Five Reasons Why Resident Evil 4 Probably Isn’t a Perfect Game.
Let this stand as a testament: just because you love something doesn’t mean it is beyond mockery, ridicule, or an objective examination into why it might suck a little bit.
As I’ve mentioned during my copious examination of old stuff I wrote and am presently somewhat embarrassed about over at my own site, Resident Evil Zero was basically going to be my jumping off point as far as the Resident Evil franchise was concerned. It was basically the exact same formula as its predecessors stuffed into a game that featured an AI partner of dubious mental capability and a terrible inventory management system, and it was honestly just very dull and uninspired. As it stood, the franchise had nothing to show, and if it hadn’t been for Resident Evil 4 basically being revamped at the halfway point into a whole different thing, Zero would have been the last game in the franchise I bothered to care about, at all. RE4 was a goddamn miracle, however; it breathed new life into a franchise that was halfway into the grave at that point, and it’s not only one of the best entries in its entire franchise, and the genre in general, it’s one of the best games released ever from my perspective. You’re welcome to disagree, and I know there are certainly those who didn’t care for it, but considering it revitalized the franchise and massively spiked the popularity to the point that even the games people didn’t like, like Resident Evil 6 and Operation Raccoon City sold in the multiple millions, well, you should probably just accept that my argument has more merit than yours and move on.
So yeah, I love it. Let’s talk about the parts of it that suck.
The Game: Resident Evil 4.
Release Year:: 2005, and then again several times afterward.
Gamerankings Score:: The highest score for it is 95.85% for the PS2 version, followed by 95.83% for the GCN version; the PS2 version also holds twenty “perfect” scores out of fifty four reviews, while the GCN version holds thirty “perfect” scores out of ninety nine reviews. There’s also a Wii version, released two years later, that holds eight “perfect” scores, and even a re-release on Xbox 360 some six years after the initial release that even holds two. People like the game a lot, is my point here, and I’m certainly one of them.
1.) Everything, everywhere, is stupid.
Resident Evil 4 marked the transition point between “stupid camp plots” and “serious business plots,” as the games prior to it were full of the crazy Resident Evil pseudo-science and lame dialogue one expects of the franchise, while Resident Evil 5 marked the first real attempt to make a “serious” plotline, featuring “serious” dialogue and characters. Resident Evil 4 marks a weird waypoint dead in the center of that transition period, and to call the game insane is to do it a discredit; its plot is Troma Studios crazy, and the fact that mostly feels like it’s intentionally bad at times is the main thing that makes the game such a joy to play. From Leon’s absolutely pants-shittingly bad one liners (“No thanks, bro.” “Where’s everyone going… bingo?”) to the super-over-the-top ending sequence to the fact that one of the major bad guys is a damn midget, everything is so over the top you almost expect to break into a room and see Sylvester Stallone challenging you to an arm wrestling match.
Perhaps the single worst problem with the plot, though, is that the entire plot hinges on one key concept: that Ashley Graham, the daughter of the president of the United States, has been kidnapped with the express intention of infecting her with Las Plagas, so that when she returns to the US, she’ll cause some kind of major catastrophe (assassination, presidential mind control, something like that). It’s obviously a stupid B-movie plotline, but it’s also one that’s wholly impossible, to the extent that it requires the player to either assume that the main villain, Saddler, is either incredibly stupid and being manipulated (which is unlikely) or is actually planning something else (which the game never implies). The reality, as later games make apparent, is that in a world where the CDC is a real thing and bioweapons are less “you get sick and die” and more “you turn into a goddamn monster,” Ashley and Leon would be quarantined for weeks and subjected to every possible test imaginable before being let back into the world, which would almost certainly undermine the point of the whole plan. The Los Plagas infection doesn’t exactly integrate itself to the host safely; it’s more like a full-blown parasite, attaching itself to parts of the host and forcing them to do its bidding, while also allowing for its own defense by spawning massive defense implements when the host is injured. It’d show up on an X-Ray, is my point here, and that’s almost certainly going to be a test given to the returning heroes, if literally nothing else, which kills the entire plan dead on sight. I mean, it’s not like everyone doesn’t know what’s going on; even if they didn’t at first, Leon does report in a whole lot early on, so they know Ashley was kidnapped by a weird doomsday cult; I don’t care how much daddy loves her, he’s the damn President, he’s going to say, “Yeaaaahhh they might have brainwashed her, check her out,” when she’s back in the US.
Of course, for all of its tacky and stupid plot points, one thing that’s conspicuous in its absence is…
2.) Capcom’s very weird opinions on love and romance.
