In Loving Memory of Resident Evil 4’s Mystery in a Green Jacket

In Loving Memory of Resident Evil 4’s Mystery in a Green Jacket

When I eventually came to Resident Evil 4 on GameCube over the Christmas of 2020 – and particularly when I was fighting its dodgy controls in those opening couple of hours – I didn’t quite appreciate the profound impact it (and its ultimately perfect controls!) was going to have on me! Despite my history with its predecessors and its successors, albeit more with the idea of them more than actually playing them in most cases, initially at least, with this one I’d just ignored it for fifteen years. Wasn’t a proper Resident Evil, didn’t have proper zombies, it looked all brown, I was fed up with having it shoved down my throat, and money was a bit tighter in 2005, so buying stuff day one then not playing it like I had with all of its predecessors (and I mean all, sometimes on more than one machine!) wasn’t happening this time.

Then, as we approached the end of the next decade, the whole lot clicked until that was the only one in the mainline series, up to Resident Evil 7, that I hadn’t finished – originals, variants, remakes and all – so in we went and about 25 hours and a couple more days later, I realised it was one of my favourite games of all time. Top three. And I wrote loads about it elsewhere here, so that will do on my history with it up to that point! Now, eighteen months and more on, and I can be quite the born-again bore on Resi 4, though I’ll do my best not to be for the next few minutes. I’m not some kind of gaming CrossFit-vegan! Since I last wrote about it though, there’s a few new morsels to cover before we get to the main course here…

Not long before my Plaga epiphany, I had a similar revelation with Silent Hill 2 on PlayStation 2, and between the pair of them, I’ve had one or the other or both on the go ever since. Bizarrely, they’ve joined stuff like Road Rash II on Mega Drive and Dragon Spirit on PC-Engine as my idea of gaming comfort food; places I go to unwind! Actually, I’ve already virtually retired to the foggy embrace of Silent Hill, I play it so much… And while I’m there, I’ll sometimes fire up my special Silent Hill 3 save point for my part-time job at my beloved rollercoaster control hut in its nightmare amusement park! Even though I’ve got my average game time down by about ten hours, Resident Evil 4 is still a bit more of an undertaking though, so nowadays I like to spread the love between the GameCube, Wii and PlayStation 4 versions. And that Switch version keeps staring down my soul every time there’s a sale on the Nintendo eShop!

There’s an interesting shift in dynamics the more you play Resident Evil 4. In your first and even second play-throughs, you are clearly the prey, but the more you get to know the lie of the land, particularly in the initial village areas, the more you start to recognise choke points. These could be as simple as the top of a ladder where you can pick of a massive group of enemies one at a time as they mindlessly parade up it and into your combat knife blade. But you can also funnel them into tight spots or behind gates, for example, initially focussing on the leader and then using a kick to take them all down; even better if the one at the front has something on fire or explosive in his hand when he or she goes down!

As the initial paranoia about using ammo reduces to a realistic level through extended play, coupled with the patience that comes with its overall reduced tension, you’ll also be more confident about your scoped-rifle, using gaps in fences and the like to clear out entire areas before you even open the door to it. There’s other situations where you’re now clearly leading the dance too, confidently directing whole groups towards explosive trip wires from different directions. And even in boss fights, for example with Jack Krauser, you’ll soon work out that you can use the now-familiar terrain to your advantage, although in his case, using his weakness to knives is going to save a load of time on top! Even more so, what about a certain other boss and his weakness to a single rocket launcher shot… There’s a reason you find it when you do! Anyway, the more you play, the less you’re the prey and the more you are the predator, and together with the adaptive difficulty, you’ll end up playing a whole new game, and it’s all the better for it!

One thing that doesn’t seem to change with repeated play-throughs is forgetting the snakes in boxes! Busting open every box willy-nilly with your knife is fine for the first few stages, but as soon as you reach that comfort zone, the game starts putting coiled-up snakes around the place, waiting to drop its venom on you. And they get me every time! And from that time, you’re anxiously tip-toeing around every one… You might have learnt the lie of the land, but there’s no way you’re learning the lie of every box!

