Five Years After Resident Evil 4


Posted January 20, 2010 - By Sterling McGarvey

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Resident Evil 4It doesn’t seem like a half-decade has passed, but Resident Evil 4, Capcom’s survival horror opus, dropped five years ago on GameCubes across North America. It marked a dramatic transformation for the series and profoundly influenced action games for years to come. Although the subsequent sequel lacked the impact of Leon Kennedy’s long adventure through a parasite-infected Spanish countryside (also, Internet race relations experts: Spaniards =/= Latinos. Carry on shooting infected folk of all backgrounds), the balance of fast-paced action and new methods of making you...nervous were on display. Resident Evil 4 is undoubtedly one of the finest games of the last ten years. Here’s why:

Why It Was Successful

Although the series lived on through spin-offs such as Code Veronica and Resident Evil 0, RE4 marked a genuinely dramatic change for the series. Although it was a risky venture, the game toyed with two previously effective gameplay conventions seen elsewhere: the over-the-shoulder shooting angle (famously seen in the Splinter Cell series) and quicktime events (used frequently in the Shenmue series). Combining those with a pack of “zombies” as vicious as the likes of Hunters in the prior games, and you had a recipe for tension.

Yes, Capcom lost fans, most of whom bellyached their way through every bit of Resident Evil 5 coverage, but they gained plenty of new fans by streamlining the experience, jettisoning the archaic “tank controls” and delivering a 20+ hour string of setpieces. In other words, RE4 exemplified the reinvention of a franchise. To this day, no one has rebooted a (potentially) waning game series with the degree of depth that Capcom performed on Resident Evil.

The Effect You See Today

Aside from kill.switch (and to a lesser degree, Bionic Commando), RE4 was arguably the most influential game on Epic when the development team set out to make Gears of War. To this day, the average third-person action game borrows heavily from RE4’s targeting system as a shorthand for conveying a simple idea: Here are enemies for you to focus upon and take down.

A few months before God of War brought QTEs to mainstream consciousness, Capcom’s game was showing off how to blend the feature effectively into boss battles (admittedly, God of War only had a smattering of boss fights compared to RE4). Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re a standard of gaming today. RE4 had a big hand in that.

In addition to the standards set for action games, RE4 set another precedent that echoes to this day. Third-party exclusives on Nintendo platforms don’t always stay exclusive. Millions of gamers might have copies of the game with an “Only on GameCube” label, but Capcom was showing off trailers for the PS2 version a few months later at E3. Despite some sales success on Nintendo’s platform, the move to a platform with a wider install base of hardcore gamers could only help Capcom. Lesson (one that publishers are still learning) here: If you’re a third-party publisher making exclusive games for Nintendo platforms, you’ve got an uphill battle ahead.

Plus, the game made running zombies mainstream.

Resident Evil 4

What’s the Definitive Version to Play?

Depends who you ask. I recognize that purists love the GameCube version, while other fans swear by the Wii Edition. Personally, I’ve always felt that despite the technical shortcomings of the hardware, the PS2 version worked for me, plus the extra content was a great bonus. Also, I remember it looking great when I put it into my 60GB PS3. But that’s just me.

Matt Keil, X-Play: GameCube. Nothing that was added in subsequent versions was worth the downgrade in visuals (PS2) or controls (Wii). Plus, I have always enjoyed Capcom games in their initial state before the milking process has begun, and RE4 was no exception. In particular I could never stomach the PS2 version. The downgrade in geometry and texture detail is just unacceptable to me.

Mike Benson, X-Play: I was pretty skeptical about Resident Evil 4 on the Wii. I had played through the GameCube version about five times, and I figured this would be a lame rehash with crappy light-gun controls. But once I played it, I started to feel like it was the true, intended version of the game. Moving and aiming felt intuitive and sharp, and I almost wish they would re-do RE5 on the Wii. Except that game sucks.

Mike Demski, X-Play: You can plug in a GameCube controller for the Wii version. Best of both worlds!

Patrick Klepek, Sr. News Editor: When it comes down to it, the differences are quibbles. Who cares how you play it, as long as you play it?

What do you think?

Five Years After Resident Evil 4


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