It’s said that sporting icons could have succeeded in any era; great movies are great in any decade; the titans of literature are relevant no matter the century. The same principle applies to truly great video games. A very rare selection of interactive experiences grow old gracefully. When you consider that technology is time-stamped and games depreciate the minute they leave the shop window, it’s even more impressive. Yet some experiences are so rich, so memorable, so singular that they are relevant forever.
Add Resident Evil 4 to that list.
Eleven years on from its debut on the GameCube, Resident Evil 4 remains a triumphant experience. This new edition, remastered for the PS4 and Xbox One, polishes the visuals until they’re shining. There’s 1080p resolution and a buttery smooth framerate (60 FPS) along with re-spruced textures and cleaner models. All told, it looks like an old game given a new lick of paint, which is to say it’s not beautiful, but nor is it ugly. None of that matters of course once Resident Evil 4 has sunk its tendrils in you. Then there’s no going back.
This is the best game in the series by a country mile and a benchmark for action games at large. Has there been a better 3rd person shooter released since? I can’t think of one. The genius of Resident Evil 4 is that it never sticks to a single template and strikes a fine balance between the dread of conventional horror and the empowerment of any good action title.
Anyone interested in game design should study Resident Evil 4, which understands the value of pacing better than almost any of its peers. Its pitch-perfect throughout: a 20-hour journey that packs in puzzles, action and exploration and knows when to vary these core components. At times, you’re even juggling the life and safety of a third-party (Ashley, daughter of the US President) and the game shifts gears when you least expect it to. It’s never possible to get comfortable as the story of Leon Kennedy vs. the Los Illuminados unfolds.
While the plot is certainly B-movie shlock, there are no manufactured scares at work here, just gameplay systems designed to turn your blood cold. Ammo is scarce, but pilfer, scrimp and sell what you can and you’ll get by. Every time you see a typewriter indicating you can save you’ll breath a sigh of relief. These are the bonfires we know well in the Dark Souls series, but Resident Evil 4 introduced them first and the emergent gameplay breeds memorable moments galore.
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Much has been written about the controls, and the good news is that they’re unchanged in this remaster. You can’t aim your gun and walk at the same time, nor can you use the left stick and the right stick when you’re moving. The controls restrict your field of view as well as your ability to manufacture easy kills. And that’s the point. They work perfectly in the context of a game that wants to make you feel less super-powered hero and more vulnerable civilian with a gun in hand. Even the zombies… aren’t quite zombies. Resident Evil 4 confounds your expectations at every turn.
Capcom has continued to cash in on Resident Evil 4 since its release, remastering it at every chance they get. This version is closely based on the Ultimate HD Edition for PC – but it’s not perfect. On first inspection the clean textures are nice but dig deeper and cracks appear. For one, an optional motion blur effect hampers the entire visual experience, reducing it to a muddy mess. For another, weapon reload animations are clearly rendered in 30 FPS, which looks jarring alongside everything else. Finally, there’s a lack of any additional content outside of the Ada Wong campaign, Separate Ways, and optional extra that has already been bundled with just about every other edition of the game.
If you’ve played Resident Evil 4 to death, then, there’s no reason to buy this version of the game, unless you’re hankering to see Leon’s blonde tresses in 1080p (or really want the new trophies). As for everyone else? It remains an absolute must buy.
Having played it to completion on the PS2, Xbox 360 and PS4, I can safely say I’ve enjoyed the ride every bit as much in 2016 – if not more. Resident Evil 4 is a reminder of pure game design at its best; a game of scope yet purpose, one that lets you explore its world but also funnels you down a pre-determined path. It’s a game that rewards player agency and never tells you how to play. One thing’s for sure: you’re in for a tough time. Interestingly, Capcom has ripped out the Easy mode present in the Xbox 360 version of the game, meaning you can’t sign up for a watered-down ride.
The rest is unchanged, from the blood-curdling cries of approaching enemies to the malignant Salazar; the crackle and fizzle of the Wolverine duo and their blades; the boss fights, locations and more. While it lacks significant bonus content, it’s a game of the highest order. Not quite thriller, not quite horror, Resident Evil 4 is a brilliantly tense single player story married to intentionally obtuse controls that send your heat into free-fall every step of the way.
This review is based on the PS4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Resident Evil 4 has lost none of its madcap tension, or its considerable charms. This is one of the finest single player campaigns ever, rendered in crisp 1080p on modern consoles.