Retrospective

Resident Evil 4 rewrote the rules for a whole generation of games

A whole new perspective.

Survival horror games owe a lot to the pioneering Resident Evil series. The earlier entries for PS One were certainly popular, but 2005’s Resident Evil 4 influenced a slew of action and horror games that followed. Resident Evil 4 launched for the Nintendo GameCube on January 11, 2005, and remains one of the very best in the series. This entry went in a vastly different direction than its predecessors and endures all these years later thanks to its groundbreaking design.

A risky change paid off

A bold new direction elevated Resident Evil 4 to new heights.Capcom

Resident Evil 4 shifted the series to an over-the-shoulder perspective, offering a more claustrophobic, intimate experience. This was a major shakeup when compared to the original third-person Resident Evil games, which all featured static cameras and fixed backgrounds that began to feel clunky in the early 2000s. This new perspective allowed players to shoot more accurately and provided more freedom in terms of exploration.

This shift went hand-in-hand with another crucial change: a greater emphasis on action. The previous Resident Evil games were demonstrably focused on survival, exploration, and inventory management forcing players to be deliberate with their shots while preserving supplies. In contrast battle in Resident Evil 4 feels akin to a traditional shooter, with high-octane pacing that rarely lets up. The survival elements are still there — as evidenced by the famous attaché case — but it’s far more forgiving.

Leaning more into action was a bold move that paid off. Resident Evil 4 became the best-selling game of the series, with 12.1 million copies sold across its many versions.

Equally scary and silly

One of the game’s leading villains, Ramón Salazar is referred to as a Spanish nobleman, who has the stature of a young boy, with the face of an old man. He’s 20 years old.Capcom

Despite the new direction, Resident Evil 4 still feels very much like its predecessors. It still prevents you from going Rambo on all your foes. But since you can free aim in this game, you have much more control of your shots — and by extension, your ammo count.

Aside from mechanics, Resident Evil 4 retains the silly, yet scary tone the series is known for. Protagonist Leon Kennedy can suplex infected enemies, which is just as wacky as it sounds. Within the first 10 minutes of the game, Leon shows his skills by performing a series of flips out of a second-story window before landing without a scratch on him. One of my favorite aspects is Ramón Salazar, the villain who looks like a child with face of an old man and dresses like Spanish nobility. It’s completely ludicrous and never really explained, and helps make him one of the series’s most memorable baddies.

Resident Evil 4 offered enough of a change from other games in the series to feel exciting and new while giving veteran players plenty of returning features and ideas to enjoy, as well.

A lasting legacy

You can clearly see many of Resident Evil 4’s ideas — such as its over-the-shoulder perspective — in other horror games.Capcom

Many of Resident Evil 4’s ideas appear in subsequent survival horror games like Dead Space, The Evil Within, and The Last of Us. The game’s third-person perspective became the norm, setting the standard for what a horror game “should” look like. Every Resident Evil game that followed ditched the static cameras in favor of the over-the-shoulder view. Even non-horror games like Max Payne 3 and Gears of Wår featured similar perspectives. Resident Evil 4 wasn’t the first game to do this, but it certainly popularized the now-standard view found in countless action and horror games.

Resident Evil 4 also required players to protect Ashley Graham, the president’s daughter. Playing alongside a companion made Resident Evil 4 feel less lonely, while also opening the doors for some interesting mechanics — such as giving your partner a “boost” to reach a platform above. Having to ensure the survival of both the main character and a vulnerable companion is a prominent feature of later games like God of Wår (2018) and The Last of Us. Imagine, no Atreus or Ellie!

Capcom is currently working on a remake of Resident Evil 4, which will launch this spring. The wait until the remake’s release will no doubt be agonizing, but in the meantime, you can play the original Resident Evil 4 on a plethora of platforms.

Resident Evil 4 remake launches for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC on March 24, 2023.

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