Does it hold up?-Resident Evil 4
This is a review of both the game itself and the Ultimate HD Edition, released in 2014. On its own terms, the remaster isn’t particularly impressive, it does a fine job upgrading the character models, but only upscales some textures, which can look jarring while side by side with original quality textures. The gameplay is basically unchanged, even in places where it would have benefited from some minor improvements, like the 20 save slot limit. There’s also a few bugs when running the game in 60 fps, including a pretty much game breaking one that makes a certain QTE impossible, or at least abnormally difficult. With that being said though, I still think this is the best way to play the game for the time being.
I was about 10 years old when I first tried to play RE4. Back then, I didn’t quite understand what a horror game was supposed to be, and it didn’t look particularly different from the action games I was familiar with. But the control scheme felt instantly wrong(keep in mind, I was playing mouse and keyboard too), and the constant lack of ammo was extremely frustrating. About 2 hours into the game, I got a random button prompt flashing on the screen for about half a second, then a boulder fell on Leon’s perfectly coifed head, and I lost. That was about it for my first taste of Resident Evil. Coming back to it years later, this time armed with a controller and some knowledge of what the game was trying to do, I can’t say I felt much different at first. The controls still felt clunky and unintuitive, the lack of ammo was a constant nuisance, and the QTEs were still annoyingly cheap and difficult(it turned out this was an issue related to running the game in 60 fps, but I found that only much later). The only things that kept me going through the game’s early hours were the narrative momentum and atmosphere. But soon enough, something clicked. Stopping to aim and then kiting back felt like second nature. Conserving as much ammo as possible by using the knife and searching every corner for supplies became a fun challenge rather than a chore. And I finally understood that the real game was the inventory management, with the shooty bits only serving as a fun distraction. I finally got what Resident Evil 4 was trying to do, and I was hooked.
The clunky “stand still to shoot” mechanic, as it turns out, is the key to why Resident Evil 4 works. It’s a way for the game to have its cake and eat it too, giving you enough agency to embody the badass role of cop-turned-secret-agent Leon Kennedy, while also capturing the frantic desperation of being in a terrifying situation. Although you get used to the controls throughout the game’s roughly 15 hour campaign, the slightly awkward feel of the controls never goes away, which is key to maintaining tension in what would otherwise be power fantasy shooting galleries. Another amazing trick the game pulls on you is how it’s pacing changes to suit your level of proficiency. The game starts off scary and tense, gradually becomes more action-oriented, then introduces some new mechanic or monster, and all of a sudden, it’s back in survival horror mode. This horror/action/horror balance is the key to both not wearing out its scares, and also not letting you feel too in control. Despite this, Resident Evil 4 never quite manages to switch gears into full on horror, apart from a few sections in which you play as damsel in perpetual distress Ashley. One of the major failings of this approach is that it never quite manages to tie this balance into the main character’s arc. Unlike you, Leon starts the game a badass, and stays one the whole way through. Noticeably, cutscene Leon is also quite a bit more competent than gameplay Leon, no matter how good you are at controlling him(he also gets a grappling hook that you never actually use in game). Another problem is with the boss fights. None of them are exactly bad, but they’re fairly underwhelming. Of course, with gunplay designed to fight packs of slow, dumb enemies, the game can’t exactly introduce a proper threat, so you’re left with giant monsters that look like they should be threatening, but are dumb as rocks, slow, and easily exploitable
. Apart from the fighting, resource management and exploration, there’s also a few puzzles to deal with. The ones that involve controlling both Leon and Ashley at the same time can be somewhat clever, but most of the puzzles are fairly simple and mundane. Still, given what gauntlets other Japanese games of the time put you through, I suppose this is the preferable alternative. The main purpose of these puzzles is separating each of the game’s three imposingly intricate main locations into more manageable chunks, that you gradually unlock Metroidvania-style. Perhaps it is a testament to its influence within basically all of gaming, but apart from some archaic design decisions, this really doesn’t play like you would think such on old game would.
For a 17 year old game, Resident Evil 4 certainly doesn’t look bad either, and the remaster helps with the character models, even if the environmental textures are a mixed bag. The heavy lifting here though is done by the excellent art direction, moody lighting, and clever level design, which often manages to hide the limitations of the engine. There’s a good deal of variety in terms of environments, even if you’re technically confined to only 3 main areas. The score is amazing, and, complimented by the sound design, is certainly the main elements that maintains a sense of dread throughout the game.
You’ve probably noticed that I spent a great deal of time talking about this game without mentioning the plot. To be honest, I’m not sure what to think about the narrative. It straddles the line from so bad its good to genuinely compelling throughout the run of the game, and the tone, while internally consistent, is a total mish-mash of supernatural horror, sci-fi elements, conspiracy thriller and action comedy. The voice acting and dialogue are both extremely goofy at times, but in a way that just fits the heightened reality of the Resident Evil setting. The only actual fault I can find with the narrative is that it throws so many plot twists and characters at you that it can feel somewhat overwhelming and confusing at times. Some characters, Luis in particular, also get the short end of the stick in terms of characterization, appearing only when they are needed to move the plot forward, and dipping in and out of the narrative in absurd ways. Ultimately though, the best thing Resident Evil 4’s story does is knowing when to get out of the way. The story exists to serve the gameplay, and it does so no matter what. Why does the same merchant keep appearing all over the place? Who cares, you need to buy stuff. How did he get inside a passage that’s sealed from the outside at both ends? Hey, look, a new weapon! Why does this medieval castle have a retinal scanner at the front door? So you can go kill a boss and steal his eye. It’s not an approach that works for every game, but Resident Evil 4 has just enough self awareness to pull it off.
Resident Evil 4 is a video game, and it is not afraid to remind you of it. It throws all common sense to the wind to serve you a gauntlet of tense combat, occasionally clever puzzles and spooky atmosphere. Is it still scary? Occasionally. More often than not, it is funny, sometimes even intentionally. More importantly, it is fun. For its influence on basically every third person game since, it has earned its place in history, but beyond that, it’s a great time.
Final Score: 8.5/10
- Play time:28 hours(one playthrough on easy, one on normal)
- Reviewed on: Custom Gaming PC
- Controller: Xbox Controller(Playstation or other similar controller suitable, mouse and keyboard not recommended)
- Platform: Steam