When the new millennium hit, Resident Evil stepped into it strong with Code Veronica. Introduced on the Dreamcast in 2000 before being released on Playstation 2, it was the first game in the series to get a major bump in graphics post-PS1.
And then came…Resident Evil Remake and Resident Evil Zero on GameCube in 2002. Visually, our favorite zombie series would never be the same. However, the gameplay format was intact, providing us with plenty of tense atmosphere and cheap scares, plus manageable action and puzzle solving to fully immerse us in the horror experience.
After a long wait of 3 years, Capcom finally continued the series with the divisive Resident Evil 4 on GameCube. Longtime fans of the series were kind of devastated, while action game fans insisted Capcom finally “fixed” what was wrong with the series.
A decade later, Resident Evil 4 has made its way to Playstation 4 and Xbox One. Replay time! And I can say pretty much everything I felt about it the first time still holds true for me. It’s a fun game. It’s a challenging game. It’s often tedious. It’s not scary. It’s just not Resident Evil. But at least it has a “Don’t come!” nod to House of the Dead!
I’ve actually played Resident Evil 4 through at least 3 times over the years, and one thing I can say is that the game is so long that there are still parts of it I don’t remember ever playing before, which means there’s something new to discover every time I play it! While I did have fun on the replay – and I’m actually a lot better at the hardest areas simply because I’ve experienced them before – everything that disappointed me about the game still does.
I start immediately with the length. This game definitely gives you loads of hours of gaming, but it is so fucking exhausting you just kind of want it to end after a while. Seriously, you rarely have time to just stop, take a breath, and enjoy the scenery…or to enjoy the fact that you’re playing a game. This shit is work. There’s no more lurking through desolate halls and city streets fearing a zombie is just going to suddenly pop out from around a corner because…there are no zombies. You instead enter one area after another loaded with “villagers.”
They’re zombie-like in their look, but these are very aware humans with melee weapons and the ability to find you wherever you try to hide. Fight, fight, fight. That’s all you do. If it’s not the villagers, then you’re contending with human-like “cult” guys with guns and gear that would be more befitting of a Star Wars movie. Eventually, these humanoid enemies will morph when you shoot them, their heads bursting into a series of dangerous tentacles that will hurt you if you don’t kill the fucker fast. But honestly, other than that and the occasional “boss” confrontation that delivers some sort of mutated monster, Resident Evil simply isn’t much of a horror game.
There’s still the classic typewriter, with no need for ribbons, which means infinite saves. While this the last time we will ever be able to save at a typewriter in a Resident Evil game, the inventory storage chests, having disappeared in Resident Evil Zero, are gone forever. Now, you must carry everything on you, in an inventory grid system that requires you to rotate and move items to make room for new ones to fit into the grid (don’t worry, the game pauses when you go into inventory, even during battles), which you can buy expansions for later. Yes, buy them. Because now, when you occasionally come across a save typewriter, you will also meet a “merchant,” who will sell you stuff and buy stuff from you.
You can purchase weapons, health, and maps that show you where hidden treasures are so you can have more shit to sell the merchant. Often, you have to shoot the items out of trees or off ceilings, and, some items you find can be combined with items you find later to greatly increase the value when selling them to the merchant. Plus, you can by upgrades for your guns. The only thing not for sale is ammo, which sucks, because it is the one thing you’ll need the most that you rarely have enough of, despite being presented with areas overrun by enemies at all times. Chances are you will be busting your ass trying to take guys down with your fricking knife numerous times in the game. You also get opportunities to run up to them and kick them when they’re a bit wounded, but if they’re not wounded enough, the kick won’t kill them, just put them out of commission for a short time.
The good news is, enemies drop goodies when you kill them—health and ammo, but most often, money you can use to buy items from the merchant. There are also boxes and barrels throughout the game that you can smash for items, as well as crows you can shoot that drop items. The weirdest thing of all is that very often, when you encounter the merchant, he’s in an area where there are items out in the open all around him that you can pick up, including money, which begs the question, why doesn’t this opportunist pick that shit up before you arrive so he can just sell it to you? There are also times when the merchant lets you go into some sort of shooting gallery challenge to earn money to buy shit, but I seriously did not understand the rules, never won, and even tried to read up on the rules online and still didn’t understand them, so I’ve never bothered with it. And one last thing about the merchant – you can kill him. Oh shit. It was an accident, I swear. I was haggling with him in a cave when these fricking bats started flying around my head. So I swiped at them with my knife, but instead of them dying, the merchant crumpled to the ground, dead. Luckily, it turns out if you do kill him, the next time you arrive at a merchant spot, he’s alive again.
