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It is my belief that the game, Resident Evil 4, fails as a survival horror game and as a Resident Evil game. As such, I am going to explain why I feel this way. I’m going to break this explanation down into three sections: why RE4 fails as horror, why it fails as “survival”, and why it fails as a Resident Evil game. As a forewarning, the result is quite a lengthy essay…only venture in if you are pure of heart, bold of spirit, and bored enough to read the whole damn thing.

I. Resident Evil 4 Fails as Horror

"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."

– H. P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature

H. P. Lovecraft was probably the greatest American horror writer since Edgar Allen Poe, and was definitely one of the most influential. He can therefore be considered an expert in the subject of horror. But what do we mean when we say "the unknown"?

Let’s compare two games of the Resident Evil video game franchise: the 2002 remake of the original Resident Evil (hereto after referred to as REmake), and the 2005 game Resident Evil 4 (hereto after referred to as RE4). (As a side-note, almost everything that applies to REmake in this essay also applies to the other classic Resident Evil games.) In REmake, you explore a mansion, along with some other areas. In this mansion, some rooms have zombies; other rooms have other, more powerful monsters; some rooms have traps or puzzles (some of these have monsters as well), and some rooms are empty. As a result, you never know what you will encounter when you enter the next room. In RE4, set in a village of homicidal peasants, there are virtually no puzzles or empty rooms, and very few traps. However, almost every room has at least a few monsters, with most having quite a few monsters or one or two very powerful monsters. Let’s examine the psychological effect this has.

In REmake, every time you open a door, you don’t know what to expect behind it. There might be a few zombies forcing you to dodge and/or kill them, there might be a more powerful monster forcing you into a fight for your life, there might be a deadly trap that can only be bypassed by solving a fiendish puzzle…or it’s possible that you will find an empty room to provide a respite from the mounting horror of your situation. The very fact that you don’t know what to expect makes you hopeful, yet hesitant. While you hope that there is a room where you discover healing supplies, ammo, and the like, you know it’s just as possible that you will open the door to find a horde of zombies or worse. This is a good example of what Lovecraft meant by fear of the unknown. Even the safe areas provide little respite from the horror, as these brief moments of safety simply allow the true horror of the situation to sink in. Although you are safe at the moment, you know that you must soon again venture out into the zombie-infested areas of the mansion.

In RE4 there is one really great movement where you do face the unknown. The first Regenerator (one of the only enemies in the game that would have been at home in the classic Resident Evil games) you face is a mystery to you. Although you keep shooting and shooting, it doesn’t seem to die. Unfortunately, Capcom ruined this potential by having you only face one Regenerator before you find a note telling what its weakness is. Also, you basically know that behind every door will be a dozen or so Ganados. There is no real unknown factor. Occasionally you might find the odd room with more or fewer of the monsters, or a room with a more powerful monster, but you basically know to expect a lot of action when you walk through the door. There’s less anticipation and a mounting sense of horror because you have the same expectation every time you enter a new area: nonstop action.

This brings us to another topic: that of action vs. horror. In my mind, too much of one diminishes the other. Let’s take a look at two popular film franchises, and how the increase in action in later installments all but eliminated the sense of horror.

Alien was an extremely popular and influential movie. And, despite obvious science-fiction elements, most people consider it to be more of a horror film than anything else. That being said, there wasn’t a lot of action in the film, and most occurred off-screen. It had a sequel, Aliens. Aliens had a ton of action, but it never captured the sense of horror its predecessor had. There wasn’t time for the sense of horror to mount…it was largely one action scene after another.

The Evil Dead is another landmark horror film. It only had a few characters; five college students who have decided to spend a weekend at an old cabin in the woods. Unfortunately for them, they soon discover that the woods are haunted, and evil spirits begin to posses them, one by one. The amount of action varies between Ashley (the main character) fighting for his life with either one or two of the possessed, to moments when the evil spirits either torture him mentally or simply leave him alone to let his mind do the torturing for them. This film inspired a couple of sequels, the second being Army of Darkness. This film abandons all pretense of horror in favor of action and comedy. It still retains some gore (nothing akin to that in the original, despite the much higher budget) but it never achieves any moments of true horror.

REmake is more akin to Alien and The Evil Dead, where RE4 is akin to Aliens and Army of Darkness. The originals focused on creating an atmosphere of fear and horror, while the sequels put minimal focus on these elements in favor of action and (in the case of Army of Darkness and RE4) comedy.