Speaking of jump-scares, zombie dogs through the window in the first Resident Evil rightly gets its plaudits, but the guy on fire jumping out of the oven in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre kitchen in this game is way underrated (including in my previous War and Peace on the subject)! Oven Man appears well into the game, at the start of Chapter 5, as you’re walking through this kitchen full of rot, and your focus in on sifting your way through that rot to find shotgun shells hidden in sinks and so on. Suddenly, as you approach this huge oven, a burning guy jumps out, screaming and charging at you from out of nowhere, and unless you get a very quick shot away, you’re in for some double-damage when he latches onto you. There’s absolutely no rhyme or reason for him being in there, and, in fact, if you examine the oven when he’s dead, Leon will ask why he was in the oven in the first place. It’s potentially a nod to the zombie in the fridge in Resident Evil 0, but regardless, it’s a fantastic moment because up until then, it’s not really been a jump scare kind of horror show.

Back in May 2021, I did return to my day one Resident Evil buying habit one more time for Resident Evil Village. I’d been super-hyped up about this one since the first gameplay trailers dropped at the start of the year, particularly that breathtakingly decadent next-gen gothic castle! And given its well-documented nods to Resident Evil 4, both before and since release, I did wonder if I’d found myself another new top three game of all time! Without doubt, it’s still my game of the year at the time of writing, and I can’t see that changing unless Windjammers 2 does something really special or Hollow Knight: Silksong makes a miracle appearance! But for everything its done right in my four play-throughs so far, and for what is without doubt my favourite sight in any game ever in the shimmering golden opulence of that chandeliered staircase, despite its best efforts it’s still no Resident Evil 4! Unhelpfully, I still haven’t quite put my finger on why though – lots of small things I guess, from a bit less tension to less inspired boss fights to less cinematic cinematic set-pieces. It’s great, but not as great, by a long shot; then again, in my eyes, only Kick Off on Atari ST and Feud on ZX Spectrum can compete in greatness on these terms!

Right, I promised not to be boring, and I’m not convinced I’ve succeeded yet, so now we’re up to date, here’s a quick bonus cool thing I also found out about Resident Evil 4 since I first played it… Ashley, the slightly less annoying than you expected President’s daughter who you’ve rescued, is voiced by an actress called Carolyn Lawrence, who is also the voice of the deep-diving squirrel, Sandy Cheeks, in SpongeBob SquarePants! Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Absorbent and tell and porous is he! And with that, let’s move on to our Resident Evil 4 mystery person main course…

I love a gaming mystery. Some time ago now, we delved deep into the secrets of the heavily advertised but ultimately unreleased Scooby Doo in the Castle Mystery for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad, which might have disappeared in 1985, but I still refuse to accept won’t emerge again one day because it still looks incredible! Then when we covered Silent Hill 3, there was the mystery of the completely missable voice in a confessional backstage in the final church area – it was female but wasn’t instantly familiar, so who did it belong to? I’ve got some theories, but as much as I’m fascinated in finding out more about that one, I need at least one more play-through to try and get my head around the bonkers plot and where it might fit, so instead we’re going to quench our mystery thirst now with this strange, very, very distant hidden onlooker in Resident Evil 4. And after all this preamble, I really hope we get somewhere with it, because as I write this, all I’ve done is track them down; I still have no idea who he or she is or why they are there, but we’ll try and find out together!

Okay, to set the scene, we’re now at the back end of the story, with Ashley off being kidnapped somewhere as usual, and Leon finding himself on the shore of the mysterious island that you might have caught a glimpse of earlier in Salazar’s castle. This was once home to cave-dwellers that were eventually driven out by Salazar, but now there’s only ruins left as evidence of his conquest, amongst which latest big bad bioweapon guy Saddler has built his lair, comprising of research facilities (with kitchens with jumpy things in ovens), medical facilities, radio towers, foundries and furnace rooms, kennels (of course!), power plants and a big military compound.

This is Chapter 5-4, and the military compound is where you’re going to go all Rambo, with a little help from your mate Mike, who’s arrived in his helicopter gunship and is going to provide a bit of high-explosive air support as you take out all and sundry through this huge complex. Eventually you’ll make it through the mass of trenches, tunnels and various buildings swarming with enemies to emerge on a plateau, only to be surrounded by a load more of them. Fortunately, Mike appears again to sort you out, but not before one of them manages to launch a rocket and take him out, leaving you looking down a cliff face at the wreckage and saying your goodbyes. No time for too much sadness though, because there’s a couple of nice jewels glinting around the place that The Merchant will have off you shortly, then it’s through the next gate and we’re in mystery business!