Next, there’s the completely overhauled control system, which makes it clear this is an action game. These days we’re so used to free roaming views, but Resident Evil 4 basically just modifies the classic Resident Evil tank controls so they don’t seem to be as much like tank controls. You can move the “camera” to see around you, but only in limited doses, plus you can’t strafe, so you’re forced to go around corners blindly. In a game in which enemies are known to shoot at you or hurl bombs at you the instant they see you, it puts you at a great disadvantage. Adding a bit more animation to your character is the introduction of jumping. You can’t jump whenever you feel like it, but there are places at which you have to hit a button to jump across gaps or to jump up to grab a ledge. For me, the most dreaded addition to the “action” feel of the game is the quick time event, from suddenly having to push a button combo to avoid a falling rock to series of button sequences to complete battles. Argh!
You will be challenged to get used to the new, action-heavy Resident Evil right from the start. In the very first chapter, after some brief exploring and item collecting, plus fighting a few of the new villagers in the woods, you enter their village…having no idea that there’s no way they won’t spot you, even if you try to hide behind buildings. Since you begin with very limited ammo, you can run around trying to find stuff to fight them, but it will soon seem you don’t stand a chance, because you immediately meet a great pain in the ass of Resident Evil 4 – the chainsaw sack head man. WTF?
This dude is a one-hit killer (oddly realistic for a video game, considering he takes a fucking chainsaw to your neck and you can’t eat an herb to heal it), but if you want to kill him, you’ll need more ammo than you usually have. However, this first time you meet him (while also being chased around this small village by axe-throwing villagers), you actually just have to run around avoiding them all for a certain amount of time and then they get a cue to go away! Really, save your bullets and just run around in circles. But be warned that you’ll also have to contend with some dangers that are merely annoyances to piss you off early on, and don’t appear in the game that much later, such as wired bomb booby traps and bear traps (both of which you can set off with a weapon if you see them before running into them).
While there’s not much mental challenge in the game (like I said, puzzles are mostly a thing of the past), it does mix things up with a wide variety of gameplay techniques in different areas. For instance, early on, you’ll see a dog stuck in a bear trap. If you set him free, little do you know that later on, he’ll appear to help you take down a boss! There’s a nightmarish boat boss – you’re cruising across a lake, and suddenly you’re chased by a mutant alligator you need to harpoon. Every time you fuck up, the creature knocks you into the water, and you have to button mash in terror to swim back to the boat before it can get you.
There’s a segment in which you’re in a house that’s under siege, and you have to kill hordes of villagers as they try to climb through windows. Another segment has you on a runaway mine cart, with villagers dropping onto it as you race ahead while trying to shoot them off before they get you. Meanwhile, you occasionally have to button mash to duck under obstacles, and two fucking chainsaw sack head men leap on board, plus there are sudden button mashes at the end. Screw any of this up and you have to start all over. WTF?
There are pendulum sections you have to run through safely. There’s a hedge maze filled with hounds from hell. You get trapped in a small cage at one point with a giant enemy that can only be taken down if you get behind it and shoot the parasite off its back. Meanwhile, regular enemies are outside the cage shooting at you! WTF? There’s an enemy that will respawn no matter how many times you shoot it unless you’ve bought a special infrared scope for your gun that reveals the four spots in which you need to shoot it to take it down.
And then there’s the very long segment of the game in which you have to protect and defend another character. Yep. For what feels like almost half the game, you have a helpless chick with you as enemies and bosses swarm you. At times you even separate from her so she can go operate machines to open up new areas, at which times you have to defend her from afar while you have enemies surrounding and attacking you! WTF? Plus, you even get to play as her for a short time, on a mission, with enemies, no weapons, and a handful of quick time events. WTF?
