Game Retrospective: Resident Evil 4

Warren Leigh
5 min readApr 9, 2020

On the 11th of January 2005, Resident Evil 4 was first released for the Nintendo GameCube in North America. A Japanese release would follow soon after.

Resident Evil 4 sees the return of Leon S. Kennedy. Six years after his time as a rookie cop during the events of Resident Evil 2, Leon, now a US agent, is sent on a top-secret mission to a remote European village to investigate the disappearance of the US President’s daughter, Ashley Graham, who has been reportedly kidnapped by a mysterious cult. Throughout the game, Leon encounters both new and old foes alike as he gradually uncovers a plot for global conquest.

Leon S. Kennedy, now a U.S. government agent, returns and is on a mission to rescue the president’s daughter

Capcom Production Studio 4, an internal Capcom studio led by Resident Evil-series creator Shinji Mikami, began working on Resident Evil 4 as early as 1999, with the title initially planned as a PlayStation 2 game. It would undergo a long, and often troubled, development, during which four versions of the game are known to have been scrapped altogether.

One early iteration of Resident Evil 4 would go on to become Devil May Cry

One early version of the game was helmed by director Hideki Kamiya. Keen to reinvent the series and move away from the slower, more methodical pace of the first three Resident Evil instalments, Kamiya set out to create a stylish, fast-paced action game. The game was planned to feature a central protagonist named Toby, who finds himself with incredible, but unexplained, superhuman abilities. To help effectively showcase these abilities, the game abandoned the pre-rendered backgrounds of older games in favour of a dynamic camera which would move with the player. As development progressed, series-creator Mikami believed the game had steadily strayed too far from the Resident Evil formula but liked what the team had created. Rather than scrapping it, the team reworked the game. Zombies became demons, the gameplay incorporated greater melee combat, and Toby became Dante. Thus, Devil May Cry was born and would release in 2001 for the PlayStation 2, becoming a successful franchise in its own right. Kamiya would later go on to work on such games as Viewtiful Joe, Ōkami and Bayonetta.

Shortly after this, development shifted to the Nintendo GameCube as part of an exclusivity deal announced by Mikami.

Revealed in a trailer at the Tokyo Game Show’s Spring 2002 Expo, one early version of the game had Leon navigating a castle environment while infected with a new virus

Several further versions of Resident Evil 4, each reaching various stages of completion, would soon follow, all led by game designer, Hiroshi Shibata, a designer who had previously worked on Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. One iteration, regularly referred to as the ‘fog version’, was primarily set in a castle environment and was to feature Leon who, after being infected by the Progenitor Virus, would gain a number of unusual abilities. Despite many of this version’s concepts being discarded, the Progenitor Virus would later appear in Resident Evil 5.

A still from the scrapped ‘hook-man’ version of Resident Evil 4

Another version, which contains several aspects later found in the final game, was displayed to the public during E3 2003. This iteration, often labelled the ‘hook-man’ version, adopted a more paranormal approach. Not only did it feature Leon experiencing vivid hallucinations that would cause the in-game world to warp and distort. It also featured enemies that included mysteriously animated dolls and suits of armour, replacing zombies. Ultimately, hardware limitations when generating the game’s dynamic, shifting environment led to this version being shelved.

Mikami soon took over from Shibata, stepping up as director once again. Though it divided opinion among the development team at the time, Mikami pushed for new, more action-based, gameplay system, believing the sequel needed to refresh the series, rather than repeat it. Inspired by Onimusha 3: Demon Seige, Mikami suggested positioning the camera over the shoulder of the character. This new perspective allowed for quick, precise gunplay which, in turn, necessitated the creation of a faster, smarter enemy: the Ganado, a Las Plagas parasite-infected human.

The game’s pioneering over-the-shoulder camera has been adopted countless third-person titles since, from Dead Space to Gears of War

Upon release, Resident Evil 4 for the Nintendo GameCube was a huge success with the game receiving praise for its tight gameplay, believable characters and engrossing plot. The game would later release for the PlayStation 2 featuring additional content. Both versions currently hold a joint Metacritic score of 96%, and would eventually sell over 3.5 million copies. The game would later be ported across a range of devices including PC, Wii, iOS, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Android, as well as current-generation platforms.

Resident Evil 4 has proven to be a highly influential title with the developers behind many highly-respected titles, such as The Last of Us, Dead Space and God of War, all claiming that Resident Evil 4 influenced their respective works in some way. Resident Evil 4’s pioneering camera perspective would also be adopted as the standard for countless third-person action games over the years including Gears of War, Uncharted, Ratchet and Clank and Batman: Arkham Asylum.

🕹Are you a fan of Resident Evil 4? On which platform did you first play Resident Evil 4? Do you feel the game deserves a remake or does it still hold up?🕹