Here's the Thing

Making Peace with Resident Evil 4

A monthly glimpse into whatever gaming bugaboo Rob’s got on his mind.

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This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #88. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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Resident Evil might have been my favorite game series from the moment I first set foot in the Spencer Mansion back in 1994. In that time, I’ve consumed just about every piece of media relating to the franchise I could get my hands on. Main series games, spin-off games, novels, movies and even a few toys.

Despite this, I’m one of those people who lamented the release of Resident Evil 4 because it wasn’t true to the series’ roots and was too action-focused. When it first came to the Gamecube, I was there on day one. I had my reservations but I had faith that Capcom would do the never-ending story of Umbrella Corporation’s hubris justice. Then I found out everything was parasites and you could find ammunition everywhere. I was quite disappointed after that.

To be clear, I never hated Resident Evil 4. I was unhappy with the focus on action, I wasn’t a fan of the quick-time events and my god the militaristic island portion that makes up the final third was so dumb (not the good kind of dumb). However, I did recognize that it was a good game overall. It was the name Resident Evil. It didn’t fit. The story glossed over what was arguably the biggest goal of the earlier games (the fall of Umbrella), turned Leon S. Kennedy into a generic action hero dipstick and, unbeknownst to me at the time, it also kicked off a sort of rebranding to drop the lovably hokey B-movie feel and just crank the dumb melodrama dial up to 12. That’s right, past 11. Watch the end of any scenario from Resident Evil 6 and tell me I’m wrong.

I’m one of those people who lamented the release of Resident Evil 4 because it wasn’t true to the series’ roots and was too action-focused.

I feel it’s important to share all of this because it will give you an idea of just how much of an effect Resident Evil 7 has had on me with regards to my feelings on the entire franchise. The demo for the newest game in the series is pretty terrible. It’s disjointed, tries too hard to be a fake Augmented Reality “solve the mystery lol” experience and generally fails at conveying the feeling and tone of the full game. Of course, I’m a sucker for anything Resident Evil so I bought it the day it came out anyway.

Resident Evil 7 is excellent. There might be some disagreement in terms of just how good it is, but from what I’ve seen, it’s been unanimously praised by everyone who thought the fifth and sixth games were “just okay” or “awful.” Regardless, it’s a very well executed shift back towards the series’ roots of spooky atmosphere, claustrophobia, isolation and never feeling like you have enough resources to deal with whatever might be through the next door.

It hasn’t just been a return to the pre-Gamecube roots, though. The slightly modernized mechanics such as blocking and healing with a single button press feel much more in-line with the latter half of the series, but also manage to avoid the pitfalls of making it feel like an action game. Moreover, the majority of the settings evoke an atmosphere much more akin to the “let’s try something new” jumping off point that was Resident Evil 4.

These elements have made me reconsider my stance on Leon’s quest to save the President’s daughter – still a dumb premise, of course. Yes, it was something of a radical departure, but putting that disappointment in the story aside I found myself remembering just how much had stuck with me even though I hadn’t played the game in years. The masterfully presented barn fight with Mendez; the tense game of cat-and-mouse with Verdugo; creeping through dank sewers with acid-spewing invisible bugs ready to grab me at any moment; Regenerators. This was all great stuff, and the influence it’s had on this latest release is readily apparent.

Maybe I just needed time – a lot of time – to get over it. Maybe I needed to see a hybrid of the old with the new (well, less old anyway). Whatever the reason, finally escaping the Baker’s farm has me unexpectedly itching to revisit rural Spain. I’m sure I’ll still roll my eyes when Leon has to run from a giant animatronic statue, and at the entirety of the shooter wannabe island portion, but for the first time since I didn’t know what I was getting into I’m really looking forward to it.

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Rob Rich has loved videogames since the 80s and has the good fortune to be able to write about them. Catch his rants on Twitter at @RobsteinOne

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