In 2005, the next instalment of the Resident Evil franchise was released. The sixth main entry into the franchise, this game not only changed the series forever, but went on to influence many major titles in the video game industry; receive unanimous praise across the board and be remembered as one of the all-time greatest games to ever be released. If it seems like I’m gushing, then that’s because I am. This game needs no introduction. To this day, it stands the test of time like no other game of its era. It’s one of the few times a sequel surpasses what has come before, whilst refreshing the franchise it belongs to. Basically, if you are reading this and haven’t played Resident Evil 4, I advise you to stop, get yourself a copy and play it right now. I promise you will not regret it.
RESIDENT EVIL 4 – 2005
As mentioned in previous entries to this retrospective series, Resident Evil 4 started life a long time before it’s release, and was first hinted at in 1999. An early version focused on a supernatural protagonist named Tony, who would be a descendant of Umbrella founder Ozwell E. Spencer, with the goal to make a “cool” and “stylish” action game. Hideki Kamiya was chosen to direct the game, with Shinji Mikami taking on his usual role as producer. A dynamic camera system would replace the fixed camera angles of the previous titles in the Resident Evil games, as Kamiya felt that the protagonist wouldn’t look brave and heroic enough with a static viewpoint. The artistic style of the game was influenced by European gothic architecture, with the production team taking trips to Spain and the United Kingdom to photograph elements that would be used in the game. However, Mikami felt that this style strayed too far from the survival horror roots of the series, and eventually convinced Kamiya and his team to make the game as an original title separate from the Resident Evil universe. The story was reworked, the protagonist renamed Dante, and was released on the PlayStation 2 as Devil May Cry, and would become a major franchise in its own right.
Another early build of Resident Evil 4 is commonly known as the “hook man version”. but officially titled Maboroshi no Biohazard 4 (“The Phantom Biohazard 4”). Intended to be the scariest Resident Evil title yet, the game would see Resident Evil 2 protagonist Leon S. Kennedy investigate a haunted building and contract a bizarre disease, whilst fighting off paranormal enemies including suits of armor, living dolls and a ghostlike man armed with a large hook. Instead of fixed camera angles, the game would incorporate an over-the-shoulder third person view, with some first-person sections. Quick-time events were also involved in certain sections of the game. This version of the game was ultimately scrapped, but footage was later made available on the pre-order bonus for Japan, a DVD called Biohazard 4 Secret DVD.
Yet another version of the game saw Leon infiltrate Spencer’s castle, with more traditional enemies such as zombies being fought. This version was also cancelled for being “too formulaic”, but elements of this and previous versions of Resident Evil 4, such as the Progenitor Virus, would eventually be incorporated into the Lost in Nightmares downloadable content for Resident Evil 5.
Shinji Mikami would eventually take over the role as director for the project and a decision was made to reinvent the series. This idea came about in part due to the feeling that Resident Evil 0 was “more of the same” according to Mikami. Game producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi agreed with this statement, mentioning how the staff working on the games had gotten “tired of the same old thing” and that some had even left the project to work on new ideas. The old style of gameplay the Resident Evil franchise had become known for where now seen behind the scenes as “shackles holding us down”.
With the shift from horror to action, Resident Evil 4 utilized an over-the-shoulder, third-person perspective used in a previous build of the game. A new scenario was written and for the first time in the series took the focus away from the Umbrella Corporation, which had been shut down off-screen prior to the events taking place in the game. New enemies were introduced to replace the series’ staple zombies, which were no longer mindless husks who slowly stumbled towards the player. The “Ganado” was instead a more intelligent foe, capable of attacking the player in greater numbers; use and throw weapons; climb ladders and obstacles and barge through closed doors. The result of a parasite infecting it’s host, sometimes the Ganado’s head would explode to reveal the “Las Plagas” controlling the human body, which would be more of a challenge to kill and far deadlier. A variation seen later in the game portrayed the Ganados as monks, chanting as they approached the player, which is more unsettling than it sounds.
Other enemies included El Gigante, a massive troll-like monster who smashes through scenery and can crush its foes with ease. Making its first appearance as a mid-level boss, there were 4 of these creatures to fight, with one being optional depending on your choice of which path to take. The El Gigante would prove to be a popular enemy, with many publications of the time highlighting the creature to show off the more terrifying obstacles to overcome, and would make an appearance in the following game.
Another enemy in Resident Evil 4 would go on to top many gaming lists of scariest enemies and for good reason. Called “Regenerators” these creatures had the rather annoying ability to re-grow parts of their body the player had previously destroyed, and the only way to stop them for good was to destroy all the parasites inside their body. To do this you need to use an infrared scope to locate these parasites, or be prepared to use up a lot of ammo. The music that accompanies the Regenerators, as well as their heavy, ragged breathing and their stretchy limbs and dangerous spikes that can protrude from their body whilst being confined to tight, claustrophobic corridors, all come together to make them a memorable foe, as well as an unsettling one.