Since I mentioned atmosphere, let’s explore the atmosphere of the games. REmake has a great atmosphere conducive to horror throughout the entire game, with the high mark being the decent to the Death Mask chamber. RE4 actually starts out with a good atmosphere conducive to horror in the village section, but this is somewhat lessened by the fact that the sun is shining through half of the village section. When you later move to the brightly-lit castle section, the atmosphere is all but ruined (with the notable exception of the portion where you control Ashley), and the island section makes it even worse. At one point you actually call on an assault helicopter for air support. I don’t think I even need to explain why this ruins any sense of horror that that section could have potentially possessed.

There’s also the bastardization of the character of Leon Kennedy, which leads to a ruining of the atmosphere. In Resident Evil 2, where Leon first appears, he is a caring, humble guy who behaves in a believable way while trying to escape an unbelievable situation. In this way, he’s much like the character of Ashley from The Evil Dead. In RE4, it’s fairly obvious that his character arc followed that of Ashley (who assumes the nickname of Ash in Army of Darkness). Both become extremely arrogant jackasses who spout out horrible puns and taglines like it’s going out of style, and begin to act in completely unbelievable ways.

To summarize this section, it is my belief that Resident Evil 4 fails to achieve enough elements of horror to truly be considered horror. It doesn’t have much in the way of the unknown, it abandons horror in favor of action, and it never achieves the atmosphere necessary to foster the feeling of horror. As such, it fails to provide the horror aspect of a survival horror game.

II. Resident Evil 4 Fails as “Survival”

I feel a need to further explain what I mean by “survival”. Obviously this means more than just surviving to the completion of the game…otherwise practically all games would have this categorization. Mario games aren’t referred to as survival-platformers, and with a good reason. To me, the “survival” element of survival horror games requires a certain amount of strategy. You have to carefully manage your ammunition and healing supplies to make sure you will have enough when they are needed. You need to think ahead about what you will need to carry with you. You need to carefully consider if a monster can be simply avoided rather than risk entering battle with it. And finally, if you feel a sense of control going into the situation, then the survival aspect is diminished.

In REmake, ammo is scarce. In fact, if you play on the harder difficulties, you probably don’t have enough ammo to kill every enemy in the game. Likewise, your healing supplies are fairly hard to come by. To succeed in the game, you have to be stingy with both. Many times playing the game I have been limping around in the “Caution” status while only armed with a handgun and maybe a dozen rounds. But in RE4, ammo literally falls from the sky like manna from heaven (well, ok, if you shoot the birds). Because of ammo drops from fallen enemies, the best way to gain more ammo is to expend it. Likewise, healing items and money can be gained in this manner. This takes away from the “survival” aspect of the game.

REmake requires careful inventory management, as you only have six to eight inventory slots (depending on the character you chose to play as). You can’t simply carry all the guns, ammo, healing items, and key items you have found around with you at once. But in RE4, this is exactly what you do. You’re given a large attaché case, which you can upgrade to become even more massive. Inside this case you can store all your weapons, ammunition, and healing items. In a further bit of bizarreness, any key items or treasures that you find don’t even take up room in this attaché case, Leon simply sticks them in a extra-dimensional space or something (hey, it’s the only explanation I can come up with). As for where Leon stores this attaché case that has to weigh well over twenty to thirty pounds while he’s leaping through lasers, I have no clue. Not only does the inventory management in RE4 eliminate any “survival” elements, it defies common sense and the laws of physics.

In REmake, because of the scarcity of ammo and healing items and the necessity to manage your inventory so tightly, you will often be forced into the decision: Fight or Flight. Will killing a group of enemies be worth the expenditure of ammunition and healing items? Or would it simply be easier to run around them. This decision lies at the heart of survival horror. But in RE4, this decision never really matters. You are likely to come out of the battle with more ammunition and healing supplies than you went into it with because of the ammo drops. So the biggest decision when faced with a group of enemies in RE4 is what type of gun you will use to shoot them. So this aspect of “survival” is negated in RE4 as well.

Finally, the feeling of control, or rather the loss of it, is a major element in the “survival” aspect of a survival horror game. In REmake, you don’t really have any true sense of control of the situation throughout the entire game. Every time you think you might be gaining an advantage, something happens to pull the rug out from under your feet. A ceiling begins to descend on you, or a Crimson Head leaps out of a coffin to attack you, another character you had considered an ally betrays you, or a Tyrant bursts through the floor of a helipad right as you are about to escape. But in RE4, for all of the reasons I’ve stated in the previous paragraphs of this section, you never feel a LOSS of control. Hell, even when you are momentarily taken captive, you are allowed to keep your weapons and ammunition so that they are readily available after your scripted escape. So RE4 fails to provide any sense of a loss of control.

