Of all of the games in the series, Resident Evil 4 has received many tweaks and re-releases in a short time period. It was initially released on the Nintendo GameCube with much fanfare because of the game quality and its exclusivity. The PlayStation 2 version, released 10 months later, ditched the 480p resolution in favor of 480i, but it had widescreen support as well as an additional minigame featuring Ada Wong, a mysterious character first seen in Resident Evil 2. The PC version a year and a half later married both higher resolutions and widescreen support, as expected, while the Wii version took everything and added motion control and pointer support when it was released two months after the PC version. It's been roughly three years since then, and as part of the 15th anniversary of the series, Capcom has decided to give the game one more go, this time on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Aside from the privilege of playing the game on HD-capable systems, did gamers need another dose of the same game so soon?
In a way, the plot marked a new beginning for the series. Years have passed since the incident at Raccoon City, and things have changed dramatically. After a government investigation into the zombie outbreak, the Umbrella Corporation was no more and Leon Kennedy, former rookie cop, is now a Secret Service agent. His mission is to rescue the President's daughter, Ashley, from an extremist cult in a Spanish village. Once there, though, he finds himself confronted by cultists and humans who are still alive but exhibit zombie-like strength and resilience. Not only will he have to find Ashley, but he will also have to stop the cult from unleashing its plan worldwide.
The minute you take control of Leon, you notice how much the gameplay has changed. The camera goes from cinematic to over the shoulder, providing a more focused view without disorienting shots. No longer will you be mashing buttons to find interactive objects as a button prompt appears every time you're near something useful. There's also an on-screen HUD so you never have to guess how much ammo or health you have. Finally, for the first time in the game, you can collect gold and give it to a travelling merchant in exchange for more ammo and weapons.
The biggest change is in combat and improving fights. With the new camera angle, you have finer control over where shots go instead of pointing to a general area and letting the game take care of the aiming. Your shots can now cripple enemies, so while headshots still mean near-instant kills, you can shoot at the legs to slow down enemies or shoot weapons out of their hands to make them less dangerous. Traps can also be set up in certain places — an effective strategy since your ammo supply is still limited. Boss fights now contain Quick Time Events during key situations, similar to most modern action games.
The emphasis on action is what really separates this game from its predecessors. Enemies are plentiful, and you'll often blast through enemies or slice them up instead of running away from them. Even if you wanted to run, the increased speed of each foe gives you a better sense of dread this time around; quick reflexes prove to be a better ally than simply gaining distance on enemies. The focus on action reduces the game's prior emphasis on puzzles, though. You still have a few puzzles in the game, but they seem less obscure. The change makes for a faster game, and while some purists lament that you're more powerful than before because of the various weapon and ammo drops, people will enjoy the excitement level gained from a satisfying combat system.
Resident Evil 4 HD contains all of the minigames and costumes of the previous releases, making this a very feature-packed title. Both of Ada's missions still prove to be as exciting as the main game, and the mercenaries mode is good enough that one can see why Capcom made a full Nintendo 3DS game out of it. If there's one issue with this iteration, it's that it doesn't really introduce anything new. With the exception of the original GameCube release, every version of the game gave players something new to contend with, whether it's new weapons, modes or controls. All you have here are Achievements/Trophies and the ability to play the game from a hard drive instead of a disc. By comparison, those additions feel pretty minor, and unless you want to show off those Achievements, there really isn't much incentive to get this version if you've already played the game.
At the time of its release, the game graphics were considered representative of the GameCube's capabilities when developers put in the time to utilize the hardware. The environments were gloomy but very well detailed. The opening level in the forest looked intentionally drab, but it was amazing to see the withered trees and how the foliage evoked the bleakness of the world. Characters had great texture work, as their overall look drifted toward realism as opposed to the anime-inspired look of its predecessors. Movement was no longer stiff, and enemy deaths looked amazing even though the animations were still canned. For these reasons, it is both amazing and disappointing to see the graphics for this HD version left relatively untouched. Aside from increasing the game's resolution, nothing has been touched up. The textures haven't had anything added, and the environments don't seem to pop more. The characters haven't had their polygons redone, and even the movies look the same. It is a testament to the original programming staff when you consider the quality of the original graphics, but those hoping that the HD iterations would look better will be very disappointed.
Like every other Resident Evil title, the game's controls are built around the idea of one analog stick doing almost everything concerning character movement. The left analog stick moves Leon forward, backward and makes him turn. Holding down the A button with a direction makes him run, and holding down the right trigger while tapping the A button makes him shoot. There is a slight tweak where holding down the left trigger and hitting the X button makes him use his knife to attack, but otherwise this is the same scheme used in previous Resident Evil games. The big difference comes with perspective, which, thanks to our exposure with third-person action games, makes this title's controls feel more natural than before. A little more use out of the right analog stick would've been nice, but the controls feel pretty good.
As far as sound is concerned, this game was a major turning point for the franchise. The sound effects became clearer, with real guns being used for reference as opposed to simulated ones. The music was still as moody, though a tad more action-oriented. Voice work changed for the better, with more serious delivery and lines instead of the campy delivery of yore. For this version, all of that remains intact, with the only change being codec related. The old Dolby Pro Logic II has been converted to Dolby Digital, but beyond that, expect nothing to be different in this category. It's a good thing since this remains some of the best audio work the series has seen.
In truth, very little has changed for Resident Evil 4 aside from the addition of Achievements and Trophies. The plot is still the same, the pacing is the same, and the characters haven't changed. The combat system hasn't been messed with, and neither have the minigames. Except for the resolution increase, the game looks and sounds the same as it did before. For those who have played the game countless times on either the PS2 or the Wii, there's really no point in owning this version unless you're a super fan of the series or this entry in particular. However, if you've never tried the game before or owned systems that didn't get Resident Evil 4 iterations in the past, this is a great time to get the game. To many, this is still the pinnacle of the series, outshining Resident Evil 5 in some ways. Seeing it resonate with gamers so many years later is a sure sign that this is a must-play game.
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