There are times when I encounter a new experience and I can immediately tell that my attitude has been altered. A previously undiscovered book becomes a new manifesto for my reading preferences, or the first taste of a new cuisine refines my palate. But not all life-changing moments feel as though your status quo has totally shifted. It can take years of additional experience before the proper perspective can settle for a particularly transformative incident.
When I first tried the components for today’s pairing, I enjoyed each of them at face value: the latest in a beloved survival horror series and a solid seasonal beer from an established craft brewery. Now, with over 11 years since my first play and nearly 8 years since my first taste, I want to revisit these experiences with an updated perspective.
My love for pumpkin-flavored treats is a well-documented psychosis. From my first taste of pumpkin pie as a child, I was hooked on the taste of gourd and spices. So it makes sense that I would enjoy the seasonal beers of autumn as an adult. However, restrictive distribution routes limited my first pumpkin beer options to bland offerings from domestic beer companies. It took a massive relocation to provide me with the opportunity to try a pumpkin brew with a some bite to it.
It was the label that first drew me to Flying Dog Brewery’s seasonal beer. Ralph Steadman’s surreal and terrifying artwork of a snarling canine beast loomed from the packaging. The side of the bottle featured an equally aggressive piece of copy; daring the drinker to, “learn to embrace THE FEAR that consumes you.” I heeded their advice and took the challenge of this imperial pumpkin ale.
At the time, The Fear was unlike anything I had ever drank. Instead of a sub par beer with cloying allspice/cinnamon flavor, I was treated to a hearty ale with intense flavors of ginger and baked pumpkin. The Fear set a new standard for pumpkin beers, which I was surprised to be met so quickly by other delicious seasonal craft offerings. With so many other interesting autumn brews on the shelf, my dance card became quite full, leaving little room for The Fear in the years to follow. But I made sure to clear a recent evening to check in with the brew that started my journey down the dark path of pumpkin beers.
The Fear pours cola brown framed with a red-orange hue and topped with a fizzy toasted marshmallow head. The spices used in this brew are at the forefront of the aroma, as a strong nose of ginger and nutmeg lead into mild notes of baked pumpkin with a dash of cinnamon. The ginger continues to lead with a tangy bite at first sip. This kick of spice quickly dissipates into a pumpkin bread body with a toasty finish and a hint of dark chocolate. As The Fear is an imperial ale, the piquant bite of 9.0% ABV is present, but well-balanced against the pumpkin pie flavor.
After sampling dozens of autumn brews over the years, I am pleasantly surprised to find The Fear stands out from the crowd. Its strong ginger flavor and roasted pumpkin notes are still delicious and unique. With a glass of this striking beer by my side, I was ready to hook up the GameCube and take on the mission to save the President’s daughter once again.
Resident Evil 4 hit store shelves during the latter half of my junior year at college. Around that time, I had found my gaming tribe at school and we were all eager for the latest in our preferred survival horror series. Even though each of us had pre-ordered our own copy of the game, we all gathered at a single apartment to watch the game unfold. Across multiple televisions in a single room, we each began our journey as Leon Kennedy.
Despite playing as a protagonist from a previous entry in the series, this game did not feel like the Resident Evil to which we were accustomed. Instead of the foreboding hallways of a derelict mansion or the oppressive destruction of a city under siege, Resident Evil 4 dropped us in the wide open villages of rural Spain. Gone were the mindless zombie enemies, replaced by mad villagers who could utilize weapons and actually dodge our attacks. Even the core gameplay was changed; placing the camera over Leon’s shoulder and increasing the options within the combat mechanics. The whole experience felt more like an action movie than a suspenseful thriller, which turned out to be exactly what we were looking for.
I fell hard for Resident Evil 4. I loved the increased action and expanded verb set, but also appreciated that the tension remained throughout the experience. Even though Leon was a well-trained government agent, he was still regularly challenged by the maniac hordes of the Los Illuminados cult. In addition to the main storyline, there were extra gameplay modes that kept me in great competition with my friends. We regularly tried to compete for better scores in the Mercenaries survival mode and all of us raced to collect the tiny virtual figurines offered at the Shooting Gallery. We played through the story again and again, trying to find every collectible, upgrade each weapon, and generally speed through the game with greater ease.
Resident Evil 4 was a great game to discover and play with friends by my side. But once I left college, I rarely found the time to replay this game that I had so enjoyed. I dabbled with the sequels that followed, but there were so many other survival horror games spilling onto the market that I wanted to try. To further complicate matters, there was a distinct split in the survival horror genre following Resident Evil 4. Some games leaned into the action elements, forgoing any sort of suspense and subtlety and focusing on mowing down horrific monsters with bigger and bigger guns. The other side of this coin gave up on empowering the player; purposefully placing you in terrifying situations with little resources or hope of surviving.
As it turned out, I started preferring the more cerebral and suspenseful horror games, which pulled me further away from the series that started me on this path. So I was very curious to see how my feelings had changed towards Resident Evil 4 after playing so many other titles within the genre.
Right from the start I noticed one thing had changed drastically since the last time I played Resident Evil 4: my skill level. I am downright terrible at this game. I struggled to make well-aimed shots at my enemies, often wasting piles of bullets and dying repeatedly to basic scrubs that were previously no problem. Despite this refreshed difficulty, I am still enjoying the tension provided by the combat. Every encounter with basic enemies is a challenge to effectively eliminate targets while avoiding being overrun. It’s a balance that remains impressive even years later.
The visuals and sound design are equally stunning, in spite of their age. The expressive character models and amazing lighting still look good, even when upscaled from the GameCube’s A/V output. The story and voice acting have not aged as gracefully, with some truly hammy lines popping up time and time again. The main villain of the game sounds like a discount-store Dracula impersonator, and some of our lovable ally’s dialogue has only become more uncomfortable over time (“I see the President has equipped his daughter with ballistics, too”).
Quick-time events continue to be a massive frustration, often creating easy-to-fail scenarios that contribute nothing worthwhile to the game. I was surprised how little I enjoyed the boss encounters when playing again. Instead of feeling like clever puzzles or strategic battles, fighting major enemies felt like obnoxious bullfights; running around a tight arena and unloading massive amounts of ammo in lumbering meat walls. Alternatively, my love of the item management system has only become more acute; every moment spent arranging ammo and recovery items in that briefcase felt like a delightful little puzzle game break.
Overall, Resident Evil 4 doesn’t hold the same sense of wonder from the idyllic days of playing with my friends in college. I no longer have the time to invest in this massive game and its many additional modes. However, playing Resident Evil 4 after so many other lackluster survival horror titles makes me further appreciate what an impact it had on my personal taste and video games as a whole. This game became my benchmark for quality of design and the joy of play in the survival horror genre. I am pleased to find that Resident Evil 4 remains as that standard even after so much time has passed. Minor complaints aside, I still recommend Resident Evil 4 for anyone looking for a great action title or survival horror game, which pairs very well with the spicy bite and tasty pumpkin notes of The Fear.