To summarize this section, it is my belief that Resident Evil 4 fails to achieve enough elements of “survival” to truly be considered “survival”. You don’t have to manage your supplies or your inventory, you don’t need to decide if simply avoiding a battle is a better idea, and you never really have a loss of the feeling of control. As such, it fails to provide the “survival” aspect of a survival horror game.

III. Resident Evil 4 Fails as a Resident Evil Game

In my mind, there have been four aspects that have defined the Resident Evil games: they are survival horror, the involvement of the Umbrella Corporation, and the presence of the T-Virus and the associated zombies created with its outbreak. As I proved at great length in the first two sections of this essay, RE4 does not provide an experience that can be considered survival horror. The lack of Umbrella, T-Virus, and zombies in the game is also rather obvious. Furthermore, aside from the involvement of a few shared characters and an introduction clip that has no connection to the game that follows it, there is no real connection to the storyline of the previous Resident Evil games. So I ask you…how can a game that fails to include any aspect of the six previous in the series be considered a true sequel? Resident Evil 4 is a completely non-related game that would have better served both its own interests and that of the Resident Evil series if it had been published as a new IP.


And, on a smaller note, the music in RE4 was forgettable, whereas I can vividly recall the "Save Room theme" of REmake and Resident Evil 2.

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Resident Evil 4 is a completely non-related game that would have better served both its own interests and that of the Resident Evil series if it had been published as a new IP.

Better served its own interests? Yes. Better served the Resident Evil series? Probably not. It's well known that branding sells merchandise. Hell, look at the Final Fantasy series -- it changes virtually everything about the game in every incarnation. Not only the characters and the plot, but the setting, the battle and character systems, everything about it changes from game to game (except for a few irrelevancies like iconic monsters and summons and such). And yet they continue to sell well -- why? Largely because they're good games, of course, but also because of the strength of the brand. People associate "Final Fantasy" with "good RPG", so they're more likely to buy a new Final Fantasy game if they enojyed previous ones, despite the fact that they already know virtually everything about the game will be different.

How does this related to Resident Evil? By throwing the name Resident Evil onto the game, and attaching some things like particular characters (despite the fact that their characterization has been wildly altered), they attract fans of the series and/or those particular characters. People learn that "Resident Evil" means "good survival horror game", and they buy Resident Evil 4 despite the fact that it's neither particularly good nor particularly suvival horror. (I know that both of those are debatable claims -- and if you liked RE4 and thought it was pure survival horror, then that's wonderful, but I'm taking the opposite opinion as a working assumption, not trying to prove it as fact at the moment.) This works brilliant for RE4 itself, because it benefits from the positive reputation of the series from which it comes, as well as attracting new people who prefer its particular play style over that of the previous games. Put another way: Resident Evil fans say "Hey, RE4, awesome, I love RE, I'll get it" while people who DON'T like Resident Evil say "Hey, RE4 is supposed to have less survival horror bullshit and more zombie-killing awesome, I'll give it a shot". They get sales from their current fanbase AND attract potential new fans, which is great if you're looking at the sales of RE4 alone.

Where they do themselves a disservice is in games after RE4 in the Resident Evil series. RE fans have since discovered that RE4 isn't the same as the other RE games, and have been put off by it. Now Resident Evil doesn't mean "good survival horror game", it means "good survival horror game... or crappy faux-action zombie shooter". This means that the people who liked the original formula are less likely to buy RE5, having been put off by RE4 despite the fact that they enjoyed RE1-3. Of course, they gained some new fans with RE4's differing playstyle, but you don't build a successful franchise by alienating your core fanbase with each new game in the series.

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Three things ->

1. All those games had auto-aim.

2. They weren't primarily action based games, so total control (such as with a First Person Shooter) didn't matter.

3. Pre-rendered environments, at the time, made that a little difficult to implement due to static camera angles.

Really? I hadn't noticed, to be honest my opinion was pretty biased, as I believe I have only played a pre RE4 game once, and it was only for an hour or so.

In fact the only thing I really remember is a few dogs crashed in through some window, and tore me to shreds while I was attempting to avoid shooing my shins.

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Horror? Resident Evil series? Does not compute.

I'm not going to shit my pants at a game where people use words like "Jill-Sandwich", and the plot was always incredibly batshit insane and campy. There were a few moments of shock in the original (dogs jumping in through the windows, first Licker in RE2) but true horror? I dunno, try Silent Hill maybe?

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Horror? Resident Evil series? Does not compute.

