A definite line can be drawn in the sand between the Resident Evil series; that line being Resident Evil 4. When the series began, there were static screens, a measured pace interrupted by frantic bouts of action, and most importantly, zombies. Resident Evil 4 shook the whole formula up by replacing zombies with seemingly normal (but still mental) villagers, a much more fluid navigation system, and tons more action, with fewer moments of calm and less puzzles. Part of the change was due to an increase in hardware capabilities, but it was also due to the changing attitudes of gamers. Considering that Resident Evil 4 was released together in Japan with Code: Veronica, the change between the two games could not be more apparent. When I reviewed Code: Veronica a couple of months back, I praised the gameplay, but mentioned that age hadn’t been too kind to some of the mechanics. Does the fresh start in Resident Evil 4 give it better longevity?
A Beautiful Residence - Given the benefit of releasing a generation closer to today’s, Resident Evil 4 looks a lot better than Code: Veronica when judging by current standards. Whilst again, the HD upgrade doesn’t really change anything other than allow the game to be seen more clearly on larger televisions, the graphics look smooth and crisp, although the text could have done with some downscaling, as it appears huge at the bottom of the screen in both subtitles and action prompts. The larger size does come in handy during QTE events, however, the button prompts seem to smack you in the face a split-second before the bad guy does.
A New Evil - As mentioned in the introduction, Resident Evil 4 marked quite a departure from what gamers had come to expect from the Resident Evil series. These changes weren’t just limited to the replacement of zombies, however. The introduction of an over-the-shoulder camera view and wider, more open environments changed up the gameplay for the better. An easier to manage inventory works wonders for keeping the game flowing as well, with separate sections for treasures and key items, and the ability to switch between knife and gun on the fly keeps the action fast-paced and flowing, rather than the stilted experience previously exhibited, where switching to the inventory screen happened as frequently as the infamous door-opening loading screens.
Everyday I’m (No Longer) Shuffling - The removal of zombies allowed Capcom to replace them with something far more terrifying: an angry foreign mob with torches and pitchforks. Seriously though, these guys (and gals) are genuinely frightening, especially when you are confronted with 5 or more of them. They move faster, have ranged attacks, and take more hits to kill, particularly later in the game. Thankfully, our hero Leon is given one of Resident Evil’s best armories to sift through, and a healthy supply of ammo allows him to keep blasting away throughout the game, without any of the series’ previous concerns about ammo conservation. The supporting cast is also one of the better in the series, from the freaky chainsaw-wielding villagers (who still keep me up at night, mostly due to the beheading sequences), the awesome Luis Sera, and the incredibly annoying and helpless Ashley Graham, the President’s daughter who kick-starts all the shenanigans and generally acts as a nuisance throughout the game.
PROBLEM WE'VE SEEN BE-FOUR?
A Full 360 - For all the changes that elevate Resident Evil 4 above its predecessors, there is still one element which brings it back down to earth with a bump. As with the rest of the series, the controls are a definite weak point in an otherwise strong effort. The left stick is used for the full range of movement, as well as aiming, and a lot of the time it feels like there has been too much pressure placed on the most humble of control sticks. Modern-day gamers are used to dual-stick control, with the left stick for body movement and the right stick for adjusting perspective. Having both of these aspects tied to one stick feels artificially clunky, and definitely dates the game. Be prepared for bouts of extreme frustration, as aiming and shooting can only be done whilst static, leaving your character unable to flee and open to the flaming torches and pitchforks of the angry mob.
Reviewing a remake or re-release of a game is always a daunting prospect, due to the varying perspectives there are from which to approach the review. Do we judge the game on the standards of the time on which it was released, the standards of today, or do should we take a different approach and judge the quality of the remake itself? Thankfully, Resident Evil 4 makes this task a lot easier than it should be by being an awesome game, by the standards of both 2005 and 2011. Whilst the HD upgrade does nothing other than allow the game to be playable on today’s screens, any real tinkering with the game’s code would be considered sacrilege, seeing as how it corrects so many of the Resident Evil series’ previous faults. Sure, Resident Evil 4 still has faults, but these are far outweighed by the atmosphere, action, and experience on show in what must be regarded as one of the previous console generations strongest efforts. If you feel underwhelmed by the previous Resident Evil effort, or overwhelmed by the anticipated five-year wait for Resident Evil 6, then you owe it to yourself to allow Resident Evil 4 to bear some of that burden.
*This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game with a review code provided by the publisher.*
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