When the pause menu is as much fun as the game.
Resident Evil 4 is a classic among classics – the series’ “Aliens” moment. It reinvented Resident Evil and made it stronger than ever, not unlike the series’ own zombies. Countless games took lessons from Resident Evil 4’s over-the-shoulder gunplay.
But one of my favorite parts of Resident Evil 4, one of the most satisfying things about the game? That briefcase. I love Leon S. Kennedy’s silly, oversized briefcase.
Right from the beginning, Resident Evil has been as much about inventory management as it has been about zombies and survival. From Resident Evil on PlayStation up through the brand-new Resident Evil 2 remake, this is a series about traveling light and working with what you have. But Resident Evil 4 took a different, and intentionally campier, tone from previous entries in the series. Leon was a trained agent – a straight-up action hero, and he had the over-the-top arsenal to go with it.
Leon’s new inventory system brought with it a bunch of changes. “Quest” items no longer took up space, and if Leon was wearing something, it didn’t take up space in his inventory. The biggest change, though, was the way Leon’s briefcase handled the many items he could bring with him. Instead of every item taking up one or two big squares on the screen, every gun had its own particular rectangular box, while smaller items, like the iconic combined red and green herbs, took up a 1×2 space in what could eventually be upgraded to an 15×8 space in which to store all Leon’s stuff. This was a huge upgrade from the previous games’ eight or so spaces – like moving from an apartment to a house.
But simply having the ability to carry a bunch of weapons wasn’t what made Resident Evil 4’s inventory so much fun.
It was organizing it all. If you talk to anyone who has spent time with Resident Evil 4, eventually the briefcase comes up. Mentioning it on Twitter, even after midnight, brought me a line of friends and acquaintances raving about how strangely fun it was to organize that inventory.
Because there were so many shapes and sizes, organizing Leon’s inventory became a game in and of itself. Resident Evil’s plot is silly, but it’s still high intensity. Pausing once in a while to get all my stuff in order became this sort of meditative breather moment in an otherwise relentless action thriller.
Sometimes I would line up all my guns – sniper, shotgun, submachine gun, and pistol – from biggest to smallest, and then line up each firearm’s dedicated ammo next to it. Other times, it would be about fitting all those guns perfectly into one or two lines. In addition to all that ordnance, there were grenades and gun upgrades to worry about. Herbs, first-aid sprays, and even fish and eggs. Leon is serious about protein. Those eggs were a weird one; they took up just a single 1×1 box. Sometimes they would throw my organization completely out of whack and other times they would slot perfectly into a frustratingly unoccupied space.
Each of the upgrades, purchased from Resident Evil 4’s wandering red-eyed merchant (“what are ya buyin?”) , felt like that moment in the film Step Brothers when Brennan and Dale turn their separate beds into bunk beds: so much room for activities. More space to find that perfectly symmetrical and totally optimized layout that would turn Leon from a soldier into a super-soldier.
Despite all this space, Resident Evil 4 constantly had Leon’s inventory filling up. Stuff would be left behind and purchases were put off. Items were used purely to make space. With those limitations, getting the right layout meant fitting more stuff into my bag, giving me a better chance when one of those chainsaw-wielding sackheads would burst through a wall.
Resident Evil 4’s inventory gave me a weird sense of ownership over what I was carrying with me. The better laid out it was, the more prepared I was for battle, because I was carrying every possible gun, ammo box, grenade, and health item. Leon might be an agent on a mission, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a particular, organized agent who keeps his person in order at all times. Each time I’d go into the inventory screen to use an item, at least a quick moment would be spent tweaking the organization, and I was constantly deciding what was best to keep with me. With all that time spent perfecting Leon’s personal space, I think even Marie Kondo would be impressed.
Eric Frederiksen is a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter.