Review: Resident Evil 4 HD (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Resident Evil 4 HD
Genre: Action/Survival Horror
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: 09/20/11

The High Definition Re-Release has become something of an “in” thing now; take a game that was either popular (God of War) or not (Beyond Good and Evil), pretty up the visuals a little, clean up the menus and text, and stick it out into the world on the PS3 or 360 at a discounted price in hopes of garnering sales from fans and those who missed it the first time around. As a concept, it’s completely understandable, in the sense that companies like making money and players might want cleaner textures displayed on their 1080p televisions, and it seems to work out okay for the companies because, hey, we like cheap games, especially when they’re good. Well, Resident Evil 4 certainly fits into the “good” category; it’s arguably the best Resident Evil game ever made and easily one of the best games released in the last ten years, as well as a multiple category award winner across the entire gaming publication landscape when it came out in 2005. At $20, it also fits into the “cheap” category, in the sense that when the game debuted on the Gamecube and PS2 it was a full priced release, though six years later this is kind of a high price. This being a HD update of the game, we’re getting the PS2 version of the game with the extra content, but with presumably updated visuals that let the game not look terrible on a high definition television, and for the most part, that’s exactly what you’re getting here: a good re-release of an excellent game.

For those who are unfamiliar with the game, Resident Evil 4 is the point in the plot where the series basically transitions from “zombies and monsters” to “infected humans and monsters”. As the game begins, Umbrella has taken down, not by a plucky team of survivors and monster killers, but by the government, and Leon Kennedy is now in the employ of the White House. A terrorist group dubbed Los Illuminados has abducted the President’s daughter, Ashley Graham, and Leon is asked to rescue her from the cult. Well, this goes south almost immediately, as the villagers of the town she has been taken to assault Leon and kill the police officers that come with him, leaving Leon, with the help of his operator Hunnigan, to track down and liberate Ashley on his own. Resident Evil 4 is odd, plot-wise, in that the plot is definitively better than that of most of the games in the series, but it’s still not what one define as “great” per say. It straddles this line between the goofiness of the original game, thanks in large part to some campy dialogue from Leon (“No thanks, bro”; “Where’s everybody going? Bingo?”) and the cheesiness of the villains (especially Salazar, who’s like three feet tall), but never quite goes in either direction. The plot doesn’t take itself too seriously either, and never quite steps into the super-seriousness of Resident Evil 5 or the campy B-movie clichés of the original. That said, it’s a solid plot that answers all of the questions it asks, and more importantly, it’s pretty fun to go through and keeps things going at a brisk pace, which is more than one can say for some games. It’s clearly not Digital Devil Saga but it’s not trying to be, either, and if you can accept that it’s not trying to be classic, the plot’s good, if not exclusively in the conventional sense.

Astonishingly enough, Resident Evil 4 looks good on the 360… very good, in fact. The characters are all rendered well and well-animated, and the game features all sorts of varied animations and enemy types for you to face down against, though not as many as this game’s successor. The environments still hold up very well and the game features a solid draw-in distance, as well as some powerful lighting and special effects that still hold up very well. The game’s obviously an upscaled port of an older game, of course, and as such, some of the textures aren’t as good as they could be and Leon’s fingers are a little blocky, but the visuals have held up astonishingly well given that the game is six years old at this point, so you won’t want to throw up while playing or anything. Aurally, the music is the same excellent Resident Evil faire as ever, meaning that there are some great ambient tracks mixed with some driving tracks in the more combat-oriented segments, and the soundtrack is generally complementary and a joy to listen to. The voice acting is also significantly improved this time around, as most of the voice work is solid at the minimum, and while Salazar, Sadler and Heather hit that minimum with some annoying or cheesy delivery at times, they mostly do a good job and don’t drag down the excellent performances from the rest of the cast. The sound effects are also as good as ever, featuring some excellent gunfire effects and explosive effects as well as plenty of outstanding ambient noises and random chants and groans from the enemies to sell the experience. Some folks have complained of audio issues with the port, and while I didn’t see it after comparing it to the Gamecube game, there it is, all the same.

