"What are you buying?" "What are you selling?"
Resident Evil 4 remains a pinnacle of video game perfection in my eyes. When the game hit store shelves on January 11, 2005, I bought a GameCube for the sole purpose of stepping into Leon's shoes once more. The years have been kind to Resident Evil 4, from the visuals to the controls, but I’ll get the negative out of the way first: There is no way to move while aiming. Thanks to the limitations of the GameCube's one proper analog stick, Leon could not fire his pistol and strafe left or right. A direct port, not counting the pre-rendered cutscenes, was released on the PlayStation 2 later the same year, so the lack of a shoot-and-move mechanic was still understandable. But it’s 2011, and with the amount of detailing that went into preparing Resident Evil 4 for XBLA and PSN, did the development team not consider the possibility? The same feature was mysteriously absent in Resident Evil 5, so I guess we can chalk this one up as wishful thinking.
Except the tank-like controls may serve as the ultimate turn off to new players. The controls are responsive, but trying to navigate the environment presents its own challenge. Aiming with RT, firing with X, and controlling the camera with the left analog stick can be cumbersome initially, but it wasn’t long before I was dropping maniacal villagers left and right. The alternative control scheme also solves most of these issues, delivering a controller experience similar to Resident Evil 5, but why Capcom defaulted to a defunct layout baffles me.
It also pains me to say the high definition upgrade is the least impressive part of the presentation. Most environmental textures were left untouched, as were the cutscenes. I have never been put off by poor visuals, but it would have been nice to see a graphical leap comparable to other HD collections released of late. Anyone hoping for an aesthetic experience that rivals Resident Evil 5 will be sorely disappointed. Don’t get me wrong. The graphics are nothing to scoff at considering Resident Evil 4's early 2005 release; the character themselves still delight. I popped in my old GameCube RE4 disc for old time’s sake, and their models looked quite blurry once I removed the rose-tinted glasses.
I think I saw this in an anime once...
For the handful of people that never touched a prior Resident Evil 4 release, here’s a brief recap. Why the president’s children have an affinity for getting kidnapped I’ll never know. This time it’s the president’s daughter, Ashley Graham. A group of religious fanatics called Los Illuminados are holding the girl hostage, so Leon S. Kennedy is sent to Spain on a one-man rescue mission. Leon is no longer the Raccoon City Police recruit from Resident Evil 2, trading his rookie cop status for Secret Service training. The duo’s escape is a harrowing journey, taking place in the rundown village of Bitores Mendez, the eerie castle of Ramon Salazar, and the experimental testing facility of Osmund Saddler.
Leon encounters a cast of characters – including Ada Wong – that want the Las Plagas, the virus that has turned everyone into mind-controlled “zombies”. I use that term lightly, because technically there are no zombies in Resident Evil 4. Before you hem and haw about the lack of shambling undead, let me say the villagers, cultists, and soldiers exhibit greater intelligence. They duck under shots, shield their heads, throw projectiles, and attempt to kidnap Ashley when you get swarmed, but Leon possesses the firepower to counter. Handguns, shotguns, and rifles enhance your anti-zombie insurance, but more unique weaponry like an infinite ammo rocket launcher or gangster-era Tommy Gun round out the roster. The inclusion of a New Game+ encourages multiple playthroughs, adding more bang for buck to an already worthwhile package.
The narrative is by far the most coherent of any Resident Evil iteration, but several plot holes were left unfilled. Through subsequent releases, players learned the truth to questions originally left unanswered. The Darkside Chronicles details the backstory of Krauser and Leon, Resident Evil 5 reveals Wesker’s ultimate intentions, and Resident Evil: Degeneration explains what Leon has been up to since his return from Europe.
Facial textures sport less jagged edges.
All the popular side missions for Resident Evil 4 return. “Separate Ways” shadows Ada Wong’s involvement in saving Leon Kennedy, and reveals Albert Wesker as the man pulling the strings. “Assignment Ada” tasks the lady in red with collecting five Las Plagas samples for her contractors, but easier said than done with a legion of undead soldiers standing in her way.
Of the popular modes, “Mercenaries” is the most notable, spanning five playable characters (Leon, Ada, Wesker, Krauser, and HUNK) and four arenas. The concept shares the same traits as Resident Evil 5, minus the co-op. Killing villagers, cultists, and mercenaries in rapid succession adds to the score multiplier, though the count resets after a brief period if no enemies are slain. That window is extremely narrow, so players must learn where and when targets spawn. Every round begins with a set time limit, but breaking hourglasses restores crucial seconds to the clock. Should you five-star each level with every character, you’ll receive a nice consolation prize (the Handcannon!).
Modes aside, my favorite mechanic will always be the attaché case. Instead of the nine inventory slots of Resident Evil 5, Leon stores his health and weapons in a Tetris-styled briefcase. While some players will hate loading into a separate menu to equip a new firearm or use a first aid spray, I enjoyed organizing my inventory and utilizing every last block of space.
Remember those damn Regenerators? Now they're annoying in HD!
On a side note, I played the original Resident Evil 4 on GameCube 17 times to completion, and I never tired of the excellent pacing. Being as this is a 360 and PS3 release, achievements and trophies are this masterpiece’s first. Earning all 12 achievements is relatively easy, but I did not need the extra motivation to drop $20 on this exceptional title again.
Fans of the series will undoubtedly complain about Resident Evil 4's deviation from the original infected trilogy, but the over-the-shoulder camera perspective set the standard for ensuing third-person shooters. The inability to walk and shoot certainly sucks at times, though the HD upgrade, fantastic story, inventory management, and price tag more than make up the difference. After six years, Leon’s return still lives up to the hype as a thrill ride of action and suspense. Resident Evil 4 was a must-play experience in 2005, and now a must-play experience in 2011.
Release Date: September 20, 2011
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3