2005’s Resident Evil 4, with its third-person real-time camera and crowd control-inducing enemies, felt fresh, even revolutionary, at the time. Even the slow, dread majesty of the Spencer Mansion in 2002’s Resident Evil Gamecube remake (still the pinnacle of the series; fight me) felt archaic by RE4’s ratcheted standards — it redefined horror through the lens of sheer, unbridled intensity (even if some of it has been inevitably outclassed, if not outdone, and Capcom really dropped the ball in one key aspect) and third-person shooters haven’t been the same since.
With RE4 out soon for current-gen consoles, you can once again relive (or experience for the time time) its most unnerving moments. Here are some of the best.
The first chainsaw
Featured prominently on the Gamecube’s original cover as well as a ton of gruesome promo art, Dr. Salvador is less of a character and more of a presence of pure panicky malevolence — if not an outright homage to Texas Chain Saw Massacre. More to the point, chainsaws have a special place in every RE4 player’s heart; once you started mixing it up with crazed locals of the Spanish Ganado village, the buzz of the death tool likely made your blood run cold.
Its introduction is the most terror-inducing; the saw-wielding maniac would run toward you, unannounced, in the thick of a Ganado throng, a bullet sponge to everything that didn’t pack explosive firepower. Since Leon stays rooted to his position while firing, finishing him off required the shotgun unless you were a crack shot. Should he get too close, players were treated with one of the most horrifically indulgent decapitations before or since. The heavy chainsaw psycho was so effective that it’s become almost an archetype across a variety of genres and permutations, not to mention in RE4 itself. Capcom even lovingly released an utterly ridiculous chainsaw controller, complete with custom blood splatter for both Gamecube and PS2.
The cabin assault
Roughly a third of the way through RE4 — just before Leon is about to enter the labyrinthine and cavernous castle of the (Spanish) Napoleon-esque Ramon Salazar, Leon, the president’s daughter Ashley, and a local ally, Luis, are beset by Ganados from all sides while trapped in a small cabin. Given no other choice, you’re forced to hold off the invaders as they stream in from multiple entrances of the two-level structure.
Like the chainsaw, the cabin assault introduces a new design wrinkle into the higher-octane RE4. What made it so effective was that standing in one place, or simply letting the enemy come to you, was a recipe for assured death. Between having to stem leaks by preventing foes from entering the house and the scarce ammo you had on hand, continual movement was vital. Of course, given the nature of the cabin’s layout, it made it that much harder to juggle the simultaneous flow across all entry points; you just had to make do, making the whole scenario quite stressful.
It wouldn’t be a survival horror game without some kind of mutated creepy-crawly trying to feast on you, and RE4 proved no exception. The grotesque bugs in Salazar’s domain aren’t quite as horrifying as the Cronenberg-esque monstrosities the dwelt under the Spencer Mansion, but they’re no slouch in the creep show department.
Unlike the T-virus insects of the original game, these Novistador (“The Unseen”) are first encountered in the sewer area of the castle’s underground (of course) and they have natural stealth camouflage, because of course they do. Though the sewer area is relatively small, it can be hard not to be uneasy navigating through them, particularly given the Novistadors’ penchant for pouncing on you out of nowhere. Of course, later you find out they can fly
Known only as Salazar’s “right hand,” Verdugo marries the scare tactics of RE4’s burlap-wearing chainsaw bastards — mostly in that it seems impervious to just about any weapon you’re probably carrying — with the “unseen” aspect of the flying parasite-ridden insects. This in particular is effective, as Verdugo likes to make itself scarce on screen, forcing you (unfortunately) to react with split-second time to avoid getting hit, if not outright decapitated, by either the creature’s pure force or xenomorph-like prehensile tail.
As with any good boss fight, the environment plays a big role; trapped in a maintenance area underneath the castle, you’re forced to wait in terror for the slowest elevator in history to present an escape. Meanwhile, Salazar’s monster is hot on your trail (again, movement) and the best you can probably hope to do is slow it down with liquid nitrogen, which the creature inevitably shakes off. The second that elevator shows up you’re probably going to beeline for it. Interestingly, the design respects your decision to stick around and kill the thing if you’re smart about it, but doing so requires some planning. Choose wisely as, either way, it’s never seen again.
Regenerators (and Iron Maidens)
“Regenerator” likely doesn’t sound like a fun name for a monster, and trust me, it isn’t. You meet these abominations late in RE4’s campaign by way of the classic “dormant corpse” trick of the genre, in this case lying on a medical table in an operating room. You know it’s going to groan to life at some point; the question is just a matter of when. After solving a quick puzzle (remember those?), the monster awakens, and its appearance alone, with a chubby, misshapen form and gray-scale skin, may not scare you alone, except you don’t see it first — you hear it.
The Regenerator’s ragged breathing pierces straight into your reptilian fear center. It feels like a violation you immediately want to flee. Of course, these things will keep coming. They get their name for, you guessed it, the ability to regenerate limbs. Even if you blow off one of its legs it will lunge madly after you, all toothy rictus; the only way to put these things down for good is either to target the parasites inside it using an infrared scope or so thoroughly break down its body that its innards cant keep up, causing a grisly explosion. Between their relentless, lumbering stride, body horror visuals, and that nauseating noise — not to mention their spiky, harder to kill cousins, the Iron Maidens — it’s a small mercy that Capcom decided against stuffing the end of the game full of these horrors, perhaps for memory reasons related to the engine. In any case, you’ll be grateful they did.