Resident Evil 4 HD Review
Banner by Azlanslayer
North American Release Date: September 20, 2011
European Release Date: September 21, 2011
Trophies: 1, 2, 9
Originally released for GameCube, then made popular on the PlayStation 2, Resident Evil 4, the ground-breaking third-person survival horror game from series legend Shinji Mikami, now makes its way to current-gen consoles via the PSN as an HD re-release, featuring improved graphics and trophy support; but is it worth your $20?
In Resident Evil 4 you play as series protagonist and all-American good guy Leon Kennedy, a survivor of the Raccoon City incident who has now become a member of the United States Secret Service. What starts as a routine mission to Eastern Europe to rescue the President’s daughter, Ashley Graham, quickly escalates into a struggle for survival, as Leon and Ashley become embroiled in a local cult’s plans for world domination.
The story is not overly complex – there’s a hero, a damsel in distress, and a bevy of suitably villainous villains for you to vanquish. At certain parts the game reeks of convenience – Ashley is snatched out of your grasp more often than Taylor Swift writes a song about a bad breakup, and certain sections feel like they’ve been slotted in just to extend gameplay. At other times you reach the end of a level, only to find that “you just missed her,” Mario-style.
On your hunt for
Princess PeachAshley you will progress through three main areas: El Pueblo, a small rural village populated by some very cranky farmers; Castle Salazar, a large medieval affair complete with hidden passages, traps and suits of armour that come to life; and a nearby Island used for research and experimentation on Ganados, mind-controlling bugs and regenerating parasite monsters. You know, the beings infected with Las Plagas that move with the single-mindedness of the walking dead?
Oh, I haven’t talked about those yet…
They’re coming right for us!
In all previous Resident Evil games your main enemies were zombies, or variations thereof. Thanks to the T-virus, developed by the global pharmaceutical company Umbrella, the dead rose as flesh-hungry abominations, and it was up to you to put them down. Resident Evil 4 breaks with that tradition and introduces a new enemy: Los Ganados. Once simple peasants, Los Ganados have been purposely infected with a parasite (Las Plagas) which makes them incredibly irritable, and robs them of their free will (and desire to maintain personal hygiene) - they are the staple enemy of the game, and their affliction is key to the narrative
Where Resident Evil 4 doesn't deviate from established tradition is in its dialog, which is all melodramatic bollocks. At one point, one of the villains, in the middle of holier-than-thou monologue, goes as far as to lecture Leon, and by extension the player, on U.S. imperialism, while another pokes fun at America’s liberal use of the term ‘terrorist’.
Most importantly, Resident Evil 4 is a standalone adventure that requires no existing knowledge of the Resident Evil universe to play. While series' veterans will appreciate call-backs and references to past events and characters, the experience of those new to the franchise is not in any way compromised. An introductory cut-scene catches you up on the relevant points, while expositionary dialogue and 'intel files' throughout the game will fill in the rest.
Resident Evil 4's story is best compared to a B-movie’s script: it’s full of clichés, bad jokes, and one-dimensional characters, but it's fun and serves its purpose, which is to facilitate the big action scenes, or in this case the gameplay.
While previous instalments in the franchise all featured a cinematic fixed-camera and a clunky control scheme, Resident Evil 4 eschews this in favour of a third-person, over-the-shoulder system which most gamers nowadays will be familiar with. Back in the day, Resident Evil 4' s control scheme was revolutionary, providing a level of control and immersion that was previously lacking in third-person titles, but by today’s standards it doesn’t quite hold up. The camera and controls are best described as serviceable: they get the job done, but they could use some polish. In cramped spaces the camera becomes unwieldy, and compared to the third-person shooters of today like Uncharted or Gears of War the controls feel clunky and a bit awkward. Mind you, part of the awkwardness is intentional. For example, you cannot fire you weapon while moving, and you cannot strafe. The restrictive control scheme exists to disempower the player, helping to make you feel vulnerable. That said, the way some of the controls are mapped is downright unintuitive, and can take some getting used to.
What makes Resident Evil 4 different from other third-person shooters is what makes it so great. You’ll find no cross-hairs, chest-high walls, ammo caches, regenerating health, or intrusive heads-up displays. Each weapon has a laser-sight for aiming that shakes and sway as you do, ammo and heath items are scarce, and a minimalist health/ammo counter in the corner of the screen helps keep you immersed.
