Why Resident Evil 4 is still better than most games

Resident Evil 4 HD PS3

In our Resi 4 HD review there was a line that goes something like this: “Step away from the computer. Jump on to PSN and download this beauty. Resident Evil 4 is one of the greatest games of all time”. I thought it might be a little bit of fanboy hyperbole initially (we’re all allowed a bit). I didn’t really appreciate how true it was until I actually started playing the game again.

 

At first the controls seem strange and alien. Returning hero Leon (great name) steers like a bomb disposal robot, guided woodenly on the left stick alone. Want to shoot? Then hold R1 to bring up your gun and aim with the left stick as well. Oh, all while locked to the spot obviously.

The first few minutes trundling around a rustic old Spanish village full of axe flinging possessed yokels goes against everything your muscle memory’s been learning for the last few years – moving and aiming on the same stick, the right stick only good for spanging the camera around in sharp angles like a driving game. It feels like you’re trying do everything in a mirror. With your feet.

Then it clicks – your brain suddenly accepts the controls and the main shooting mechanic becomes a thing of tense, nervous beauty. It’s all about risk assessment and threat management. Rather than going gun crazy the controls and camera mean you’re forced to pick your shots; holding back the enemy and taking care of the nearest dangers with well placed bullets.

Do you go for the easy but largely ineffectual body shots that your targets barely register? Or go for the legs to drop them to their knees and slow them down. Or, the most risky, do you try for a tricky to land head shot to open them up for a spinning kick that’ll save ammo and knock everyone back to give you time to breath.

It’s a beautifully claustrophobic system that Dead Space largely lifted wholesale. Sure, that added the ability to move and shoot but targeting limbs was simply another way of forcing you to still feel vulnerable while well armed. An adaptation of what Resi 4 perfected so long ago.

Resident Evil 4 HD PS3

And let’s not forget that post Resi 4, over the shoulder aiming was simpley the way games were done. It’s also why QTE’s started popping up all over the shop. Except here they’re used with skill – thrown in without warning, spliced unexpectedly into moments of action so that you fumble, claw-fingered, at the pad. Unlike today’s carefully marked out button prompting, these are stomach lurching surprises that mean you can never completly relax.

In fact the uncertainty Resi 4 creates is one its strongest features. It takes you out of your comfort zone in so many ways – what is meant to be scary in a Spanish village anyway? Plus, with no zombies, the threats are new and unknown. It also changes character constantly. Mumbling villagers give way to chanting monks and worse. Just when you think you have a handle on things there’s a subtle but solid change to the dynamics and you’re left back at square one: unsure and uncertain about what’s to come.

Then there’s Ashley, (the President’s daughter whose kidnap kicks the whole thing off). When you rescue her there’s someone else to look after. The mechanics are simple: you can tell her to ‘wait’ or ‘follow’ but once there, she’s your responsibility and adds another angle to the drama. Crucially without ever getting in the way or feeling like a chore. Her cries of “Leon!” whenever she’s threatened rival Ico for those ice-in-the-veins ‘she’s in trouble’ moments.

Even the inventory is a game, a suitcase where items take up fixed spaces within a grid. Shuffle and pack things well and you can squeeze out precious extra squares for that grenade you think you might need. Or maybe you should take the First Aid Spray? Or the ammo. Oh God, I can’t make these decisions under pressure…

Guns are also an endlessly addictive diversion as you tune and tweak your tools. Always craving that slight damage boost or faster reload speed – perfecting them for their different jobs: the all purpose pistol, the crowd controlling shotgun and so on. Each weapon is so tangibly different in effect and presence they’re charecters in their own right.

In many ways the main reason Resi 5 failed to match 4’s success, or indeed be a better game, was because it tried to copy all these mechanics without really understanding them. Mixing in a few modern concessions like co-op and painting it’s own face over Resi 4’s perfectly formed skeleton. As a result it created its own kind of monster – a shuffling lackluster sequel without claws that only served to set the series back.

No, Resi 4 was better. Better than 5 and still better than most games out there right now. The HD spruce up is a quality refit, creating something that can, for a six year old game, admirably hold its own against today’s releases. It also oozes a consistent atmosphere and class from start to finish that most games can only dream of. I’m talking Uncharted and Batman levels of style and panash, here. Basically, it’s like the review said, “Step away from the computer. Jump on to PSN and download this beauty. Resident Evil 4 is one of the greatest games of all time”.

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