With the fall of Umbrella, the story focuses on Raccoon City survivor Leon S. Kennedy as he is sent on a mission to find and rescue the daughter of the President of the United States, Ashley Graham. He arrives in a rural village in an unspecified location of Spain, and must fight his way through the local villagers who follow a strange cult fanatically. Leon’s character has evolved from the one seen in Resident Evil 2, and is now a more capable, action-hero type of character. With his appearance in this game, Leon would become possibly the most popular character in the Resident Evil franchise, appearing in Resident Evil 6, the CGI movie’s, and also the live-action movie franchise.
As mentioned, Leon is on a mission to save the President’s daughter, Ashley Graham. She has been kidnapped by a mysterious cult named Los Illuminados (“The Enlightened Ones” in Spanish), and is kept prisoner in a church on the outskirts of a rural village that Leon arrives at. She is not the most capable character in the franchise, and is in constant need of rescue. Her frequent cries for help have become somewhat of an online joke, as is the ability to have her hide inside giant bins and leave her there. By the end of the campaign, however, Ashley does indeed become a stronger character and it would be interesting to see her make an appearance in future instalments of the Resident Evil franchise. Leon is aided on his mission by Ingrid Hunnigan, his Case Officer and F.O.S. agent, who gives him tactical information throughout his mission to help him rescue Ashley and escape from Los Illuminados.
As well as Leon making a return to the series, another character from Resident Evil 2 appears in an important role. Presumed dead after the events of that game, it transpires that Ada Wong managed to survive somehow, although the details are skipped over in this game. She finds herself at odds with Leon, as her mission is to secure a sample of Las Plagas for the company she is working for and is later revealed to be run by Albert Wesker. Her character is similar to the one seen in Resident Evil 2, with a question mark in regards to where her true loyalties lie. Just like Leon, her appearance in Resident Evil 4 would help Ada become one of the most popular characters in the franchise, with more appearances to follow in various media.
Leon encounters and is aided by new character Luis Sera during the early part of the game. Originally introducing himself as a policeman from Madrid who became dissatisfied with his job. It is later revealed that he is in fact a researcher who helped develop the Las Plagas parasite, but after realising how it was intended to be used, he attempted to sabotage Los Illuminados’ plans. He aids Leon in an attempt to redeem himself for the outbreak of Las Plagas, which he blames on himself.
The main antagonist of Resident Evil 4 is Osmund Saddler, leader of the cult known as Los Illuminados. After developing the mind-controlling parasite Las Plagas, he infects the nearby villagers to protect him and his cult, including local castellan Ramon Salazar. He organizes the kidnap of Ashley Graham with the goal of infecting her with Las Plagas, and then returning her to her father, the President of the United States, in the hopes of her then infecting high-profile members of the U.S. government in order for Los Illuminados to gain power across the world.
Saddler also hires the services of Jack Krauser, a freelance mercenary who had worked alongside Leon Kennedy in the past. After being declared dead after a helicopter crash, Krauser was instead recruited by Albert Wesker, and given super-human powers to aid in his efforts to retrieve the sample of Las Plagas from the cult he was hired to protect.
Resident Evil 4 was a major shift in gameplay from previous entries and itself would be regarded as a huge influence in the creation of popular titles such as The Last of Us, Gears of War, Dead Space, Ratchet and Clank, and Batman: Arkham Asylum. It’s “precision aim” system would become a staple of third-person action games in the future and the shift from horror to a more action-oriented style of gameplay would also lead to changes in other major horror game franchises, inlcluding 2008’s Alone in the Dark and Silent Hill: Homecoming. Reviews for Resident Evil 4 were incredibly positive, with many stating it was the best game of the decade, and numerous accolades followed, including multiple Game of the Year awards. Resident Evil 4 would soon be ported to the PlayStation 2, with the addition of a new scenario titled “Separate Ways”, in which the player would control Ada Wong and witness events from her perspective. A version for the Nintendo Wii was released in 2007, utilizing the motion controls of the console for aiming weapons and certain in-game actions such as quick-time events. An HD Remaster was released in 2011 alongside Code: Veronica for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, 2014 for PC, and 2016 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
The major success of Resident Evil 4 promised a new start for the franchise, which had slowly become stale in the eyes of many gamers. Its exciting set pieces, engaging story, well written characters and great gameplay was something many gamers and even fans of the series, hadn’t expected and signalled the return to form for the franchise. The announcement of a sequel, Resident Evil 5, came almost immediately, and fans of the series, both new and old, would wait to see if Capcom could somehow deliver an even greater game on the next generation of consoles.