There’s a lot to love about Resident Evil 4. Originally released for the Gamecube in early 2005, it was a much-needed kick in the teeth to Capcom’s aging horror saga, trading in the comparatively somnambulant undead for intense, up-close-and-personal violence with smart, psychotic, parasite-ridden enemies. But the most tragic part of the game involves a jacket.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. With a new focus on strategic crowd control and weapons juggling, the thrill and terror of being overwhelmed by monsters made it a fresh and often turbulent experience. It was exciting to see Leon, too, having survived the perils of Raccoon City to become an emboldened badass with a penchant for killer one-liners that would soon enough define Resident Evil’s new tone — a Dante for RE’s slightly more grounded world. When it’s released (yes, again) for current-gen consoles at the end of the month, players will have a lot to look forward to.
RE4 involves its fair share of tragedies – it’s part of the horror genre after all. People die. Trauma is endured. Last gen’s HD re-releases kept some horribly outdated textures. But the biggest catastrophe, its most damning flaw, is much more immediately noticeable and goes completely unacknowledged, cutting so hard into the game’s core that it almost derails the whole thing.
It’s the abrupt loss of Leon’s jacket, less than an hour into the game.
If you’re reading this, you probably remember the gut-punch from the exact moment he loses it. Investigating the whereabouts of the president’s missing daughter, RE4 opens with Leon arriving on the outskirts of a small hamlet in Spain while sporting a brown leather jacket with smart wool lining and trim.
At first you can’t help but marvel — the piece is a thing of beauty, with a design that marries the classic look of a bomber with the low-friction utility of a biker jacket. No wonder it was featured on the splash art for the title screen in most releases of the game.
Leon’s newfound sartorial tastes match the radical attitude shift from his days as a somewhat milquetoast rookie cop, and his outfit is perfect. When shit quickly hits the fan and a horde of crazed Ganados try to kill the ex-RCPD officer, you feel as commanding as he looks — this, you think, is how an action game should be. That goddamn jacket just exudes power.
Yet by the end of Chapter 1-1, Leon has met Mendez, the leader of the cultish village, a nine-foot-tall Rasputin-alike who towers over justice like menace incarnate. Leon is no match for this seemingly supernatural bastard, who catches the hero of Raccoon City by one foot and sends him flying. The scene cuts to black and Leon comes to hours later, bound to Luis, another prisoner. Leon’s blocking and the camera are visual expressions of his newfound helplessness — and his jacket is nowhere to be found. The strength has been literally stripped from him.
Though Leon manages to escape his capture, the personal loss is never mentioned. He doesn’t lament to his superiors about it. He doesn’t comment to Luis (nor does Luis say anything to him). “What about his jacket!” you might have shouted at the TV in protest, if you’re anything like me. But to Leon, it apparently means nothing. And he never quite regains the level of sheer stylistic cool he had in RE4’s all-too-fleeting opening moments because of it.
Further twisting the knife, Capcom eventually decided to sell replica RE4 jackets online — a cruel reminder of their terrible crime. And so with a heavy heart we must say goodbye and rest in peace to a dear friend whose light burned so brightly, only to be snuffed out before its time. Some things are just too beautiful for this world. And Leon’s sweet jacket is one of those.