Countdowns usually come with an unhealthy balance of thrill and torment, both throttling back and forth without much in the way of provocation. As we near the release of something we’ve been anticipating for quite some time, any snippet of information that we come across that is new to us, regardless of its status in truth, unlocks the doors to an egregious amount of hyperbole and overreaction. This is precisely what occurred during the approximate six year development cycle of Resident Evil 4.
Resident Evil 4 first began development in 1999 for the PlayStation 2. The initial concept and idea behind the game was being worked on by Hideki Kamiya, who had previously directed Resident Evil 2. Kamiya worked with Noboru Sugimura, writer for the series, to develop a more stylized action game. It featured a super-powered and invincible protagonist who was moving through the world in front of a new camera system that diverted from the series’ previous entries. When producer Shinji Mikami observed that the game had become something straying from survival horror, the game was retooled and reimagined to become what we now call Devil May Cry.
A feature from Eurogamer in 2012 about the failure of Xbox in Japan includes an anecdote about Resident Evil 4 and Microsoft’s inability to secure the title as an exclusive. The story details executives at Microsoft learning of Miakami’s frustrations with development on the PlayStation 2. The producer and team found it to be too difficult to work with the architecture and were looking for another option. A meeting was set up wherein Mikami asked of Xbox representatives, “What is your philosophy? Sony says games are entertainment, something larger, fueled by the Emotion Engine. Nintendo says games are toys, created by the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto, perhaps the greatest game developer of all time. What do you feel?” It was a moment of disconnect between language and a failure on part of the translators to effectively communicate the question, leaving Mikami dissatisfied with Microsoft’s answer. This then pointed the game’s development to exclusivity on the upcoming Nintendo GameCube.
In fact, Resident Evil 4 became on of five games promised to remain exclusive to the Nintendo GameCube. The “Capcom Five” as they were noted, were later noted as a miscommunication, that only Resident Evil 4 was intended as a GameCube exclusive. Development was underway and the game was again shown off in 2002, as part of this announcement of the Capcom Five. This new demo showed Leon Kennedy, returning from Resident Evil 2, this time infected with the Progenitor Virus after attacking the main headquarters of Umbrella. The demo showed Leon up against traditional Resident Evil monsters. It has collectively become referred to as the “fog demo.”
Next in 2003, Resident Evil 4 premiered a demo at E3, now known as the “hook man version.” This demo introduces pieces of what would eventually appear in the main game, such as the over-the-shoulder camera and some quicktime events. It also contained a lot that would never appear in the game. This demo features hallucinations and some supernatural elements, providing a more Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem vibe than Resident Evil. As seen above, the game shifted visually to a more blue hue when Leon endured these physical hallucinations. This version of the game had Leon find a girl within the Castle of Spencer, founder of the Umbrella Corporation, and the two work their way through the nightmares. It was ultimately scrapped because of the development costs.
After several versions, including one that was scrapped specifically due to its reliance on action, Resident Evil 4 shifted its development from survival horror to the action-oriented horror game that we know today. Resident Evil 4 features Leon Kennedy as he rescues and escorts the president’s daughter through a damned village where she was kidnapped by a strange cult.
This version of the game was first shown to press in January of 2004. A GameSpot preview from the event points out that the game had been teased several times since its initial announcement and that producer Mikami had been pretty silent on information of the game. After playing a surprise demo at a Capcom event, GameSpot said “Put simply, Resident Evil 4 is the kind of game that critics and fans of the Resident Evil franchise alike have been wanting for years. The game finally takes the franchise forward (with a vengeance, we might add) and leaves behind its 32-bit roots once and for all.” Speaking of the same event, IGN noted, “As you might expect, we only caught a glimpse of what’s to come and already we can’t wait. When asked, Capcom representatives told us that the game would also include traditional scares, dark and eerie spots and some good old fashioned puzzle solving to boot, but of course we haven’t seen any of these elements just yet. That noted, what we have seen — and played — has Resident Evil 4 up to the very top of our must-have lists. GameCube owners, it’s time to get excited. This is a system seller, a showpiece, and the evolution of the Resident Evil franchise all packed together in one. You can’t ask for any better than that.”
Finally, the game was back on track and receiving a positive response from those who had played or seen the demo. Set for release in January of 2005, one final beacon of hope for the struggling GameCube, Resident Evil 4 joined the rest of the Capcom Five (other than P.N.03) to leave the console exclusivity behind on a stage somewhere. It was confirmed that Resident Evil 4 was coming to PlayStation 2 later in 2005.
The good news is, the internet is consistent. Members of video game forum NeoGAF reacted about the same that we would expect them to today.
“So now I guess you can call it the Capcom 0.”
“this is news?”
“Wanna bet Zelda gets moved to the next system, now?”
Don’t tell that last commenter what’s coming next. Alas, Resident Evil 4 became a game on more than one platform. It was no longer only released on the Nintendo GameCube and the PlayStation 2 was far from the last platform to see a port of the game. Within the last year it was brought to both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
After a troubled development cycle that continued to pinball emotions across the spectrum, one that ultimately led to a game much different than fans anticipated, Resident Evil 4 remains one of the series’ favorites to date. It doesn’t often come up in conversation with many people recalling its lengthy development cycle nor its notoriety as one of the fallen Capcom Five. It’s regarded as a favorite, as the best, and often referred to as how fans wished Capcom had continued the series with its next two entries.