Resident Evil 4
I love video games, I really do. I grew up with a cartridge-in-hand, always ready to save a princess from another castle or retrieve a ludicrous stash of stolen bananas. However, the greatest part about being a gamer and a horror fan is that there’s an entire library of games designed to satisfy one’s innermost desire to live a horror film, and place them smack dab in the middle of their worst nightmare. Although admittedly I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my midnight jaunts through the ashen streets of Silent Hill, there is a place I prefer to visit more: Raccoon City. Yes, my personal favourite horror game franchise is the ever-popular RESIDENT EVIL.
The series is made up of strong game instalments, all featuring memorable characters and a compelling storyline that urges the player to delve further into the corrupt tale of the Umbrella Corporation in an effort to reveal their sinister, grandiose plans. While I’ve enjoyed every RESIDENT EVIL game I’ve ever played (yes, yes, even GUN SURVIVOR, but more on that later) RE:4 remains in my top three all-time favourite games. And here’s why:
I love when franchises — be it games, films, or books — are able to evolve. The RESIDENT EVIL games, with a few minor exceptions, had all featured the same basic gameplay and structure, until RE:4 came along and flipped the Resident Evil Universe upside-down. By taking an old character and placing him in new surroundings, the game immediately became compelling and interesting again. RE:4 is not only driven by addictive gameplay and visually engaging graphics, but also by the story which expands the mythos into new, previously untouched territories.
The game opens with a car: exotic music sets the tone as a lone vehicle clunks along across a dirt road in some undisclosed remote European village. Leon Kennedy (who you might remember from the second RESIDENT EVIL game) sits in the backseat, being driven by two hired men. Through the opening sequence, your objective is revealed: the President’s daughter has been kidnapped by a radical terrorist, and it is up to you to locate her and bring her back safely. The zombie incident at Raccoon City is just a mere memory, and at this point there’s no reason to even believe that anything out-of-the-ordinary will happen. Poor naïve, Leon. Of course we know better.
Generally speaking, a video game needs to hook you in the first level, otherwise what’s the point in going on? Luckily, the opening chapter of RE:4 is arguably the best in the entire game. You begin exploring the backwoods in a very Blair Witch meets Transylvania type setting. Coloured by a sparse autumnal palette, the air is heavy and the sky dimly lit; crows watch as you walk down the path toward the village… toward what will become the most harrowing experience of your life. I could go on in great detail, but that would be ruining the experience for first-time players. Let’s just say, it’s not long until you’re face-to-face with a menacing character named Doctor Salvador: a hulking brute with a burlap-sack mask and a gassed-up chainsaw. And keep in mind, this is only about two minutes into the gameplay.
In the chapters that follow, you find yourself racing through a variety of castles, caves, and warehouses, all in an effort to complete your objective. A mysterious merchant greets you at every checkpoint with a coat chock full of ammo and weaponry. You are reunited with old friends, and introduced to some of the most twisted monsters you’ll ever see.
I first saw my cousin playing RESIDENT EVIL 4 on his Gamecube and had no idea what he was playing. The over-the-shoulder gameplay and the setting was so different from the REs that I knew, I was surprised to learn it was the latest franchise instalment. I’m not even embarrassed to say that in addition to being one of my all-time favourite games, it’s also the game that I’ve purchased the most, owning copies for Gamecube, Wii, and most recently, xBox360. It really is that good.
To quote the gun-toting Merchant: “What’re you buyin’?”
The answer, I hope, is RESIDENT EVIL 4.