Don’t Worry, Ashley: We Didn’t Forget Resident Evil 4’s Anniversary
11 years ago, Resident Evil 4 debuted on the Nintendo GameCube, forever changing the standards of third-person action and survival horror.
After the bio-organic weapon-filled streets of Raccoon City were nuked to hell at the end of Resident Evil 3, Capcom wasn't sure where to exactly take the franchise. Platinum Games founder Hideki Kamiya directed the development of the first version of Resident Evil 4, which thankfully wasn't used. Kamiya and Resident Evil 2 author Noboru Sugimura created an original premise featuring a superhuman protagonist fueled by nanomachines and biotechnology—kind of like what Wesker was supposed to be once perfected. Kamiya finally decided to drop Resident Evil's pre-rendered backgrounds in favor of a rotating camera. Series creator and Capcom producer Shinji Mikami believed the project strayed too far from survival horror and had the studio turn it into a standalone game, one that would eventually be called Devil May Cry. Capcom had been working on Resident Evil 4 since 1999 and didn't have a final product until six years later.
Mikami and Kamiya's team took a tour through the UK and took pictures of the Gothic architectures and buildings to use as references in developing Resident Evil 4's setting. During E3 2003, we finally got to see some prototype footage of Resident Evil 4, which was heading to the Nintendo GameCube. In the footage, Leon was in a mansion/castle-like building and had to fend off ghost-like enemies. In particular, he had to fight a hook-wielding phantasm that bullets would phase right through it.
Resident Evil 4's final version didn't feature any of the ghosts or superhuman abilities that were featured in its previous builds. Instead, we were giving something entirely different from any previous survival horror or third-person shooter games. The iconic over-the-shoulder camera perspective was revolutionary and blew RE4's contemporaries away in terms of how perfect its controls and camera system were. The camera stayed behind Leon and would pan in order to keep following his back, letting you always face what the character was facing. The off-right focus of the camera let you stay zeroed-in on the action, so that Leon's gun would point directly at the center of the screen. The aiming reticle and controls allowed for pinpoint accuracy, allowing you to shoot at specific limbs and targets. This upgraded Resident Evil's combat system to something that was far beyond the mechanics of the 20-year-old first game of the series and finally abandoned the franchise's tank controls.
Instead of zombies, Leon had to ward off Las Ganados.("the cattle"), rural townsfolk infected by a parasitic infection called Las Plagas. In order to increase the difficulty of Leon's revolutionary controls, Las Ganados attacked with weapons, used tactics and had excellent AI. You could barricade yourself in a house, push cabinets in front of the doors and windows, but Las Ganados would keep coming. The pacing of the game was also incredible. After you got used to fighting Las Ganados wielding knives, scythes, torches and pitchforks, you started to come across mutated Las Ganados that were capable of an insta-kill. Then, the enemies started wearing armor, helmets, shields and were using more elaborate weaponry. Throw in some bio-organic weapons along the way, and you were fighting fully militarized platoons of Las Ganados by the end of the game.
Sure, the traditional zombies were gone, but Leon's 2005 adventure felt like the perfect way to adapt the tried-and-true Resident Evil series into the modern era. It had a relatively simple plot of Leon having to rescue the President's daughter along with some cheesy dialogue throughout its script, but the production quality and voice acting were so good that we didn't mind. More importantly, Resident Evil 4 left a lasting impact on the third-person shooter scene. Without Resident Evil 4, you would never have had the Gears of War, Batman: Arkham, and Dead Space series, as well as countless other titles that were influenced by its revolutionary gameplay.