A Look Back at What Made Resident Evil 4 so Great
Time for a detailed, nostalgia-invoking trip down memory lane looking at possibly one of the greatest video games ever unleashed upon the world. Let's delve into what made Resident Evil 4 so great, and which games were ultimately influenced by its design decisions, mechanics, features, etc.
What Resident Evil 4 Did Right
Seamless Cinematic Feel
Resident Evil 4 introduced a seamless transition between gameplay and cinematics which, at the time of the game's release, was generally considered legendary among critics. Gone were the classic Resident Evil cut-scenes where characters would magically shift from low-polygonal, fairly lifeless creations to glorious, high-definition realizations of themselves.
Characters in RE4 would always appear exactly the same regardless of whether there were important moments or not. Scenes of intensive moments featuring various characters in quick time events (QTEs) would blend seamlessly between regular cut-scenes and gameplay -- and then back again without a hitch.
The fourth official offering of the series introduced a completely different camera, much to the surprise of long-time fans. Gone were the days of simply aiming in an enemy's general direction and pulling the trigger, or aiming upwards or downwards to deal with flying or crawling adversaries, respectively. This camera hovered slightly behind the protagonist's shoulder at a distance which ingeniously allowed players the full view of the character, while allowing just enough room behind to notice approaching enemies from the rear. Furthermore, when players decided to aim their weapons, the camera zoomed in appropriately, allowing the player a closer look at their potential targets.
The gameplay in this installment was purposely more frantic, featuring opponents who were more intelligent than opponents from earlier offerings in the franchise. Enemies would be in large crowds, occasionally attempting flanking maneuvers, or approaching from multiple entry points; this meant players naturally would need to be cautious and intelligent regarding positioning and advancing in occupied areas.
Weapons were another aspect of this more frenetic approach to combat. Now, for the first time in the series, weapons actually needed to be reloaded in real-time, so, there was no hiding in the menu combining ammunition with the weapon. If players weren't careful, enemies would gleefully throw their weapons, or bash them with their weapons, during these reloading sequences, so timing was absolutely crucial.
Taking a certain amount of influence from classic first-person shooters, enemies featured different hit zones. Depending on where they were hit, adversaries would react accordingly. So if they're shot in the arms while wielding a sickle, they'd drop it. If enemies were hit in the arms while attacking, that would also temporarily stun them, allowing follow-up attacks. One of the greatest aspects of this hit detection was the ability to actually shoot weapons out of the air once the opponents threw them.
But that wasn't all the hit detection goodness. Shots at an opponent's legs would temporarily immobilize adversaries, knocking them down. The useful aspect of this wasn't simply just enemy immobilization, but the ability to utilize a physical attack like a kick. Headshots were unsurprisingly also available and these also stunned the adversaries, allowing players the opportunity to unleash another completely different attack.
The laser sight was completely different to what players were typically used to. Instead of a conventional aiming reticle, the laser sight was utilized for aiming at opponents. This was an interesting addition that made aiming at opponents more realistic and made players ultimately feel more immersed in the experience. The other positive aspect of this particular feature was the obvious fact there was more room on the screen without any aiming reticles taking up space.
Blending On-screen Prompts with Gameplay
On-screen prompts were another intriguing addition to this fourth Resident Evil and they blended seamlessly with general gameplay; these prompts were notably available for combat actions like kicks, which were utilized after stunning or immobilizing opponents. Prompts were also available during quick time events, and these weren't used too frequently to be suffocating. If the player failed to press the correct button during the former variety of button prompts, the character simply wouldn't perform the correlating action. But, if the player failed to press the appropriate button combinations during the quick time events, they'd unfortunately become intimately familiar with the dreaded game over screen.
The inventory screen, like many mechanics and features in Resident Evil 4 was completely different from the previous series' offerings. Instead of a chocolate bar-like 6-10 slot inventory system, things were now much, much larger, allowing players to utilize a large attaché case for storing copious amounts of equipment. This inventory system was significantly more complex and dynamic, allowing players the opportunity to complete different actions on their stored items.
It was possible to move items around the inventory and rotate them so they were in a preferred order. This was kind of like inventory customization and allowed players to be painstakingly pedantic regarding whether weapons were at the top, or restoratives etc. The inventory system could even be upgraded several times, allowing more impressive weapons to be carried all at once.
(The inventory screen)
As this chapter of Resident Evil was significantly more action-orientated when compared with previous games, naturally players required more consumables. Fortunately, the game had an ingenious, if slightly unrealistic, way of delivering ammunition when it was needed. Fallen adversaries would often drop the actual bullets needed for the weapons in the protagonist's inventory; this system was perfect for keeping the action going and especially useful when ammunition stocks were depleted.
Health restoratives were also dropped by adversaries; some of these happened just often enough so the player didn't have too many to choose from at any time. Enemies would really only ever drop them if the player was without many restoratives, or if health was particularly low. The genius of this system relates to balancing and keeping the experience challenging.
