Resident Evil 4 is one of the games I think of when thinking about my favorite games. It really provided a refreshing experience at the time, compared to previous Resident Evil Games, by adding a much more action based 3rd person gameplay and much more believable AI. The overall goals of this game are simply stay alive and manage your resources, while providing a very polished and cinematic gameplay experience throughout. The reason this game is fun is due to a couple of key elements that are executed nearly perfectly for the game; atmosphere, surprise, tension, and re-playability.
The atmosphere in Resident Evil 4 is the first thing that caught my attention. The very detailed buildings and environments, and the bigger environments compared to previous Resident Evil games, sets the stage for a very intense experience. Its hard to talk about believability when referring to a game that has the player killing zombies, but in Resident Evil 4 the game portrays a world that seems alive. As the player moves forward through the game sounds add to the life of the world, from the background music that sets the overall mood to the sound of an enemy scurrying nearby. Another simple addition that adds to the environment is the mysterious stranger that sells the player supplies and weapons. This stranger shows up at fixed intervals in the game, and if I remember right the game even allows you kill him which makes him a very believable addition to the game world. As unbelievable as Resident Evil 4 is, after a few minutes of playing, the world the game creates feels like it could be real.
Surprise is an element that Resident Evil games have been using since the first game. Resident Evil 4 is no different, there are moments in the game that actually made me jump, most notably the first encounter with the chainsaw wielding zombie. Even the cinematics would occasionally implore quick time events to make sure the player kept his controller tightly gripped the entire time. Surprise is a big part of keeping this game fresh for the player, there’s rarely a dull moment, and when there is, its usually just preparing you for a bigger surprise around the next corner.
Resident Evil 4 does an arguably perfect job at maintaining the tension level in the game. I believe there are a couple major changes from previous version of Resident Evil games, and survival horror games in general that help maintain the tension level. The first is the AI, in previous games I never really felt the zombies were alive or believable. I will never forget the first zombie that ran at me with a crazed looked on his face. Simple changes such as having the zombies run at the player, or jump down from a rooftop adds immensely to the tension. Without the new 3rd person camera I would not have had the same reaction, so I think the camera change also adds more design space for pushing tension and surprise. Even the facial animations on the enemies adds to tension of the game and believability of the enemies your facing. The controls may feel awkward at first to anyone that’s played a 3rd person shooter, but I think the controls fit really well with the design of the game, the player can’t run and gun his way through the level, instead he has to find a safe place to fight, with the hope that nothing will attack from behind.
The game also puts effort into re-playability. I really appreciated being able to play through the game multiple times while keeping all my previous weapons and ammo I acquired. It may seem like a small thing to include, but I think the game really rewards the player for playing through more than once. This was a time before Xbox Live and online games were really huge, so having this kind of reward for a single player game on the GameCube really added to my love of the game.
In the end it took a complete experience with solid gameplay, design, and presentation to make Resident Evil 4 a fun experience. The game world felt alive, and the game did a good job of holding my attention throughout the entire game. The complete experience and non stop “holy crap” moments kept me coming back for more.
Originally written in September of 2009 by Adam Larson