The combat is particularly excellent. Each enemy you encounter, and each set-piece battle you stumble upon presents both a challenge, and an immediate threat. Even a Ganado, the grunts of Resident Evil 4, can kill you in a few seconds. There’s also a great deal of strategy involved in combat. In fights where you’re outnumbered, the game encourages you to use the environment to your advantage. You can use doorways as choke-points to funnel
Persiansenemies, or barricade entrances to buy yourself time. Enemies will also react appropriately to being wounded in different places on their body. Shooting an enemy in the foot will cause them to collapse; shooting an enemy in the arm will cause them to drop their weapon (you can even shoot projectiles that enemies have thrown at you!); and shooting them in the head will cause them to stagger or, in the case of a critical hit, cause their head to explode into a mist of blood and brain-matter, which is viscerally satisfying. Resident Evil 4 also features a number of intense and memorable boss-fights, including run-ins with giants, mutants, and monsters. Each encounter is unique, and will force you to use the environment and your skill to turn the tables.
Another big focus of Resident Evil 4 is the weapons. To overcome your adversaries you have access to a large selection of firearms, including handguns, magnums, shotguns, and sniper rifles. An incredible amount of detail has gone into each weapon - pistols feel light and weak, while shotguns both sound and feel terrifyingly powerful. As you progress through the game you can purchase upgrades for your weapons, improving their firepower, magazine capacities, and reload and firing speeds. Each weapon has strengths and weaknesses, and you must account for them when choosing which ones to use, and which to ignore. For example, sniper rifles are very powerful and are accurate over long distances, but lack the speed and manoeuvrability of handguns. As you find and acquire new weapons, you become attached to them. It felt great to be able to upgrade the firepower and capacity of the shotgun that had saved my bacon so many times.
An element of strategy is also found in the game's item management system. Items and weapons you find and buy are stored in your attaché case, the game’s inventory (pictured below). Your case contains a limited amount of space in the form of a grid. Each item has a uniform size and shape, and must be stored in the case like a game of survival horror Tetris. Being forced to make decisions about whether or not an item you find is worth the space it will occupy in your case adds a layer of strategy to the game that I really appreciated.
Resident Evil 4’s Inventory System
On top of your inventory, you also need to manage your funds. You can find small amounts of money throughout the various levels, and certain enemies will also drop money. Treasures are also littered around each level, and, if found, can be sold for “a high price” as the Merchant would say. The Merchant is a mysterious vagrant-cum-arms dealer with an implausibly large stockpile of weapons and munitions (he has a collection of howitzer shells…) and the power to magically appear throughout the game, especially before boss battles. From him you can buy new weapons, weapon upgrades and attachments, and health items. The inclusion of the Merchant injects some off-beat humour to the game that helps alleviate some of the tension.
Resident Evil 4 also marks the first appearance of quick-time events in the series. Quick-time events, or QTEs, those pesky contextual button promts during cutscenes, are now ubiquitous in modern games, but in Resident Evil 4' s heyday they were just starting out. A number of cutscenes in the game feature QTEs, and fans are often divided on whether or not that is a good thing. Personally, I'm a fence-sitter on the issue: On the one hand, not knowing which scenes would have QTEs, and which would not, kept me on my toes and engaged in what was happening, and added a feeling of desperation to sections of the game that would otherwise be merely observational. On the other, the thought of QTEs kept me focused on only a small part of the screen (where the prompts appear), which is a shame because there are some fantastically animated cutscenes in the game. Moreover, failing to press to not die sends you back to the start of the scene, which, on harder difficulties, can happen a lot, and I found it very frustrating.
Upon completion of the main story, a slew of content is unlocked. If you play through on the normal difficulty you will unlock Professional mode, which is exactly the same as the normal game, only it’s now hard as balls – enemies are harder to kill, they do a lot more damage, and consumables like ammo and health items are much harder to come by. If you ask me, Professional is the way the game is meant to be played, so it’s a shame that you have to wait until your second playthrough to experience it.
Two mini-games are also unlocked, Separate Ways and Assignment Ada: two self-contained stories that take place during the events of the main game. In both you play as Resident Evil's resident femme-fatale, Ada Wong, as she attempts to help Leon without him knowing, all the while pursuing her own agenda. The stories are less interesting than the main story, and are at times so contrived that it is clear they were created as an afterthought. The gameplay is more of the same, but that's not a bad thing - each mini-game is designed for you to be able to pick up and experience, rather than something fresh that you have to acquaint yourself with. Each one will only take you a few hours to finish, but they are a nice addition, and help to flesh out the main story.
Also unlocked is The Mercenaries, a cross between time-attack and horde mode, in which you choose one of four characters from the RE universe to play as in one of four stages based on areas from the main story. You are given a limited amount of health, ammo, and time, and pitted against an unlimited number of enemies, and occasionally mini-bosses, all of which you need to kill to increase your score. Scattered throughout the level are hourglasses which you can collect to extend your time. It’s a fun arcade-style mini-game that you can waste a few hours with, and if you’re dedicated enough to achieve a high score on all stages with all characters, you can unlock a very powerful weapon for use in the main game.
The HD upgrade also brings with it competitive leaderboards, a feature borrowed from Resident Evil 5. Upon completion of the game, you can opt to upload your final score (based on kills, deaths, and completion time) to the online leaderboards, where you can compare your skill to your friends and strangers alike, creating another incentive, albeit a weaker one, to play through the game again.