If you’ve played Resident Evil 5 or, to a lesser extent, Dead Space/Dead Space 2, you’ll have a rough idea of how this plays, but if you’ve missed those games, Resident Evil 4 still isn’t too hard to pick up. The left stick and D-Pad allow Leon to move around and aim when his gun or knife are drawn, the right stick looks around, A is the default “interact with the environment” button, and Y opens the map for you to look around the area as needed. For battle, the right trigger draws your equipped gun, the left trigger draws your knife, A attacks with the equipped weapon, B reloads the gun when armed, and pressing X when the prompt comes up on an enemy performs a context sensitive action on said enemy. While a weapon is drawn, you’re locked in place, so the left stick turns your perspective while the right stick aims your laser sight at the target, allowing you to target the head or a limb, which has its uses. Headshots can, of course, blow off heads or stagger enemies so you can follow up with kicks, but shooting an arm might make the enemy drop their weapon, while taking out the leg might bring them down for suplexes or melee strikes. It’s all in how you fight your enemies, as there will certainly be a lot of them, making strategic combat all the more important. Pressing the Back button will bring up your inventory, allowing you to combine items and equip weapons from here, and unlike Resident Evil 5, you’ve got a big inventory that can fit as much as you can fill it with instead of nine total spaces, allowing for you to pick up a lot more stuff to work with as you progress. You can also look over files, key items and treasures from here, as the situation comes up to do so.

Resident Evil 4 might play, by default, a lot like the aforementioned games, but it has its own mechanics that make it a unique experience, and the most obvious of those is dealing with Ashley. Unlike in Resident Evil 5 where you had a partner to follow you around and help with combat, here you’ll have to deal with a few sections where Ashley follows you around and you have to protect her. Now, the obvious “Oh God, escort missions?” cry you’re likely making is audible, and to be fair the situation can certainly be annoying at some points, but the game understands that Ashley is kind of a sandbag and tries to work around that. Pressing the right bumper allows you to command her to wait at a location or follow you if you want her to stay out of the way, and pressing it near, say, a dumpster, allows you to command her to hide in it to keep out of the way until you’re done exacting your wrath upon others. The game also presents sections where you can command Ashley to perform tasks, such as opening doors, turning cranks and so on to allow you to progress, and while some of them are “protect Ashley” missions, a few are “you do this so I don’t have to” segments, and hey, anything that lets the computer do your dirty work is fine. Ashley only shows up a few times throughout the course of the game, as well, so you’re not stuck dealing with her for the whole experience, but even so, while she’s not capable of doing much, she’s generally not too hard to work with and the enemies usually aren’t trying to kill her anyway, so it works out well enough.

Resident Evil 4 also changes things up in a few other obvious, but less important, fashions. For one thing, going into your inventory pauses the game while you’re doing so, so healing and combining up items can be done at your leisure and death is much easier to avoid. This comes at the trade-off of not having the option to hotkey weapons and items to the D-Pad, meaning you have to go to the inventory every time you want to change equipment, which isn’t horrible, but isn’t as good as the hotkey option either. For another, we’re back to the save point system, marked as typewriters where you can save your progress, though the game does mark checkpoints when you change zones so death does offer you the option to continue from the last checkpoint you marked. You also will encounter various vendors as you move along, and interacting with them, aside from generating a hearty exclamation of “WELCOME!” and them flashing you a jacket full of guns, will allow you to buy, sell and upgrade stuff. You no longer have a storage space at all, as you can only keep what you can carry, though the game gives you so much inventory space that this isn’t a huge crisis, but you’re able to sell anything you want to toss, as well as treasures, to these vendors for cash (and you can even assemble some treasures into better ones for more cash, so watch for that). Said vendor will also routinely offer new guns as well as upgrades for your existing ones that improve their performance, making said upgrades optimal if one values life. Another novel addition is that Leon and Ashley do not have full life bars upon starting the game; rather, you’ll find yellow herbs that, when combined with other herbs and used, will increase their life bar capacity a bit. As such, with careful usage of these herbs you can increase your health periodically, keeping you in good shape for facing down the massive amounts of small and large enemies you’ll encounter as you progress.