Weapon improvements were a completely different addition to the franchise. Sure, in previous installments, there were occasionally weapons parts resulting in more powerful weapons when combined, but now weapons could be improved in a number of different aspects. Weapons could be enhanced in four different ways: firepower, firing speed, reload speed and capacity. What made this system particularly ingenious was the money required for each enhancement. Since every opponent would have a chance of dropping such currency, it made players honestly care about attaining enough for the next upgrade because, deep down, players really knew and cared about such upgrades.
Even better regarding the system was, once the final painstaking improvement was applied, a special upgrade could be applied. This enhancement would either increase damage, capacity or would have other effects. Certain weapons even had their own unique attachments. Sniper rifles could have different scopes attached and several of the smaller weapons even had stocks available for reduced recoil. Customization was a massive thing in Resident Evil 4, and the fact it was only available after various instances in the game meant it wasn't too readily available and things were suitably balanced.
(The Resident Evil 4 weapon upgrade screen)
Health System with Upgrades
The health system also underwent alterations compared to previous iterations in the series. Instead of frequently accessing the inventory screen to discover the character's current condition, there was a constant health reminder featured within the HUD. The health addition to the HUD wasn't too large, either, so most of the screen remained perfectly unobstructed. Another notably useful feature of the health system was the color change which occurred when players took damage. With plenty of health the colour would be green; with around half it would change orange; under 25% health it would be red. The color feature was a useful reminder to keep on top of things, lest players become once again acquainted with the game over screen.
A completely unique feature to the Resident Evil series was the ability to increase the protagonist's health. Instead of the common green and not-so-common red herbs, there were yellow herbs. These herbs, when combined with the aforementioned varieties, would increase the character's health by around a third of a block. As the character's health began at five blocks, this meant it was possible to increase health significantly beyond this amount; the actual increase was 100%, so that meant ten blocks were available in total.
Challenge and Balance Updated Accordingly
One of the greatest aspects of Resident Evil 4 was how everything gradually progressed as the player progressed throughout the game -- in terms of the challenge, specifically. Now, this isn't related the difficulty settings (easy, normal, professional) It's more related to the balancing of the opponent's health, the player's arsenal, how upgraded that arsenal is, and how much health the protagonist possesses. Enemies throughout the beginning were challenging and took a number of shots to defeat, while equipment was somewhat limited preventing players from overpowering the games most basic adversaries.
Gradually as the game progresses additional weapons can be purchased / attained and upgrades can be gradually applied. While this was occurring, enemies with larger health pools were also progressively being introduced providing an essential challenging experience. By the end of the adventure, when all of the greatest weapons were available and nearly fully upgraded, enemies were equally menacing and more numerous. This, in game design terminology, is perfect equilibrium -- or balance, allowing the game to continually be challenging and exciting. Resident Evil 4 certainly scored top marks in this department; there was always just enough power afforded to the player.
Utilizing everything aforementioned above, bosses were also wonderfully done. Occasionally, there would be a QTE to avoid an incoming menacing attack, keeping players on their toes. But bosses were naturally handled using the proper gameplay, and this meant QTEs weren't again too suffocating. The different hit zones were active on the bosses, also, but there were specifically important weak points the player needed to exploit in order to attain maximum damage. This aspect made succeeding at hitting those weak points genuinely satisfying, especially when low on ammunition or on one of the higher difficulty settings available.
(One of the many bosses)
Plausible Enemy Motives
The science behind the motives of the denizens of the creepy Spanish village was relatively plausible. Like cordyceps, a type of fungus which controls certain anthropods and insects, the enemy's behavior was controlled by a parasitical organism, also. This behavior naturally meant the host, the Human, was completely without any means of control, but also meant the parasitical organism could utilize the host's intelligence for violent, tactical behavior -- and also human social preferences as a guarantee for its spread and success within that ecosystem.
The secondary aspect of this particular parasitical organism's behavior related to "hive-mind" behavior, which is basically the ability of several organisms in a group to behave collectively. This behavior is commonly attributed to many insects, like bees, but it also applies at times to larger animals like Wildebeest. And people.
But science aside, the denizens would also behave collectively, making their motives and actions scientifically credible. Only when the queen parasite, Sadler, issued commands did the denizens respond, and they also violently defended their master from the protagonist as the player progressed. That's completely conceivable insectile behaviour and relates to Ants and Bees, specifically. Resident Evil 4 really was quite scientifically plausible.
Feeling of Isolation
While the fourth official installment was arguably not as fear-invoking as previous offerings in the series, there was definitely a creepiness about the environment the players found themselves within. Featuring archaic, simplistic farming areas at the beginning made the equipment the adversaries were carrying more credible. As the adventure progressed, areas became suitably darker and grandiose as the protagonist ventured into the castles holding the corrupt leaders who were living in luxury while their servants suffered in obscurity, poverty, and subservience.
What Resident Evil 4 achieved remarkably was the essential feeling of isolation amongst the craziness that was the various environments. The protagonist really was almost completely alone, save for the US president's daughter and a few other companions who rarely showed. It tried its best to carry on this tradition of being isolated throughout the experience by minimizing the amount of companionship and increasing the number of adversaries. It was this one man verses an army in the middle of nowhere mentality that made it both a survival horror and a great action experience.
