Day #297: Resident Evil 4

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I believe that one of the most important things that a critic can do is find merit in bad work. It’s something I certainly have a lot of experience with, and I’d go as far to say that it’s one of my strengths. What I find more difficult is the ability to justify my dislike of works that are universally praised beyond simply saying “it’s not for me”. Upon further inspection, there’s this odd point of convergence where the sum of a game’s individual good parts simply don’t result in something I like. It’s why the idea of a completely objective review never made sense to me. Subjectivity often defies conventional logic.

Hi. I’m the one guy that doesn’t like Resident Evil 4.

The irony is that I’ve probably played the first hour of RE4 more than just about any other game in existence, specifically for the purpose of trying to force myself into liking, or at least understanding it. In retrospect, it’s not hard to get why it’s so highly praised – it reinvented an series known for its slow pace and sporadic action. But that change is at the core of why I’ve never been able to get into it, either. In making the series more action-oriented and accessible, it also stripped away most of what I enjoyed about it.

Resident Evil was the very first game I ever played on the original Playstation, and while there are most definitely parts of it worth poking fun at, it was, undoubtedly, a horror game. By taking the best elements of Sweet Home and Alone in the Dark, it innovated its own sub-genre of “survival horror”, a term that didn’t really exist before it. It was about limited resources and a sense of overwhelming dread, exacerbated by your isolation. It didn’t matter if you were a Special Forces agent, you were in constant danger and fighting was not always an option.

And then… Resident Evil is suddenly an action game.

It was jarring and something that I wasn’t prepared to accept. The story of Umbrella and the zombie virus, while cheesy, was something that I had invested myself in. I came out of the end of Code Veronica ready to finally settle the score, only to find that there was no score to settle. Leon Kennedy was now an action hero that held off massive crowds of villagers and narrowly escaped boulders. It was everything that everyone else wanted. I’d listen to people endlessly deride the older games and wonder how they were ever popular in the first place. I’d then wonder what was wrong with me for being the only one that seemingly liked them.

I did eventually beat RE4, for the record, but my feelings haven’t changed much. It’s a very well made third person shooter. But there are a lot of those, including its own sequels. Significantly fewer are the games continuing the survival horror legacy in any significant way. Yes, it would probably be silly to ask for tank controls back, but by Capcom’s own admission, Resident Evil flat out stopped being a horror game at this point, which seems to be the whole reason for RE7’s direction. I’m very cautious in my optimism. In a post-PT world, the rules have changed and more importantly, so have the trends. RE4 itself was the result of a changing landscape, going through several (much more interesting) redesigns before settling on its final form.

I wonder if it’s even possible to return Resident Evil to its horror roots now, or if the future of the series is simply at mercy to the whims of an evolving industry. While evolution is typically a good thing, so is a sense of identity, which is the one thing that I fear Resident Evil may never get back.

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4 thoughts on “Day #297: Resident Evil 4

  1. You sir are a kindred spirit, you’ve restored my faith that nobody is truly alone… Thank you for this blog post! šŸ˜› (P. S. If you are so inclined you may want to stroll on over to my blog where you will find a very similar post from earlier this year)

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