Resident Evil 4: Truly a Masterpiece?

I know I make a lot of jokes about my opinions getting me hanged or burned at the stake. But the ones I’m about to write in this article might just make those jokes come true.

Look up any ‘top games of all time’ list. Like, right now. I’ll wait. Scour that list and I guarantee that you’ll find Resident Evil 4 somewhere on there. It’s one of those games that most people simply agree is just that good. To many, it is a true masterpiece of video gaming.

Now, you all ready to hear something that will make you angry? Here goes: I don’t think Resident Evil 4 is that good. It is good, don’t get me wrong. But masterpiece? I wouldn’t say so.

Six years after the events of RE2/3, Leon Kennedy has become a secret agent working directly under the president of the United States. When the president’s daughter, Ashley, is kidnapped and taken to a remote village in Spain, it’s up to Leon to get her back! But his mission won’t be easy; a cult has taken control of all the villagers using a strange parasite, and some familiar faces from Leon’s past have taken up with the enemy. Soon, Leon finds himself wrapped up in a mission every bit as dangerous as Racoon City.

This is a pretty mindless action plot. It doesn’t have particularly deep characters with rich story arcs or a setting with a vibrant history. If you look more closely than not at all, you’ll find more than a few plot holes in the thing. It’s cheesy and it’s dumb.

But it doesn’t really matter. The narrative is just there to give you a reason to run around and shoot infested village folk in the face. It embraces its goofiness and runs for the god damn hills with it. It knows exactly what it is; a shlocky action movie. It knows when to play it straight, like when a new monster bursts onto the scene, but as a whole, it feels like it’s in on the joke with you. And that makes the plot go from ‘dumb’ to ‘charming.’

Presentation wise, the game shows its age a little bit. The character models all still look pretty good, especially their facial animations and the motion capture in the cutscenes. Still, there are a few muddy textures here and there, both on the characters and in the environments, and some of the item models are kinda blocky. Plus, I had a few frame dips in the early part of my playthrough, but that problem went away as the game went on. Still, as a whole, it hasn’t aged all that poorly.

In terms of the music, I have mixed feelings. Some of the tracks are great, like the save theme. But others got on my nerves really quickly. That horror theme that plays whenever enemies are aware of you got old real fast; it did a good job of raising the tension at first, then it just got annoying.

Now, let’s talk about the game itself. After all, this is the part of RE4 that people constantly say hasn’t aged a day. To those people, I must say: are you sure about that?

Resident Evil 4 is an over-the-shoulder third-person shooter survival horror game. Basically, you run around grabbing whatever limited resources you can while shooting the bad guys in the face with said limited resources and occasionally solving puzzles. You know, a Resident Evil game. You do this chapter by chapter until you’ve killed all the bad guys and the plot ends. Typical video game stuff.

It is worth noting that this was the game that revolutionized the third-person shooter back in the day. It’s since been done to death, and done better with more modern controls, but this was still the one that started that all. And for that, it deserves respect.

Even if the controls have aged less than gracefully.

Much like the original versions of RE1-3, this game uses tank controls. Only now, instead of using a fixed camera that delivers all the info you need, the camera is much more limited and stuck behind Leon. This is a good thing; limiting Leon’s range of vision does a good job of raising the tension in game and forcing the player to look around. Unfortunately, this makes turning Leon around corners a slow and restrictive nightmare. He feels sluggish, which can make certain gameplay sections incredibly annoying.

Aiming definitely shows its age as well. Sure, the laser-pointer aiming is perfectly functional, but it feels awkward. On console versions, you’re locked to one speed. Adjust it on PC, however, and you’ll either make it way too slow or way too fast; there is no comfortable middle ground. Again, it still works fine and you can get used to it. But after playing more modern third-person shooters, like the more recent Resident Evil titles, it does feel cumbersome.

Now, the actual guns all feel great. It’s satisfying to blow away a horde of enemies with one shotgun blast or to fill ’em with holes using the TMP. And one-shotting bosses with a rocket launcher is genuinely hilarious and makes you feel truly unstoppable. Grenades are also incredibly useful and easy to use, as the only consequence you suffer from hitting yourself with one is a bit of hit-stun. The controls have aged, but the combat itself is every bit as fun now as it was when the game first came out.

Then there are the Quick Time Events. For the most part, I’m fine with these. But when they result in an instant game over and force you to rewatch a lengthy cutscene over and over and over again (cough cough Crowzer)? They get frustrating real quick. Still, they’re not all that bad.

Now, let’s talk about the part of the game that I truly cannot stand. Her name is Ashley.

Ashley is easily the most controversial part of this game. Some people love her, others despise her. I’m in the latter category. Having to micromanage her during battle isn’t so bad (until she gets hit by a one-shot kill attack and gives you a game over eight times in one room, fuck you Ashley). At least, it wouldn’t be if it weren’t for her obnoxious voice and constant whining. Thankfully, she’s only with Leon for about 40-50% of the game, so you aren’t forever stuck with her. Still, when you are, the game becomes significantly more annoying.

But I will admit that the section where you play as her is pretty good. It returns RE4 to the horror roots of the series, sticking you in a tight, dark space with no means to defend yourself. That was a solid bit of horror. Shame it only happened the once. Though I guess it would’ve gotten annoying if you had to keep doing it.

Now, all of that was just the main game. There is also a plethora of side activities to do! From the side campaign starring Ada to the Mercenaries mode where you get to play as the other characters like Crowzer in a survival arena, there’s no shortage of things to do in RE4 once you finish the main story. You’ll get plenty of bang for your buck.

Overall, I do think that Resident Evil 4 is a good game. I do think it shows its age in a lot of aspects, which bogged the experience down for me. I can see why people call it a masterpiece, but I don’t agree. Regardless, this is a good game that has mostly withstood the test of time.

I’m excited to see what Capcom will do in the remake next year. And even if it’s bad, I’ll just enjoy watching this game’s hardcore fans tear it apart.

Kinda like they’re gonna tear me apart…

2 responses to “Resident Evil 4: Truly a Masterpiece?”

  1. I haven’t played it in a while. Since the Wii version came out, to be more precise. But I loved it all those years ago. I should probably go for a replay so I can be scared again and check if it still holds up.

    Liked by 1 person

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