weren’t back in 2004 when zombies had reached their zenith of scariness. 28 Days Later had only recently come out on DVD, and the previous Resident Evil games hit new heights for videogame zombies. Zombies had a definite edge to them, before the great zomsploitation started…
Fast-forward 10 years, and zombies are featuring in comedies and romantic dramas. In the case of well-received sapfest Warm Bodies, Nick Hoult’s zombie character is so fleshed out he may as well be fucking human. In games, zombies are the go-to extras of any game involving an apocalypse. They’re over-familiar, and the more recent Resident Evil games are a lazily-implemented part of that trend.
This is why running around a bleak Spanish outback trying to run away from hard-working rural folk with pitchforks is unique, exhilarating and nerve-wracking. You always know what’s eating a zombie – a resurrecting, flesh-eating virus – but Resident Evil 4’s enemies are an enigma. ‘Just what the hell is their problem?’ is what you’d be thinking if you weren’t concentrating so hard on just staying alive with everything from the game’s villains to your controller seemingly out to get you.
Resident Evil 4: Ultimate Edition has come out at the perfect time. I reiterate the lack of need to reiterate that this is a great game, but this is one gamer who’s glad to have waited 10 years to first play it. Despite being hugely influential (its tight over-the-shoulder camera perspective remains a mainstay of third-person shooters), Resident Evil 4 doesn’t play anything like the games of today, just as it didn’t play like the games of its day. It’s dated to just the right degree to be brilliant.
To coin a cliché, if you haven’t played Resident Evil 4 yet, then now’s the time to do it. Its gaming value and uniqueness has, against the odds, increased over time. Modern games just won’t offer that same nightmarish feeling of wading through mud while fighting off a furious rural mob. Most modern gameplay standards just don’t allow that kind of player-punishment… and lack of zombies. It spits in the face of modern gaming ethics, and it feels amazing.