Resident Evil 4

In the late 1990s, Resident Evil had created and refined the genre of survival horror, but by the third installment the series wasn’t making any significant changes, and its slower pace was growing stale.

But in 2005, Resident Evil 4 moved the series, and the survival horror genre, in a new direction. Masterfully, I might add.

RE 4 traded the shambling pace of the earlier entries for a more brisk one emphasizing action. Ammo was more plentiful, there was a greater variety of guns, and there were swarms of enemies. But, the game still managed to remain eerie thanks to a foreboding setting, diabolical characters, tense music, and intimidating enemies.

Leon scouts out the area up ahead. What are these people up to?

Your search for the president’s missing daughter brings you to Europe, and you will visit a rural village rife with rot, a magnificent but deadly castle, and a secluded island established as a scientific haven.

Even though you find more ammo, it is still necessary to be strategic when combating each enemy. There are so many of them that if you aren’t smart you run out of bullets and are defenseless, forced to run away. Enemies move faster and are more intelligent, often sneaking up behind you undetected.

And I’ll never forget the first time I heard the chainsaw revving up.

You are ambushed in a village, you run into an abandoned house and barricade the door. Suddenly, amongst the banging on the door and the angry curses of the villagers, you hear the buzz of a chainsaw revving up, and your heart skips a beat…or several. Then, you hear the breaking of glass from upstairs, and know your sanctuary has been invaded. Time to act fast. You wheel around and notice a shotgun in the corner of the shack. You grab it, use it’s force to clear a path through the villagers, and hole up in a corner to deal with the maniac with a chainsaw. This scenario occurs in the first ten minutes of the game, and RE 4 is unrelenting, throwing you into more and more tense situations, rarely affording you a chance to breathe.

You have just fought off a horde of enemies and defended a cabin. You step outside and find a letter informing you there are only two paths out of the forsaken village, and each one has a different monstrosity guarding it. Well, pick your poison. Usually game designers will try and surprise players, but telling the player what lies in wait can be just as terrifying. You really don’t want to deal with either scenario, but there’s no avoiding it. Well, might as well choose the path to the left…but you save the game first, just in case!

This game is a lot more chaotic and noisy than the previous games, but the sound effects still manage to wiggle their way under your skin. As previously mentioned, the sound of a chainsaw is enough to make anybody stop dead in their tracks. But the dread created by the raspy, irregular breathing of one of the new enemies in the game takes fear to a whole new level.

The bosses are the most varied in the series since the original, and they are quite memorable. You battle a giant fish while riding a boat anchored to the beast’s back. You square off against a giant who can pick you up and crush you as though you were just a twig. You partake in a knife fight with an old friend. And you combat an unearthly monstrosity, referred to merely as “it”, while navigating though a suffocating maze. You never know when and where “it” will pop up.

The dialogue is very witty and solid, and grows one of the most likeable heroes and some of the most memorable villains of all time. The conversations you have with the other characters builds the suspense and makes you hesitant to keep moving forward. You laugh at some of the words, but it is an uneasy laughter. You know you’re being hunted, every second.

RE 4 managed to evolve the genre its predecessors had started, and introduced many people to the wonders of horror in a video game. The script was brilliant, the musical score and sound effects were haunting, and the game play was fun and engaging.  RE 4 set the standard for production values and game design for years to come, and for that it deserves to be recognized as a true artistic breakthrough.

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