How Scary Is… ‘Resident Evil 4‘?

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Resident Evil 4 was the game that brought a paradigm shift to the franchise. As such, it’s an odd case that is as celebrated as it is scorned (and if anybody does scorn, it’s the nerdsassins of the Internet).

Over the course of the original trilogy, we got a cast-iron sense of what Resident Evil is. What is should be, shall be and darn well will be. Survival horror was to mean claustrophobia-tastic static camera angles and wonky movement/aiming. It was also to mean baffling puzzles with square-shaped cranks, which you’d have to backtrack for half an hour to find a use for. That was the genre, right there, and we loved it.

Nemesis suddenly careening through a wall towards us and making us foul ourselves? We lived for that stuff.

When the fourth game arrived, it completely obliterated all of those expectations. For better or worse, the horror/shooter/TPS/whatever-else-is-going-on-here genre was born. But the question is –the question you see right at the top of the page there– did it keep the spirit of Resident Evil alive in the process?

The title began life in 2005, as a Gamecube exclusive. It’s the story of Leon Kennedy’s merry little jaunt to Europe, and the furious, murder-your-face-right-in-the-face cult he managed to irritate while there. His objective was the rescue the president’s daughter, who was rumoured to have been sighted in the area. Naturally, from his first encounter with the locals, it was clear that something was very wrong here.

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There’s nary a zombie to be seen. Instead, your first foes are the Ganados, regular farmfolk infected by the Las Plagas parasite. This is essentially a one-way ticket to homicidal crazy town. They still maintain some semblance of human intelligence, and you’ll find yourself besieged in a house very early in the adventure. The Ganados will plan among themselves, smash down your barricades and raise ladders to the upper windows. One particularly hung-ho gentleman brings along his chainsaw to attack you with. It’s all rather dramatic.

Suffice it to say that these are a world away from the shambling undead of yore. Enemies are agile, tenacious and well-equipped (once you reach the island at the end of the game, they’ll have rocket launchers and miniguns), and there are many horrifying scenarios to overcome.

But how does this translate into survival horror? There are certainly some scary situations. The barn siege with Luis, the ambush by the Bella Sisters and the Regenerator/Iron Maiden business is a shocker for sure. There are also charming little Resident Evil touches sprinkled throughout, NPCs who have recently suffered grisly deaths and such.

Resident Evil 4‘s issue is that it’s a great game, but not a great Resident Evil game. It feels more like a spin-off, rooted in the franchise’s world but still very much its own entity. There are flashes, but it’s just not enough. It is also derided for its legacy, with the following two games taking further great leaps from survival horror ideals. Still, if you can look on it in these terms, it’s certainly worthy of its title as one of the best games we’ve seen in recent years.

The VGamerZ Monster Files: The Ganados (Resident Evil 4)

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At first glance, the Ganados just look like innocuous old dudes. You could mistake them for somebody’s grandpa. Albeit not the kind of grandpa who eats mint imperials, and tells wild stories about his past which may or may not be true. This is the kind of grandpa who SPROUTS Evil BIG OL’ TENTACLE-SPIKES WHERE HIS HEAD USED TO BE.

Resident Evil 4, as we know, eschewed that whole zombies-shuffling-about-in-shadowy-corners thing. It was a fancy new blend of survival horror and TPS. Dispensing with those static camera angles and cumbersome controls in favour of much more dynamic and actiontastic gameplay.

What did all of this mean? It meant that festering, hobbling simpletons wouldn’t do as opponents any longer. After all, our hero Leon can now run properly, and use a laser sight to aim his gun wherever he darn well pleases. Could the zombies of yore compete with those kinds of tricks? They couldn’t. And so, the Ganados were born.

From the first moment Mr. Scott Kennedy shows a villager a photograph of the kidnapped Ashley, he knows he’s dealing with some badasses right here (it was that axe waved at his forehead that tipped him off, our hero is quick on the uptake like that). These guys are aggressive, strong and beardy, and they don’t take kindly to strangers. Leon has no idea what he’s let himself in for.

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The Ganados are the first enemies you encounter, in the game’s opening area, Pueblo (the village). They are humans, ‘possessed’ by Resident Evil 4‘s new spin on Umbrella’s viruses: the Las Plagas parasite. It has a similar effect to those, making the infected aggressive and just generally worse house guests, but without the whole mutate-y, growing-huge-slavering-fangs-out-of-my-chest effect the series is used to.

Most importantly, they lose little of their human cunning. As you venture through their domain, they will hunt you intelligently. Co-ordinating their efforts, raising ladders and climbing through windows if you are taking refuge in a building. They also wield rudimentary weapons, butcher knives and pitchforks and such.

There are other horrors in the game, certainly. The Zealots who dwell in the castle, the army dudes on the island, and a couple of monsters to boot. Nevertheless, the Ganados were our first introduction to a new breed of Resident Evil foe, and a memorable one at that.

Is It Really The Best Game Ever? #3: Resident Evil 4

Well, in this case, apparently not. If we’re going to be beholden to the all-knowing and unquestionable decisions of gamerankings, it’s the fifteenth best game ever. Still, the reasons for evil critical/player acclaim is the subject for this series. After all, that’s as close to being objective as you can get on the matter.

Anywho, we’ve ventured a little further down the list this time, because Resident Evil 4 is a fascinating case.

Gamers, as we know, aren’t very responsive to change. Well, ‘responses’ will often vary from rabid, spittle-flying rage, to futile one-man boycotts, to crying to grandma, to… so forth. When a major franchise announces a radical new direction of some sort, the Internet implodes. I still remember the world’s first sighting of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

The point we’ve hopefully established here is that we don’t like things being screwed with. In recent memory, no series has been screwed with quite like Resident Evil was in 2005. Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen. Grab your cans of furious beardy villager repellent, because we’re going in.

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Leon’s European holiday was quite a departure. Gone were the stalker-ish static camera angles. Gone were those notorious rotate-y controls. In their stead, we had Resident Evil 4. This was a far more dynamic and cinematic adventure, which liberated your movement and aiming into a kind of pseudo TPS. It felt, to me, like a Hollywood parody of the earlier games, right down to the convoluted and bizarre plot (not that that’s anything new for Resident Evil, come to think of it).

Revolutionary as it was, the remarkable thing is that the game worked. Those earlier scenes in the village showed what survival horror really could be. Desperately barricading yourself in the house as an angry horde climbs through the windows on ladders? While a nutbag with a sack over his head assaults the front door with a chainsaw? It’s immersive, it’s genuinely unnerving and it is pretty well unanimously agreed to be among the best action games of recent years.

Sadly, its legacy is the problem. Resident Evils 5 and 6 took the concept much too far. While the fourth achieved –for the most part– that delicate balance of action while retaining the horror, its successors did not. These were more gung-ho, actiontacular, check-out-my-boulder-punching-biceps sorts of games. Nevertheless, you can’t understate what Resident Evil 4 achieved.

Yes, there are franchise fans that begrudge the game, and you can’t fault them for doing so. This was, after all, the death of so many classic tropes which made Resident Evil. But were these changes for the better? For so many, that’s a resounding yes. The first try, at any rate.