How did Resident Evil 4 change third-person games forever?

It’s weird to think that we didn’t always have the over-the-shoulder camera angle. Throughout the past 15 years, it’s become a staple of third-person action games. As my fellow writer Mike Solseth said, it gives players a “connection with your character” that you might not otherwise get. Yet, most gamers don’t know how it came about, and how Resident Evil 4‘s innovations changed action games forever.

Horror revolution

Firstly, we have to remember what caused this change for camera angles. Up until the fourth game in the series, Resident Evil had provided horror purely through fixed camera angles. It wasn’t like this approach had been a failure; in fact, the first two games had both earned Capcom a Game of the Year award. Yet, somehow the change in camera used for the fourth game elevated the horror even further. With an over-the-shoulder angle, players couldn’t see everything in an area. Instead, they had to explore through Leon Kennedy’s point of view. Where players could before see the enemies coming for them, they were now confined to looking ahead. Add to this that the camera angle makes players feel like they are Leon, rather than controlling him, and you have immersion and terror like never before.

Action days

Although Resident Evil 4 brought over-the-shoulder to the table, it wasn’t given its true place until 2006’s Gears of War. The first game in the now well-known series, Gears showed the world what the over-the-shoulder angle could really do. With fast-paced combat, players feel like they’re experiencing the action almost from the protagonist’s view, whilst still having a good view of their surroundings. It wasn’t long after the first Gears game before other action titles started to use the approach. Games as varied as Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune or The Witcher all used the over-the-shoulder camera placement to great effect, placing players right in the thick of the action.

To the present

Nowadays, we’ve gotten used to being right in the thick of the action. Obviously, a first-person view, like in Call of Duty, can still be immersive. But over-the-shoulder gives us the best of both third and first person, with a great field of view and good immersion. Some of the best games of the past decade have used over-the-shoulder to help players feel closer to their character, be it Kratos in God of War or Arthur Morgan in Red Dead Redemption 2. Even, with some games blending various camera placements, the innovations of the early 2000’s have been improved to this day.