A Conversation about Resident Evil 4, Greatest Game of Our Time*

*One of, anyway. Don’t argue with us; you know it’s true, and if you try to deny it Jennifer and Brett will slap you in the face with a large bass.

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JENNIFER: Oh man, where to start?? I guess I’ll give you my meet-cute with RE4. I avoided shooters at all costs when my then-significant other started playing it. I think I actually bought it for him as a Valentine’s Day gift, but I wouldn’t play myself. I was traumatized from sucking so hard at my first attempts at Halo (and way-previous attempts at Goldeneye). I was so drawn into the atmosphere and the scares of RE4, however, that I kept asking my ex to play it so I could watch. When I took a job that moved me to another city for a month, I took the Gamecube, RE4, and a shitty little 12-inch TV and figured it out how to play it myself away from the potentially judgy eyes of anyone watching. Looking back, I can’t believe I was able to play on that TV at all, let alone from across the room! I made it up to the first El Gigante, died 23 times (I counted), then abandoned it until I was able to play on a larger TV, at which time I realized that I did NOT just suck at fighting El Gigantes, I just sucked at fighting them when I couldn’t see what I was doing. What was your first play experience with RE4? What were you expecting going in?

BRETT: I had played and beaten Resident Evil 2 in middle school thanks to an invincibility code on the N64 version, and while I sucked at it, I was OBSESSED with the GameCube remake of the original, so while I was a fan, I couldn’t claim to be a hardcore one.

I remember being really put off by RE4 at first. The over-the-shoulder camera, the heavier emphasis on action, it was a little off-putting. It was originally part of that Capcom 5 series of GameCube games that Mikami was doing, and it looked like the least interesting of the bunch. My two best friends bought it and loved it though, and one of them loaned me their PS2 copy to give it a shot. I didn’t give it back until I’d played through it three times, then got the Wii version a few years later. The Wii controls are so perfect that I’m afraid to go back and get the HD release for PS3, even after playing Shadows of the Damned, Dead Space, and now the Evil Within.

That it was like no other game at the time is insane, isn’t it? And now every other third-person shooter that comes out anymore lifts so heavily from it. And originally it was going to be more traditional; they were pretty far into development before Mikami changed his mind! Modern gaming could have turned out so differently had that happened.

JENN: I love, love, love the over-the-shoulder third-person shooting, and I love the heavier emphasis on action (or just the increased firepower and availability of ammo, rather). My very favorite genre of game is “scary game that gives you enough guns and ammo to blow the scary things’ faces off.” And the quick-time events! Oh god, the terror of getting an A-B button prompt and desperately trying to be quick enough on the GameCube controller to keep Leon from dying horribly.

What scared you the most? Del Lago, the lake salamander monster, AAAAAAAAHHHH!! That one really gets me. My heart beats faster just thinking about it. And the noises the Regenerators make, oh man, and the sound of a chainsaw revving…oof. The sound design in RE4 does a lot of the heavy lifting on the scariness front. Those decentralized murmurs of the monks in the castle, where you can’t tell exactly where they’re coming from!! Oh dang, and the part where you come across the first Wolverine dude stuck on the wall in that dungeon, that awful realization of, “Shiiiit, I’m going to have to go down there, aren’t I?” RE4 is an adrenaline factory.

BRETT: It’s such a great innovation, that camera! Like, why did no one think of it before? Crazy.

I think the scariest thing for me was just the beginning of the game, the way it opens is so perfect. It’s such a rush, running from house to house, scrounging for ammo, blocking doors and jumping through windows as AN ENTIRE VILLAGE TRIES TO KILL YOU. And then the dude with the chainsaw shows up! It’s pure fight-or-flight. Oh, and the quick-time knife fight with Krauser is so intense. You put the controller down thinking it’s just a normal cutscene, BUT WAIT. So many games have fucked up QTEs, but that was such a great use of it. Kept you engaged with what’s going on. Also, more games need knife fights.

