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Why Resident Evil 4 is one of the greatest games ever made

However, all the improvements in presentation, plot, and characterization are nothing compared to all the improvements RE4 did to the gameplay. And that's not just by series’ standards, but for the entire action genre. The over-the-shoulder camera revolutionized exploration and gunplay in a move so simply intuitive that it’s a wonder no major game had done it before. Instead of random shooting at an off-screen enemy, you were able to aim and shoot with a precision normally reserved for first-person shooters.

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Combat became truly fun for the first time in the series, empowering players to create new strategies for the increasingly complex combat situations. Would you try to trick the crazed enemies into running into their own traps, or perhaps you stun someone with a headshot, then kick them into a group of baddies, knocking them all back? So many options were open to you, thanks to this streamlined combat structure that made encounters fun without removing the fear the series was known for.

Those controls have inspired dozens--if not hundreds--of games that followed RE4. The creators of Gears of War openly credit RE4 for inspiring its approach to third-person gunplay, and you can see Resident Evil 4’s influence in games as wide-ranging as Dead Space, Grand Theft Auto, Uncharted, and so many other blockbusters. And though several of those games found ways to evolve the gunplay, the action in RE4 remains just as easy to embrace now as it did then.

Other additions done in RE4 might not have been as impactful as the shooting mechanic, but are no less important to why Resident Evil 4 is unforgettable. Inventory, formerly a confounding mess, was now about using space correctly. Placing items in the attaché case became a miniature puzzle game, as you searched for the best way to fit a shotgun, bullets, and regenerative herbs into the same package. It was practical while also making inventory fun instead of a chore.

Similarly important was the way the game used Quick Time Events. QTEs have become stale in their overuse, but at the time, the potential for a cutscene to be interrupted by a QTE at any moment kept us on the edge of our seats. Get too caught up in listening to Krauser’s speech and you’ll fail to deflect the knife he throws at you, treating you to one of the many creepily detailed death animations Capcom conceived for Leon. Many love the blockbuster film moments that pepper games like Uncharted 2, but they really got their start in RE4, with Leon dodging boulders and leaping between buildings.

Resident Evil 4 proves that sometimes the risk of innovation can pay off in spectacular ways. For an increasingly risk-averse medium afraid to challenge the rules of franchises just as established as Resident Evil, it’s an important lesson to learn. Sometimes a sequel can change everything.

"Why _____ is one of the best games ever made" is a weekly feature that goes through GamesRadar's list of the 100 best games of all time and highlights different titles, explaining why they're on the list, what makes them so amazing, and why we love them so much.

Henry Gilbert
Henry moved from the suburbs of northern Florida to work at GR+, and hasn't looked back once in seven years. When not collecting Mario toys, you can find him constantly checking his Twitter.