It always surprises me that people lean on the idea that the whacky, hyperbolic shenanigans of Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6 came from nowhere, as if Capcom just flipped a switch and suddenly the Resi series became an action game. It surprises me because, from where I’m standing, the ideas that led to the generic action of Resident Evil 5 and 6 sit firmly with Resident Evil 4. And while many fans of the series point to Leon Kennedy’s Spanish getaway as being one of — if not the — best games in the series, I’m here to explain why I think it’s the worst one.
Let’s start with that setting. By the time Resident Evil 4 kicks off, the terrifyingly cramped corridors forged from the debris that littered Racoon City’s streets are all gone, mostly thanks to that thermobaric missile. So, rather than having to negotiate through those claustrophobic streets that Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 offered, the early parts of Resident Evil 4 present you with a fairly generic village. And while the opening to previous Resi games were full of tense moments that saw you fighting to survive, those same early moments in Resident Evil 4 are instead used to show what an absolute badass Leon Kennedy is. You no longer had to kite around the demented infected that were vying for your blood thanks to the large, open play area.
Instead, Leon is able to bait villagers into queuing up in such a way that you can basically shoot them all in an orderly fashion or else pick villagers off from afar. And while the change of scenery might be nice, it’s a setting that’s seemingly built around ensuring the player is always in control of what happens in a fight, a decision totally at odds with the desperate fight for survival that the first three games realized so well.
That feeling of control is one that seems so ingrained in Leon’s character for Resident Evil 4. Now the bodyguard to the President, which itself feels horribly cliché, Leon spends pretty much the entire game taking names and kicking ass, always with a clever throwaway line to add to the mix. Again, it’s such an extreme departure to what we were given in previous Resi games that it only works to make Resi 4 feel like a totally different series. Consider how Resident Evil 2‘s Leon was portrayed — not so much his character because, well, no one came across well in the early games — but his movement and actions, when he stamped on a zombie, it was desperate act as he struggled to continue. Similarly, the STARS team in the first Resident Evil game are massacred before they even get through the door, while Resident Evil 3 opens with Jill apparently waiting for death as she gives up all hope of survival.
Fast forward to Resi 4 and Leon is flipping through windows and roundhouse kicking anyone who gets close to him. It’s tough to feel at risk in a game where your character, who is more of an action hero than a horror character, remains numb by everything that’s happening around him. The game tries to combat this lack of vulnerability on Leon’s part by making you have to look after Ashley for the majority of the game. This is a move that seems to misinterpret fear for frustration, as you spend the majority of the game, not afraid of what might happen to Ashley, but instead being constantly frustrated about having to save her. This makes for possibly the worst escort mission in recent times.
Essentially, the issue with Leon in Resident Evil 4 is that if he’s never frightened, then neither are we. It’s something that has certainly been remedied in the upcoming Resident Evil 2 remake, with the 1-Shot demo giving us all the chance to appreciate Leon’s new baby-face and alarming confidence issues. We see that the remake has Leon having to reassure himself before cracking on with his exploration of the Police Department. It was the same with Resident Evil 7, as Ethan’s slow, terrified movements all added an extra layer of fear for us, the player. What’s great about the classic Resident Evil games, as well as Resi 7, is that they make you wait before handing you overpowered weapons and other tools of destruction. You had to put up with having to ration your ammo and pick your battles carefully. In Resident Evil 4, you can kill most enemies without breaking much of a sweat.
Now look, I’m not saying that Resident Evil 4 is a bad game entirely, I’m just saying that in regards to how Resi 4 impacted the series, it’s the game that set into motion the paint-by-numbers action games that Resident Evil 5 and 6 gave us. And for that, Resident Evil 4 is very much the game that pushed the series down that road. Resident Evil 7 and the upcoming Resident Evil 2 remake look to have recaptured the original desperation and outright horror that classic Resi titles gave us, but it’s clear to see that Resident Evil 4 was the game that triggered the series to skew, and because of that, I think it’s the worst Resident Evil game in the series.