Kris Wall reviews Resident Evil 4 HD…
Let’s cut right to the chase, Resident Evil 4 is a 10/10 masterpiece. There, I’ve said it, and with that out of the way we can start to remember why Resident Evil 4 is still a benchmark in horror/action video gaming.
Resident Evil 4 saw the return of Leon S.Kennedy from RE2, now a special agent sent into a rural village in Spain to locate Ashley Graham, the daughter of the U.S President, who has been kidnapped by a mysterious cult calling themselves Los Illuminados. Leon quickly finds himself in over his head when the village turns out to be populated with wildly murderous villagers under the control of a parasite called Las Plagas, one which Leon finds himself infected with not long after arriving in the village. With both his and Ashley’s lives in grave danger, Leon faces a frantic race against time to escape from the Los Illuminados cult and their leader Osmund Sadler, as well as stopping the Umbrella Corp from gaining the Las Plagas sample.
Within the first 10 minutes of the game, we’re introduced to a very different Resident Evil game than the ones we had come to know at this point, one where series creator Shinji Mikami had completely ripped up the rulebook he himself had written. Wasting absolutely no time upon entering the first house you see, you’re immediately set upon by one of the many villagers, an enemy that is far more mobile than any zombie we’d faced before, capable of dodging, using blunt/sharp weapons and breaking down doors to get to Leon. The camera angle was also brought right in to the back of Leon’s waistline, framing the action in incredibly uncomfortable close quarters, removing the ability to see enemies sneaking up on his rear and sides, forcing players to constantly be checking their flanks and staying on the move to find space and pick their moments to attack as Leon was still rooted to the spot when taking aim.
Resident Evil 4 featured a much faster pace than the previous games, which is quickly felt when you enter into the main village area and you’re immediately thrust into a siege against an angry mob of villagers, led by a chainsaw wielding madman. Suddenly you’re sinking bullet after bullet into enemies in the hope they’ll stay down, barricading doors, kicking away ladders to stop them climbing in, roundhousing and suplexing anyone that dared to stumble, and in the greatest example of Leon’s new heightened maneuverability, somersaulting out of windows to escape. It was, and still remains, seriously heart pounding stuff. You’re almost constantly on the move in Resident Evil 4 as Capcom ushered in a very aggressive new style of play, your best defence being a good offence, and one that successfully married a more action based approach with the atmospheric horror of the series roots. Unfortunately it’s a trick that Capcom would attempt to repeat, albeit unsuccessfully, in Resident Evil 5 & 6 where they seemed to adopt the Michael Bay approach of bigger and better. But the less said about those two games the better, we’re here to remember a classic, not how a series derailed afterwards.
Another big change in Resident Evil 4 was the availability of ammunition. Where before ammo never felt readily available which helped to increase the tension, ammo in RE4 is liberally scattered around in crates and dropped by enemies and never feels in short supply. but it never feels plentiful either due to the increased level of threat. Despite sometimes having a case full of ammo for all of Leon’s guns, it cleverly lured players into a false sense of security when all guns still click empty at the worst times. RE4 also included a weapons shop/upgrade system in the form of the now legendary Merchant and his greeting of ‘Welcome Strangerrrrrr’. Leon was able to find gold and rare valuables throughout the game and then cash them in to the Merchant for new weapons and upgrades, once a gun was fully levelled up it unlocked the ability to purchase an enhanced version of that gun, giving players a real incentive to scour the maps for loot, seeing as there are few guns in video games as satisfying as a fully levelled up Riot Gun, the much needed crowd controlling TMP, or the truly devastating stopping power of the Killer 7 magnum.
