Resident Evil 4: When nostalgia gets in way of a good game…

I’m four hours in… 

… and I’m not enjoying it… 

… the worst part is that I know this post may be controversial. I strive for a simple life avoiding conflict, sensationalism, and internet rage so I’m going to don my best pair of ninja shoes to carefully navigate this subject and hopefully deal with a game beloved by many in a respectful way.

Resident Evil 4 is not a bad game; it’s just not the game I wanted it to be. 

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… It is very brown…

The Setup…

Anyone who has been following my blog experiment to date may have seen my thoughts on the recently re-mastered ‘Resident Evil Zero‘. I think to sufficiently set the scene I need to delve a little deeper into that cauldron of nostalgia and ladle out some more details about why I’m particularly fond of the original trilogy of Resident Evil Games. During my early teens (a sepia filtered age known as the mid-90’s), my gaming was split between the SEGA Megadrive and PC filled with ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’, ‘Doom’, ‘Street Fighter II’ etc …in short, very videogame-ey games. They were peppered with scores, HUD’s, stages and power-ups; all the staple ingredients of gaming that had been laid down since Pong and before. My perception of games changed when my uncle dropped off his Playstation with a single title: ‘Resident Evil 2’, to occupy my sister and I one idle weekend. Those few hours were pivotal in cultivating my love of videogames and was akin to waking up in your inner-city apartment one day only to discover that Narnia had been sneakily hiding at the back of your wardrobe the entire time. I hadn’t realised that games could be like this. Here was a story and a scenario that was continuous; not broken down into levels, no scores or blinking powerups, just a situation and you, the player, dropped in and told to survive this cinematic horror cliché. It was truly like nothing I had ever player before and I don’t think there has been a game since that has had such a profound impact on me. The game was designed to immerse you as completely as possible in that world and that story; even the saving mechanism was integrated into that bizarre, quirky police station through the unlikely use of ink-ribbons and a typewriter.

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…look at all the colours!…

Having played all of the PS1 ‘Resident Evil’ titles I graduated onto a PS2, but my tastes had widened, so whilst those original titles were special to me, I didn’t chase down and consume the new offerings. I meandered through ‘Resident Evil: Code Veronica’ when it arrived on the Sony system but, not being in the Nintendo camp, didn’t get around to RE4 at the time (although I was aware that it had taken the series in a very different direction and seen a sizeable amount of media coverage on it). My recent foray into ‘Resident Evil Zero’ however, activated a long-dormant circuit which wanted just a little more ‘Resident Evil’ before it could slip back into a contented snooze for a few years. A conversation in the comments (with the excellent Very Very Gaming) nudged me in the direction of RE4 and prompted me to pick up the series where I had left off and give it (a title widely regarded as great) a shot.

… If you’re unsure how that went, I refer you back to the opening two-lines of this post…

What doesn’t sit well with me…

‘Resident Evil 2’ made excellent use of colours to characterise different aspects of the game; Leon’s distinctive blue uniform, Claire’s pink jacket, the orange flicker of flames, rusty factory areas, the blue/grey hue of the lab, and the deep red of opulence. In contrast, RE4 is… Brown… Everything is brown. Even the blood splatters are a dirty shade of crimson. The designers succeeded in creating an oppressive, menacing environment, devoid of colour apart from the welcome purple glow of the merchant’s torch; but it wasn’t the world that I had hoped for. Likewise, RE4 is a sparse world; the pre-rendered backgrounds of the early games imparted a level of detail to Raccoon City that brought it to life. The move to fully 3D, and the technical limits of the time, destroy the impression of strolling through a painting leaving the world feeling shallow. From the outset, these visuals did nothing to bring back the wave of nostalgia I was looking for.

