Retro Review: Resident Evil 4 – A Horror Classic Revisited

The Resident Evil franchise has had some great titles throughout its 24-year history, and also some games that have let down its fanbase. The series started as a horror title on the PS1, and for many gamers it introduced them to the genre. After three mainline games in the original’s clunky, fixed camera style – Resident Evil, Resident Evil 2, and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis – Capcom had some creative issues developing the fourth installment, which was meant to be exclusive to the GameCube. Eventually, after Resident Evil 4 hit a few delays, it released on the Nintendo GameCube and blew people away with its cutting edge graphics and satisfying gameplay. It was more action-based than past games and had an innovative “over the shoulder” camera view, which made gameplay so much more accessible than the fixed camera angles of the first games. So what was Resident Evil’ 4’s history, and is it still one of the best games ever made?

Resident Evil 4 has since been released and re-released on many platforms. You would be amazed at how many different versions of Resident Evil 4 are available over at The Old School Game Vault. With all that in mind, it’s often easy to overlook that, initially, it was part of the “Capcom 5,” allegedly five games made by Capcom that were due to be exclusive to Nintendo’s GameCube. The other games developed as part of this deal were Killer7, Viewtiful Joe, P.N.O.3 and Dead Phoenix. The “Capcom 5” was an ambitious plan from Capcom, potentially five great games from as big a publisher as Capcom, and at a time when third party support for the GameCube was waning. However, the development of Resident Evil 4 didn’t go smoothly as the first builds ended up becoming the original Devil May Cry. But Capcom kept at it and came up with a more action-orientated game with the over-the-shoulder camera angle, which would set the standard for third-person action games for the next decade.

Resident Evil 4
Leon and Ashley, the main characters of Resident Evil 4.

Resident Evil 4 follows Leon Kennedy, a character who previously appeared in Resident Evil 2. Leon is sent to rural Spain to save the United States President’s daughter from a strange cult. The story and voice acting are well done and nowhere near as awkward as the original Resident Evil or even more recent games such as Resident Evil Revelations. Leon is cool, and while Ashley, the president’s daughter, falls into a damsel in distress trope. The way the player switches between these two characters is well done. The player presses the right shoulder button to get Ashley to stay or follow.

Despite being a zombie horror game, you rarely find yourself dying unfairly. The inhabitants of the rural Spanish villages aren’t precisely zombies but are “infected” peasants who are satisfying to dispatch. It feels good to blow off a limb or a head. The gameplay is just so satisfying. This is what makes Resident Evil 4 so highly regarded – the red dot sight on each of Leon’s weapons really adds to the experience of shooting an enemy.

With bosses and mini-bosses, there is a variety of creatures and monsters, from fly-like giant insects to huge towering trolls. The anxiety the player experiences when they hear the engine of a chainsaw revving is unique. The zombie wielding the chainsaw has a sack over his head, takes more bullets to take down than a regular enemy, and if he catches you, Leon will experience a particularly violent death. Then there’s the monster in the lake, which is a considerable newt-like creature. When the camera pans up from Leon’s boat, the player gets to appreciate the enormous size of this amphibian, and it has to be one of the most impressive moments in the game. Weapons are also diverse, and you can use handguns, rifles, shotguns and more. There’s even light RPG elements as the player can tune-up each weapon using money collected from dead enemies.

Resident Evil 4
El Gigante, a boss fight in Resident Evil 4.

In terms of difficulty, there are different settings, but in “normal,” I’d say it’s about right for someone who regularly plays games. You will die a few times, but that just makes it more satisfying for when do finally kill that boss. The controls of Resident Evil 4 are easy to learn and accessible, and in my opinion, faster than those in later Resident Evil in the same style. Resident Evil 5 had similar controls but the game didn’t feel as polished in terms of pacing and was much more action orientated. The controls really were revolutionary on the GameCube and PS2, and going back to them after ten years, I’ve found no issues and still feel Resident Evil 4 is the best game in the franchise and horror genre.

Overall, Resident Evil 4 is the benchmark for action horror titles, and it hasn’t lost any of its impacts even after over ten years. Its accessible and satisfying gameplay make it an addictive experience, and the player feels powerful controlling Leon. Diverse enemies mean that things don’t get repetitive, and the satisfying feeling of blowing off a limb or head still resonates today. The music creates a tense, foreboding atmosphere that helps put this game in the horror genre. Resident Evil 4 is probably the best game on Gamecube and holds up to this day.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments