Resident Evil 4 was just what the series needed to avoid becoming a relic. But the real game changer, more so even than its over-the-shoulder perspective, is its fantastic village-based mini sieges. And whenever I revisit or even just think about Resident Evil 4, it’s those village sections I find myself craving.
Prior to the game’s release, the series penned players into relatively small areas, pitting you against just a handful of foes. The Resident Evil 2 remake lets zombies hammer down doors to get to you, but in the original, zombies remained within their respective rooms. Instead, as the games progressed, you’d run into nastier foes such as the Hunter or Licker. Barring the odd scripted sequence, these would still stay where they were spawned, but they’d have a better chance of taking your head off in one fell swoop.
Not so in Resident Evil 4. It lures you into a false sense of security by having you wander a small woodside trail, dispatching just a handful of enemies as you go. If you’ve last dabbled in Resident Evil – Code: Veronica or Resident Evil 0, it feels a little familiar, reassuringly so.
But the moment you hit the first village section of Resident Evil 4, everything changes. There are at least a dozen villagers, mostly armed, milling around multiple buildings. They haven’t seen you yet, but that’s not a concession on Resident Evil 4’s part. No, the game wants you to dwell on the situation, to appreciate just how outnumbered you are.
That’s where Resident Evil 4’s village houses come in. In some games, they’d be locked or boarded up. You’d fumble with the doorknob only to be presented with, “It looks like the lock is broken. I can’t open it,” or some similarly frustrating message. But here, those rustic dwellings are your chance to take on the villagers on your terms.
There is one semi-scripted sequence where the game clues you into this. But even before that, you can take refuge in a house, shove a chest of drawers against the door, and hope for the best. Until you leave the village behind you, there are several opportunities to hole up in a house. And you absolutely should, because Resident Evil 4’s mini-sieges are absolutely exhilarating.
If you’ve seen Night of the Living Dead, either George Romero’s original or Tom Savini’s remake, you’ll have some idea of what to expect. Once alerted — word travels quick — the villagers descend on you, pounding at your barricade.
Some games might helpfully display a damage bar over the door, but not Resident Evil 4. You’ve no idea how long you’ve got before it gives way. And unlike in Night of the Living Dead, there’s no one to help you out. So when you hear a smash upstairs, you’re the one who has to investigate. When you see the villagers — who are much smarter than zombies — have pushed a ladder against the building, it’s up to you to fend them off.
You’re juggling plates just to stay alive, even more so if you’re playing at a higher difficulty level — let your attention wander and you’ll be dead before you can say, “Aaargh… Lord Sadler.” It certainly helps to have an exit plan, whether that’s leaping out of a window or taking to the roof as the infected villagers fill the floors below.
If you are playing Resident Evil 4 on Easy Mode you can, more or less, just take on the villagers out in the open, but you’re seriously missing out. Whether you survive the onslaught or end up getting a chainsaw introduced to your neck, this aspect of the game is a real rush.
Unfortunately, it’s so much fun that the rest of the game feels like a bit of an anticlimax — it’s good, but those opening village sections are something else. I’ve played the whole game through maybe four or five times, but I’ve spent hours upon hours barricading defending those worryingly flammable shacks.
The Mercenaries mode doesn’t cater to a good siege in quite the same way, marking you not on how long you survive but on how many villagers you dispatch. And yes, there are more than a handful of first-person zombie defense games, but Resident Evil 4’s own take on Night of the Living Dead is hard to beat.
So I’m eager to see how the upcoming remake handles those early-game village encounters. I’m still disappointed that Resident Evil 3 ditched a chunk of the original game, but even so, both it and the Resident Evil 2 remake improve on the original in almost every respect. A recently released Game Informer video confirms that you’ll be revisiting the village at night, so there’s potential for some nighttime shack-defense shenanigans.
Just imagine gazing out of a broken window, squinting as you survey possible escape routes, ready for when the villagers break through the door. Then, somewhere in the darkness, you hear the sound of a chainsaw revving up. March 24 can’t come soon enough.