You’re now back in some kind of ruined fortress, and as you wander in you’ll see a big lump taken out of the wall on your right.

Get a bit closer and you can just about make out some structures in the far distance through the gap in the wall.

Pull out your rifle with whatever scope you’ve got equipped, and you’ll see it’s that radio tower and a load of Saddler’s nefarious facilities in the distance.

Now we’re going to start zooming in down that scope, as far as we can go, slowly scanning around the area with what appears to be a collapsed roof beneath the left hand side of the radio tower.

Now imagine you’re looking out for Slimer from Ghostbusters! You’re not, but with a regular scope and its rapid movements at full zoom – not to mention the swirling fog – it’s going to be easy to miss and this will help!

Bit of a squint later, and there’s almost-Slimer peering out of the right side of a vertical column, crisscrossed by what seems to be two diagonal cables or struts going upwards to the tower on the right side, then there’s one going downwards on the left, attached to a horizonal block.

Adjust your eyes a bit more, and Slimer becomes a green puffer jacket or maybe a sweater. And here’s our mystery person, accessorised with a dark scarf and what might be denim jeans and white trainers. Hard to tell from this distance (though more so due to the massive pixellation) if it’s male or female, but having been travelling backwards and forwards to Tokyo a lot while working for a Japanese company for over twenty years, I’m feeling Japanese male with a slightly non-conformist hairstyle. They are also holding up their hands, which might be a pointing a gun at them kind of gesture, but again, from experience of being in many photos over there, it’s possibly the peace sign gesture that Japanese people often use when posing for one.

At this point I hope I’ve made it obvious that this is something I found out about after falling head over heels in love with the game and engrossing myself in its lore, rather than trying to claim I’ve come up with anything new here myself… Credit for that needs to go to YouTube user SR212787, who seems to be the first to have documented it in a video entitled “Resident Evil 4 – Girl in Green Jacket? Easter Egg” published on 5th January 2017. What a mystery though, and one I simply couldn’t resist delving into as well, while also giving this person a bit of credit because there’s not a lot out there on this that actually does!

Also keep in mind that this is all about twelve years after it was released, which isn’t bad for a hidden object in a game! My favourite’s always been the Arkham Asylum hidden room behind an unmarked breakable wall with the map giving a clue to the sequel that took almost a year for anyone to find – it was a bit like the hidden room we found in our new 400-year old house just over five years ago at the time of writing that was marked as a void in the roof and turned out to be a lot more! Anyway, the sequel, Arkham City, went one better with clues for its own sequel, and the Calendar Man secret message that hinted at Arkham Knight; this involved setting your console date to developer Rocksteady’s formation day, and I’m still amazed it only took three years for someone to find! WaveRace on the GameCube from 2001 then had a hidden miserable commentator that took eight years and a modified Konami code for anyone to find. My dear, dear love Silent Hill 2 lasted about fifteen years before giving up its save-on-demand and mini-map features by getting the secret dog ending then messing about with controller settings. There’s loads more, of course, but the longest time for a secret to be hidden that I’ve come across was the revelation from then Nintendo president Iwata in 2009 that in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, you can take out Bald Bull with a single body blow by looking out for someone in the audience to take a photo, and punching when you see the flash. That’s a full 22 years after release!

Back to our mystery, there’s actually not much more to say. No one seems to know who this 2D figure in the distance is. Capcom and the game’s developers have kept their mouths shut on the subject until now, so until whoever did it comes clean, we’ll never know their identity or why they are there. My best guess is in line with the consensus of other fellow Resident Evil 4 nerds, and that’s that it was probably snuck in by an artist working on the game, and is either a secret but everlasting monument to their own ego, or perhaps to a family member or friend.

What we do know, however, is that just a few short minutes later, Leon will have dispatched mutant Saddler, jumped on a jet ski with Ashley and be racing against the clock, a tidal wave and a ton of falling boulders to get out of the island’s watery tunnel network before the whole thing is blown to oblivion. And therefore we also know the dark fate that befell our mystery person. May they rest in peace!

