Let me get one thing clear, I love Resident Evil 4. Aside from being the game that revitalised the franchise after a number of years doing what I call “just doing the same old shit again and again” it’s also one of my favourite games of all time. When it was announced that a new version would be arriving to PC with upgraded visuals and mouse/keyboard support I was genuinely pleased. A chance to fend off hordes of angry baddies with pinpoint precision in crisp HD? That to me screams “GAMING NIRVANA”. Unfortunately, writing this review has put me in a bit of an awkward position as this latest version, labelled the “Ultimate HD Edition” is anything but that.
Chances are you’re probably already aware of RE4s storyline but I’d like to go through it one more time, mainly because it’s just bloody stupid, but in a good way, like a cat running in circles in an attempt to catch its own tail. Floppy fringed special agent Leon S Kennedy (last seen in RE2) is sent to a rural part of Europe (that’s just Europe and most definitely NOT Spain, no matter what anyone tells you) to locate the President’s daughter who’s been kidnapped by a religious group who’ve unleashed a mind-controlling parasite onto the local populace.
Doesn’t sound daft enough yet? Let me up the ante a bit more: The main villain dresses like a crap Emperor Palpatine, his subordinate is a Spanish Midget Napoleon (WHOOPS!) and most of the cutscenes are played out in a very “nudge nudge, wink wink” kind of tone that makes me think that everyone involved was just flat out taking the piss (see below for an example). It’s also only tangentially related to the previously established plotline, meaning players new to this series can jump straight in without having to worry about anything that took place in the previous games.
The gameplay is still the same as it was back in 2005, you control Leon from a behind the shoulder camera perspective, direct bullets skullwards to stun enemies, then get up close to press a button and roundhouse kick them in the face. Unfortunately that’s where things have gone wrong in this port. Upon starting the game I found that the mouse aiming felt stiff and unnatural, like a man trying to hide an embarrassing erection by thrusting his knob into a blender. I was able to get used to the aiming after a few hours of practice but it’s nowhere near as precise as the Wii version. Accessing the inventory felt laboured as well, the game forces you to use the backspace and page up/down keys to rotate items and there’s no option to use the mouse, which turned item management into a bit of a ballache.
Quick time events were a bit of a hassle as well, two of the buttons used for them are X and C and I’ll be quite honest about this; having to be constantly ready to move your fingers from WASD to X and C just felt wrong, like trying to play a game of ten pin bowling using just your elbows. The game also didn’t seem to register my X key half of the time, meaning there were multiple occasions when I would get killed seemingly because the game just couldn’t be arsed to acknowledge that I’d pressed the right buttons during a QTE. Like the inventory there’s no option to change these buttons so unless you’ve got a controller handy you’re all but guaranteed to suffer at least a bit of grief throughout the game.
Of course the most significant upgrade in this version are the visuals, with the game sporting new HD textures and a 60fps framerate (though the original textures and 30fps framerate remain available). I played the game at 1920*1080 and I thought the character models and environments looked pretty good (a bit of an achievement considering that the models are still limited to their original polygon counts). It’s not perfect though, some areas look like they haven’t received the same amount of effort as others (one of the levels in the Mercenaries minigame look almost comically ugly) and dropping down to 30fps made things feel very slow and clunky. Those aren’t the only problems with the graphics though, there were multiple moments when the game dropped into slow motion territory for seemingly no reason whatsoever and reloading either of the two sniper rifles on offer when running 60fps cuts the framerate in half, something which doesn’t happen when you’re using any of the other weapons. I used a Radeon 7950 to play the game and I’m pretty certain that’s enough to play this game, even when taking the visual upgrade into account.
Still, even with all the problems I’ve listed it’s still Resident Evil 4 and it’s still a good game. The new lick of paint does the job pretty well for the most part and if you’re playing with a pad you won’t even encounter any of the control issues I had whilst playing. All of the extras from the previous versions of the game are available here as well so there’s easily 20 hours of playtime to be had. If you’ve never played RE4, have a controller and are wondering what all the fuss is about then I heartily recommend that you give it a go.