From here Resi 4 ups the ante with impressive speed, handing you bigger weapons and challenging you with more powerful foes. Chainsaw-wielding Ganados wearing sackcloth masks, twelve-feet tall "El-Gigantes" who can crush your ribcage using just one hand. Throughout the game, though, the message is the same. Despite all your firepower, all your skill, all your bravado, these primitive cultists have you matched blow-for-blow, and everything you can throw at them might not be enough.
A cynical sort might spy a sprinkling of political commentary in this. Resident Evil 4 was released in January 2005, a time when America's relationship with the rest of the world had turned distinctly cold due to the invasion of Iraq, a three-week war that was still spitting out casualties years later over nuclear weapons that never existed. The chest-beating rhetoric that surrounded that event is echoed in Leon's mission to save the President's daughter, and his blasé intrusion into the village is openly commented on by the cult's leader, Osmund Saddler. Ashley Graham is real enough, and rescued within the first couple of hours, but this proves to be only the beginning of their trials. Leon drastically underestimates both the nature of his enemy and the scale of the task set before him.
If there is a smidge of satire hiding in Resident Evil 4's heart, its effect is almost completely cancelled out by the atrocious writing. It still baffles me how Resident Evil as a series can combine such wonderfully evocative environmental descriptions with such wincingly bad dialogue. The script is riddled with inappropriately-timed witticisms that verge on a parody of American action heroes, while the antagonists are firmly on the moustache-twirling end of the villain scale. Particularly cringeworthy are Leon's attempts at flirtation with his handler, and the cocky Luis Sera's reference to Ashley's "ballistics". Perhaps its intended as lighthearted relief from the lengthy periods of panicky action, but whatever the intention, the delivery is near-disastrous.
Thankfully, these stumbling cut-scenes only amount to a small portion of the game, and they're the only significant flaw that sticks out a decade on. The controls still lend just the right amount of manoeuvrability without making you feel overpowered. The grid-based inventory system, adapted from RPGs, is a smart way of balancing the player's combat capabilities without arbitrary restrictions, and the combat still carries itself proudly after years of copycats. It's an ingenious exercise in crowd-control, an act of plate-spinning with potentially deadly consequences.
There are two other aspects of the game I want to discuss. The first is the environmental progression. Like Half Life 2, Resident Evil 4 has a delightfully organic feel to it, where the landscape flows naturally from one scene to the next. At the same time, it impresses in its variety, moving from rustic villages and eerie countryside to sprawling castle to cramped research facility. Also like Half Life 2, everything feeds back into play, forcing you to adapt the skills you have learned to a new situation.
The other point is more specific. Resident Evil 4 has one of my favourite monsters I've encountered in game, one which is often overshadowed in critical appraisal by the Ganados. Known as the Iron Maiden, it's only encountered a few times toward the end of the game. Seven feet tall, it shuffles and shudders through the narrow corridors of the research facility, emitting a sound somewhere between a giggle and a hiss from its lopsided mouth. Worst of all, it can't be killed with conventional weapons. You need to use a thermal scope to shoot its multiple hearts, and you only acquire that after you've encountered one of these shivering monstrosities. It is absolutely horrible. I still feel a chill when I think about that sinister gigglehiss.
To reiterate, the Iron Maidens are encountered in the game's closing chapter, which is a
testament to Resident Evil 4's design. Most games, certainly horror games, have run out of steam well before that point. But Resi 4 still finds ways to catch you off guard almost twenty hours in, and it could hardly be considered a game that holds back.
The PC version of Resident Evil 4 has never been the best. But the HD Edition released last year is certainly worthy of the game, running smoothly and with controls laid out in a mostly intelligent fashion. In any case, £15 for one of the best games ever made is a pretty good deal, stranger.