My Life With… Resident Evil 4 – Nintendo GameCube

My Life With… Resident Evil 4 – Nintendo GameCube

On the 1st August 1996, I was a couple of months into a five year career working for an electronic components distributor in the glamourous town of Leighton Buzzard. As well as being notable for rampant inbreeding (so a bigger boy told me!), it’s also known for the Great Train Robbery, Kajagoogoo and actor Rusty Goffe, who was a Jawa and several other similarly-sized things in a film called Star Wars, though many of us will be more familiar with his work as The Canary Dwarf, Britain’s bounciest weather man, on the sadly defunct Live TV’s Topless Darts. None of that is relevant whatsoever here, except there wasn’t anywhere to buy games in Leighton Buzzard, so I had to call in to Toys R Us in Bedford on the way home to buy Resident Evil, because that was the day it came out here and I needed it immediately!

And there begins my rather disfunctional history with Resident Evil. There was never any question of me getting it the instant it came out – the violence, the realism, the zombies… It was going to be the best game ever! And for quite a long time, I absolutely loved it. Wandering around the best spooky mansion since Scooby Doo, shooting stuff in the face to that epic soundtrack, the first (and still one of the greatest) jump scares in a video game was all fantastic. But there was this ridiculous inventory system, and I kept finding all these items that I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in working out what to do with. Then Wipeout 2097 came out and Destruction Derby 2 and Twisted Metal 2 and WWF in Your House and Legacy of Kain, and then it had no chance of being the best game ever!

That didn’t stop me going through exactly the same process with its sequel a couple of years later though! Or Resident Evil 3: Nemesis in 1999, though in my defence having just played Remake on PS4, I reckon I was most of the way through that one when I ditched it! When I got a GameCube at the end of 2001, more than enough time had passed to justify getting its shiny new remake of the original, as well as Code: Veronica and Zero as a bit more time went by!

I think I just liked the idea of Resident Evil more than actually playing it! And that’s partially behind my decision not to buy Resident Evil 4 the day it came out, or, indeed, for about thirteen years afterwards (when I’d then sit on it for a couple more). For all the hype the game was getting ages before it came out in 2005, to me it just wasn’t Resident Evil – I was interested in zombies, not crazed Spaniards in mud huts. Even if one of them had a chainsaw and a bag on his head! I really was the worst hardcore Resident Evil fan ever! Anyway, I didn’t like how it looked in screenshots either – all that brown was like playing on a Commodore 64 all over again! I just wasn’t interested, no matter what the reviews said, ironically echoing all that best game ever stuff I’d had in my head when I handed over my money for the first game.

Before deciding I was finally going to play through Resident Evil 4 on the GameCube over Christmas 2020, there’s a bit more history to add. I finally played through the remaster (such as it is) of the original on PS4 a couple of years before that, prompted by being lent a copy of Resident Evil 7 and thinking I can’t play the new one without at least a refresh after all those years, particularly after it had been free one month with PlayStation Plus. And lo and behold, this time something was clicking here, no doubt down to the patience that comes with age; or more likely getting less good at just shooting stuff! I finished it then immediately dived into Resident Evil 7, and being decades beyond all about my aforementioned misplaced loyalty to the original games, loved the tense Texas Chainsaw vibe of the first two-thirds before it get a bit more mundane and unnecessarily dragged-out towards the end. Then I went back to my original PS1 disc, this time on the PS3, then the same with the original sequel before playing the absolutely brilliant Resident Evil 2 Remake on PS4 in 2019, followed by the less brilliant but – in my opinion at least – fun all the same Resident Evils 5 and 6 on Nintendo Switch. And through all of this, my impulse (i.e. cheap) eBay pick-up from some time over the last few years, Resident Evil 4, still sat there unloved next to my GameCube; and also next to a to-this-day equally unloved copy of Zelda: Wind Waker, but that will be another story!

