How can you possibly review Resident Evil 4
in this day and age? It’s widely and rightly considered a genre-shifting masterpiece, one of the greatest games of all time. It has influenced everything from Dead Space to Gears of War and many of today’s games owe their very existence and substance to it. As Penny Arcade says it’s like reviewing Pac-Man; anything you could possibly criticize is null and void just because that game did it first and subsequent games have only served to improve upon it. In many cases direct follow-ups have missed the mark completely; Resident Evil 5 has the same skeleton as its numerical predecessor but none of the mood, balance or shrewd restraint.
As a critic I can only do one thing with this kind of review: judge how good of a port this is. How well has the game been translated? Has anything been added or removed? Is it a worthwhile purchase for someone who already has the game on an older platform? Hopefully I can answer these questions and examine how well RE4 has aged over the past six years.
For starters, that second point is easy—RE4 stacks up remarkably well compared to new games in the genre and many of the games that it directly inspired. Unlike the older RE games, crippled by their cinematic pre-rendered backgrounds and clunky Playstation One controls, RE4 is still ahead of its time. The evolution of the RE series is intriguing; I always got the feeling that game franchises born on the original Playstation—Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, Twisted Metal—excelled in terms of raw graphical power but lagged behind in playability and ease of control.
Sony would have to steal the analog stick from Nintendo before they, and their third party developers, figured out how to create games that played well in three dimensions. The flash and spectacle of FMV cutscenes and large volumes of music and voice might have shocked and awed at the time but the stiff gameplay does not hold up well at all, something RE4 mercifully fixed when it reinvented the RE series. That simple shift to over-the-shoulder perspective and smart, spare use of quick-time events is still the magic sauce that makes RE4 so addictive today.
I’ve heard many fans of the older games still criticize RE4 for shifting the focus from horror to action. While I’ll definitely agree that Resident Evil 5 did this, and to the point where the whole experience felt kind of generic and aimless, I don’t think RE4 abandoned horror. It introduced a more immediate, adrenaline-fueled terror instead of the half-blind-trapped-in-a-corner-can’t-shoot-worth-shit frustration from the early RE games, and for that I’m eternally grateful. RE4 was about running, thinking on your feet in the face of impossible odds as the highly intelligent villagers endlessly hounded you. That queasy, panicked terror is perfectly preserved in the HD port, and a lot of that has to do with the gameplay being more or less intact.
Unlike the graphically downgraded PS2 port or the disastrously broken PC version of RE4, on the 360 it’s essentially the same game as the definitive Wii port
. The original full game—the one first released on the GameCube six years ago—is included in its entirety. You’re still Leon S. Kennedy, sent off to a remote area of rural Spain to rescue the president’s daughter, Ashley Graham. A few minutes after arriving things go wrong, and continue to get worse, and worse, and WORSE up until the credits roll. It’s this sense of being hopelessly outnumbered, stranded and chased, but mixed with Leon’s undeniable capability and his arsenal of weapons and martial arts moves that makes RE4 so addictive. The situation is seriously fubar and just keeps getting more desperate, but you’re enough of a badass that you, and Ashley, just might make it out alive.
The main campaign is a modern masterpiece of game design, perfectly balanced with stunning setpieces, chilling suspense and horror segments, action sequences that will leave you shaking and boss battles that will test your bladder control. Even after all these years, still hearing Dr. Salvador’s decapitating chainsaw rev up makes my adrenaline spike.
Once you’ve finished the main story, you’ll be pleased to find that all of the extra content is unlocked and available. Like the Wii port, RE4 on the 360 has all of the various pieces of bonus content that were added to the later versions that came after the initial GameCube release. The entertaining, arcade-style survival mode, Mercenaries, is back with all of the same characters and thankfully, none of the excessive additions the mode got in RE5. The “expansion pack” Separate Ways is included, detailing the mission Ada Wong undertook to retrieve the parasite sample and help Leon out when he really needed it. You also get all the special costumes and weapons like the PRL Laser and Hand Cannon revolver.
RE4 still looks just as good as it did back in 2005, and while it was a visual stunner at the time it has naturally begun to show its age. Keep in mind, though, that this game came out on consoles around the same time Doom 3, Far Cry and Half Life 2 were pushing game visual boundaries on the PC, and arguably RE4 is the prettiest of the bunch. While Code Veronica was technically all polygon modeled instead of the traditional Resident Evil pre-rendered backgrounds, it also still had the old-style static camera.
RE4 finally introduced a fully modeled, textured and realized game world with the dynamic camera to go with it. The Resident Evil series had always been known for stunning visuals (oftentimes to the detriment of the gameplay) but RE4 was the real challenge—do it all in real time, fully modeled and animated—and the development team rose to that challenge with gusto. Every last bit of RE4’s presentation fits together perfectly. The music, art direction and gameplay sets the mood perfectly from each scene to the next, whether it’s supposed to be foreboding, eerie, panic-inducing or grandiose.
While the HD resolutions don’t do the somewhat smeary textures or outdated environmental poly counts any favors, the character models are still stunning six years going. The animations, facial expressions and dialog-syncing are still a joy to watch, not to mention the numerous gruesome monsters and bosses. RE4 is still a beautiful game, but putting it in HD does emphasize the wrinkles a bit.
My only other major concern is the controls. In my opinion the Wii port of RE4 had the best controls of any game in the Resident Evil series, hands down. It took a few minutes to get used to them but once you were in the groove the Wii controls were unmatched in precision and comfort, making the game considerably more enjoyable. While the 360 controls work at least as well as the original GameCube or PS2 controls, I found transitioning back to a traditional pad was a little uncomfortable, and I struggled through the early portions of the game. RE4 plays as well as it ever did, but owners of the Wii port might have difficulty going back.
Once again the big question is, should you buy this port? It’s a good deal at only $20, but there are a number of factors to consider.
If you have two or three copies of the game on other platforms like I do, seeing RE4 in HD doesn’t really merit another purchase, especially considering the HD emphasizes the game’s few signs of aging. The switch in controls is also a valid concern—if you have the Wii port, I’d pass on the 360 version because you can play the Wii port with both the fantastic Wii-nunchuk controls or a GameCube controller, so the only thing you’re missing is the HD.
However, if you don’t currently own RE4 or, unlikely as it is, if you’ve never played it, take the plunge. I suppose that if HD graphics are really important to you then the 360 port is still a solid buy. Otherwise, if you already own it or don’t care about HD in your RE4, I still think the Wii port is the definitive version and the one to own. In any case it’s just a shame that 360 and PS3 owners had to wait so long to experience this masterpiece on their console of choice.