I pre-ordered Resident Evil 4 when it was released for the Gamecube back in 2005, and ever since have considered it to be one of the best games I ever played. So it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I approached playing it again, 11 years later, on the PS4. I have great memories of RE4, and wanted to introduce it to T., who never played it back then. Resident Evil 4 has always been regarded as quintessentially ‘cinematic’, a game that is almost as much fun to watch someone play as it is to play it yourself. But at the same time, a voice at the back of my mind nagged away: what if Resi 4 has aged badly? What if it has not only lost its magic, but what if it sucks?
Fortunately, I needn’t have worried, because Resident Evil 4 still kicks ass. The PS4 edition is basically a port of the HD version released for PC last year. The original Gamecube game featured groundbreaking visuals at the time, and while the HD version is never going to win any awards, for the most part it looks pretty decent. Textures lack detail at times, but on the whole I thought the environments looked good and still established a gloomy and oppressive atmosphere. This is partly down to the game’s trademark colour scheme, which relies heavily on washed out browns and greys, whic makes those flashes of colour (like Ada’s dress) all the more memorable. The character models haven’t aged so well, and it’s perhaps a shame Capcom didn’t go the whole hog and actually remake the visuals so they’d be up there with current games. But they’d probably face howls of derision from outraged fanboys if they did that, so fair enough.
After firing the game up it took a bit of time to get used to the control scheme. Resident Evil 4 features what is by today’s standards a quite limiting movement system, as you can’t sidestep, and can only move forward in the direction you’re looking. You also can’t move and shoot. This might sound frustrating, but the game’s combat and other systems are all balanced around the control scheme which means it works well, and you rarely feel like the game is being unfair. What’s a bit more jarring is the fact you have to enter your menu every time you want to swap out a weapon, and you wonder whether Capcom might have included an option to let you switch guns on the fly. In general though, the pacing and difficulty feels pitch-perfect and the game knows exactly how much pressure to put you under without making you feel overwhelmed or frustrated. There are regular set-pieces but also enough down time in between to get your bearings. Resident Evil 4 remains a high point of game design which few games have equalled in the decade since it was released.
The game’s gunplay is very enjoyable, and you have access to a varied arsenal which can be upgraded by the ubiquitous merchant. Said merchant is now something of an internet hero, and he’s the main source of light relief in the game’s intense early sections. As the story progresses, the oppressively horrific tone gradually lightens up a bit, and Leon in particular comes into his own, becoming a thoroughly likeable and winning lead. Equal parts wisecracking badass and put-upon would-be lothario, this was a breakout game for the Leon character and one can only hope he gets to headline another game of this quality. Chris Redfield may be the ‘original’ Resident Evil hero but there’s no question which of them has more appeal, at least in our household. In addition to Leon, the game features a generally entertaining supporting cast of misfits and genetically mutated monstrosities. The story is a typically cornball Resident Evil affair, but the script is entertaining with some memorable standout lines (“I see the President has equipped his daughter with… ballistics.”) The game’s music is muted for the most part, but the voice lines of the Ganados and other enemies provide more than enough dramatic accompaniment to the action. Hearing some hooded menace chanting around a corner, or hearing a chainsaw being revved up right behind you, is truly the stuff of nightmares.
Resi 4’s campaign felt surprisingly long and generous when the game was released, and my playthrough on Normal difficulty took about 16 hours. If you haven’t played it before it’s more likely to take you about 20 hours. But this is a game which is truly “all killer no filler”–there is nothing wasted or overused here, and every moment of the campaign feels meaningful and dramatic. It truly is a white-knuckle ride and pretty much a perfect game. This edition also comes with some high-quality extras, including a couple of Ada-centric side stories (Separate Ways and Assignment Ada), along with The Mercenaries. The Mercenaries is like the original horde mode/time attack minigame, packed full of cool unlockables and a lot of fun in its own right. It’s amazing to get all this AAA content for just £15. Indeed, Resident Evil 4 marked a paradigm shift in what people expected not only from a Resident Evil game, but from the action game genre as a whole. For me, only a select few games have managed to equal if not surpass Resi 4, such as The Last of Us and the first Dead Space. I do wonder whether Capcom might have done more to bring the game ‘up to date’, with true next-gen graphics and quality of life improvements like switching guns without entering the menu. Regardless, I’m just glad to get to experience this game again, and if you haven’t played it yet, you really, really should.