In summary, aside from two GameCube games, we’re now caught up in the series to a respectable level at least, having at the time of writing in January 2021 literally just finished the also absolutely brilliant Resident Evil 3 Remake on PS4, so that makes it time to talk about its sequel! And would you believe that for all the years of first having an aversion to it, then having complete indifference to it, Resident Evil 4 has now had a remarkable impact on me and my long history in gaming.

We could go all the way back to way before the start of our tale here when the first one came out, and if you’d asked me what my favourite games were, without any hesitation whatsoever I’d have said Feud on the Spectrum, Kick Off on Atari ST and Renegade, also on the Spectrum and not that arcade version with its weird controls. And whilst my favourite games list has got much bigger, after all these years the bit at the top has never changed… And then we get to about halfway through Resident Evil 4, and this voice in my mind-brain starts telling me that this 15-year old imposter might actually be my favourite game ever, however outrageous that was sounding and however much I genuinely didn’t want to hear it! I mean, Silent Hill 2 (more here) entering the top ten not that long ago was bad enough – poor old Elevator Action – but now we’re talking about complete disruption to a load more things that have been not only been even more deeply pondered over, but have also been even more utterly sacred for so long…

It ended up at number three; nothing will ever top Feud and Kick Off! What’s even more shocking, though, is that it ended up there after such strained beginnings! By the time we got here, right at the end of 2020, having been through all those Resident Evils and developed a proper affection for what the series actually is – even if affection was all it was – I really wanted to get stuck into this. I duly inserted tiny little GameCube Disc 1 (which thankfully has you covered until the final chapter), pressed start and got into the opening Umbrella and its misdemeanours in 1998 recap; jump to six years later and returning hero Leon Kennedy is in “rural Europe” looking for the American President’s missing daughter, who was kidnapped by a strange cult just before he started an assignment to protect her. Someone’s spotted someone that looks like her, so here we are in the back of a police car with two distinctly Mexican-sounding local police escorts, on your way to your start point at a distinctly medieval-looking village, in the middle of nowhere in what is obviously meant to be Spain!

A couple more cutscenes later and we’re on our way, in what was a revolutionary over-the-shoulder viewpoint that would completely re-write action-adventure gaming… Except now, after all those re-writes you’ve been playing for the last fifteen years, the controls absolutely stink! And that’s before you’ve drawn your gun or pulled out your knife. Oh dear! Okay, we’ve come this far down this very atospheric dirt track in the woods and that looks like a house in the distance, so we’ll have a look. Now, this being a Resident Evil game, you’re obviously not going to use any gun ever given the choice because you have to save up all of your ammo for the final credits, so this first guy you’ve got to kill because you’re now in his house is going to have to get stabbed up. Shoulder button, knife out, slash, try and slash in the right direction, and what the hell is going on with this direction button??? Now we’re dead. Restart the game!

A couple more deaths later and you’ll have resorted to your gun; it’s twitchy as hell, the sight is moving wildly all over the screen in the opposite direction to where you want it, and you’ll be lucky to shoot this guy anywhere, let alone in the head where you know he wants it! He’s dead, so time to search the house then jump out of an upstairs window to go through the same process with two more guys (at once if you’re not quick enough). A couple more restarts later and you know where the items near them are, so decide to grab them then do a runner instead of fighting, right down to a save point in a shed! At this point I decided not to save but keep practicing my knife skills instead, but they didn’t get any better, so we save and move on down towards the village that had turned me off in all those screenshots, occasionally stopping to shoot one of the loads more enemies hanging around the trail if you have time to line up a shot because their back is turned, but otherwise just running, stopping only to try and smash open item boxes in more sheds with that stupid knife, then get out before one of them comes in and corners you!

Big gate ahead signifies a checkpoint and we’re in the village and there’s tons of angry villagers with a dead look in their eyes, and you know perfectly well that for all the creeping around you do at the start, you’re in for the most hellish fight you’ve ever been in – just because of these awful controls! Eventually you’re trapped in a house, and it goes all Night of the Living Dead with you trying to block up windows while you try and shoot and stab (good luck!) your way to some kind of safety upstairs, where they’re also now coming in through the windows on ladders! Somehow you get by and get out of one of them, and just start running frantically – at least you’re getting used to how that works now, even if you can’t shoot anything! And then the guy with the chainsaw and the bag on his head appears with a load more psycho-villages, and you can keep running but you can’t hide and eventually – more checkpoint restarts later – you concede that you’re going to have to get some tactics down for a scrap, but at least by now you’re starting to get used to shooting stuff, and eventually you’re starting to appreciate the incredible tension of being stuck in that house with loads of stuff coming through windows, or coming up against Dr Salvadore, the chainsaw guy, because now you’ve got a chance.

