I have always hated the phrase “it’s a good game, it’s just a bad ‘[game series]’ game”. I find that if you can’t judge a game, for better or worse, based on the previous entries in it’s series, then it shouldn’t be a part of that series. That phrase gets used a lot with Resident Evil 4, but I think it’s departures from the status-quo established by it predecessors makes it one of the best games ever made.
Originally released in 2005, Resident Evil 4 followed the protagonist of Resident Evil 2, Leon Kennedy, as he was sent to somewhere-like-but-totally-not Spain to find the president’s daughter (I know, riveting stuff). After taking down the first enemy you encounter, Leon states quite emphatically that they are not zombies, which seemingly places this far beyond the scope of the previous entries in the series.
I first played Resident Evil 4 on the Playstation 2 back in 2005, and no game has managed to scare, thrill and reward me quite the same as Resident Evil 4. The now standard third-person, over the shoulder controls that are rife in current games was nearly unheard of when RE4 made it’s groundbreaking debut, and the enemies had evolved from the shambling zombies of old into violent — and intelligent — plague victims. The first time you find yourself fending off enemies from inside a barricaded house, and they begin banging on windows as their partners sneak in the backdoor will leave you wishing you were mowing down waves of mindless undead. And then you’ll hear the revving of a chainsaw…
The various environments players were forced to trawl through could include hidden passages, guillotine traps, weapons caches, or twitching monstrosities with heavy metal namesakes. Enemies cold lurk around any corner, and as the player became more powerful, it was clear that the enemies encountered would be putting up more of a fight. There was no time to feel completely safe, even after unlocking the hidden, super weapons.
The game featured numerous weapons, a simple-yet-effective herb combination system for health upgrades, and a merchant to buy and sell various wares from (anyone who has played the game will instantly recognize the merchant’s distinctive and memorable voice files). The game is also infamous for it’s absolutely brutal graphic death scenes the player could fall victim to, including acid showers, impalement, burnings and creative use of the aforementioned chainsaw. Watch that at your own risk.
Resident Evil 4 was also one of the pioneers of the quick-time-event button presses that are now very prevalent in gaming. For better or worse, the button prompts in Resident Evil 4 could even show up in cutscenes, so there was no time to catch your breath.
The PS2 version also came with various additional scenarios (an apology/incentive of sorts to the Playstation users whom had to wait longer to play it, after it was originally only on the GameCube.) Playing as Ada Wong, another returning character from Resident Evil 2, in a side-story concurrently with Leon added new depth to the main game, explaining details like how items got to where they were. It still didn’t answer whose idea it was to have the only way to open a church being to find three gemstones hidden nearby rather than, I don’t know… a padlock? Oh well, what can you do.
I can’t even think how many times I must have played through the game. I can say, however, that I know every enemy location, where to find all the hidden weapons and even the best ways to take down the bosses. I could probably beat various bosses with my eyes closed, (fun fact, I did beat one of the bosses with my feet).
Even after the less-than-great Resident Evil 5 and the too-little-too-late Resident Evil 6, Resident Evil 4 is the best in the series. It is the best game on the PS2, the best entry in the Resident Evil series, and one of the best games of all time. It is currently available in HD versions on Xbox 360/PS3 and the Wii, and I am sure it is still available for PS2 somewhere. I cannot recommend playing this game enough.