Twists and Turns
Like Mario, where players are tasked with rescuing a princess, the protagonist of this game had to rescue the US President's daughter. Unfortunately for the protagonist and the player, the enemy is remarkably efficient at remaining one step ahead -- and there's an ostensibly endless amount of (seemingly psychic) adversaries in the way.
This meant that your rescue target was always just out of your reach. The occasional reunions were always brief before she was whisked away again by some plot twist. This could be considered a positive frustration, though, because it forced players to carry on with renewed vigor.
Another way the game's plot was profound was how it combined characters from previous installments. It allowed for a certain amount of character development between the characters throughout the game, perhaps answering questions of what characters were occupied with in the time between the past and current events. Ada, for example, returned with her unique mysterious charm and impressive athletic/acrobatic attributes, continuing the story from Resident Evil 2 where both she and the protagonist originally met. Menacing adversaries like Krauser, again having met the protagonist in another Resident Evil instalment, came back into the fold as well.
One final aspect of the storyline was simply how the game manages to make players ultimately determined to reach and defeat the terrible adversaries which are at the heart of the parasitic epidemic. Every cut-scene features several of these characters gloating about being one step ahead and how the protagonist has no conceivable chance of succeeding. The cherry on the cake really was reaching their final locations and wiping the smiles off their faces, even if that sounded moderately anarchistic.
(The characters and enemies featured in the game)
How Resident Evil 4 Influenced Video Games
Looking around the games industry soon after the RE4 release, it was definitely noticeable that the game had a profound impact on many developers and their subsequent creations. Many video games began adopting similar characteristics, mechanics ,and features notable to Resident Evil 4 -- and many were very large, expensive, and successful games or franchises.
In order to demonstrate just how profound an impact the game made on the video game world, let's fire off a list of just a few of the games that features mechanics and features similar to or inspired by Resident Evil 4.
Gears of War Franchise
Looking around at the electronic landscape, Gears of War is a real standout when it comes to the third-person shooter genre -- and it's easy to notice the similarities in the way the camera is used. Like Resident Evil 4, this camera was purposely zoomed out whenever the player was moving and standing still, offering a 360 degree view of the character, and zooming in would then allow a similar over-the-shoulder view.
Another notable similarity in Gears of War was the seamless cinematic feel. Like Resident Evil 4, there was always a steady transition between cut-scenes and all gameplay graphics looked very much the same as any cut-scenes featured.
Hit zones were definitely featured within the franchise as well -- allowing head shots, knock downs, and stuns depending on where the target was hit. Then, just like the survival horror masterpiece, button prompts appeared, allowing finishing attacks known as "executions" to be implemented.
Fallout 3 is another one where the emphasis was again on the over-the-shoulder third-person camera featured within Resident Evil 4. While the amount of zoom could be adjusted appropriately, allowing players a wider viewing angle of their environment, the default camera zoom was very reminiscent of the one featured with the survival horror classic. Even Todd Howard, Fallout 3's game director, specifically mentioned Resident Evil 4's camera as an influence for Bethesda Softwork's version during a demo.
Dead Space Franchise
If there's any franchise which features the most profound number of similarites with the horror classic, it's definitely the Dead Space franchise. Starting from the beginning, the camera in both its idle state and zoomed in version is practically identical to RE 4's. Another notable similarity, which is a rarity among the games listed here, is the laser sight view. Here, there was a laser which was remarkably similar to Resident Evil 4. While different weapons in Dead Space featured different sights, the influence was obvious.
An even more obvious similarity is naturally the genre -- survival horror. And Dead Space was certainly that. While the genre is obvious, the key likeness was the action-orientated gameplay the franchise featured. Enemies were numerous, relatively intelligent and relentless; they featured a quickness which easily allowed players to reminisce about the action-orientated gameplay of Resident Evil 4. Enemies were also humanoid and changed by a parasitical infestation -- the same as the horror classic.
Another notable connection is related to hit zones. While Dead Space's enemies were defeated by dismemberment, basically the same hit zone stuff existed and adversaries would react according to the location of shots. Larger enemies and bosses featured another similarity; this time they had weak points which the player needed to exploit to be effective. Like Resident Evil 4's bosses, (a la Salazor and Sadler), giant monsters had large yellow areas indicating those weak points.
The final notable likeness is related to the weapon upgrade system in Resident Evil 4. Here, the upgrade system is available for several attributes in weapons and even for the protagonist's armor, increasing health and oxygen amounts.
Other notable franchises/games which featured all the glorious similarities are Mass Effect with its camera and QTEs, The Last of Us with its camera, genre, health gauge and parasitical enemy; and Deus Ex: Human Revolution with its inventory and upgrade systems.
So needless to say, Resident Evil 4 was a really important game with a lot of great stuff going for it. What made the game so good for you? And what other games do you think were inspired by it? Let me know in the comments!