Resident Evil 4: Ultimate HD Edition

I love Resident Evil 4. It’s easily on my shortlist for one of my favorite games of all time. Since its release, few games have managed to capture such a perfect balance of third-person action and survival horror tension. It’s a game that constantly surprises you with an insane amount of variety throughout each and every room. So is this the perfect version of Resident Evil 4? Not exactly, and it won’t revolutionize your experience with the game if you’ve already played it. Despite that, the fact remains that this 1080p, 60 FPS refresh is easily the best version of the game currently available on any platform.

Resident Evil 4 represented a major turning point for the action genre back when it was released in 2004. The game’s over the shoulder perspective became the point of inspiration for third-person shooters like Gears of War and Uncharted in the subsequent years. Like it or not, the franchise’s move from a fixed camera perspective also heralded the growing shift away from traditional survival horror, to the more action heavy Resident Evil games that have followed since.

Resident Evil 4’s story has you playing veteran agent Leon S. Kennedy sent into Eastern Europe to rescue the president daughter, Ashley Graham. It’s always been fairly goofy, replete with cheesy one-liners and absurd characterizations. Characters like the Commando inspired Krauser, or the hilariously one-dimensional Salazar and Saddler are entertaining, but don’t provide much depth. Leon himself is strangely stoic throughout, and classic lines like “Your right hand comes off?” and “No thanks, bro!” still provide fun laughs. Resident Evil 4’s plot is obviously horror B-movie quality and it absolutely knows it. The plot is ridiculous, and it leans into it, only rarely straying into being overly self-serious.

Much of the game’s survival horror feel comes from a strong feeling of tension that manages to instill a sense of dread and fear. It’s a difficult balance that later games in the series have had a hard time nailing. Make the player too powerful and that tension dissipates. Make the player too weak and the action becomes frustrating and tedious. Resident Evil 4’s combat comes dangerously close to straying too far into the action side of that line at times but, thanks to brilliant enemy, encounter, and environmental variety, the dread and tension of the unexpected remains throughout the game’s 15 hour campaign. Systems like item management, scarcity of resources, and the ability to upgrade weapons with the iconic merchant all contribute to the tension as well. Knowing you can’t just dump all your ammunition into getting through a single encounter forces you to think strategically and try to be as conservative as possible.

The pacing is near perfect. Early hours have you exploring a mysterious and dilapidated European village, with obvious cult influences and strange monsters aplenty. The game’s replacement for zombies, the Ganado, present a simple challenge at first, yet even in the early chapters we see a nice amount of enemy variety. From massive El Gigantes, a mutated river monster, and chainsaw wielding freaks, Resident Evil 4 relies on keeping you on your toes. The first time a Ganado’s head pops open and a large tentacle sprouts out is a terrifying feeling, and it’s moments like that where it actually manages to be fairly frightening.

Then things shift to a long stretch within a mysterious castle, ridden with cult members and ornate traps that are so contrived you can’t help but laugh. Despite this, the castle section of the game ratchets the tension even higher, throwing new enemy types and bosses that continually surprise. Then there’s the final section on the island where the game alternates between moments of intense action and terror seamlessly thanks to the addition of an ominous new regenerating enemy. The amount of detail and thought put into each new room in Resident Evil 4 is what makes it an undeniable classic.

All of that is held together by excellent art direction and sound design. Some of the game's most iconic scenarios rely heavily on those facets. It's hard to keep your composure while being confined in a claustrophobic hedge maze while hearing the hard growling  and footsteps of Plagas infected dogs that are on the prowl. Or how about the Regenerators, whose slow breathing and pudgy, experiment-ridden bodies slowly shamble over to give you a hug of death. I didn't think these moments would be as tense and effective as they were nine years ago, yet I still found myself breaking a sweat with these encounters.

It all still holds up fantastically. It’s obviously not quite as graphically shocking and grotesque as it was in 2005, but the tension within the gameplay systems is fully intact and as strong as ever. The inability to move and shoot at the same time is slightly frustrating compared to the current standard for third person shooters. Still, there’s something to be said for having to plant your feet and being unaware of every enemy in the room. It adds to the tension of the combat, but it’s still clunky nonetheless.

Unlike the original PC port of the game, this one uses the Gamecube version as the base and adds from there. This new PC version adds high resolution textures, runs at a solid 60fps, and is optimized for 1080p widescreen displays. Since almost every cinematic is rendered in real time, jarring jumps to old low resolution cutscenes are kept to a minimum. Not all the textures have been redone, though. Blurry low resolution textures are definitely abundant and they stand out all the more next to the new redone ones.

While a perfect locked 60 FPS is nice, it’s all the more obvious when drops occur. Reloading animations for the two long range rifles are locked at 30 FPS. It can be jarring to have everything running so smoothly, only to see a distinct drop for those two particular reload animations. Otherwise, it plays quite smooth throughout.

Proper mouse and keyboard support has been added for shooting, but it hasn’t been programmed for any of the menus. Using the mouse for moving items in the attaché case would have been a welcome addition. Key rebinding is also in, which is a nice option considering the default key binds can be difficult when it comes to QTE’s. Aiming with the mouse feels serviceable, but it doesn’t feel quite as snappy as it could be. This is likely due to the game’s lack of a traditional cursor. Playing through the whole game with a mouse and keyboard is a playable option, although I would still personally recommend going with a controller.

Included with this version are all the extras that came with the first HD edition released in 2011. Unfortunately, the cutscenes in Ada’s Separate Ways campaign are not rendered in real time, and are stuck in native low resolution. It’s definitely jarring to see these scenes, and it’s a shame that more couldn’t be done to give that story the overhaul it deserves.

Despite those few issues, this is an excellent port. It’s not a total overhaul though, and doesn’t quite clean up the game in every respect. By virtue of it being a PC version, the community has already begun to create HD textures, and there’s bound to be more mods popping up soon. Capcom has faithfully translated the game to the PC and given it the PC version it deserves, and it will be interesting to see where the community goes from here.

If you haven’t played Resident Evil 4, it’s still absolutely worth playing. It’s a definite classic that stands along with the likes of Half Life 2 as one of the best games of its generation. Even today it’s still a fantastic action title despite some outdated shooting mechanics. The tension, pacing, and variety are matched by only a few titles, and it remains the gold standard for third person action games. Having played this game now on four different platforms at least over a dozen times, I can say that despite a few issues, this is the definitive version of Resident Evil 4, and remains one of the best action titles money can buy.