The 15 Best Games Since 2000, Number 7: Resident Evil 4

Capcom rejiggers Resident Evil and comes up with the best entry in the franchise.

Retrospective by Mike Williams, .

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Resident Evil 4 is the best goddamn game in the series. Full stop. Sadly, I'm not allowed to just write that and move onto the next game in the list. So let's talk RE4.

Though this 2005 release is called "Resident Evil 4", it's worth noting that it was actually the 13th game in the franchise at that point. (The franchise had annual releases after Resident Evil 2.) Resident Evil kickstarted the entire franchise and the survival horror concept with a claustrophobic romp through a scifi-tinged haunted house. Resident Evil 2 expanded the action to encompass an entire city, introduced the iconic trenchcoat-wearing tyrant Mr. X, and actually linked the journeys of the two protagonists together through the "Zapping System". Resident Evil 3: Nemesis built on Mr. X's terrifying presence with its eponymous tyrant and Code Veronica improved the series' visual presentation on Dreamcast.

Capcom was desperate to capitalize on the success of Resident Evil, so it was willing to offer up anything to keep players interested in the brand. This led to spin-off products that weren't all that great, including Resident Evil Gaiden, Resident Evil Survivor, Resident Evil Outbreak, and Resident Evil Dead Aim. The publisher was flailing around, releasing whatever it could in the hopes that soemthing would stick. Even main entries like Resident Evil 3 felt a bit tired.

Capcom went back to the drawing board for the next "real" Resident Evil. The first attempt was led by Hideki Kamiya, but that went so far off the mark that the game eventually became Devil May Cry. After a few stalled attempts, Resident Evil designer Shinji Mikami decided to step out of the producer role he had held since the first game's success. He co-wrote and directed what would become Resident Evil 4. Mikami re-invented the franchise he created under intense pressure from Capcom, who wanted to cancel the series if this game wasn't a success. Mikami had to fight to move the game away from what Resident Evil had become.

He's just trying to protect himself emotionally.

"The footage that we all saw last year at E3 was pretty much the same Resident Evil that everybody has already played," Resident Evil 4 producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi told IGN at the time. "We wanted to change the image of the franchise. We wanted to turn that all around. The footage you saw last year - that would probably be totally acceptable with other software companies, especially with the graphics and everything. But it was not acceptable for R&D4 at Capcom. That is one of the many reasons why we wanted to throw away everything and instead come up with something totally new that we would be completely satisfied with."

Resident Evil 4 was not a Resident Evil game in the classic sense. Instead, the game took the feelings that the Biohazard/Resident Evil name invoked and cut away all other preconceptions. Gone was the fixed camera of previous entries, dropped in favor of a third-person, over-the-shoulder camera. This dovetailed with the RE series' tank controls: your viewpoint was aligned with the main character, so you had better control over the direction you wanted to go. The fixed camera and tank controls increased the feeling of fear in previous entries by removing finer control from the player, but Mikami wanted something more action-oriented this time around.

The Umbrella Corporation, the oppressive evil company behind every game up until that point, was replaced with the Los Illuminados cult. Zombies gave way to Los Gandos, Spanish villagers infected by the parasite Las Plagas. Quick Time Events were added, making even cutscenes more tense. From top-to-bottom, Resident Evil 4 was new, with the only real returning elements being Resident Evil 2 protagonist Leon Kennedy and the presence of former STARS member-turned-villain Albert Wesker.

Despite all these changes, Resident Evil 4 worked.

It split the difference between tense horror and fast, controllable action. That's a balance that Capcom had trouble finding with later entries, but Resident Evil 4 hit it spot-on. RE4 carried the series' tension forward through clever level design and the sheer number of available enemies. Players had room to move around certain environments, using chokepoints and barriers to slowly whittle down the opposition. In the face of these mobs, Leon had greater firepower and more ammo than previous entries, but resource rationing was still a key part of playing the game.

The environments and situations you encounter in the game are all over the place. The game jumps from a sleepy Spanish village, to an infested lake, a gothic castle, an underground mine cart ride, and even a brief trip to tentacle land. You're running around an area killing villagers, then you're escorting the President's daughter, and then you need to hunker down and do a bit of sniping. Resident Evil 4 jumps from idea-to-idea, from concept-to-concept, and yet it feels cohesive. You're always doing something new, but it's all still Resident Evil.