One feature that is noticeably absent is PlayStation Move support, especially when you consider that the Wii-port of Resident Evil 4 was so successful. With Sony pushing the Move on so many games in which the Move has no place, this feels like a missed opportunity, although I’m sure those that tried to play Resident Evil 5 with a Move will let out a sigh of relief.
The term ‘HD’ gets used quite liberally nowadays, especially in the games industry. In this purportedly high-definition gaming generation, many console games run at less-than HD resolutions, usually 576p (if you think that is HD, you deserve a spanking, and not the good kind), or they upscale lower-resolution textures to 720p. Despite its ‘HD’ suffix, Resident Evil 4 HD is guilty of the latter; essentially, it is the original GameCube release, upscaled to 720p.
Bizarrely, Resident Evil 4 HD' s cut-scenes are taken from the graphically-inferior PlayStation 2 release, in which they were all pre-rendered. The quality is noticeably less, and cutscenes are particularly jarring to watch when playing through the game with unlocked costumes, as characters revert to their original costumes in cinematics.
Strike a pose!
This does not mean, however, that Resident Evil 4 HD is a bad looking game. Despite some dodgy looking textures and geometrical roughness, the game looks fantastic for its age. I mean, just look at Leon's hair! Character animation is realistic, lighting and shadows are appropriately and convincingly atmospheric (you need only look at screenshots from the PC version to see the difference), and particle effects are robust (fires and explosions look particularly great). The water effects are especially fantastic, and caught me completely by surprise - heck, Resident Evil 4's water looks better than in some modern games.
In terms of rendering, the draw-distance is spot on, there is little or no texture pop-in, and during my many playthroughs I experienced very few instances of screen-tearing or frame-rate issues.
The audio is equally up to the task. Like the graphics, the audio is taken from the original release, and while certainly compressed, the game supports Dolby Pro Logic II 5.1 surround. The voice-acting is engaging (the dialogue is still corny), gunfire sounds great and each weapon sounds distinctive, while audio cues help to build tension and a feeling of dread.
Considering the age of the source material, and comparing it to other HD re-releases, Resident Evil 4 HD is definitely up there with the best of them.
To be perfectly blunt, Resident Evil 4 HD's trophy list is a joke. Despite the game’s fifteen hour single-player campaign (filled with boss fights, puzzles, and collectibles), an unlockable difficulty, and additional content in the form of various mini-games which can add up to twenty hours of gameplay, your ultimate reward for conquering this fantastic and, at times, difficult game is a single Gold trophy. Considering that games like Call of Duty Classic, Trine, and WipEout HD (all games made only available on the PSN) all have extensive trophy lists, including a Platinum trophy, this is really just laziness from Capcom. There are only two missable trophies: one for collectibles, and one for discovering a hidden surprise. To earn all trophies, two main story playthroughs are required, as well as one run through the mini-game Separate Ways, ignoring the Assignment Ada and Mercenaries mini-games completely. Total time to earn 100% of the trophies for a first-timer is about 30 hours, while veterans should be able to do it in under 20 hours.
Despite some shortcomings, Resident Evil 4 is a game that will always hold a special place in my heart. The game is difficult without being unfair, interesting without being convoluted, and fun without being silly. Even after twenty-something playthroughs, certain sections still get my heart racing. This HD re-release has something for new comers, and for veterans. For the asking price, Resident Evil 4 HD is definitely a game worth playing. There’s a reason why it’s the best-selling survival horror game of all time.
Narrative and dialogue have never been the strong suit of Resident Evil games, and Resident Evil 4 is no exception. From cheesy dialogue and absurdly evil villains, impossible escapes and unbelievable coincidences, this game commits nearly every story-telling sin, but the results are undeniably engaging and fun. Resident Evil 4 is still an enjoyable survival horror adventure that will keep your attention with plenty of scares and thrills, right up until the credits roll.
Gameplay is fairly consistent – you run, you gun, you solve a puzzle, and move onto the next stage. Level and enemy variations, thrilling boss fights, and a myriad of collectibles, however, break up the monotony and keep things interesting and challenging. While the controls can take some getting used to, they fit the game well. Elements of strategy deepen the experience. The main story is a decent fifteen hours in length, and multiple playthroughs and additional content will keep you coming back for more.
While essentially being the GameCube version running at a higher resolution, Resident Evil 4 HD still looks pretty great. The game’s shortcomings have unfortunately been compounded by Capcom’s inexplicable choice to compress the game to a 3GB file size, which has had a notable impact on visual and audio quality. Having said this, players will rarely encounter visual hiccups or glitches. This is a game that certainly shows its age, but is still very much playable. This is, by far, the best looking iteration of the game to date.
Overall: 7.5/10 - Great