Those monks were pretty creepy, but by that point in the game you’re pretty confident about bringing them down. The game makes a really wonderful transition from “oh god oh god how am I going to survive” to “okay, I can do this, fuck these creeps” without ever really losing its challenge. Except for Krauser, that Dolph Lundgren-looking dude never stops being scary. You encounter bullet sponges like him in other Resident Evils, but none of them have personality or self-awareness like that dude, that calm, snide demeanor. He KNOWS you can’t kill him, and RELISHES it.

Oh, the Regenerators? I’ve never actually looked into it, but I’ve always believed they were based off of the Heaven Smiles from Killer7, which Mikami produced. And it’s no coincidence that the magnum in the game is called the Killer7. God, I love that weapon. Saved me so many times. What was your go-to weapon of choice?

JENN: I love the Killer7, loooove it, but my very favorite was probably the Riot Gun. You get the chance to purchase it right at the start of the castle, with the monks, and it really contributed to the feeling of confidence you mention gaining at that point: if those dudes got me in a corner, WELL. I got a Riot Gun, mofos!! I also loved the plain ol’ handgun, particularly once I started getting upgrades added to it, probably because the shooting galleries made me really proficient with it.

Speaking of: the shooting galleries! How genius was that? They gave you a great chance to try out the different weapons and really figure out how to get good at using them, in a space where you weren’t actively being ganked by possessed gibbering villagers/monks/mercenaries. And getting those bottlecaps was SO satisfying.

I just adore the Merchant. I think he was really well-deployed in giving you a break from the constant scariness of the gameplay; as soon as you saw that blue light, you could let out a sigh of relief and know you’d earned a few minutes of safety. Plus, I love, love, loved collecting the treasures and selling them to the Merchant to purchase weapon upgrades and such. The Beerstein! The Antique Pipe! The Elegant Mask! If I’m being honest, the number one thing that left me disappointed/dissatisfied with Resident Evil 5 was lack of Merchant. I really missed him, and the sense of ritual and planning that went into weapon upgrades and inventory. I like to keep a well-organized attaché case. Hahaha, did you ever kill a Large Bass and try to fit in in there? A Golden Egg was a much better investment.

BRETT: THE RIOT GUN. YES. I forgot about it! And you’re right, it’s pretty much the first new weapon you get where all of a sudden you feel like you can stand a chance and kick some ass. Though I was never TOO good at the shooting gallery. I guess I have an easier time shooting a wolf with tentacles erupting from its back than, uh, static targets.

The Merchant will go down in history as one of the greatest characters in a videogame of all time. And selling him treasure made me feel like Leon was moonlighting as an Indiana Jones villain or something, robbing tombs and such to buy MOAR WEAPONS and a bigger attaché case to hold those weapons. I remember spending a LOT of time arranging things in the case to make it all work and yes, being rather disappointed with how much the Merchant gave me for the large bass after spending all that time rotating my weapons and ammo to get it to fit in there.

I wish more inventory systems worked that way, though, so much better than only being able to carry an arbitrary number of items or some other such nonsense. The Evil Within has its own upgrade system, but it’s nothing compared to dealing with the Merchant. The more I play it, the more I feel like I’d just rather be playing RE4, sadly. I guess I know what I’m doing when/if I beat it, heh.

So we haven’t mentioned the plot or anything at all. Your number one goal is to SAVE THE PRESIDENT’S DAUGHTER. That’s it. That’s the cause of all of the insanity this game throws at you. Ashley, I know some people complain a lot about her, but she never bothered me at all. I’ve played escort missions that are so much worse than that. I mean, I’ve played better too, but you know. What do you think of her?

JENN: Ashley gets a bad rap, and I think it’s largely due to:

1. The inherent frustration that comes built into escort missions and, 2. Misogyny.

The escort mission in RE4 is incredibly well-done, and being pissed at Ashley for getting killed is really just redirecting frustration with yourself for failing at your mission objective. That’s understandable, but asinine. And as for all the other reasons people cite for disliking Ashley, well…when I first played RE4, I was a bona fide Ashley hater. I made fun of her voice, I made fun of her outfit, I laughed about making her hide in bins and whistling for her like a dog when I was ready for her to get back out. And all of that was just a big straight-up heap of vicious internalized misogyny. Her voice, that I found so annoying? High-pitched and stereotypically feminine. Her outfit? Ludicrously prep-school femme. And her “neediness”? Frankly, I think I just didn’t like seeing a female character in a position of powerlessness because the experience of playing the game was a power fantasy for me, and I wanted to identify with the character with the guns and the badass one-liners. I did not want to see or hear anything that indicated that the character most representative of me, physically/demographically/whatever, was weak and powerless. So, I denigrated her to distance myself from her and what she represented.

