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Resident Evil 4 — Still Worth Exploring?

by | Dec 27, 2020

If you’re reading this review, you’re either a huge fan of the franchise or a curious and lucky gamer who has never played Resident Evil 4 before. In the latter scenario, you’re maybe wondering if Resident Evil 4 is still worth buying in 2022 when Resident Evil 4 Remake is just about to storm the market (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series, and PC).

While I discovered the game on the PlayStation 2, this review is based on my latest experience on the HD version.

Resident Evil 4 could have been very different from the game it is today. Just as Resident Evil 2 (both the original from 1998 and the recent remake) or the recently awarded God of War, it underwent many versions before turning gold for the GameCube. It’s also worth mentioning that RE4 was temporarily exclusive to the Nintendo Gamecube system before storming the PlayStation 2 (2005), PC (2007), Wii (2007), iOS (2009), iPad (2010), Xbox 360 (2011), PlayStation 3 (2011), Wii U (2015), PlayStation 4 (2016) and Xbox One (2016), and the Nintendo Switch (2019).

Yep, that many versions.

Capcom released Resident Evil 4 on all the major gaming consoles, making the odds that you missed it very – very – slim if you’re a millennial.

Six years have passed since the Raccoon City Incident (Resident Evil 2 & 3)

Resident Evil 4 takes place six years after the horrific events of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3.

Raccoon City has been scratched off the map, the Umbrella Corporation is supposedly bankrupt, and Leon S. Kennedy (the main character of this episode) is not a rookie anymore. He’s now a secret agent working for the White House.

Resident Evil 4 begins as Leon Kennedy is sent to Europe to find Ashley Graham, the United States President’s daughter, kidnapped by a mysterious cult. His investigation takes him to a remote Spanish village where time seems to have stopped somewhere in the early 1900s’.

And, as if this wasn’t creepy enough, Leon quickly realizes that the entire region is populated with aggressive villagers infected with a devastating parasite.

Resident-Evil-4-hunnigan-radio-support

Leon will be alone on location, but he’ll receive support and advice from Hunnigan over the radio.

See the game for yourself! Here’s the first hour of Resident Evil 4, captured on a PS4 (no commentary).

 

Goodbye, zombies. Hello, Las Plagas.

In RE4, enemies are not infected with the T-Virus (the infamous Umbrella-made virus that turns people into flesh-eating zombies). Instead, in this Resident Evil game, Leon fights Las Plagas, people infected with a mind-controlling parasite – making them aggressive towards non-infected fellas like Leon.

The absence of regular zombies makes the game a lot more interesting.

Unlike zombies, the Ganados (the locals) are alive and still have a functioning brain. They speak with each other, use knives, shovels, guns, chainsaws, open doors, run, climb ladders, etc.

is-resident-evil-4-worth-buying-enemies

This introduces a whole new level of horror and tension to the series.

 

Polished graphics, but…

Purists will disagree but, for most people, graphics do play an essential part in the decision-making process to buy a game or not, especially when buying games from a previous generation of consoles.

In 2005, the Resident Evil series took on a new direction: 3D environment, open areas, shoulder view, and a great action-survival horror balance. It was pretty darn impressive, and we got to experience a game that was way ahead of its time.

Now, for reasons that should be pretty obvious, Resident Evil 4 is not as spectacular 15 years later. If some of the main characters underwent an appreciable HD lifting, the open areas feel (a lot) smaller, most textures look pixelated, and there’s constant aliasing (sadly, a recurring factor in Capcom’s HD remasters).

That said, Resident Evil 4 runs smoothly at 60fps and 1080p on PS4, Xbox One, and PC, which is very appreciable and more than enough to enjoy the game in its best version ever. Simply put, Resident Evil 4 HD is old, but, all in all, it looks good.

Here are PS2 vs. PS4 screenshots to illustrate the work done on the HD remaster.