A couple of hours later, with the village sections behind you, the archaic controls are going to feel the most natural and pretty much perfect you could ever wish for, even by today’s standards! You’re going to be combining quick leg shots with knives and kicks, jumping between pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles and grenades, dodging and spinning and knowing what’s going to work for cover or just slowing things down, and then you can relax a bit and start marvelling at how everything looks because it turns out it’s not all about brown!

So far I’ve liked the initial creepy but too short woodland stroll, and the wooden-hutted village and farm bits actually turned out to be pretty cool as you run around them, with tons of detail giving a real sense of oppression and a surprising amount of claustrophobia, like that you might experience being stuck in a big city rather than rural Spain. You’ll eventually emerge into a valley, absolutely riddled with wooden platforms, rope bridges and all kinds of huts and a swarm of different enemies, and this is where you really first notice both the scale of the game and also its incredible visual quality. It’s also worth noting that we’re talking visual quality on a GameCube on a modern TV, so when it came out I can only imagine how impressive what they were getting out of that little purple box must have been! What really got me though, not long after this, was going up an even creepier wooded path then emerging into a big graveyard with a church towering over it on the hill in the distance. At this point I actually stopped playing the game, turned off the lights, and started taking photos of the TV, adjusting Leon until I got the shot of the scene over his shoulder that I wanted, and with the benefit of hindsight and far more thought than you should give something so trivial, can say it’s one of my favourite sights in any game ever!

After a bit more killing (zombie wolves not dogs for a change!) and a bit of classic Resident Evil item collection and puzzle-solving, it’s around here that we’re going to find Ashley, the President’s daughter, and oh no, next disappointment, she’s coming with us and it’s not only going to be dreadful escort missions, but she’s a 20-year old American girl that acts like a 15-year old American girl! Actually, neither turns out to be so bad, and for a mostly non-playable character from 2005, she even displays a modicum of intelligence and tactical nouse in combat! Anyway, I was going to say, this is probably a good point to expand on the plot, because it’s now clear that there’s more to all of this than just finding your newly un-kidnapped sidekick!

This mysterious cult that kidnapped her is called Los Illuminados, and it turns out that all these villagers that keep attacking you have not only renounced farming to pledge their lives to it, but have also become infected by a parasite called Las Plagas that’s taken over their minds! On your travels so far, you’ll have been captured and infected by it too, and while captive you meet Luis Sera, an investigator who was researching the cult; once you both escape he’ll become useful for filling you in on the plot throughout the game! And then we find Ashley, who it turns out was also injected with the parasite, and the cult leader’s plan is for her to take it home to inject her father with it, which will in turn allow him to take over the world. Once you’ve found her, you’ll end up in freaky man-child Ramon Salazar’s castle, get separated then have to start searching for her all over again. In the lead-up to fighting mutated Salazar, you’ll meet saucy blast from the Resident Evil 2 past Ada Wong who’ll both help and hinder you as you go on.

Next you’ll go to an island research facility to find Ashley, and someone else from Leon’s spec-ops past, Jack Krauser, appears as the mercenary that kidnapped Ashley. Now we learn that both he and Ada Wong are working for star (also STAR) of original Resident Evil Albert Wesker, now a born-again nutcase who also wants a piece of the Las Plagas action. After dispatching him you’ll find Ashley again, discover a big machine that can cure the pair of you, then have a showdown with the also-mutated big bad cult leader, assisted by Ada Wong and her inevitable Resident Evil final boss rocket launcher! As a final twist in the tail, Ada’s going to do a runner with Leon’s parasite sample, and all that’s left to do it escape the island on a jet-ski before it explodes!

