ESRB RATING: M
BUY IT FROM STEAM: Here!
Everybody knows Resident Evil 4. The game that rejuvenated the stalling Resident Evil franchise, and gave a rare shot in the arm to the ailing Gamecube. The game that would prove a major influence on the third-person shooter genre that by the end of the decade would dominate the gaming industry. The game that regularly shows up on All-Time lists, and whose shadow later entries in the series (Or most other horror games, for that matter) have never been able to escape. everybody knows Resident Evil 4, whether they’ve played it or not.
Then again, it’s hard not to have played it by this stage given the amount of times it’s been re-released. PS3, PC, Wii, iPhone, iPad and Xbox 360 have all received versions of the game at various levels of enhancement, which has helped keep the game in the public eye. Now Capcom have redone the previous, not exactly spectacular PC port with the Ultimate HD Edition, which gives the game a new coat of hi-def paint. Well, maybe ‘coat’ isn’t completely accurate. Painting has occurred, but one wonders at the kind of brush Capcom has employed here.
The game is, of course, as great as it’s always been, its immaculate sense of pacing and undulating level design still impressing. The change of location to the Spanish countryside and the mysterious cult you encounter remain effective, and the infected villagers you encounter still succeed in being creepy and worthy ‘replacements’ for the series’ signature zombie foes. Sure, they’re basically zombies with a pseudo-scientific makeover, but Capcom’s stroke of genius is to make them more recognizably human than your garden variety zombie-types. They may shuffle around like you’d expect and have that familiar old propensity to take bites out of you, but it’s the way they wield weapons, call out an alarm on sight and scream as they fall to their deaths that stops you from assuming the drone-like qualities we associate with the undead.
These foes may act like zombies but they’re unmistakably alive in a way that teases us with the normal emotional disassociation we experience when putting down walking corpses. We’re used to plugging zombies and knowing that it’s okay because they’re already dead, but RE4‘s villagers make us feel like we’re actually ending lives rather than dispatching ghoulish automatons whose life departed long before we got there. Capcom do just enough to introduce this unsettling thought and let the player’s discomfort speak for itself, and the fact that this take still feels as fresh and disturbing as it does makes one realize just how disappointing it is that after nine years the treatment of zombies in games has evolved so little. Throw in the imposing and well-designed setting and simple but effective puzzles and you get a game that remains highly enjoyable after nearly a decade.
The only thing that may come across as dated is the control scheme, which is basically a revamp of the tank-style controls from earlier Resident Evils. This control scheme is a bit of a handful, especially in the modern era where we’re used to far different and far smoother third-person control, but then again the slightly clunky handling is a hallmark of classic-era RE, doing a lot to create a constant sense of desperation. It certainly makes one hyper-aware of positional awareness in a way you never need to when you can look all around you with the nudge of a stick, making you constantly guarded about surprise attacks from the rear (Which still manage to happen when you least expect them). However, the occasional clunk does little to diminish the game’s playability.
Resident Evil 4 Ultimate HD Edition comes with one important caveat, however: that you go in expecting an old game that neither looks as polished as the overhaul might suggest, but doesn’t perform quite as well either. While the game is noticeably sharper and more detailed than ever before, low-res textures are still visible in the environments, weirdly mixed in with hi-res patches of detail. Also, the game seems to have trouble maintaining 60fps, with odd framerate dips occurring at what one would think were innocuous moments – turning around too quickly for example, and even some reload animations come with a noticeable dip. These technical oversights are disappointing, especially given the age of the game and the way it has been promoted. You might want to take ‘Ultimate’ with a sizeable pinch of salt; it’s certainly the best-looking and smoothest to play the game has ever been, but there’s still room for improvement that this version leaves untended to.
That said, it’s still RE4, still a classic, and still a great example of what this franchise can do when its potential is explored effectively and creatively. It may not offer a whole lot new if you’ve played any of the previous versions, but for those of you wanting to check out this slice of gaming history for the first time you won’t find a better version (At least, until the next re-release).
Out of a Possible 5 Stars