Resident-Evil-4-PS2-opening

Resident-Evil-4-PS4-opening

Resident-Evil-4-PS2-intro

Resident-Evil-4-PS4-intro

Truth be told, graphics are not really something you should worry about before playing this game. Instead, the biggest shock comes from the controls.

 

Controls are outdated

Resident Evil 4’s controls did not age well.

Scrap that. They are terrible.

And if you have never experienced either RE4 or RE5, you’ll feel frustrated and clustered at first.

  1. Leon doesn’t know how to do a “sidestep.” You can only move forward, turn, or backward. That’s it.
  2. Leon doesn’t know how to shoot and walk/run, turning some situations into nightmares — especially when chased by a dozen enemies.

I would if I’d tell you that it was easy to get over it. But after the first hour, you will get used to it.

Besides, while the enemies will surprise you sometimes, they will rarely outsmart you. If you play your cards well and think before heading right into a fight, you will be fine. If anything, Leon’s limited moves only make the game a lot more stressful (and that’s a good thing).

 

Introducing new mechanics to the series

Interact with the environment

Leon can pick and place ladders, barricade doors and windows with furniture, jump through windows, etc. In 2005, this was incredible.

In 2020, I found myself surprised by how much the game offered back then. The truth is, most of these mechanics are now common and won’t feel as new today, but I can assure you that the tension I felt when trying to barricade myself inside a small house to run away from a scary man with a chainsaw was at the very least intense.

Quick Time Event (QTE)

QTEs were introduced in the series with Resident Evil 4. Again, nothing you didn’t already know in 2020, but they add to the constant tension you feel while playing the game.

Buy and improve your weapons.

Other novelties of Resident Evil 4 are merchants and weapon customization. Often located around save points, merchants will sell you all sorts of items and weapons and offer you to tune up your existing gear. From firepower to clip capacity, you can upgrade most weapons.

Note that enemies will grow stronger as you advance in the game. For this reason, you need to upgrade your weapons.

Resident-Evil-4-merchant-welcome-stranger

Resident-Evil-4-merchant

What’s more, you’ll be able to sell everything you find to these merchants, whether it is weapons, ammunition, or even valuable treasures.

 

Recycling working mechanics

Puzzles & Mini-games

Resident-Evil-4-enigmas

Puzzles have always played a central role in the Resident Evil series, and RE4 is no exception. You’ll have to solve about 15 puzzles to see the end of the adventure. While you should complete most in a few seconds, some will require an extra set of skills and patience.

Manage your equipment

Surviving in Resident Evil 4 depends a lot on your ability to manage the items you carry. You can use them, combine them, or get rid of things you don’t use to clear storage space. My advice? Always keep room for a couple of herbs and health sprays, just in case.

Later in the game, you’ll be able to upgrade to larger cases in exchange for some PTAS.

is-resident-evil-4-worth-buying-Case

Mixing herbs; Green + Yellow + Red = a winning trio

In Resident Evil 4, you’ll find three types of medicinal herbs:

  • Green herbs can heal you.
  • Yellow herbs can increase your life bar (when combined with a green herb).
  • Red herbs will fully restore your health (when combined with a green herb).

You should find enough herbs and first aid sprays throughout the adventure to see the end of the game without too much trouble. Having said that, if you’re reckless and miss the opportunity to combine the right herbs when you can, you might face a lot of difficulties.

 

A bloodcurdling soundtrack (for most of the time)

In 2005, the soundtrack knocked it out of the park. Playing RE4 in 2020 from beginning to end, I have mixed feelings about it.

On the one hand, the combat music, the crows, the enemies’ voices and footsteps, the typewriter sounds, the crackling sound of old doors opening contribute to creating a constant feeling of insecurity while playing. But Resident Evil 4’s soundtrack shows evident signs of age, at times, especially during the action-focused bit.

The action-focused bit

While I loved the atmosphere Shinji Mikami and his teams created for most of the game, there’s one bit of Resident Evil 4 that did not sound quite right — and killed the mood for me.

Little spoiler coming up – jump to the next paragraph if you don’t want to risk it.

