Resident Evil 4 is one of the most highly regarded games. Ever. On the PS2, it's rated as #3 of all time, and actually scores well above the other two games (Tony Hawk 3 and GTA III, if you're curious) when you average in user reviews. It's certainly the high-water mark for anything with the name Resident Evil on it. (Including the movies. No, especially the movies.) People still talk about the characters and the gameplay is still fondly remembered. People still talk about key moments in the game, like the moment when the chainsaw guy shows up. The visuals still hold up today and every time a new Resident Evil game comes out it winds up getting measured using the RE4 yardstick.
And yet, I hated it. Not just a little. I really hated it. I was actually angry at the game for all the ways it annoyed me. Here's why.
The vast majority of the people reading this grew up with some form of Nintendo. You either owned one or you had a friend who did. I didn't. I was already in high school when the first NES came out. I grew up with the venerable Atari 2600, and I didn't mess with console gaming again until I got a PS2 almost twenty years later. I missed the NES, the Super NES, the N64, all the Segas, and the first Playstation. In those years I was launching a career, getting married, and having kids. I didn't have time or money for videogame consoles. I barely had enough for the few PC games I played.
When I finally got the PS2, one of the first games I played was Silent Hill 2, which is also one of the most acclaimed games of all time. It's the best of the Silent Hill games and one of the best entries in the entire genre. I didn't know it was a particularly high-quality game. I played it, liked it, and naturally assumed there were probably a lot of other Silent Hill 2-ish games out there. I'd heard of Resident Evil but didn't know anything about it, except that everyone told me it was awesome. I thought, "Great! More survival horror!"
Which is to say I went in with a whole bunch of dangerously wrong expectations. I thought I was going to be scared out of my pants by some twisted psychological journey of paranoia and body horror, and instead I got a game where some boy-band reject tries to rescue the president's daughter from a Medieval castle run by the Spanish Inquisition and midget Napoleon. It's like expecting to see Blade Runner and getting Spaceballs instead. A campy goof can work, provided you're in the mood for a campy goof.
I'll admit that it's very obviously goofy on purpose. This is unlike Metal Gear games where the claim of "satire" feels like the fans are maybe giving it more credit than it deserves. Resident Evil 4 doesn't leave any room for the question of "Are they kidding or not?" It's clearly trying to be as absurd as possible and it's clearly doing it to get a laugh. But I don't really "get" the appeal of the B-movie action schlock it's sending up, so I can't really appreciate the humor here, either. It's kind of like how Galaxy Quest is aimed at fans of Star Trek. You need to be a fan of the thing they're mocking to be in on the joke. Otherwise it just comes off like the writers copying the worst parts of already terrible material.
So you might think I'd have to ignore the story and just focus on the awesome gameplay. Except, the gameplay was miserable for me. See, I'd never seen a quicktime event before in my life. I was crushed by a boulder several times before I guessed what the game wanted from me. And even then I wasn't sure. Should I hold the buttons? Press them once? Press them fast? While most of the young kids had been using this controller layout since the mid-90's, it was all new to me. I was having enough trouble just getting the basics down, and I couldn't recognize the symbol-based prompts fast enough to succeed. That kind of instantaneous reaction takes a long time to develop. It's one thing if you get it slowly over the course of five or ten years. It's another when you have to learn it all at once just to survive one stupid cutscene.
This problem with quicktime events made the problems with the story even worse. It's easy to laugh off the Leon vs. Krauser fight as fun in a hackneyed, cheesy sort of way. But I promise you that the dialog gets really old when watched half a dozen times back-to-back. My first-ever column in this space was complaining about quicktime events, and my experience with Resident Evil 4 was a big part of that animosity. (I'm better at them now, but I still say they're a lame and unimaginative substitute for actual gameplay and interactivity.) It's pretty hard to ignore the story and enjoy the gameplay when the gameplay uses the story itself as a punishment for failure.