My good friend Bethany Bryan recently publicly encouraged me to “quit being an utter butthead and finish playing Half-Life 2 already.” Her peer pressure was effective!
(Take that as a warning to prepare for a barrage of Half-Life 2 posts toward the end of this month as I finish up the game, everybody.)
As I begin HL2, it’s only fair that I return the favor and tell Bethany why she should enrich her existence by playing Resident Evil 4.
1. The third-person shooter gameplay.
I never liked shooters before I played RE4. I was terrible at figuring out what in the world was even happening in the polygonal madness that is GoldenEye 007 for the N64; I flailed through much of the first Halo game with the Needler and didn’t enjoy it enough to bother with a single-player campaign. By 2005, I’d resigned myself to the fact that shooters just weren’t my thing…and then I played Resident Evil 4, and loved it.
I love RE4’s over-the-shoulder third-person perspective. I love that the game forces you to stand still and aim, rather than run-and-gun. I love that it matters where you shoot an enemy (anatomy-wise, that is, rather than scenic locations). The game does a great job of keeping you on the edge of your skill level, and it feels incredibly rewarding as you complete successively more difficult challenges and take on bigger and badder monsters. Addictive, even!
2. The weapons.
In order to keep blasting your way through increasingly difficult enemies in a remote Spanish village, you’ve got to keep upgrading your firepower. RE4 bucked survival horror conventions by providing plentiful ammo and weapon upgrades, and it paid off hugely. Do I want to play a game where I have to run away from monsters and hide in a corner? No. Do I want to play a game where I get to annihilate hordes of grotesque awfulnesses with increasingly badass and creative weapons? Um, resounding, echoing YES.
The attaché case inventory system limits the amount of junk you can carry around at a given time, which helps to streamline and customize your entire approach to baddie-slaying. Unlike weapon upgrades in some other games I’ve played, the upgrades in RE4 make a huge difference in your effectiveness. And you never feel punished for upgrading a weapon’s capabilities and then trading it in for a newer model! RE4 pays you well for keeping your weapons in top shape.
I love the weapons in this game so much that I remember their names and can still speak about them with specificity to this day. I love the weapons in this game SO MUCH that I received a real riot gun as a Christmas gift after repeatedly raving about its usefulness in RE4 to my family.
Shotguns must have, as Bethany has alleged, been invented to mow down zombies and/or zombie-esque creatures, because I can conceive of no better use for them.
Talking about the gameplay and the weapons leads us directly to…
3. The Merchant, the treasures, the shooting galleries.
The Merchant. The Merchant! Has there ever been a more weirdly lovable character in the history of video games? (Maybe the Happy Mask Salesman comes close…maybe.) Every time you spot that blue flame, you know you’ve reached a welcome respite. How does he make his way around? Why did he choose to set up shop there? Why do his eyes change color? Have you ever been happier to have a shady character in a trench coat hail you and offer goods? I think not.
And the treasures! I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about the treasures in Resident Evil 4. How did the Antique Pipe end up in a hornets’ nest in a swamp? Who hangs a pearl necklace over the opening of a disgusting well? Who pried the jewels out of a beerstein and secreted them around the property in different hiding spots? I’ve never thought of sensible answers to these conundrums, but the Merchant sure pays well for ‘em! And provides you with maps to find them! How does he figure these things out? I don’t know, but I certainly appreciate it.
The Merchant must grow bored with the dearth of normal, functional people about to talk to, so he entertains himself by coming up with fun mini-games for you to play! At first he just has you shooting blue medallions he’s hidden around the village, but once you reach the castle, he has whole shooting galleries set up! Not only are these ridiculously fun and useful in improving your fighting skills, but the rewards are more satisfying than I would have thought possible. What I wouldn’t give to be able to display my bottle cap collection on my mantle! But my friend Bethany won’t truly be able to appreciate just how much fun the shooting galleries are until she experiences them herself.
4. The button prompts.
This game is SCARY. All the way through. The environments are creepy, the sound design is delightfully terrifying, and you are constantly attacked by weirder and more nightmare-inducing enemies.
Oh, and you aren’t even safe during the cutscenes of Resident Evil 4. You’ve got to keep your fingers at the ready in order to stay alive and go on to shoot, slash, and suplex again. Oh yeah! Did I mention that when your ammo is low, you always have the option of slashing at an enemy with your knife? Or that when you bring a bad guy to his/her/its knees, you can respond to a button prompt to finish ‘em off without wasting your precious ammunition? Oh so satisfying. And there’s just nothing like the adrenaline rush you get from sprinting from a boulder or winning a knife fight with a few well-timed button pushes.
5. The gloriously nonsensical plot.
Now, as my friend Bethany knows, plot is very important to me. In a given situation, I am almost always in it for the story. But when it comes to Resident Evil 4, not only do I love the game in spite of the ludicrous “storyline,” it actually endears the game to me. So, so many quotable lines. So little sense. SO MUCH FUN. Bless this beautiful game for every single bit of its silly dialogue.
6. The extras.
The game itself is loooooong. In other cases, I might consider this a downfall. I’ve only got so much time, and some games can become repetitive and tiresome. With Resident Evil 4, however, I felt privileged to savor every little moment of gameplay and have, in fact, played it several times over. And, once you finish RE4, you’ve got Mercenaries, Assignment Ada, and (gulp) the Professional difficulty setting to keep you keepin’ on! So much game in such a deceptively small package.
7. Three words: Leon. Scott. Kennedy.
Oh my holy hand grenade, Bethany; where should I begin?
Of all the various video game crushes I’ve had over the years, Leon circa RE4 still leaves me weak-kneed. The stupid but confident one-liners! The ability to leap out of closed second-story windows unharmed! The…whatever that was with Luis! That “no glasses” observation he makes to Hunnigan makes me want to rip off my own specs and do a slo-mo sexy librarian hair toss (never mind my currently short crop). LEEEEEE-OOOOOON! He can catch me when I jump from a high ladder any time.
I could go on, but I hope I’ve amassed sufficient evidence to convince Bethany that, for her own good, she should not even wait until GameStop opens tomorrow to buy this for her Wii but download it on the 360 RIGHT NOW* and get started. Because I care about you, Bryan, and we can always use more fodder for manically excited emails about games that were released years ago.
*If you do wisely go that route, pro-tip: remember to keep your right thumb the hell off of that joystick. Ain’t no right camera view on the original GameCube release; it’ll eff you up tryin’ta play on the 360.