Resident Evil 4 is a game that, in abstract, shouldn't have come together as well as it did. Mikami wanted players to be afraid in Resident Evil, but many at Capcom assumed there was only one way to make players feel that fear. Instead, Mikami moved beyond that, realizing that there were other ways to make the player feel overwhelmed and powerless. He made Resident Evil, so he felt no need to stay faithful to framework he originally created. RE4 benefited heavily from that unique perspective and freedom.

Resident Evil 4 is the best game in the franchise. It's a hallmark that has yet to be beaten, even by Mikami himself. It's a game that shouldn't exist, but I'm glad that it does.

Yeah, sure. Why not?

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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #1 Kat.Bailey 3 years ago
    Regenerators *tucks herself into the corner and rocks back and forth*
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  • Avatar for Voncaster #2 Voncaster 3 years ago
    RE4 is a very fun game. It feels very propulsive. There are not, to my mind, very many slow or outright boring sections of the game. I also really like the weapon upgrades and bottle cap collection as a fun diversion from the main game. RE4 does a lot of thing right.

    That said, I think REmake is my favorite RE game, but I have yet to revisit it. I'm somewhat scared to revisit REmake because RE4 made the controls a lot more palatable.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #3 MHWilliams 3 years ago
  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #4 Kuni-Nino 3 years ago
    Nice try Mike, but REmake is superior. The only reason RE4 is an action masterpiece is because REmake took care of the horror part.

    But yeah, RE4 is a no brainer. It's the very definition of a great game because its influence can be felt in every TPS or blockbuster game that came after it. Better games have come out since then, but they all owe their success to RE4 in some way.
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  • Avatar for sam-stephens #5 sam-stephens 3 years ago
    Yeah, Resident Evil 4 is definitely a must on any list. It's one of the defining third-person action games, maybe even one of the most important video games of all time. But it's also just a great game of threat management, and the Ashley sections really bring that point home. Resident Evil 5 kind of deserves an honorable mention. It's not quite is good as 4, but it gets a lot of things right.
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  • Avatar for docexe #6 docexe 3 years ago
    I have commented before about the virtues of RE4, but I think the biggest one is the pacing: This game is truly a roller coaster in the best sense of the word. The setpieces remain tense and intense from beginning to end without ever getting tiresome or repetitive; the brief moments of lull between them serve to give a brief respite while building up the atmosphere of the locales, so once the action resumes it hits harder. It just translates into one of the best paced games I have ever played.
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  • Avatar for sam-stephens #7 sam-stephens 3 years ago

    REmake is great, but its just so different from Resident Evil 4 that I don't think they can be compared to each other. I wouldn't even really consider them part of the same genre.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #8 Kuni-Nino 3 years ago
    @sam-stephens It's best not to overthink it. They're part of the same franchise and there is still RE DNA splattered all over RE4. I get what you're saying but let's be real about it, the devs wanted you to compare RE4 to the old games. They wanted you to see the giant bosses. They wanted you to see how many guns you could shoot. They wanted you to see how batshit insane the enemies could be. More importantly, they wanted you to see how goddamn strong you could be.

    The game was literally saying: "You remember how crazy RE was. Now we're dialing it up about ten times but we're also dialing you up about fifteen times so you can actually have some fun blasting away these monsters!"

    It was all about shifting approach. RE4 wouldn't have been as great as it was without Mikami and his devs knowing where exactly to change.
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  • Avatar for seejamsrun #9 seejamsrun 3 years ago
    I own this game several times over, and I think the Wii version is definitely my favorite. The pointer aiming is super responsive, and it's got all the goodies from the PS2 game as well. Plus, it'll work on your Wii U~

    Resident Evil 4 is so damn good that it got me to buy its sequel not once, but twice (in vanilla and Gold editions) simply by virtue of resembling it in a gameplay sense. Sure, 5 lacks a lot of the things that make 4 good like its tension and setting, but I'll be damned if there's anything more satisfying than shooting a Ganado in the face and running up to roundhouse kick him while he's staggering around. It just feels so right, even now. Which is a big reason 6 killed any interest I had in the franchise. But 4 is, and will always be, completely wonderful.Edited August 2015 by seejamsrun
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  • Avatar for PlatypusPlatoon #10 PlatypusPlatoon 3 years ago
    @seejamsrun Same here! I very, very rarely buy the same game more than once, but after playing it multiple times on Gamecube, I still hadn't had enough, and when the Wii version came out with motion controls I knew I had to have it. I think the challenge was slightly decreased because of the accuracy of the Wii pointer, but as you said, it feels so snappy and right.

