Resident Evil 4 (2005) begins with a cutscene catching up the player with prior events in the series. This proceeds into several ‘in-engine’ scenes between the protagonist Leon and the police agents he is working with. From the opening of the game the most obvious limitation in applying Literary Studies is that a sense of cinematic/filmic narrative is much more present in the aesthetics and presentation of the experience.
As Resident Evil 4 draws from several filmic tropes such as the chainsaw zombie (echoing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) as well as high-tension action sequences and quick time events (QTES) – such as when Leon needs to push furniture to close off entry points to attacks. These touchstones and the game’s high-fidelity presentation overall make the game feel much more cinematic.
Kirkland makes a detailed account as to how the genre of survival horror’s ludic approach to level design is more comparable to literature’s structure, whereby progression follows an ultimately linear requirement to proceed from set piece to set piece, requiring psychological processing to parse each puzzle much as a narrative is constructed in a reader’s head. As I explore the initial village I see the level design is open and somewhat sprawling, yet as the player I must almost always move from one scene to another in a bespoke sequence. However, puzzles appear more sparingly in this entry to the series.
Kirkland considers how survival horror is often highly based in reports, written texts and a sense of mystery, nostalgia and tragedy. This is an apt consideration yet Resident Evil 4 represents a shifting of the genre into a much greater action-oriented design space. While Resident Evil 1 is contained to a single mansion, Resident Evil 4 shifts from location to location (from countryside, to castle, to military base and so on). The use of documentation and archives is maintained but used sparingly (providing supplementary appendices at best) and tells less of a singular self-contained environmental backstory. There is much less of a need for the user to draw a ‘fabula’ of the past to understand the plot, as defined by Kristen Thompson in Harry Jenkin’s piece on Narrative Architecture.
Resident Evil 4 represents a process of genre in the midst of transformation. Here a survival horror experience is becoming more focalised on action and its sense of psychology is diminished for the appeal of something more visceral. This is an example of the survival horror genre departing its more existentialist themes and moving toward a more visual form with higher graphical fidelity.