… that Capcom games in general (Devil May Cry notwithstanding), and Resident Evil as a franchise, are incredibly sexless, which is made blatantly apparent in Resident Evil 4.
Resident Evil as a series, for all of its weird Western-style trope abuse, has always avoided the concept of anything approaching romantic interactions with characters, which is fine to a point. Logically, it’s really great that people like Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine can work together as a unit without everything devolving to sex or romance, and it’s a great example of true inter-gendered working relationships, but realistically, they’re both in their early forties and married to their jobs, and ostensibly one another as partners, so they might as well go all the way with it. What’s especially weird, though, is that none of the characters in the franchise have anything approaching a romantic relationship with, well, anyone, to the point where, as of Resident Evil 6 the only character who seems to have anything going on in their life is Barry Burton. There’s been odd bits of sexual tension between characters at times, but even then the closest we’ve come to that sort of thing coming anywhere near paying off is in the Survivor franchise, and even then it was between two characters who were basically never going to have a long-term relationship for stupid nationalistic plot reasons.
Resident Evil 4 is probably the pinnacle of that weirdness.
Leon Kennedy has this incredibly weird quasi-romantic fixation with Ada Wong, despite the fact that it’s almost certainly a semi-abusive relationship, due entirely to Ada’s lifestyle and general inability to attach herself to others (unless she’s using them). Still, that, in and of itself is fine; we often see that sort of relationship with men as the aggressor and women as the victim, so it’s a fine enough reversal of the trope, even if it’s just more reinforcing of Capcom’s weird, sexless B-movie world. So when Ada shows up, Leon’s back to being quasi smitten with her, which is, again, fine given that their relationship is… complex and almost certainly going nowhere good. As the game wraps up, though, the weirdest possible thing happens: Ashley Graham, who has just been saved by Leon and almost certainly is going through the whole hero worship deal Speed spent way too long talking about, invites Leon to do “some overtime,” which almost certainly means her. Given the weird B-movie trappings of the franchise, the expectation is obvious, but Leon turns her down, then proceeds to make a perfunctory pass at his handler, Hunnigan, which is soundly rejected.
This is the closest the Resident Evil universe has come to anything approaching real human interaction ever at this point, and it stands as a huge exclamation point on the weird-ass problem Capcom seems to have with human interactions in writing. A lot of people made jokes, at the time, about Leon’s sexuality (and shockingly none of them were funny), but Resident Evil 4 does a lot more to show that everyone in the universe is fucking damaged, man, and once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
Also, in a related note, is… is Shinji Mikami okay? I’ve just been going through his game production list and it reads like a serious list of “games where the players have to ship because the writers refused to,” with the first three Phoenix Wright games, Vanquish and the majority of the Resident evil franchise on it… and then suddenly, Shadows of the Damned, where you run across your naked girlfriend’s gigantic body, before going back to sexless horror with The Evil Within. I am legitimately worried about his mental health, you guys.
3.) We sell everything but batteries!
Moving onto the mechanical decisions in Resident Evil 4, one of the weirder mechanical decisions, and arguably the one that makes the absolute least sense structurally, is that of the weapon vendors and their inventory. Starting from the early going, these vendors show up and, after a bit of awkwardness, show Leon their wares, many of which are borderline necessary if one values life. They sell protective gear, weapons, upgrades, and basically everything you could possibly want to continue your trek through the game… except the one thing they always visibly have on their person, ammo. It’s the most bizarre thing imaginable; you can visually see ammo either on their person or (in the rare case you encounter one of their specific stores) in stock on the counter, but there’s never a point in the game when you can exchange cash for ammunition, ever, despite it visibly being available at pretty much all times. This isn’t a minor thing, either; the vendors clearly, visually have ammo, you just can’t buy it, at all, ever, even though they have it on display as a thing they physically possess.
The weirdest thing about this is that Resident Evil 4 is very much not a “survival horror” game; dodging enemies is often not an option, especially since about a third of the game is spent dealing with your escort, Ashley, in some form or fashion. You almost certainly have to kill a good number of the enemies you meet, and while there are alternatives (dodge, knock down with Active Time Event, knife knife knife), that’s annoying at best and impossible at worst. Factor in absolutely massive mid-bosses and primary bosses, and it becomes frustrating, especially if you’re not good at the game. Resident Evil 5 had a similar issue but at least allowed players to replay stages, so you could scramble through a stage and collect ammo like mad if that was your wont. Resident Evil 4 simply offers no alternatives, and while skilled players won’t see this as an issue, and late-game play generally doesn’t make this an issue nearly as much, the first few hours can easily put off a newcomer, and considering how likely the game was to bring in players new to the franchise, that was kind of stupid and poorly executed.