I'm not going to shit my pants at a game where people use words like "Jill-Sandwich", and the plot was always incredibly batshit insane and campy. There were a few moments of shock in the original (dogs jumping in through the windows, first Licker in RE2) but true horror? I dunno, try Silent Hill maybe?


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Horror? Resident Evil series? Does not compute.

I'm not going to shit my pants at a game where people use words like "Jill-Sandwich", and the plot was always incredibly batshit insane and campy. There were a few moments of shock in the original (dogs jumping in through the windows, first Licker in RE2) but true horror? I dunno, try Silent Hill maybe?

As unscary as RE has been (and always will be), the Licker in the interrogation room in RE2 was one of the scariest moments in gaming I've EVER had, hands down.

Even when I know it's coming I STILL hate going in there.

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scariest game I've played in the last few years, Condemned: Criminal Origins. That game was... it was insane & everything people keep trying to convince me the older Silent Hills were. I was actually nervous about going into a new room, or a long hallway. It messed with me, & I love it even more for it.

RE5 on the other hand, I dig the demo so far. I really hate the antiquated aiming mode. Dead Space & Gears did wonders to the original RE4 control scheme, yet capcom holds onto it in a way to force "fear" or whatever excuse they are using to not use a western interface. I hated having to stop & shoot the guy thats right in front of me because he can friggin run & swing a mini axe, while I have to stop cold in my tracks to even slash at him with my own. You know, Chris may have Brock Lesnar muscles, but is too much of a twit to run with scissors, I guess. It's the only thing that I'm going to hate about the new game, as far as I can tell.

I'm still buying it. Damn right I'm still buying it.

Edit: One more thing, when did we become jaded old schoolers who think change is the devil? RE4 was a damn awesome game, one of the best in terms of consistency. It never had a dull, boring moment for the most part. Yet I keep reading it being called a meh game & blah blah for the simple reason that it's not a 1996 PS1 game. It's probably because of you guys it still retains that stop & shoot mentality. I mean really, grandpa. Really.

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RE 4 is Resident Evil taken a logical step further. It's more over the top, it has a more efficient control scheme, and it has some brilliant additions (context buttons, the cutscene reflex button thingy) which make it a lot smoother.

Let's be fair here, the main reason you never really felt 'in control' in the original game was because you were confined to narrow, pre-rendered spaces, had to work with clumsy tank-style controls, and camera angles which worked in favor of the enemies. This is not good gameplay.

I don't go and think "OH THIS GAME IS SO CHALLENGING, I LOVE IT" when I walk straight into a zombie I couldn't see because of the camera angle, while my character should realistically have been able to see it coming.

As for the storyline..have you even seen the intro to the original RE? (Not REmake). RE4 is for me actually a STEP UP in terms of suspension of disbelief because the voice acting and dialogue is actually somewhat believable compared to the original.

In summary: RE was flawed, RE4 improved on the formula substantially. Any argument in favor of the original is nothing but nostalgia, because taken at face value the original is just pretty BAD.

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Same thing about the SF2THDremix. It's a demo you need a second controller to play.


I know!

I was expecting an "only able to select Ryu" Story play, just to see all the pretty characters and listen to the bitchen music. but the damn thing REQUIRES more than one controller to even consider playing. Bah!

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Uaghh I loved Resi 4 but did anyone play the demo for Resi 5? I simply did not like it. Not. One. Bit.

I sorta get that they were trying something new with all the brightness and stuff, but it simply isn't scary or anything at all. I prefer the darkness, but that's a personal thing I guess.

Your little partner, Sheva? Worst Resident Evil idea ever. She steals your kills, gets in your way, and makes the game way too easy. I know I should have died a lot, rushing into crowds with a pistol and trying to uppercut the big axe guy. But do I die? Nah. Little ol' Sheva is always there to tell you to be more careful and slap your chest, even if you're hit by the biggest axe ever. The only thing I like about her is that she occasionally shoots off a guy that's trying to eat your face, but you can just shake them off.

What the FUCK is with the inventory? No more attache case, instead you get this realtime 3x3 grid thing, one item a square. You can also use the d-pad to get to items all quick and such. Just doesn't feel right for Resi. Also, is it just me, or did the knife used to NOT suck this much!? Wow

Also, did I get the German version or something? WHY DO I HAVE MY HEAD after I let myself get decapitated by the obligatory chainsaw guy?

I'm totally fine with the 'tank controls' and the 'shitty aiming'. In fact, I think it's the NEW features in Resi 5 that piss me off more then the old, 'outdated' things that were left behind. Then again, I'm not one for change, so maybe I just suck.

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