The ‘over the shoulder’ camera is a further development in RE4 and compliments the more action heavy focus by adding player flexibility at the cost of removing some of the series’ cinematic nature. Fixed camera angles are now considered ‘quaint’, but posses an under appreciated value of framing a scene in a specific way. The designers of those earlier games created tension by hiding the impending menace using thought-out views; often the player would only hear the low groan of a zombie as it shambled toward them. Conversely a spectacular room or view could be revealed and presented in a way to provide maximum impact.

From a gameplay point of view, the obvious change in direction is the departure of the Romeroesque zombies in favour of possessed villagers. This opens up the game to a more intelligent form of combat: the enemies dodge, stalk, and use weapons which would be considered ‘out of character’ for a standard zombie and provide a more direct threat to the player. It is a direction that is well implemented, but nevertheless changes the feel of the game dramatically. One of the overriding sensations in a well crafted zombie scenario is the sense of futility against an unstoppable force; like a gradually rising flood which may only getting your ankles wet at the moment, you know that you’ll drown eventually. The villagers’ threat is derived from their malice and is specifically targeted at Leon rather than the general ‘faceless’ threat of zombies.

Finally, RE4 adds certain ‘videogamey’ elements into the mix, the very things whose absence had first drawn me to the series. QTE’s, on-screen HUD, and missions/chapters each take a bite out of the immersion that I had enjoyed so much in the early titles. All these decisions make sense, designers need to inject new life into long running franchises. From a objective standpoint it is good to see the Capcom had realised that they needed to shake up the formula. But I’m not impartial, the classic games and their format are all part of what makes ‘Resident Evil’ so special to me – as I said “Resident Evil 4 is not a bad game; it’s just not the game I wanted it to be”.

… so what now?…

RE4 will most likely remain in that list marked ‘unfinished’ for some time; my curiosity about the title has been satisfied. The introduction of ‘escort-style’ gameplay (in which we see a little too much of the President’s Daughter’s underwear) has tipped it over from “Hmm.. this is ok“, to “.. this feels like a chore...”, which is when I abandon games. The crazy thing is that I see why it is a classic, and although I can’t say for sure, I suspect that had I encountered it in the height of my ‘Resident Evil’ obsession I would already be penning a well phrased comment pointing out exactly why the author of this blog is wrong.

Final Note…

RE4 spent a long time in development, famously it deviated at one point and became the excellent ‘Devil May Cry’ for PS2. The Resident Evil Wiki outlines the various ‘versions’ that were developed and even shown to the public during this time known collectively as Resident Evil 3.5. The mythical ‘Fog’ version (reportedly scrapped at least partially because of technical limitations of the Gamecube) of the game looked excellent and the gameplay video highlights just how much it echoed the original games in the series – I can’t help but wish they had released it…

26 thoughts on “Resident Evil 4: When nostalgia gets in way of a good game…

  1. Appreciate the mention, although I’m sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy the game! Can’t win them all I guess! (Don’t hate me 😛 ) As much as I love RE4, there’s no denying how different it is to the previous games. I’ll always argue that it’s an action game with horror elements, not survival horror like the original games. Anyway I hope you didn’t regret giving it a go at least!

    Also, I enjoyed reading your experience with RE2. I suspect it’s a similar story for a lot of people, given the original RE games were big hits, to the point of being considered system sellers. For me, playing RE2 for the first time just a few years ago, I don’t have that nostalgic connection with the early games (I played Alone in the Dark briefly on PS1 at the time but that’s about it). Regardless I found RE2 plenty of fun and steeped in atmosphere. It was creepy at times, but not terrifying like the REmake. Like you said, it gives a really strong sense of the world, in a way that I don’t think the original RE does. I hadn’t considered the use of colours before, but you’re absolutely right. There’s a lot to like there!

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    1. It was an interesting experience and well worth giving a go. I’m a bit embarrassed that I just couldn’t seem to get over the change in style… I think if they’d called it ‘Monster Gun Shooter’ starring ‘Dean’ and to heal you use… Erm… Green and red pills rather than herbs I’d have been fine with it. I really did appreciate the recommendation! 🙂
      Nostalgia is such a weird thing – I’ve been on the other end of it too. A friend had a go at trying to convince me how amazing ‘Goldeneye’ is about 15 years too late. I could see the charm, but just didn’t have that nostalgic fondness.