4.) On the subject of instant death.
I’m just going to say this and get it out there, because I’m sure a lot of us are thinking it: entirely too many things in the game world of Resident Evil 4 are able to kill you in a single hit with no recourse, or worse, with your only recourse being a fucking Active Time Event, and that’s garbage. First off, never in the history of ever have Active Time Events been a good edition to ANY franchise that isn’t called God of War, and if you disagree you are a goddamn crazy person. Resident Evil 4 adds them by the ton, using them for dodging, counters, specific sequences, surviving a goddamn crocodile/fish thing and beyond, and the game is just silly with ATE’s. The fact that Resident Evil 4 is still an amazing game is due entirely to how good the rest of the game is, but if you didn’t hate spamming buttons to outswim that fish monster and reach your boat, you’re a better person than I am.
Even beyond that, though, the game is just full of instant death sequences that aren’t governed by random button presses. Monsters have swinging guillotine heads that kill you full stop with no warning. Chainsaw wielding dudes kill you outright if they hit you. Multiple bosses kill you dead in one hit with specific attacks, which may or may not have an obvious warning associated with them. It’s insane, and it doesn’t even really ramp up the horror of the game so much as it makes you sigh dejectedly because you have to repeat the section over. Resident Evil as a series didn’t do this until this entry, and it’s not like players have this expectation like Clock Tower players might, for example. It was a weird and drastic change that was just a thing now, and whether or not it was tolerable, it wasn’t a great change.
5.) A poorly conceived sliding scale of progress.
In the beginning of the game, you’re facing down stupid people with burrowing worms in their skulls, the occasional giant freak, and a few mutant animals. This makes a certain degree of logical sense, and adds to the weird Children of the Corn sort of vibe the game gives off. Later on, you’ll face down masked cultists who are a bit more powerful, and they, too, make perfect sense in context, and give the game a fairly logical scale of progression. It stands to reason that as the game progresses, enemies will become more powerful, because that’s generally the case in the franchise, and given what the enemies can do, it makes for an interesting speculation on the player’s part as to what they’ll be seeing further down the line.
So that actually ends up being gun and shock baton wielding dudes in body armor, which basically shits in the ambience the game had going for it.
In Resident Evil 5 this made a lot of sense; you were fighting terrorists, essentially, who were backed by a pharmaceutical corporation and ruling parts of Africa with an iron fist, so yeah, if they can afford missiles to shoot diseases into the world, sure, they can afford infected gangs of mercenaries. Fine. In Resident Evil 4 this makes significantly less sense. There’s no real logic to why this otherwise crappy little dump of a town has its own private paramilitary force (which is also a failing of the plot, to be fair), and honestly, the game didn’t need it. You could have just as easily made the mutations of the cultists more severe, made them have biological machine guns for arms or something like that, or even just went with the mutated armored monstrosities you already had.
I understand that the finale of the game needed to have something more than “dudes with bows/clubs/whatever,” and that is completely logical and sensible. However, even if you take into consideration the fact that the town apparently has a small amount of wealth to it, there are a lot of weird and bizarre questions that come from that. If they have so much wealth, why are the people just a bunch of poor backwater farmers? Further, the money they needed for the scientific experimentation on Las Plagas is… probably a lot; did they really have enough for a huge industrial platform and infected mercs with guns and body armor on top of that? If they did, why didn’t they have all that IN THE CASTLE, instead of just at the very end of the line? Honestly, it would’ve been a lot more terrifying, and logical, to just have Leon face off against a bunch of higher-grade Las Plagas experimental soldiers, which is something Resident Evil 5 did along with the (more reasonable comparatively speaking) armed dudes, and it worked out a lot better. I mean it’s not like anyone’s expecting them to explain why a dude has a gun for an arm; no one is expecting them to explain why a guillotine comes out of someone’s neck, after all, so go nuts.
Look, I love Resident Evil 4. I picked up the HD version on Xbox Live when it came out a couple years ago, and I thought it held up just as well as when I first played it. That said, though, it’s not perfect, is the point here, and even as someone who loves the game quite a bit even now, I’m totally on board with acknowledging that. I want to make that point partly because I feel like a lot of us take our favorite games too seriously sometimes; like, Symphony of the Night is a beautiful game, to be sure, but it doesn’t define you, and you can accept that it’s flawed and still love it like it’s your own kid if you want, that’s totally okay. It’s also worth noting, though, that eventually I’ll probably highlight a game here that you love, and trash the crap out of it, and if I do, well, just remember, no game is sacred, not even my favorites, so, y’know, obvious Frozen reference or something.