Now, as an older and (hopefully) wiser person, do I like Ashley? Well no, not particularly, but I don’t HATE her with an unreasonable overwhelming fervor as I once did. There are quite a few things I appreciate about her, in fact. The way she immediately tells Luis to stuff it when he pervs out on her upon their first meeting? Hell, I wish I was that badass; I tend to freeze up in similar situations. She’s admirably brave and resourceful in the section where you play as her. It’s easy to run into a room full of murderous parasitical monk-men with the Riot Gun in hand, but armed only with some lanterns placed at semi-regular intervals around the room? Damn, girl! And honestly, I’ve gotta respect her for having the bold brass ovaries to ask Leon for some, um, “overtime” at the game’s end. Let she among us who hasn’t thought about it at least once cast the first stone.

I think Ashley also suffers due to the game’s inclusion of Ada, because it’s apparently The Law in our society that whenever two woman characters appear in the same narrative, they must be compared and one must be crowned The Winner. And honestly, ain’t nobody gonna come out looking good when pitted in a head-to-head competition with Ada Wong. Even dreamy Leon Scott himself loses out in a comparison with a mysterious ziplining lady who casually pops in and out of the action to drop sultry comments and mow down zombies in a red evening gown and heels. A more realistically portrayed 20-year-old President’s daughter who needs saving has literally zero chance of appearing cooler than a fantasy femme fatale who makes the game’s gunnin’ protagonist look like an amateur.

As for the rest of the plot, with small-time Salazar and his built-on-a-lava-pit castle and knife fighting with your former “comrade” and monk-boss Sadler solemnly intoning, “Krauser, go get the girl”? I LOVE IT. Completely nonsensical soap operas involving silly quips and jumping through windows with guns and unnecessary explosions are my absolute favorite form of media entertainment, particularly when I can play them as games. I don’t know why so many villains in the Resident Evil universe are willing to transform themselves into gross eyeball spider monsters in attempt to achieve world domination, but god bless ’em for it.

Oh, and the part where Luis gets tentacle-impaled and Leon falls to his knees beside Luis’s dying body and screams, “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I love that part, too.

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BRETT: So the other night my friend bought the Wii version of this, as well as the remake of the first game. We went back to his place and played the first hour of both, which prompted me to go home and buy the HD version on the PSN. I’m playing it when Alien: Isolation gets too stressful, so basically I want my heart attacks to have heart attacks, I guess.

The opening alone, fighting off an entire angry Spanish village and a big guy with a chainsaw? That alone is way more thrilling and scary than anything I’ve encountered in the Evil Within, and I’m like, 10 hours in, I think? I’d been struggling through that game, telling myself it’s better than it really is, but just a few moments spent with RE4 for the first time in a few years really blew that to pieces. It’s a sad realization to come to. I should try to beat Evil Within, but…Leon! And Alien: Isolation! AH!

I…must confess: I totally forgot about Luis. I don’t think I liked him much at all before, but compared to uh, every single character in Evil Within? He’s wonderful, and so is the homoerotic tension between the two. I also forgot about Leon getting infected with Las Plagas. Evil Within pulls the same trick on its own hero Detective Castellanos, but again: Leon > Everyone else. Castellanos can’t even roundhouse kick motherfuckers! And if he could, I doubt their heads would explode as they occasionally do when Leon does it!

JENN: Oh my god, and suplexing mofos once you get to the castle…I think I have to go play it again now.
 LEON
Gamervescent is now henceforth a Resident Evil 4 appreciation blog. Expect many more caps and italics and exclamation points and “loves” from Brett Marcus Cook and Jennifer Culp on the subject in future.

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