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  2. It’s been a while since I played the PS2 version of the game, and this might seem a little weird, but this is really the only Resident Evil game that I find scary. I completely psyched myself out when entering that first abandoned house you find. There are also a few other memorable scary parts scattered across the game. It’s actually very lengthy for an RE game, and I do think there’s a lot of diversity to the scenarios, but I completely understand your concern that visually it never really deviates from oppressive drabness.

    I don’t think I would put it as my favorite Resident Evil, certainly not ahead of Resident Evil 2, but its up there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As down as I sound about it, I really would like to return to it at some point and complete. Maybe I should go back and play some of the classics to scratch that itch first! 🙂

      I agree that they’ve upped the fright factor in RE4. The originals were more tense than actually scary.

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      1. If you disliked RE4 you will hate five and six (they are pure action games.) I think RE4 did a good job of balancing survival/puzzles with smoother combat. The Revelation games are pretty much like RE4 gameplay wise.

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      2. Thanks – good to know (I think I’ll hold off for a while)… I may return to 4 at some point (I’d like to finish it), but I’m still struggling with my ‘nostalgic momentum’ at the moment to push through it. 🙂

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      3. I think Revelations was great, especially the raid mode. I don’t think it’s quite like Re4. As for Re5 and Re6, I platinum both games so I spent enough time to appreciate it on its own. It is indeed very action-based. But I think the intention was to create a fun co-op game.

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  3. Funnily enough, I’m kind of having inverse RE issues, and even though I was very much in the ‘nostalgia for the win’ camp to start with, I’m struggling to fall in love with the original (remastered) game again. Some stuff I’m really liking (mostly the genuine puzzle-y stuff) but with others, I’m starting to feel like all the evolutions were necessary and/or genuine improvements, and it feels frustrating not, for example, being able to properly line up a zombie face-shot.

    Honestly, I feel a bit dirty saying that (and hypocritical given I’ve spent a fair bit of time banging on at the yoof about how great the original games were) but having gotten used to the newer games (and having played them a lot) it just sort of feels like a proper chore going back to all the faffing around with back-tracking, saving, dying-and having-to-re-do-loads-of-stuff-again and whatnot.

    There, I said it…..

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    1. … I’m not going to hold it against you 😛 – Don’t get me wrong, I have to be in the right mood to fire up a classic RE game. I guess there are only a handful of game franchises that have been through this kind of shift and it always seems to be divisive. Look at Mario 2 (or Mario USA as it’s known in Japan) or those who argue classic Fallout against 3 onwards…

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      1. Yeah, there’s always that fine line between keeping what people love about a game and not immediately looking dated as everything else moves on, and inevitably there’ll be people who think you favoured one at the cost of the other, or just got it plain wrong even.

        That’s been my experience with RE – and some stuff in the old games is (and always will be) great, but with some other stuff I can’t help but feel that all the movement away from it in the intervening years was just because there are now (objectively) better ways of doing that same stuff, and it feels like a mahoosive step backwards. It’s largely a personal thing what falls into the former category, and what falls into the latter, I guess.

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  4. Funny, today at work I was having a conversation with someone about how Steven Spielberg’s amazing eye for the camera really fleshed out movies like Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Specifically, we were talking about the T-Rex chase scene and Boulder scene. The discussion was simply on how those movies would’ve been different if Lucas or some other director did those shots; would they have been as iconic? I guess the same can be said for Resident Evil. When Shinji Mikami was directing the original 1-3, I imagine that the shot and angle was EVERYTHING! I felt that was the same way in the remakes, (which were also done by him) but some it felt different, not bad…just different.

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    1. Totally agree – it’s a little off topic, but I was reading something interesting recently about the difficulties of making VR videos as the viewer controls what to look at.

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