Given a choice to play any of the Resident Evil 4 ports, it would be surprising to see anyone choose the 2007 PC version. Often called the worst of the many versions the game has seen, the port was riddled with terrible-looking graphics, no mouse support, a confusing keyboard layout, and a heavy reliance on a standard control pad at a time when standards for control pads weren't in place yet. Though it performed well on the machines that were capable of running it, the console versions were considered far, far superior. Almost nine years since the release of the original game, Capcom tries to rectify its mistakes and release a proper port with Resident Evil 4 Ultimate HD Edition.
The story should be quite familiar by now. Years have passed since the incident at Raccoon City, and things have changed dramatically. After a government investigation behind the zombie outbreak, the Umbrella Corporation was no more and Leon Kennedy, former rookie cop, is now a special agent for the secret service. For his current mission, he's going to a Spanish village to rescue the President's daughter Ashley from an extremist cult. Once there, he is confronted by cultists and humans who are still alive but exhibit zombie-like strength and resilience. Not only does he have to find Ashley, but he also has to try and stop the cult from unleashing its plan worldwide.
The mechanics should also be familiar to most gamers, as it marks the dividing point between the series sticking to tradition and moving toward a more action-oriented experience. The game is presented in a third-person perspective instead of using the still cinematic cameras of past games. Shop systems let you buy new items or replenish old ones. Puzzles are still here, but there's more action this time around, with more enemies to kill. Action is a bit slower than the later games in the lineup, as you always have to stop and aim before you can attack, but the limitation adds more excitement to the fights, since you know you need to run before you gun instead of doing both at once.
Since the PS2 version of the game was released, the number of additions to the game has stagnated to the point where the Wii version is the only one featuring any change in motion controls. Everything from the main campaign to the Mercenaries mission to Ada Wong's Separate Ways campaign are all here and unchanged. The same goes for the audio, which still features the same voice acting as before and the same moody but effective soundtrack. It remains a great game today, but if you're looking for new content beyond a leaderboard for game completion time, prepare to be disappointed.
For this new port of the game, Capcom focused in on two areas for improvement. The first is graphics; there's a decent selection of options, from anti-aliasing to motion blur and shadow quality. You can even choose to run the game at a fixed 60 fps or 30fps to match the original game, though the move to 60 makes the game so smooth that going back only seems necessary if your PC struggles with the higher frame rate. No matter which you choose, you'll be treated to a game with upscaled textures that look rather nice, especially when you move outside of the gray villages and into the caverns and the castle.
The increase in resolution doesn't automatically mean that the game looks better, however. The textures weren't completely redone, as you'll still see that some textures are stretched out too much and text on signs is still blurry. The geometry of the models and backgrounds haven't changed, either, so some objects still come off as less rounded than expected. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect is that the pre-rendered cut scenes still appear in a sub-HD resolution. It was bad enough seeing this on the later console releases, but on a PC monitor, the shift from SD to HD is dramatic and prevents the game from being worthy of its "Ultimate" moniker.
The other area that received improvement is the controls. Those who can't think of playing a Resident Evil game without a controller can still play with a gamepad, complete with Xbox 360 button prompts. As expected, the game controls just like the console versions this way, and even though it's slightly archaic compared to most modern games, you'll get the hang of the controls in no time. For those who swear by the PC's keyboard/mouse combination, the controls are superb when compared to the old PC version. Mouse support is in, and you have the choice between a "classic" system, which gives the mouse a bounding box it can move around before it takes the camera with it, or a "modern" system, which removes the bounding box and links the camera more closely to mouse movement.
Aside from this change, what you're really getting is a game that uses the keyboard and mouse to conform to the classic Resident Evil 4 control scheme instead of having the game adapt to modern standards and expectations. The W and S keys still make you go forward and backward, respectively, but A and D are responsible for turning your character instead of making you strafe. Likewise, the mouse makes for a great freeform camera, but using it to look to the left before hitting W doesn't make your character turn to the left and move forward. There's no aiming while moving, though that is more of a design decision and not a control one, but the manipulation of your item menu and items within the menu use the movement keys in concert with the Insert and Page Up keys instead of going for a more efficient mouse cursor system. While some key customization does exist, there's no way to change all of it to make it more modern. For some, that lack of real conformation to modern standards hurts a bit.
Unless you already own the HD remakes on the Xbox 360 or PS3, you should try Resident Evil 4 Ultimate HD Edition on PC. From the story to the gameplay, the title still resonates today and stands as one of the more harrowing entries in the series. The graphical improvements are welcome, and although they aren't overwhelmingly different, it's very nice to have a frame rate of 60fps. It really is the controls that make the new version worthwhile. Now that Resident Evil 4 has received a proper PC port, let's hope Capcom is willing to bring proper PC versions of the older games in the series.
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