Capcom continues their quest to put RE4 on every platform known to man.
In its early iterations the Resident Evil series personified survival horror. With tank controls and a constant need to conserve ammunition, tensions ran high, and encountering more than one enemy at a time was perilous. Everything changed with Resident Evil 4 (actually the fifth main game in the series), as Capcom threw everything but the characters out the window, including the series’ trademark zombies. Resident Evil 4 changed the nature of the franchise, and had a lasting effect on video games as a whole. With some graphical and control help, it still stands up as a terrific game, even if some of the very mechanics it pioneered serve to date it.
RE4 follows Leon S. Kennedy, of Resident Evil 2 (and later RE6). Now working as a government agent, Leon is tasked with finding the president’s missing daughter, Ashley, a pursuit that takes him to a rural area of Europe. There he is faced with murderous members of a religious cult and the threat of a new virus, Las Plagas. Since this is just an HD re-release of the original game I will be focusing mainly on the differences from the original.
Far from the slow pace of its predecessors, RE4 is an action oriented third person shooter. Using an over the shoulder camera that would become a genre standard, Leon takes aim with laser-sighted weapons at villagers, mutated animals and huge bosses. While ammo is not nearly as limited as in the past, Leon also has faster access to his knife, which can be used to finish off downed enemies. In addition, enemies react dynamically based on where they are hit; for example, shooting a villager in the leg will drop them to their knees, allowing Leon to run up and execute a context sensitive kick or suplex. Weapons can be bought, sold and upgraded, adding another new dynamic to the series.
For as new as the controls were then, they translate terribly into modern times. Holding a trigger pulls the camera in so Leon can aim with the left stick and fire with the A button. Although I played through the game several times when it originally came out in 2005, nearly a decade of progress have made the controls feel completely unnatural. Fortunately there is a new control scheme, one based around the more modern squeeze left trigger/aim with right stick/fire with right trigger mechanic. When running all movement is still done with the left stick, while the right stick simply pans a camera that snaps back into place after it is released. It keeps it from feeling totally modern, but I only needed a few minutes to adjust to it. For PC purists the game also features keyboard and mouse controls.
Visually the game has received a complete textural overhaul, supporting resolutions up to 1920×1080 and framerates locked at 30 or 60fps. While it looks great compared to the original it’s not perfect. RE4’s cut scenes are rendered in-engine, and I found resolutions that ran flawlessly while playing the game bogged them down so much that in some cases the audio finished more than a minute before the scene did. Dropping the video settings remedied this in most cases, although I never did get the opening scene to match up completely. Having the frame rate option is nice for those who have the hardware to support it, but it feels like it’s there just so they can say the game runs at 60fps. The new resolutions also make the game’s opening scene, which is pre-rendered, look grainy and dull by comparison.
The audio holds up fine, with good ambient sound and a soundtrack that signals when there are enemies in the area. One thing that doesn’t hold up as well are quick time events, which were novel when the game came out but have been used seemingly everywhere since. They play well into the game, and RE4 uses them creatively – it’s the first game I remember feeling like I could never put down the controller, even during a cut scene. The game leans heavily on them though, even having an entire boss fight in QTEs. It didn’t bother me at all, but I imagine some people are a bit burned out on the mechanic.
Resident Evil 4 was critically acclaimed when it debuted on the GameCube, and Capcom has attempted to capitalize on that by putting it on nearly every available platform in the decade since its original release. For those who somehow missed playing it on the GC, PS2, Wii, Xbox 360, PS3 or the original PC release (not counting the watered down mobile ports), it’s still an excellent game. Some of the mechanics are dated, and constantly having to watch Ashley’s health can get irritating, but I still had a lot of fun with it. Including the Mercenaries mode and previous bonus content featuring Ada Wong, it’s well worth the price for anyone who hasn’t experienced the game yet, or enjoyed the original release. For those who played the 360 or PS3 HD releases though, the visual differences here are negligible, and don’t warrant another purchase.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.