    I've also started so many new saves and just played through the village level - it's one of the best starting levels in any game, bar none.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #11 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    This game is as mad as a bag of cats. I went into it blind, and was baffled by how all over the place it is! Really brilliant stuff, I never had any idea what was going to happen next.
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  • Avatar for SanguineSymphony #12 SanguineSymphony 3 years ago
    The REmake was the best entry in the series easily IMO.

    Regens look like Kaneko's Pisacas to me so it was a case of been there done that.

    RE4 did make shooting really fun though and I love messing around with the different upgrades and weapons.
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  • Avatar for FitzChivalry #13 FitzChivalry 3 years ago
    One of the few Resident Evil games I've played through multiple times. I hope the RE2 remake rumors are true, I've been interested in this since the original REmake on the Gamecube.

    Could not care less about RE lore, but Leon was always my favorite character for some reason. Haven't played anything beyond 5 though, which was disappointing for me, and 6 did not seem well received.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #14 brionfoulke91 3 years ago
    This is the first pick of your top 10 I agree with! Very good choice. Although personally my favorite of the RE series is still 2, RE4 is an excellent game that still holds up very well today. It reinvigorated the series for a reason. Shame that RE5 and 6 couldn't quite recapture the magic that RE4 had.
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  • Avatar for Endoflux #15 Endoflux 3 years ago
    I love Resident Evil 4. I've played it several times, most recently beating the (lazy) PS3 digital remaster just a few years ago. It holds up surprisingly well, and there is really no other game that has done what RE4 accomplished better, holistically. Sure, shooting has improved in other games, and horror has been done in interesting ways by sacrificing combat mechanics, but the blend of the two just hasn't been done as well since.

    The TPS combat system also deserves more praise. Shooting a guy on the leg to momentarily drop him on his knees, so I can get close and perform a suplex that damages other enemies is incredibly satisfying. Shooters today are all about cover, which makes RE4's more vulnerable, unique approach stand out even more today. Capcom has been messing poorly with that formula since, with RE5, RE6 and Revelations crossing some checkboxes of RE4 without understanding what made the experience so entertaining. The game also has some of the most horrifying, varied monsters in the series.

    I'd say the true sequel of RE4 is The Evil Within. Many people were down on Mikami's game, but despite its flaws, I had the kind of tense, scary and exhilarating experience that I've only felt with RE4.
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  • Avatar for Feanor #16 Feanor 3 years ago
    So far I own these versions:

    PC (Ultimate)

    And I plan on getting the eventual PS4 version, too. I've never played a game where shooting stuff is more fun than RE4.
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  • Avatar for Feanor #17 Feanor 3 years ago
    "Resident Evil 4 is the best goddamn game in the series."

    "No way!"

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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #18 cldmstrsn 3 years ago
    RE 4 the best in the series!? That is some dang good bait but I wont fall for it just respectfully disagree. RE 1 is the best.
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  • Avatar for Monkey-Tamer #19 Monkey-Tamer 3 years ago
    Resident Evil 5 made a lot of small improvements over 4 . . . and then had Chris punching a boulder at the end. Yep, 4 is the better game.
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  • Avatar for sm92901 #20 sm92901 2 years ago
    As great res 4 was, to me its only the 2nd or 3rd best resident evil ever. Resi 5 is the best game of the series, better graphics, better action, better guns, superior mercs mode over 4, and most importantly better story that centered around Albert Wesker and umbrella, unlike 4. I'ts close between Revelations 1 and resi 4. I favor Revelations, because it centers around Jill Valentine and because of raid mode.
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