It's only when developers turn a genre on its head that we're treated with titles like Resident Evil 4.
Multimedia: Resident Evil 4
Number of players: 1
ESRB rating: Mature
Developer: Capcom Production Studio 4
US release date: 2007-07
I'm going to be honest with you, I hate the Resident Evil series. I think they're the most overrated games since Sonic the Hedgehog, and I've never been shy about saying so. Then again, I came into the franchise upon its debut on the GameCube -- long after the series had made its mark on the PlayStation. So the graphics were dated and the scares were long exposed by trade magazines, television shows and word of mouth. Despite that, I tried to like them because I thought I was supposed to. I mean, everyone else liked 'em, so why didn't I?
Was it the fact that horror movies don't frighten me, and therefore horror games hardly elicit a reaction? Was it the grossly dated graphics? The piss-poor controls? Horrendous voice acting? Ridiculously long load times? Stupid inventory system?
Despite all that, I tried to like 'em. I really, really did. But you know what, kids...? They suck. Hate to break it to you, but they really, really suck.
So when I heard they were making Resident Evil 4, all I could do was cringe. Why anyone would want another one of these crappy games was beyond me, but, as a gamer, I accept that I will not like the vast majority of titles and move on. But come on! This franchise is long dead and, much like Tomb Raider and Mega Man (hate to break it to you), they're beating a dead horse. Right?
Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong!
I first had the chance to see Resident Evil 4 at E3 2004, and was instantly blown away by the cinematics. Many people -- including myself -- often forget just how powerful a machine the GameCube is. So when I heard it was (at the time) a Nintendo exclusive, I was further impressed because it meant the scenes I was witnessing were produced by the tiny little box that everyone loves to hate.
However, due to long lines and my distaste for the series, I never got around to actually playing it. Despite that, the clips stuck with me and I made it a point to play a demo as soon as I could. Sadly, that was the day of its release -- eight months later.
I had initially walked into the GameStop not to purchase Resident Evil 4, but The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap and The Punisher (which I had erroneously thought was released that week and not this). Being a somewhat frequent customer, the clerk engaged me in friendly banter -- which led to him persuading me to play the RE4 demo. I rolled my eyes but agreed to give it a shot.
Though it took a second to get used to the controls and slightly annoying camera, I was instantly immersed into the decrepit rural town and found myself shooting rampaging (but not zombified) villagers. Never had I experienced immersion this quickly while playing a console system, and my attitude towards the series was slowly growing brighter.
What swung me beyond markish glee, however, was when Leon (the avatar) was beheaded with one swoop from a chainsaw wielding maniac. One slice and my virtual head was rolling down a dusty trail. Without even bothering to consider that a child might have been in the store (one was not), I proclaimed, "Holy shit!" And, before I could tell the clerk to grab me a copy, he was already digging one out of the back.
So now, having played the game at home -- with the light off, all good and proper -- I've come to realize just how exciting games of this nature can be. Sneaking around corners, not knowing who or what awaits you really gets the heart going and amplifies the need for a good ol' Xanax. Sadly, however, the quality of Resident Evil 4 reminds us of the poor state of the survival horror genre -- and horror movies.
Last year we saw the release of, well, Saw, which many have wrongly praised as the next Seven. We were also "treated" to The Grudge, a remake of the Japanese Ju-on 3. Several other horror/suspense pictures dotted the cinemas, but, much like the previous Resident Evil titles and the latest Silent Hill, they were hardly worth the price of admission but were oddly levied with undo praise. (Mostly by hardcore fanboys and teenagers who wouldn't know good horror if it snuck up behind 'em and slashed their throats.)
It's only when game and filmmakers turn a genre on its head that we're treated with such, well, treats as Resident Evil 4, The Blair With Project, and, yes, even Alien. In each of the above examples the producers chose to step away from the formula that had become, well, formulaic and pushed for something new. Whereas Blair Witch never actually reveals a villain and Alien is a horror film wearing a sci-fi mask, Resident Evil 4 bids adieu to its oh so familiar zombies in exchange for mad villagers, impossibly large creatures and a cult leader. And it replays the clunky dialog and ridiculous story with... less clunky dialog and a less ridiculous story. (Come on. It's part of the horror genre. It's hard not to make the lines sound scripted and the story realistic.)
Thankfully someone within Capcom had the balls to step forward and say, "You know what...? Let's try something new." This bold move to reinvent the series and genre will hopefully translate to not only hefty sales and decent sequels, but a place in horror history and the hearts of those who once hated the franchise.