Resident Evil 4 combines two of my least favorite things on earth: shooting and horror. But with the remake, and almost twenty years since my initial negative reaction to it (you can’t expect an elementary school student to deal appropriately with their character being banged in the head), I figured I’d be ready to play RE4 yet to try once. Boy was I wrong.
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The game starts harmless enough. Sure, a woman is beheaded in a human sacrifice, and a cop is stupid enough to go into a “missing persons” forest alone. But the game is kind enough to hold my hand through its core concepts, which are “looting ammo from painted boxes” and “shooting a zombie again after you blow their head off”. I marvel at the sleepy Spanish countryside, which looks charming and not at all scary thanks to the maximum brightness I set at the very beginning to avoid some scares. It’s almost like vacationing in zombie land. And then RE4 unleashes all hell on me.
Immediately after protagonist Leon Kennedy finds out that said cop was brutally murdered in a hunter’s cabin, he receives a radio transmission that suggests the dead cop’s partner is also unwell. He goes to a village just in time to see the villagers setting the poor bastard on fire. ACAB and such, but burning someone alive is a few steps too far – it’s clear these aren’t people I want to breathe free air with any longer. So I rush in and unload Leon’s bullets into their muddy heads.
It’s immediately clear that I’m underprepared for all the challenges beyond “shoot anything that moves in the head”. The game sends dozens of angry villagers at me, chasing everything with a man wielding a chainsaw. And because I don’t know any better, I haven’t been saving bullets in my previous fights, so my ammo is running out fast. I run out of pistol bullets with five enemies left and then the chainsaw man bursts into the scene
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Defeat the Resident Evil 4 Chainsaw Man
I screwed up like that. At this point in RE4, all large wooden gates look exactly the same to me. So if there’s a cutscene of a chainsaw man charging through the familiar double doors, I’m assuming he came from where I just came through – meaning he could have been behind me. I didn’t think I’d be able to fend off five zombies up front and a chainsaw killer in the back, so discouraged I reload my save. It was only later that I ran into his spawn gate and realized that the final boss actually spawned from the other side of the village – the north.
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I do much better if I rush straight to the village square. It feels like I know exactly what to do: take aim and mow them down one by one. But I panic again when I realize I don’t have enough ammo – and then my confidence drops. I quickly find out that RE4 isn’t just about hand-eye coordination. It’s about being calm, aware and analytical when some of the most nightmarish shit is trying to grab me. I can shoot calmly when I feel like the odds are in my side. I miss more often when I’m down, when I feel like there’s no reliable path to victory.
Screenshot: Capcom / Sony
To be clear, it’s not just me failing any tutorial level. At this level I do not have access to a dealer. I’d wasted all my bullets trying to headshot the enemies from the earlier tutorial and didn’t realize I had to save them for a whole village of humans. I wasn’t worried about running out of ammo while still trying to learn early game strategies. Unfortunately, I only have one flashbang, a dozen bullets, and a single health potion in this fight. I can’t change the past unless I want to repeat the entire tutorial. And not me.
So I try to be creative instead of skillful. Instead of attacking the villagers directly, I take the side passage at the village entrance. This allows me to steal a few more bullets, but it only prolongs my fate. I’m dying for the hordes of zombies anyway. But I’m not without options. After all, I work with a team of professional players. This is a universal constant: no matter what game I struggle with, it will be Zack Zwiesen’s bread and butter. As soon as I learn of the existence of a shotgun hidden in the level, I ask him if he used it on the villager groups or the chainsaw boss. “Not me,” he wrote on Slack. “I rambo them all and the chainsaw guy. I’ve done it so many times by this point.” Ah right. I forgot the ultimate hack: play this level so many times that I remember the location of each enemy on the map.
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We discuss other strategies. He tells me to shoot the kneecaps so I can kick the enemies to death, and in fact, headshotting the zombies is a waste of ammo and time. That goes against everything I know about first-person shooters: Shoot in the head first, ask questions later. “Where did it say that in the tutorial?” I tweet later. And that’s the problem with trying not to die in RE4: the game doesn’t explain the core winning mechanics. It just throws waves of enemies at you and expects you to figure things out while someone comes at you with a chainsaw.
I find another personal weakness: I’m often so focused on one creepy-looking villager that I completely lose sight of the others circling behind me. So when Zack tells me about the two-story house that’s near the center left of the village, I feel like I’ve been given a safe haven. So I’d have to run straight into the crowd of enemies, but it would be worth enlightening those fuckers a bit. Sniffing from the roof is so easy, even I can do it. Or so I thought.
Folks, the villagers can break into the house. I watch Leon bolt the front door, and I let my guard down completely, thinking zombies can’t undo bolts. This is a fatal mistake, and not even stepping down the ladder can save me from the number of uninvited guests who manage to barge in unhindered. I’m used to fictional zombies being bullet sponges, but American zombie horror is typically a power fantasy where the strongest weapons eventually win. Not so in Capcom’s RE4, where real cunning, patience and resource management are required to survive.
I will forget this fear when I have better weapons. But now I’m trying to kill as many villagers as possible before my knife breaks. Did I mention that the knife can break? Why are we arguing about the ethics of Breath of the Wild weapon durability when it’s a knife break in RE4 that can kill you? Nothing is more devastating than taking on eight enemies only to run out of weapons to use against those zealots. I think I should find more ammo in the village. I’ll do that as soon as I can bring myself to rush past those two crazy guys with axes. Overcoming that primal survival instinct is a higher hurdle than teaching myself how to shoot straight.
I smashed Leon in the head with an ax and pitchfork, choked him to death, and gutted him with a chainsaw. I know I have to pay the price of blood to gain access to the rest of RE4. I just wish I knew how it ends. If you have tips, fire in the comments.