The parasite enemies versus zombie enemies of previous Resident Evils do change things up quite a lot, where they’re quicker and have some intelligence about them, though shooting them in the head still works fine – especially when it’s from miles away with a fully-upgraded scope on your rifle! It’s not just zombie cult farmers, tooled-up chanting monks, very well-armed (and sometimes shielded) soldiers, walking suits of armour, chainsaw bag-head guys and the like you’ll be shooting up though. There’s different, much tougher (and far more sinister) versions of them that wouldn’t look out of place in Silent Hill; there’s various parasites, flying bugs and those undead wolves; there’s lumbering giants that act as regular mini-bosses and Iron Maidens with extending spikes on the outside; and there’s the regenerator – no doubt one of the most feared monsters in gaming history, relentlessly moving towards you, with multiple parasites regenerating body parts, each requiring individual attention from your rifle (or just shutting a door on them)!

That’s regular enemies, but you’ll come across a wonderful menagerie of bosses too. I’m not that keen on boss fights, but I think I only really struggled with Salazar when he turns into a humungous zombie flower and you need a bit more precision at speed than I’m capable of any more! It only took a few goes though. The rest are wildly varied, from a set-piece filled epic with superman Krauser to more regular shooting all the pulsating sacs filled with ooze Lovecraft-style monsters. The final boss – cult leader Osmund Saddler now mutated into a huge four-legged oozing thing – is a lot of fun, and when that rocket launcher is thrown into the mix there’s a great feeling as you realise you’ve just about done him in, but my favourite boss I think was the very first one. This was a lake monster, brought back to life by Saddler to stop anyone crossing it, and you’re hunting it down in a tiny fishing boat that is being dragged around by this giant whale thing after it got caught up in the anchor. And it’s from this vantage point that you’re trying to harpoon it, while steering and trying to avoid being capsized, which results in a frantic swim! Once its done for, it’s not over though because you’re still attached and now being dragged to the bottom. Thank goodness for quick-time events – one of many you’ll experience throughout the game, but I don’t remember this one being quite as punishing as others that may assume far more familiarity with a GameCube controller than you may have so long after the fact!

The aftermath of this fight sees you end up in a cabin on the other side of the lake, and another visually stunning moment as you look out of the window into the rain. This was another favourite moment for me, and that went straight into another! As you go outside and peer across the murk of the lake, you can just make out some blue flames, which you’ll now be starting to recognise as the welcoming signal of the Merchant having set up shop there. As fantastic as this guy is, you don’t want to be thinking too much about him and his various impossibilities though, like why he’s not dead, how he travels in the blink of an eye, who else he’s selling to and various other stock management issues – just enjoy this constantly out-of-place walking weapons shop with his wares hidden inside his long black coat or in his backpack, or in some of the more permanent establishments he frequents around the game, like this one! You’ll be buying new weapons and upgrades using coins you’ve found or by selling him treasures or stuff you don’t want. At certain locations he’ll also have an optional shooting gallery on the go, and he’s usually near a save point too!

Recalling all these things I enjoyed one after the other is testament to the game’s pacing throughout the 25 or so hours it took me to complete it. From the very start, it’s relentlessly pushing you forwards, whether to progress the story or to progress your ability to progress the story. You’re rarely going to be wondering where to go next or trying to fathom obscure puzzles involving myriad items and all the related back and forth Resident Evils before this loved to throw at you so much. There’s a bit of backtracking and a bit of puzzle-solving, but I’m struggling to remember anything that bothered me whatsoever, and on the whole you’re on your way from one set of set-pieces in one area to another set in the next, interspersed by different levels of adrenaline rush. This might be from something as simple and frequent as taking down a regular enemy with some style, getting through an onslaught of firey catapults, completing one of the frantic on-rails sections, or finding yourself face to face with Dr Salvadore and his chainsaw in a minecart, but the biggest rush for me came from just turning around and looking back at one particular room…

In Chapter 4 (of 5, each split into 3-4 areas plus one final chapter), you’re after a lion ornament to go into something else and open up a new part of the castle – all classic Resident Evil! You go through a door in from a very steampunk area to be faced by a cavernous room full of maze-like stone stairways and walkways across a sea of volcanic lava spraying all over the place. There’s also a load of dragon statues ready to spit flaming death all over you too, manned by monks in skeleton masks that you’ll need to snipe while taking on a load of their mates out to get you as you make your way across various platforms and obstacles. This took me a few goes, but once you’ve got the lie of the land you do fine, and the pay-off when you pick up the ornament and head back is incredible! You’re faced with this incredible, impossible set of structures across this vast flaming pit, smoke and fire everywhere, and you just think did I really just do that? Absolutely stunning. Again! When you combine so much fun from so much variety with that pacing we talked about, you’re getting close to perfect gameplay, but surely there’s a catch?

