Resident Evil 4 was the end result of a lengthy development process that began in 1999 and with the intention of being a direct sequel to Resident Evil 2, released the prior year for the Playstation. The development team at Capcom included Resident Evil 2 director Hideki Kamiya as well as series creator Shinji Mikami. Resident Evil 4 underwent many changes in concept and gameplay over the course of its development; one of the earliest versions of the game Hideki Kamiya had for the project would emphasize stylized action over the established horror elements of previous RE games. He envisioned a “cool” main character with superhuman intelligence and abilities in a game with a unique style and attitude. Shinji Mikami felt this strayed too far from the established nature of RE games and persuaded Capcom to set it aside as a new IP on the Playstation 2. While Mikami took over as director of the Resident Evil project for the upcoming Playstation 2, Kamiya took on the task of directing another project that began as a gaiden or “side story” to Resident Evil 2. The result of this was what we know today as Resident Evil 3(the highly-anticipated remake releases April 3, 2020). Kamiya also went on to see his original concept for Resident Evil “3” come to fruition on the Playstation 2 in 2001 with his cool protagonist – Dante, starring in the first of the successful(and very stylish) Devil May Cry series.
Meanwhile Shinji Mikami worked through mulitple versions of what would now be billed as Resident Evil 4. The development team felt a change was in order for the series and the project suffered numerous changes in setting and gameplay with Mikami admitting in an interview that they were occurring nearly every day. The team wanted to expand on the story of Leon S. Kennedy, the protagonist of Resident Evil 2 and went through mulitple settings in which he would make his way through fighting anything from traditional zombies to spirits and otherworldly monsters. Perhaps the biggest change to the upcoming RE title would be a change in camera perspective from the fixed camera angles of the first entries to an “over the shoulder” camera, this allowed players a greater range of movement than the
traditional infamous “tank controls” and would make for greater action sequences within the game. The setting was also moved to an unnamed village in Spain where Leon has traveled in search of the President of the United States’ daughter Ashley and would encounter villagers infected not by the T-Virus but by a parasite known as Las Plagas.
In late 2002 Capcom announced five separate titles that would be released as exclusives for the Nintendo Gamecube. These games came to be known as the “Capcom Five” and included Killer7, P.N.03, Dead Phoenix, Viewtiful Joe, and Resident Evil 4. Shinji Mikami had previously stated his intention of creating exclusive titles for the Gamecube previously as the remake of the first Resident Evil game was released for the Nintendo’s diminuitive console and as the series prequel Resident Evil 0 released as an exclusive in November 2002. The 3rd person shoot ’em up Dead Phoenix would eventually be scrapped and all other games would be ported to other consoles, with the exception of P.N.03. Despite the fact two of the Gamecube (then)exclusives – Viewtiful Joe and Resident Evil 4 garnered rave critical reviews, but still could not Nintendo strengthen its third-party support among publishers; a problem going back to Nintendo’s release of the Nintendo 64 and it’s reluctance to embrace disc-based software and choosing to stick with cartridge format for its games.
Resident Evil 4 was released after many changes and delays for the Gamecube on January 11 2005. It received rave reviews from gaming outlets, praising the updated camera angles and controls as well as its sleek combination of action and horror. RE4 was held up as “the reason to own a Gamecube”, but despite its critical success as a Nintendo exclusive, it was subsequently released on the far more successful Playstation 2 in October 2005 and went on to sell more copies as a PS2 title than Gamecube.
My first knowledge of the game came through various gaming magazines like EGM or Nintendo Power, I was instantly intrigued at the amount of buzz the upcoming Resident Evil game was getting. I had known of the series since its early days on the Playstation and had played a little bit of Resident Evil 2 at a neighbor’s place, but it wasn’t until the Gamecube remake of the first Resident Evil that I was completely engrossed in the acclaimed zombie series. I played the REmake and a few months later played Resident Evil 0 and loved the setting and atmosphere within the eerie confines of the Spencer Mansion and Umbrella Research Facility; I was very eager to see how Capcom could possibly follow these up.
