Later this month, Resident Evil 4 will get it’s nine millionth release on the Xbox One and Playstation 4. I am going to buy it, because I am a sucker.
Resident Evil 4 was a pivot point in the relations between two classic gaming companies, and where the survival horror genre would change forever. The weight of this game to succeed was huge, which resulted in no less than five versions of the game seeing development, two of which saw release in a four year span.
While not as troubled in development as some games (looking at you, Duke Nukem: Forever), it is possible that the final version of this game would be vastly different from what Capcom won’t let us forget about today.
Before Resident Evil 4, the games came out on a near yearly schedule. The first three Resident Evil games came out in a three year span. The two year gap between the original and Resident Evil 2 (which also starred Leon S. Kennedy), was the longest in the series up to this point, due to the fact that the game was almost entirely scrapped at one point and done over. This seems to be a trend with Leon led Resident Evil games.
Initially, Resident Evil 4 was developed for the PlayStation 2. Development began at Capcom Production Studio 4, which was first formed in 1999 and led by Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami. Mikami initially tapped Resident Evil 2 director Hideki Kamiya to create the fourth game in the series.
Kamiya worked on creating a dynamic, fast paced action game, a stark contrast to the slow, methodical pace of the first three games in the story. The heroes of the original three games were normal people put in a harrowing situation. Resident Evil 4 was set to star a superhuman with incredible, yet unexplained, abilities. The fixed camera angles of the original three games were changed to a dynamic camera to make the action more stylish and to make the protagonist (originally named Tony) seem like a bigger badass.
Mikami liked what he saw, but felt that the game was a step too far away from the original games. Thankfully, the work done on this title wasn’t scraped. The zombies became demons, the emphasis on gunplay was shifted to melee combat, and Tony was given a new name: Dante.
Capcom released Devil May Cry in 2001, and the series has spawned three sequels and a reboot. Kamiya would leave Capcom in 2006 and go on to create PlatinumGames, which has produced great titles such as Bayonetta, MadWorld, Metal Gear Rising: Revengance, and Transformers: Devastation.
Capcom had a hit with Devil May Cry, but there was still the matter of releasing the fourth Resident Evil game. In 2001, Mikami reached an exclusivity agreement with Nintendo to only release Resident Evil titles on the GameCube. Resident Evil 4 was officially announced to the world in 2002 for the Nintendo GameCube as part of the “Capcom Five”, five Nintendo “exclusive” games. Joining Resident Evil 4 was P.N.03, Killer7, Viewtiful Joe, and Dead Phoenix.
The Capcom Five have a mixed legacy in gaming history. At the time, it was seen as Nintendo trying to improve it’s relations with third-party publishers and deliver more “mature” games to it’s platform. In retrospect, the Capcom Five was a failure for Nintendo. Outside P.N.03, all of the titles would end up on the PlayStation 2. The games themselves ran the gamut from canceled to cult hit to classic.
If you haven’t heard of Dead Phoenix before now, that is because it was canceled before it ever saw the light of day. P.N.03 is pretty obscure too, as it was an absolute flop, critically and commercially. I don’t think Nintendo is too proud to say it was the only one of the bunch that stayed put on the GameCube. Viewtiful Joe would go on to be modestly successful and spawn a pretty great sequel. And Killer7? Killer7 would go on to be Killer7. There aren’t enough words in this piece to do that sucker justice.
All the while, work continued on Resident Evil 4. Hiroshi Shibata next stepped up to the plate to direct. He would create several versions of the game, the first of which is called the “fog version”.
No screenshots or videos of this version exist, but it was decently far along in development before being scrapped.
(EDIT: Turns out I was wrong about this, and never saw said screens or trailers. Thanks to the comments for pointing it out.)
The game was to star Leon, who was infected with the Progenitor Virus, giving him some degree of special abilities. The game was to be mostly set in a castle, and the enemies were traditional Resident Evil fare.
At E3 2003, Resident Evil 4 was shown to the public in what is now commonly known as the “hook man” version. Many aspects of what would become Resident Evil 4 are present in the gameplay video. Leon’s design was mostly finalized. The game still used fixed cameras, but would switch to the now standard over the shoulder view when fighting. Leon is navigating a castle, which looks similar to the castle Leon explores in the second third of the final game. The player aimed Leon’s gun using a laser sight, and was able to shake the control stick to escape when grabbed by the hook man. Leon’s health indicator is nearly identical to what you would see in the final game, but only appeared to the player when Leon was injured.