As if to make up for all the torture it puts you through, right before the end, the game gives you an escort to get through an area loaded with enemies…a helicopter! Seriously, you could actually just stay in the shadows and this guy will shoot all the enemies from the sky, plus, his bullets won’t hurt you. However, there are chances some enemies will be able to get themselves into places the helicopter can’t access, so inevitably, you do have to do some fighting.
The final boss also isn’t very hard, but reading up on how to take him down is essential, because there are a few environmental techniques you can use to make the fight much easier, but you might not realize it unless you’re clued in. After that’s done, Resident Evil 4 gives you one last headache – a timed race on a jet ski, through tunnels with falling objects. Argh! It will take you several tries before you finally escape.
And just when you thought you finally conquered the game…there are two mini-games in which you play as longtime Resident Evil character Ada Wong.
This bonus game is just long enough to give you a good taste of Resident Evil 4. It’s essentially a sample of sections from the main game, and even has the merchant and save typewriters. I prefer this more streamlined experience because it delivers the fun without pushing you to the point of getting burned out by all the action.
Separate Ways takes us through everything Ada is up to in between her occasional appearances to help Leon out in the main game. For the most part, you do much of the same stuff he did, traveling through all the same areas and fighting the same enemies. As a result, you have an advantage because you’ve done this before, even if you did have a different arsenal as Leon. Not to mention, you can’t upgrade guns in Separate Ways. Even so, that missing aspect actually simplifies things and prevents the possibility of making a bad buying, selling, or upgrading decision. Plus, before the game ends, you can buy all the weapons the merchant has to sell, and you should. Which means you should also save all the ammo you collect, even if you don’t have the right gun at the moment.
Ada has her grappling hook, but you can only use it when you’re prompted to as you walk past key spots in the environment. There are loads of enemies and a few of the same bosses Leon fights in the main game, but Ada does get one epic section on a battleship that doesn’t appear in the main game, plus she gets a unique boss battle.
Added content is a big deal these days in video games, so it’s no surprise that Ada gets two separate side games. But honestly, Assignment Ada should have just been integrated into Separate Ways to give us one slightly beefier game. After all, this mini-game has Ada traveling through completely different sections from the main game than those in Separate Ways.
However, the game mechanics are a bit different. You have to play this game in one sitting because there are no save typewriters. If you die, you can simply choose to continue, which starts you off at the nearest checkpoint.
There is also no merchant. You’re stuck with the guns you’re given at the beginning. This game is very action-oriented, so you are often low on ammo. Your mission is to find 5 samples along a linear path as you fight your way through areas loaded with enemies. It’s a really unsatisfying game compared to Separate Ways.
And finally…that final boss…
There’s only one boss at the end of the mission (one you also fought as Leon but in a different location), and it’s a bitch. You’re on a long, narrow walking bridge. You’ve just come off from a major fight with a load of enemies. You’re short on ammo and health. There are 3 barrels of goodies on the bridge, but you’ll have pretty much no chance to break them open or grab the items because this boss is relentless. For starters, his first hit nearly takes out all your health and it seems to be unavoidable. Your goal is to shoot his head, but he holds shields in front of him as he charges at you. You need to try to shoot his feet to get him to let down his guard so you can get in a few hits. The openings to do that are minimal. Not to mention, every time he charges you, you will be forced to do a button mash to dodge his attack…his one hit kill attack. And he’ll take several jabs at you before finally jumping back for a few seconds so you have a blink of an eye to stop your head from spinning.
So how do you defeat this guy? Here’s a tip. When you initially step through the door that takes you to the bridge, you have to move ahead to trigger a cutscene that begins the battle. However, you can go back through the door you just came from before moving ahead to trigger the battle. You’ll find that some easier enemies have respawned in the previous area. Kill them with weaker ammo to get the goodies they drop—such as health and better ammo—before returning for the battle.
Here’s another good thing to know. At any time during the boss battle, you can go back through that door! There won’t be any enemies and the boss doesn’t follow you, so you can take some time to get your blood pressure under control. Plus, when you go back through the door to return to the bridge, the boss starts again at the far end of the bridge, giving you time to aim for his feet as he begins his charge approach. I used that trick a lot.