I had just turned 19 and was working at a local Kmart store when Resident Evil 4 first released in January 2005. I was still living at home at the time, but with even a part-time job I had a bit of extra income to pick up the ocassional game here and there. RE4 was initially slated for a Q4 2004 release but was delayed until the following January, this worked out well enough for me as the final months of 2004 were jam-packed($$$) with great games like Metroid Prime 2, Metal Gear Solid 3, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas AND the world-stopping event that was Halo 2. I remember working back in the electronics department the day that RE4 was set to release, but my shift ended before any new product was brought up from the store room in back. I arrived at work the next day and saw it had been placed behind the sliding plexiglass doors with all the other games. I then anxiously made it through my shift before hurrying back to the game case to grab my copy of RE4 and hurry on home to pop the tiny Disc 1 of 2 into my platinum silver Gamecube. I spent the next few weeks glued to my tv, completely blown away by what I was playing. I had never played a game that was able to fuse together the adrenaline rush of an action-shooter with the Resident Evil brand of terror I’d come to know. The over the shoulder camera really did allow for a greater sense of your surroundings and mobility, and did you ever need it.
It was evident playing through Resident Evil 4 that the series had ventured more into action-game territory than traditional survival-horror, though the locations and boss battles made for some genuinely scary moments. The first time you attempt to cross the lake before realizing that you’re directly over the gigantic monster known as Del Lago(you’re gonna need a bigger boat) is as terrifying as it is memorable. There’s also the first sequence of the game where Leon finds himself being swarmed by villagers, so he quickly barracades himself inside a nearby house before hearing the upstairs windows crash as the ganados have started raising ladders all around the building. An already tense moment was made even more horrifying(and instantly memorable) the second you hear a chainsaw revving and have to fight off this Jason Voorhees wannabe wearing a burlap sack over his face alongside the horde of villagers with an instant death(and gruesome death animation) awaiting you if you let Chainsaw Man get too close; this has since become the most vivid memory of Resident Evil 4 for many players. One of my favorite things to do in the game is quickly shooting a stick of dynamite while still in an enemy’s hand, taking them out, along with anyone nearby…that never gets old.
Since first playing Resident Evil 4 back in 2005, it has been one of my all-time favorites and a game that I’ve been countless times on…many different consoles; I can start it up anytime and still be completely lost in the game. RE4 went on to win many Game of the Year awards and is regarded among the greatest games of all time, becoming as recognized as the original Playstation game.
For as many fans like me that absolutely love the game, there are those who have grown to resent RE4 for representing such a shift in tone and gameplay as the Resident Evil series would soon grow further and further from the atmospheric survival horror in which the series began. The game proved almost TOO successful for Capcom as its sequels inevitably became more and more action-oriented to the point of being near unrecognizable to longtime fans, save for a few consistent names – Chris, Leon, Wesker, Umbrella. Capcom did successfully shift the series back to its horror roots with the release of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard in 2017. Another element of Resident Evil 4 that was fresh and innovative at the time, but quickly became a tired gimmick was the use of Quick Time Events which consisted of sudden button commands to coincide with specific cutscene sequences. A memorable moment in RE4 is the knife duel cutscene between Leon and Krauser which players would have to quickly press the A or B buttons at particular moments as to assist in Leon’s movement and keep just out of harm’s way. This was a gameplay element only otherwise seen in Sega’s Shenmue games, but due to the copycat nature of successful series, quickly became just another tired gimmick.
Resident Evil 4’s influence cannot be overstated however, when it comes to modern gaming. Take a look at any third-person action game released since 2005 and it will undoubtedly utilize the very same over the shoulder camera angle that made RE4 so fresh at the time. 2018’s immaculate God of War utilized a similar camera setup and added a dash of exploration to the mix, the result was a breath of fresh air to the popular franchise that mirrors RE4 in many ways. Director Cory Barlog has stated as much that the game served as a huge inspiration and the 2018 Game of the Year winner wouldn’t exist without it.
Resident Evil 4 was released as a “system-seller” exclusive for the Gamecube, but has since been ported onto nearly every console since then with perhaps only Skyrim rivaling it for the most ported game of the past few console generations. I, myself am guilty of purchasing this game numerous times and play it at least once every year. The game after 15 years has started to show its age in places, but the game at its core still showcases greatness. If only I had bought one of those chainsaw controllers….