Originally released in 2005 as a GameCube exclusive (for a time), Resident Evil 4 was a pivotal release for the series. The objective here was to replace the slow and clunky survival horror of its predecessors with something a little more dynamic, and dang did Capcom deliver. Resident Evil 4 for Nintendo Switch is yet another port of the game that revolutionized Resident Evil action without losing sight of its horror roots.
What Made The Original Resident Evil 4 So Great
The game could be characterized as a sort of third-person-shooter/horror title, like the later Dead Space (which arrived in 2008). Capcom opted for a more freeing control scheme and camera system: that beloved over-the-shoulder style that would become the go-to for TPS titles. It makes for an intense shooter, with some mild puzzles that won’t really tax you in the way that the Resident Evils of yore sometimes did. The enemies certainly will, though, because there are no mindless shufflers here.
Resident Evil 4 reintroduces series stalwart Leon S. Kennedy. No longer the rookie cop we met in the second instalment, this is Leon six years later, now a hardened government agent. When the game begins, he’s on a very special assignment: to rescue the president’s daughter, who has been abducted by a mysterious cult. He soon realises just how in over his head he is. This cult has a devious agenda, and a heaping helping of horrific mutate-o-fiends on their side.
What begins as a simple one-man rescue operation in rural Europe soon proves to be a whole lot more. Leon’s journey takes him through a mysterious village (which was his original lead as to Ashley’s whereabouts), to a vast, sprawling castle, to a secret research facility on an unnamed island. As is Resident Evil’s wont, the whole thing reeks of B-movie absurdity; the convoluted plot involving mind-altering parasites and world domination is nothing more or less than we’d expect from the franchise.
The cult leader, Osmund Saddler, has infected the president’s daughter with a parasite known as Las Plagas, which makes the host very susceptible to control by Saddler. His intent is for Ashley to inject dear old dad when she returns home (after he’s received a hefty ransom for his troubles), opening the way for the Los Illuminados (Enlightened Ones) to spread around the world. Needless to say, Leon has all kinds of mixed feelings about this plan, and he sets about bringing the fight to Los Illuminados.
Speaking of which, combat is absolutely central to the game. With Resident Evil 4, Capcom’s aim was to bring the player a visceral, action-laden experience for the shooter crowd, while not alienating fans of good old clunky survival horror in the process. To that end, as we know, the camera, aiming and movement systems were overhauled. Leon still moves in a tank-like fashion, but the over-the-shoulder camera and free-aiming feature (a laser pointer emitted by your weapon allows you to precisely pinpoint enemy weaknesses) make things feel a heck of a lot less awkward.
Yes, you need to stop and prime your weapon in order to aim and fire (no shooting while moving) and don’t have any of the evasive maneuvers that have become common to TPS titles, but that’s just the point. Resident Evil 4 was the game that inspired TPS titans like the Gears of War franchise, but it’s still a survival horror title, not an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Which is more than can be said for later Resident Evil games.
What is it that sets the game apart from previous entries? Well, the enemies, largely. As we say, combat is central here, and the simple zombies of the original games would be no match for the sophisticated aiming mechanics.
Luckily, the Ganados (villagers infected by the parasite) are so much more than that. They set traps, hunt you down in groups, and chase you with everything from rusty old butcher knives to electric stun-rods and (in the case of the Los Illuminados zealots in the castle) crossbows and maces. It brings a whole new kind of tension to the series, especially as you’re rooted to the spot while you dispatch these fiends.
Gameplay and high-octane action aside, Resident Evil 4’s greatest asset is, arguably, its pacing. From the village to the castle to the island (the game’s three distinct ‘acts’), the set pieces come thick and fast, the encounters are relentless, the boss battles memorable and inventive (and just the right the level of challenging). There are a fair amount of cutscenes and radio conversations between Leon and his advisor/enemies in between (laced with dialogue so cheesy that lactose intolerants will get gassy just listening to it), but they’re never long enough to outstay their welcome.
Why You Should Buy It Yet Again
At the time of its original release, Leon’s little European vacation was super innovative and critically acclaimed. It’s regarded as one of the very best games ever made, but in terms of the Switch edition, even the most ardent fan would have to agree that it’s showing its age a little.
What we’re looking at here is a re-release of the HD version (right down to the fact that it doesn’t have motion controls, unlike the Wii edition), unchanged, and those muddy textures don’t hold up too well on modern TVs. If you’re playing the game in handheld mode, however, the smaller screen spares a lot of Resident Evil 4’s blushes, and it runs at 60fps whether docked or undocked (though it does dip). Technically, then, it runs admirably well, but not perfectly.
That neatly defines the game as a whole, really. There’s no denying its quality, but those mechanics that once felt so new and exciting are a little primitive by today’s standards. Being almost fifteen years old, though, we can’t really fault the game for that. If you can see past its graying hair and the fact that it now needs to walk with a cane in the cold weather, you’ll find a fantastic title that’s intense, unforgettable and very replayable.
Whatever happened with the entries that followed it, Resident Evil 4 did an excellent job of injecting new life and innovative new gunplay (for the time) into a franchise that many were beginning to tire of. For that, it deserves every ounce of its reputation. This may not be the definitive edition of the game (it’s unchanged from the PS4/Xbox One editions and is more expensive), but having this iconic title in the palm of your hands is a wonderful thing.
4.5 out of 5 stars
A copy of Resident Evil 4 for Nintendo Switch was purchased by TheGamer for this review. It’s available on the Switch eShop now.