That action bit involves a part where you’ll find yourself on an island later in the game. There, you’ll encounter enemies equipped with guns and loud taser sticks. I don’t remember being bothered by it the first time I played the game but, this time, I was. On top of that, the combat music during that part of the game will turn your fear radar off and make you feel like you’re just playing an action game with terrible controls. Ugh.

Finally, after playing for a couple of hours, you’ll realize that you keep hearing the same sounds in different situations, as most enemies within the same areas sound the same.

 

The gameplay with Ashley: “Leoooon!“

During a large chunk of the game, Leon will have to survive in the company of Ashley. The game will stop if she is a. killed or b. kidnapped.

is-resident-evil-4-worth-buying-Ashley

Preventing scenario a. from happening is not so hard as, in most cases, the enemies will focus their attacks on you (which makes sense as Ashley is their captive, not their target). To prevent scenario b. from happening, Leon will have to make sure that no enemy carries her out of the area you are currently in. This can happen a lot if you lose focus when in a battle with many enemies.

Yikes.

But the truth is that Ashley won’t be a burden for Leon. I mean, yes, she’ll find herself in helpless situations a couple of times, and you’ll have no other choice but to cover her, but that’s only because the game requires you to do so. During ‘normal’ gameplay situations, Ashley will follow you everywhere.

When you feel that things are about to go south, you can ask her to hide in strategic places. Overall, you’ll find that Ashley’s A.I. does the job. At least, I did not encounter any situation in which I found myself stuck because of her. Yes, she’ll probably die once or twice, but that’s only because the game is not easy, to begin with.

 

21+ hours later

According to Gamelenghs.com, most players require, on average, 21.1 hours to finish Resident Evil 4. This makes RE4 the second-longest RE to complete, right behind the so-so RE6 and its four different scenarios.

I can’t remember how long it took me to finish the game the first time. It took me precisely 14h and 41 minutes to finish it this time, in Normal mode, solving all the puzzles and completing most of the mini-games. While it is less than the average gamer, keep in mind that it’s not my first rodeo, and I remember most of the enigmas and techniques to get rid of the most ferocious enemies.

What’s more, you will unlock extra modes once you finish the game:

  • The Professional mode. If you thought Resident Evil 4 was a piece of cake, challenge your skills with a more challenging difficulty mode. You won’t be disappointed. A bit of advice? Save your PTAS for the rocket launcher 👀.
  • The Mercenaries mode. In the Mercenaries mode, you have to survive through waves of enemies in closed arenas and kill as many as you can in a limited amount of time. It’s harder than you think. The Mercenaries mode lets you play with different characters you’ll have to unlock, including Ada Wong and the legendary Albert Wesker.
  • Two extra missions, playing as Ada Wong (Assignment and Separate Ways). Finally, you’ll unlock alternative missions with Ada Wong (and sometimes find yourself helping Leon staying out of trouble). An exciting addition to the game. Even though Capcom didn’t bother to render the original cutscenes of Ada’s adventures in HD — and the result isn’t great, especially on a large flatscreen. It’s not that much of a big deal, but it is surprising enough to be pointed out in this review.

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To finish extra modes, I reckon you’ll need about 50 hours.

On another note, finishing the game will give you access to new costumes for Leon and Ashley.

Resident-Evil-4-raccoon-city-police-costume-rpd

Resident-Evil-4-fancy-costume

Verdict: good buy, or goodbye?

RE4 is arguably one of the best Resident Evil titles.

Despite its evident flows — mostly due to time — Resident Evil 4 is an incredible game with many iconic moments! Moments I voluntarily did not mention in this review not to spoil any of your pleasure.

I wish I’d just discovered the game now: a constant 60 fps, shorter loading times and sharper graphics. Some will say these are just details, but I’d argue that they make the experience much more enjoyable.

You’d best wait for the remake

Now, if you have never played RE4 before, I’d recommend waiting for Resident Evil 4 Remake (expected on March 24th, 2023) to discover the game in what should be the ultimate Resident Evil 4 experience.

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