It wouldn’t be a Resident Evil game without some inventory management, so you’re going to spend a fair amount of time playing Tetris in your attaché case and making painful decisions about what to store or just abandon. As usual, it’s expandable as you make your way through the game, and key items and treasure are kept separately so they’re not taking up slots. And as usual, you can combine some health items, ammo and bits of weapons. I think there was one instance where there was a rocket launcher that just wasn’t going to fit, but otherwise there was usually space for all that handgun ammo I didn’t actually need!

We’ve not talked about how things sound yet, and as you’d expect from a game in this series (and genre in general) there’s some very ham-fisted dialogue delivered in typically unique ways! Actually, the voice acting isn’t bad – it’s certainly no Silent Hill 2 – and the script is mostly fine, even offering up a couple of genuinely funny lines, but it definitely gets cringeworthy at times, and I’m sure that in any remake that might come along in the future, Luis won’t be talking about her dad equipping Ashley’s with ballistics! And probably no close ups of his crotch when he says he’s got something for you guys either… You are going to get a lot of abuse coming your way in Spanish too, which is probably more effective if you don’t know Spanish (which I assume Leon doesn’t which is why it’s never translated), but it is proper good abuse!

The soundtrack is responsible for so much of the horror you’re going to experience throughout the game’s duration. It moves seamlessly from disturbing localised ambience to pulsating primitive rhythms, and from minimal almost industrial pieces to climactic gothic orchestrations. There’s thankfully a couple of tracks that wouldn’t be out of place in an eighties action movie like Cobra or Bloodsport too! Sound effects layer on even more disturbing ambience – love those killer monk chants! – and it really sounds like they’ve gone the extra mile with things like gunshots, where each distinct sound is going to include the chink of spent cartridges and the sounds of a reload as well.

I’ve talked about how impressive it still looks even being pumped out of a GameCube onto a modern TV. I know I have the benefit of being a complete luddite when it comes to things like resolution and frame rate though, where the upscaled PS4 version doesn’t look all that different to me, although that said I’m not certain it actually is! Some of the locations like the swamp, any of the woods, the church and a lot of the castle are pure Hammer Horror though, which might be a good analogy for how it looks – Plague of the Zombies (best film ever created!) looks like it was made when it was, but it still looks great! The polish might have tarnished a little with the years, but the creativity and artistry on the locales and their inhabitants (especially some of the nastier-looking bosses) haven’t one bit, with all the character models looking and moving great through brilliantly lit environments (especially when night comes). Details like the heat haze in that lava room, or just smoke rising or rain falling would also still impress today, bouncing realistically off of different surfaces, and those effects when you pop something’s head off are still second to none!

What else to say? Well, it’s oven got its own zombie dogs through the window moment! Like what I did there? Otherwise, looks great, sounds great and eventually plays great; is full of atmosphere, full of horror and full of variety; and the gameplay is just outstanding. And that’s even in 2021 as I write this, having now played the GameCube version twice and the Wii version once in the first three weeks of the year! I have to say that on one hand I expected a bit more of the Wii version, having heard many lauding its motion controls and it being the ultimate way to play, but I wasn’t that fussed. On the other hand, it cost me £1.10 on eBay so I can’t complain!!!

Now that it’s firmly entrenched in my top three games of all time, shockingly relegating the definitive version of Renegade to number four after all those years sitting pretty there, do I regret not playing it until now? If it wasn’t for those pesky screenshots, I’d have probably bought Resident Evil 4 back in 2005, day one, just like all its predecessors! But just like them, I’d have probably played it for a bit before being distracted by God of War, Call of Duty 2 and Star Wars Battlefront 2… What a meathead! But for me at the end of 2020, it was perfect! And now that remake would be pretty perfect too…