Resident Evil 4 is a masterclass in atmosphere, pace, tension and payoff, with Shinji Mikami expertly playing your nerves with masterful precision. Not a single second of time is wasted in this game, every quiet moment lasts just long enough to catch your breath and reload your weapons, every set piece somehow managed to truly be bigger and better than the one that came before it, there have been few games since that have understood the importance of pacing and implemented it as well Resident Evil 4 did, and continues to do so 11 years later. For the first time in the series you were also given an A.I partner in the form of Ashley, who was completely defenseless and needed constant protection from Leon, for the first time in the series you had to be on the lookout for her safety as well as Leon’s, adding whole new waves of tension when the enemies start piling in to retrieve her and put Leon in the ground, the threat felt relentless throughout.
As well as having some highly memorable new enemy types to fight, Resident Evil 4 can also lay claim to having not one, but several of the best boss battles ever encountered in video games, like I could seriously write a separate article just talking about how great the bosses are in this game alone. Each boss battle managed to provide a seriously empowering challenge, along with a ‘punch the air’ moment of catharsis when they were vanquished. Given the mutatational properties of the Plagas, it wasn’t an uncommon sight to see bosses twist, rip and tear themselves into beasts that would have looked right at home in The Thing. From the lake monster and El Gigante the cave troll, through Chief Mendez and the pulse quickening reaction testing Verdugo, and then on to Ramon Salazar and Saddler, these were some truly brilliant creations.
The fight against Leon’s former training partner Krauser, it’s easily still one of my favourite boss battles of all time, a tense and fast paced, multi-tiered battle against an enemy that is just as mobile and skilled as Leon is. The fight moved through stages as you battled to push Krauser back while he alternated between guns and CQC with his knife. The fight climaxing when Krauser’s arm morphs into a massive bladed weapon and a 3 minute timer to an explosion is triggered, and yet the fight still demanded patience and precision from the player, picking your moments to lure Krauser into lowering his defence before wading in with the Killer 7 magnum. It’s a truly exhilarating fight and really is one of the greatest boss battles of all time.
Even when it was first released on the GameCube back in 2005, Resident Evil 4 was an incredible looking game, leaps and bounds ahead of absolutely anything around it at the time, and it has managed to remain a great looking game across the 11 years since. However the HD update is both a blessing and curse in this regard, this is hands down the best version of Resident Evil 4 that you’re ever going to see unless it receives a full remake, which it will never need to, but the HD sheen also shines a spotlight on dated textures, and the improved draw distance slightly detracts from the ominous atmosphere instead of adding to it. The game now also runs in 60fps which makes the combat a hell of a lot smoother, especially in the firefight heavy Mercenaries mode, which is included here along with all the additional content. I’d also completely forgotten how much fun and addictive Mercenaries mode is, I’d already lost so much time to it and I can see it happening all over again here.
Having played several versions of Resident Evil 4 across the years and consoles, I did notice that aiming felt overly sensitive with this PlayStation 4 port. Every now and again when bringing my gun up to aim, it automatically jerked sharply off to the left or right, completely away from the angry mob that were quickly bearing down on my position. It came as a slight annoyance in an otherwise flawless experience, it’s a learning curve having your head lopped off by your own mistake, it’s entirely irritating when the sensitivity within the port has yanked your aim away from your chainsaw wielding target without your input. Hopefully this gets a quick fix in a patch in the near future.
Whether you’ve never played Resident Evil 4 before, and you really REALLY should have by now, or you’re wanting to experience it all over again, Resident Evil 4 has lost none of its visceral power to thrill, frighten and rip your nerves to shreds. Resident Evil 4 completely reinvigorated the Resident Evil series from the ground up and reinvented the survival horror genre that it had pretty much created itself, it remains a game changing genre masterpiece that will continue to thrill gamers and influence video games for many years to come. Here’s hoping that Capcom can reboot the series to such dizzying heights again with Resident Evil 7 next year, the early signs are already looking good for a revival.
Resident Evil 4 HD was reviewed on PlayStation 4
+ Still holds up as an incredibly thrilling ride
+ Superb and empowering boss fights
+ Great set pieces
+ Weapons upgrade system
+ Still looks great after 11 years
+ Mercenaries mode is still excellent and addictive fun
– Overly sensitive aiming
– HD makeover highlights dated textures