Resident Evil 4 earns the high praise, and borderline legendary status, it has received. The game married over the shoulder combat with a thematic feeling of dread to produce claustrophobic action set pieces that were unlike anything else on the market at the time. There are a few things that linger in the mind after playing RE4: the first time Leon’s head gets chainsawed off, the creepy merchant that somehow knows how to upgrade military grade weapons and that amazing knife fight scene when Krauser reveals himself.
If you don’t remember, the early 2000’s were not nice to the Resident Evil series. Resident Evil – Code: Veronica was universally praised but released on the ill-fated Dreamcast to weaker-than-expected sales. Resident Evil 0 was released to mediocre reviews and Resident Evil Outbreak is better to be forgotten. The meme camera angles, tired zombie trope and dated gameplay made the series feel dated, like an artifact of the previous console generation.
Shinji Mikami, director of the original Resident Evil, would return to the series to revitalize it, taking Resident Evil from the survival horror towards a new action horror direction. Resident Evil 4 featured an over-the-shoulder third person combat camera, more ammo than previous resident evil games and faster paced “infected” Spanish villagers. Resident Evil 4’s tense gameplay was rewarded with SpikeTV’s Game Awards, Nintendo Power’s and Game Informer’s “Game of 2005”. It is regularly ranked as the best GameCube game, the best game of the 2000’s and sometimes ranked first or second best Game of all Time.
In RE4 you play as Leon Kennedy, who is strangely now a Secret Service Special Agent, investigating the disappearance of the President’s missing daughter, Ashley, in Spain (if the President’s daughter goes missing Delta operators would be kicking in doors). From there you find Ashley, kill a Spanish kid and get separated from Ashley again. Leon heads to a research island, how convenient, for the final chapter of the game. And that is where we are treated to this amazing sequence.
This scene is absolutely amazing from multiple standpoints. The beautiful usage of QTEs, crisp camera work and effective sound design. (The first time I saw this I thought I was suppose to know who Krauser was and thought I forgot something from RE2). This scene set the standard for action exposition and pushed sixth console generation storytelling to new heights.
The most referenced aspect of this scene was the usage of QTEs (Quick Time Events). Although QTEs have been around in one form or another since Dragon’s Lair in the early 80’s, they were most memorably used during cut-scenes in the critically acclaimed Shenmue. RE4’s knife fight showed perfection in QTE implementation.
A lot of QTE cinematic scenes would involve some setup, action and then a pause for the player to enter something. The pause would be very obvious that the player needs to enter whatever button is on-screen and the action, music and sound effects give the player a breather to think “Oh maybe I should hit a button”.
The QTEs in RE4 always occur during action movements and never pause to give the player a break. The first QTE, where Krauser drops down, is given a queue from the cut to him swinging but the camera comes down with him, in first person view, while the QTE appears. The conversation, which again is the first time you meet Krauser, occurs during a QTE heavy knife duel. This reinforces the claustrophobic feeling throughout RE4, more overtly found in combat, that even during important exposition the player cannot relax enough to take in the dialog.
The camera work is severely under appreciated in this cut-scene. The camera circle hinting of Krauser’s existence. The cuts between wide shots and tight quarters during the knife fight. The pan cut from the blood drops to reveal Krauser’s full body. The real shine is from the over-the-shoulder camera angles during the back-and-forth dialog. Who could forget the beautiful shot of Krauser knife twirling his knife while delivering his lines.
The actually dialog is fairly poor. The camera work does wonder to spice it up, allowing the exposition to breath while maintaining tension.
“Krauser!” (who? this is seriously the first time we ever see him in the entire series)
“I died in that crash two years ago, is that what they told you?” (is this suppose to be a backstory? are we suppose to know about this?)
“You’re the one who kidnapped Ashley!” (Quite a leap of faith there investigator)
“You catch on quick, as expected, after all you and I both know where we come from” (Raccoon City PD?)
“What do you want?”
“The sample Saddler developed, that all”
“Leave Ashley out of this” (That ought to convince him Leon)
“Oh I needed her to buy Saddler’s trust in me, like you I’m American” (LOL what?)
“You got her involved just for that?” (Even Leon can’t believe the plot device)
Think about how this dialog and villain reveal could have been handled with a lesser cinematographer. Static dialog shots with cuts when the speaker changes. Maybe wide shots with terribly animated reactions. The camera angles move so frantically, coupled with the QTEs, you can’t even tell if the dialog is poor or amazing and don’t frankly care.
The final unsung hero of this scene is the score and sound design. Everything has weight, from “shoosh” movements to the “thuds” of blood hitting the metal floor. The score does its job to elevate while sitting in the background, which in a scene like this is exactly what it needs. The score lets the action and QTEs take center stage. Foley sounds help create a rhythm for the QTE, the game showing its hand before a QTE appears. The knife clashes are the pride and joy of this sound design: from slow-motion scratches to quick chinks during parries. Even the voice actors can be commended for delivering the lines the best they could. The audio really finishes delivering this scene, taking the GameCube’s poor level of animations, textures and lighting to deliver something it rightfully shouldn’t be able to.
The knife fight is constantly referenced and is still ranked as one of the best scenes in all of video games. Playing Resident Evil 4 in my younger years, not knowing the jewel I was about to put my hands, only to discover this bad ass scene 3/4s of the way through the game was a real treat. You deserve to watch it one last time.