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I Love Resident Evil 4

So, so much.

By Daniel BradburyPublished 19 days ago Updated 19 days ago 7 min read
This was state of the art back in 2005.

I was a sheltered child. R-rated movies were placed under strict embargo in my parents' house. Comedy Central, South Park, and The Simpsons were all banned for being too crass. Power Rangers was determined to be too violent, and the stories were "too lowbrow". A litany of cartoons and anime were ousted by the censor's pen for crimes like women with low necklines or rude language: "stupid", "dumb", "dude", "freaking", "jerk", and the phrase "you go, girl" for some reason that still escapes me. Video games (rated E for everyone) were begrudgingly allowed to take up space in the entertainment center due to concerns that a child growing up completely removed from the influence of the outside world might have a hard time relating to other kids.

I accepted most of these rules as the way the world worked. As a child with such a limited scope of experience with pop culture, almost all comedy went over my head anyway. Most R-rated movies were excruciatingly slow-paced for a child with ADHD, so no great loss there. There was, however, one major point of contention.

Horror.

Even now, I would be hard pressed to fully articulate what drew me to it. Maybe how forbidden it felt? I can still remember my father warning me away from watching The Exorcist: telling me it was the most disturbing thing he had ever seen. To this day, it remains the most electrifying review of a movie I've ever heard. Nothing has ever managed to sell me on a film more effectively. I think it also had to do with the aesthetics of horror. Dark hallways with something predatory watching from the other end, the promise of a nightmare lurking just outside the frame of your vision. Film and literature overflowing with luscious reds and blacks, poisonous greens and putrescent blues. It captured my imagination in ways that few other forms of art could (especially at that age), but for years it was out of reach.

In 2005, two very important events in this story took place. Firstly I turned thirteen years old. Practically a grown man, by my own estimation. Secondly, Capcom released Resident Evil 4 for the Nintendo Gamecube. For any readers too young to have been around when it happened, it was a watershed moment in video games. It was a buzzer beating, game winning 360-degree windmill slam dunk. It was Hendrix covering Sgt. Pepper's the day it came out with Lennon and McCartney sitting front row. Video game journalism was overflowing with praise for it. Its gameplay mechanics? Poetry in motion. Its visuals? Goya's black paintings given life. Its story? Goofy, but par for the course in a Resident Evil game. It was a masterwork. It was survival horror gaming revolutionized. It set the world on fire.

And I couldn't play it.

I pored over everything I could find about it. Every article, every image, every tiny scrap of information posted about this game. I had researched it so thoroughly that I could "play" through the first hour of it in my mind's eye: placing images searched, videos watched, and articles read together in a mental mosaic of imagined gaming. To have called me obsessive would have been an understatement. Equal to my obsession was my determination to satisfy it. I begged and bargained ceaselessly. I made powerpoint presentations citing studies on the lack of correlation between video games and violent behavior. I made the classic, futile argument of "all my friends are playing it!" All of it fell on infuriatingly deaf ears. It became clear I needed to take matters into my own hands.

I had a friend, who for the purposes of this article will be referred to as Jim. Jim did not suffer under the same draconian video game legislation as I did and had already beaten the game several times by the arrival of August. We agreed, that in exchange for buying him lunch from the Hunan Empress I would be allowed to borrow the game for the next month. We rode our bikes to the restaurant on the appointed date. We ordered two plates of pork soup dumplings and a pot of green tea, and the game exchanged hands: concealed in the DVD case of the titular romantic comedy, Notting Hill.

That night, my hands shook as the mini disk gleamed back at me from the DVD case. My parents were both upstairs: captivated by a period costume drama on PBS. My younger brother, sworn to secrecy, sat beside me on the basement futon. We toasted with two cans of sprite, turned on the console and waited: nearly vibrating with excitement.

In the way that jazz is music for musicians, Resident Evil 4 is a game made for people who love video games. You can't just like music and be a jazz musician, you have to love it. You have to be consumed by it for years of your life, absorbing every subtle detail of the way chords fit together, understanding the exact fraction of a second in which a note can be at its most effective. You need to hold this knowledge so tightly in the center of your being that it becomes instinct, that your instrument becomes an extension of your body. This level of love, this level of understanding of one's chosen medium was apparent from the moment I saw the game's title screen.

It was everything: the sound design felt desolate, cold and creepy. The way the Leon moved felt so natural and lifelike. The look of the environments and the enemies was just so cool. The combat was unbelievable. Enemies would react according to where they had been hit by your bullets. A shot to the leg might make an enemy lose their balance or kneel. A bullet in the arm would make them drop their weapon, then grasp the injured limb before turning to you and snarling. Most thrilling of all, if you managed to get a critical hit on a headshot, you could make their heads explode in a glorious fountain of blood and viscera. As someone whose experience with violence to that point was restricted to a couple of surreptitious viewings of James Bond movies and a copy of super smash brothers, it was electrifying.

Maybe more importantly than any of these other aspects, it didn't take itself too seriously. Video games, like rock and roll before them, have been on a quest to earn the respect of art critics and connoisseurs nearly since the birth of the medium. Games like The Last of Us and Mass Effect craft complex, moving narratives that rival those found in traditional media. Games like Hollow Knight and Elden Ring invite us to discover their deep and often tragic stories through exploration and detective work. Sable and Season: a Letter to the Future, ask us to contemplate themes of loneliness, and even death. While I by no means disparage these games (many of them are among my favorite games of all time), there is something to be said for games that are not afraid to be a little goofy. Resident Evil 4 is overflowing with corny dialogue, bizarre plot points, over-the-top set pieces, and frankly just a bunch of weird shit. You can't force Joel to dress up as a mobster from the 20's in The Last of Us. Nor can Commander Shepard earn stat boosts by collecting keychain versions of enemies they've killed. I have immense respect for any games that aspire to the status of "high art", but video games will always own a piece of my heart.

Over the next week, my brother and I completed a playthrough of the game; always playing at night once our parents were busy with their shows or in bed. We were discovered halfway through our second playthrough, but by then it was already too late. Jim's parents were contacted and the game was returned to its rightful owner amidst a great deal parental huffing and puffing. I had lost the battle, but won the war. Maybe it was the realization that no lock can outsmart a thief. Maybe they were just worn out by arguing with me for thirteen years. Whatever the reason, the rules surrounding what could and could not be watched/played became a lot more relaxed following the smuggling of Resident Evil 4. I was allowed to purchase violent games with my own money. I was allowed to rent horror movies from Blockbuster (yes, it was really that long ago) and watch them on the tiny CRTV in my bedroom. My first pick was The Birds.

In the years since then it has become harder and harder to find time to play video games. Responsibilities have a way of stacking up once college is in the rear view mirror. Even so, I still play through Resident Evil 4 about once a year. It comforts me. Experiencing the familiar scenes, allowing myself to rediscover how to play the game feels like talking to an old friend. It helps me feel connected to a time, and to a version of myself, that aren't around anymore.

So what's the point of this article? I haven't brought anything up about the game that hasn't already been said by a thousand other people. Truthfully, I think I just wanted to say thank you. So much seems to change so quickly, I'm grateful to have something that remains constant. Maybe it's silly for that constant to be an old video game, but I don't care. Thank you, Resident Evil 4. I love you.

artnintendohorrorcombat

About the Creator

Daniel Bradbury

Big fan of long walks in the woods, rye Manhattans, Spanish literature, jazz, and vinyl records.

Lover of all things creepy and crawly.

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    Daniel BradburyWritten by Daniel Bradbury

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