Following thoroughly enjoyable treks through the original Resident Evil and the recently released embodiment of 90’s ‘splosions, Resident Evil 3 Remake, I decided to hop on over to the Nintendo eShop and take a trip down memory lane with the game that is primed for the next big Capcom remake – 2005’s Resident Evil 4. After having failed to finish it way back when it came out and set the gaming world on fire, I was excited to check back in on the game that sent the franchise in an entirely new, over the shoulder, more actiony and less zombie-y direction. From quaint outdated controls to quicktime events and mild workplace sexual harassment, what I found was the most mid-2000’s gaming experience imaginable.
Right off the bat, the updated perspective immediately stands out. At the time, it was considered a revelation after the previous games had relied on set camera angles and awkward “tank” controls to create a sense of tension and hamper player movement. While there is a greater degree of freedom, there is a loss of a certain cinematic quality the carefully staged screens of earlier titles presented as a result. Additionally, as an early employer of the over-the-shoulder view, the controls feel noticeably unwieldy. For the first several hours, I was wishing for a return to those ugly tank days as I kept finding myself aiming 10 feet to the side of whatever I was trying to shoot only to horribly overcorrect and miss even worse.
After just one night trapped in this late PS2-era world of survival horror, I was about ready to give up as the thought of spending more time fumbling through battles seemed more nightmarish than any of the creatures I encountered. Fortunately, I decided to stick it out, and eventually things at least became manageable. While it never quite felt right, it did give me an appreciation for just how far this style has come culminating in the buttery smooth action of RE3 Remake. Whereas the latest in the series has become so perfectly ironed out that each encounter feels like an unrelenting horde coming your way, firefights often play out like a slightly moving shooting gallery here. Still, though, the encounters wielded a surprising amount of suspense and polish for that era thanks to a decent amount of enemy variety and liberal use of crowds. And, don’t worry, the chainsaw guy is still just as terrifying and likely to lop your head off after 15 years.
Even though the controls may have felt antiquated, nothing screamed mid-2000’s quite like the countless quick time events (QTEs) littered throughout the game. For both good and bad, your survival often came down to being alert enough to press one to two buttons at just the right time. When dashing away from danger or matrix-ing your way through laser traps the QTEs add a little movie-like flair to the game and elicit a nostalgic smile or two, but at their worst, like in any of the lengthy cinematics they crept into to make sure you’re paying attention or in a laughably bad late-game knife battle, they can become a painful reminder that what was once revolutionary is now trash.
Growing from those QTEs and some massive bosses are several fairly impressive set pieces that clearly laid the foundation for games like Uncharted to perfect into an art form. From surviving on a mining cart rapidly filling with bad guys, riding a gondola as axes coming flying from every direction, shooting runaway trucks before they can crush you, and harpooning the formidable Del Lago before he can turn your tiny boat into chum still hit their mark. The bosses, while quickly felled by a well placed rocket, signify a high point for the series, and it was a blast to revisit old foes like the Mayor and El Gigante.
One final, grand archeological remnant of the era comes in all the grand horniness surrounding Leon, our wonderfully macho and slightly aloof hero on a quest to rescue the President’s daughter while sporting a glorious mid-hair part that only he and stars of the CW have been able to pull off since 1995. Between the high slit dress acrobatics of the mysterious femme fatale Ada, the grateful President’s daughter Ashley suggesting they put in some “overtime” after the rescue, and Leon himself commenting on how hot his comms link coworker got once she took her glasses off, it’s a wonder that Leon is able to focus on his task at all. Sure, games nowadays are still plenty horny for their protagonists (see most recently and oddly The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild), but there’s just something extra off-putting watching it play out here with this stilted script and voice acting. Or, it’s probably just the workplace harassment…
Yes, Resident Evil 4 feels incredibly dated but in a good way. It’s a microcosm of an inflection point in gaming that is absolutely fascinating to revisit and see just all the places that this game’s DNA have taken hold in since. I hope the rumors are true that this game is next up in the insatiable Capcom remake machine because with sharper graphics and tighter controls it could have a chance to change gaming for the better once more.