It was still a huge change from the Resident Evil games of old. The threat in the “hook man” version was paranormal in nature. There are scenes where Leon is shown to hallucinating, indicated by the world taking on a harsh, bluish tint and screen shaking. Leon is shown fighting off dolls that are animated by an unseen force and attack him. Suits of armor were also brought to life, similar to how the suits of armor inhabited by Las Plagas attack Leon in the final game. Later on, he is encountered by the “hook man”, a blue, ghostly, incredibly strong enemy armed with a hook that takes a ton of shots to put down.
So what killed the “hook man” version? Technical issues. As explained by writer Yasuhisa Kawamura:
“You were not supposed to know when Leon’s hallucination would happen. Various hidden checkpoints would trigger Leon’s fear into hallucination. Depending on player’s behaviour, the structure of stage changed, so we had to create two types of 3D models. That doubles the amount of cost when it comes to design and rendering. Even if we did have the budget, it was almost impossible to cram all of that into the GameCube’s memory. We couldn’t even add any monsters.”
Meanwhile, Capcom developed and released the REmake and Resident Evil 0 for the GameCube. The REmake would go on to be critically acclaimed, and is the basis for the version released on current gen consoles earlier this year. RE0 was generally well received. It was criticized at the time for feeling a bit outdated, especially when it came to the “tank controls”.
After the “hook man” version was scrapped, Capcom decided to go back to the well with a fourth version of the game. Not much is known about this one, but Leon was to be infected with the Progenitor virus and fighting zombies again. Mikami felt strongly that the series needed to adapt, both from a gameplay and story perspective.
The team’s public statements at the time insinuated that Mikami was tired of making traditional survival horror games. He had directed the first Resident Evil and Dino Crisis, which is often referred to as “Resident Evil with dinosaurs”. He had also overseen the development of Resident Evil 2, 3, and Code Veronica. Even as recently as this year, Mikami said that he didn’t think the original game was going to spawn a massive series when he was working on it and that he didn’t design it with a franchise in mind.
The other reason that RE4 is so different from it’s predecessors? Money. Neither the REmake or RE0 sold to Capcom’s expectations, fueling the idea that pure survival horror was going extinct. Mikami told his team that their primary objective for Resident Evil 4 was to make it fun for the player, with horror elements being present, but less essential.
The genesis of the new control scheme and camera was actually fairly innocuous. Mikami had played and enjoyed Capcom’s Onimusha 3, but felt that the camera wasn’t good enough. Inspired to do better, he pushed for a full switch to the over the shoulder camera that was only in combat during earlier versions.
The change in perspective and faster shooting also necessitated a different kind of enemy. The Ganado, infected by a parasite called Las Plagas, is faster, smarter, and can attack in large, coordinated groups. Resource management didn’t fall completely by the wayside, as combat in the final game is heavily reliant on your precision. Crowd control is also a must. Knowing the areas on the map that are easiest to get surrounded in is just as important as finding the best places to stand and fight.
Simply put, Resident Evil was now an action game.
Finally, in January 2005, Resident Evil 4 was released on the GameCube. It was a critical and commercial success, and would go on to be one of the most influential games of it’s era. Resident Evil 4's camera became the go to design for third person shooters during the next console era. It would be used by hit games such as Gears of War, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and Dead Space. It’s place in gaming history is secure.
But before we wrap up, there is one little bit of controversy that needs to be touched on.
Remember Capcom Five and the Resident Evil exclusivity deal? We know now that RE4 was released on pretty much every platform in existence from 2005 onward. There is even an (terrible) iPhone version. So what changed?
Before release, Mikami was adamant that Resident Evil 4 would be a Nintendo only game. Famously, he claimed that he would “cut his own head off” if Resident Evil 4 was released on the PlayStation 2. Capcom claimed that Resident Evil 4 didn’t fall under the full exclusivity rights and released a port of the game to the PS2 in October 2005. The PS2 had sold far more units, and Capcom wanted to sell more copies of a game that was pretty expensive to make.
The port had more content, but the PS2's hardware meant that the lighting and textures from the GameCube version had to be pulled back on. As the video below shows, lighting effects often look “painted on” in the PS2 port.
Even though, Sony got the “worse” version, I don’t think executives really mind. The PS2 version of Resident Evil 4 outsold the GameCube version 2.3 million to 1.6 million units.
Shinji Mikami would go on to make God Hand in 2006 and then leave Capcom shortly thereafter. Like a lot of you, he wasn’t happy in the direction the series went with Resident Evil 5, saying it wasn’t like anything he would have made.
In 2010, he formed Tango Gameworks, which is owned by Bethesda. His most recent game was 2014's The Evil Within, which received a mixed reception at the time of release, and underwhelming sales. I think it is pretty underrated, myself, but that is a story for another day. For now, I am done writing about Resident Evil 4.
At least until the next time Capcom rereleases it.
When I am not writing about games, I sometimes stream them at twitch.tv/omegaredpanda.