You’ll likely be able to complete Resident Evil 4 in around ten to twelve hours on your first go-round, depending on how much time you spend backtracking and hunting for treasures and such, though there’s more to do once the game is done. You’re offered a new difficulty, Professional, which is (surprise!) noticeably tougher than the default difficulty, as well as the ability to go through another round with your gear intact, while also picking up new toys, such as the Matilda (three-round burst pistol), an infinite shot rocket launcher, and others. You also unlock The Mercenaries, a survival mode where you kill enemies as fast as possible to rack up scores, Assignment Ada, a short mission starring Ada Wong, and Separate Ways, a decent length side campaign where, again, you play as Ada through the events of the main game. Clearing these modes unlocks even more stuff, from extra characters in The Mercenaries to new weapons and costumes for the main game and even more good stuff beyond that. In other words: Resident Evil 4 comes absolutely packed with content to see and things to do, which was awesome and impressive when it came out as a full priced release, and now that it’s a twenty dollar download on XBL, it’s basically amazing and stupidly stuffed with content.

For as good as Resident Evil 4 is/was, however, it’s certainly not a perfect game. For those who have played Resident Evil 5 but not this, many of the issues in that game are present here, so you’ll see plenty of instant-death attacks from enemies, Active Time Events, the inability to move and shoot, and the inability to buy ammunition from vendors who literally have ammo laying ON THE COUNTER IN FRONT OF YOU in some cases. The game also lacks any multiplayer, so no Mercenaries mode with friends this time around, on or offline, which would have been a nice addition, even if the lengthier campaign helps make up for that. This being the first time Capcom went in this direction with the franchise, however, also means there are a few additional issues with the game that Resident Evil 5 does not have. The lack of hotkeys for items on the D-Pad is noticeable by its absence, as is the lack of storage for your gear, and the increased Active Time Event count and instant death attack volume is also noticeable. The biggest negative one can lay against Resident Evil 4, though, is that when it came out it was very innovative relative to what the market was doing at the time, and it was fresh and exciting and different. Six years after the fact, we’ve seen several games do this exact thing, good and bad, and while the game still plays great and is still a lot of fun, it doesn’t have that “new car smell” it had when it came out, because the mechanics in the game have been done since then, and better.

That said, Resident Evil 4 is still a classic experience, and it’s still a hell of a lot of fun to play through, which is as much a testament to the product as anything, given that it’s basically a six year old game that still holds its own in the modern market. The story is enjoyable both because it’s better than most of the franchise storylines before it and because it’s full of plenty of amusing moments, and the game looks and sounds pretty fine even six years after the fact. The gameplay is still as solid as ever and is still fairly easy to jump into and work with, and there is an astonishing amount of depth to and content in the game that makes it a fantastic product to play and replay until you’ve unlocked everything there is to see. The game still features the frustrations it always did, so you still can’t buy ammo, still have to go through Active Time Events and still have to deal with enemies that one-shot you sometimes, and the game also features some escort missions that won’t be for everyone and a lack of multiplayer or conventions added to the genre since this came out, leaving this to show its age at points. That said, Resident Evil 4 still holds up very well even if one approaches it with no experience, as despite the flaws in design that pop up, the majority of the game is solid and playable and the game still competes well with its contemporaries, over half a decade later, and that’s no mean feat.

The Scores:
Story: GOOD
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: UNPARALLELED
Balance: GOOD
Originality: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness: UNPARALLELED
Appeal: UNPARALLELED
Miscellaneous: GREAT

Final Score: GREAT GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Resident Evil 4 still holds up some six years later as a fantastic experience that’s well worth owning, and while there are some technical hiccups along the way, the game is still one of the best in the genre in spite of those flaws, which is no easy task. The story, while not for everyone, manages to be entertaining equally because of some acceptable plot elements and concepts and because of some great cheesy one-liners and setups, and the game still looks and sounds great well after its initial release. The game is easy to learn and plenty of fun to play, and while it lacks some of the enhancements of its predecessors in the genre, it’s still a blast and features an absolute wealth of additional content beyond the already lengthy main campaign to keep you coming back for a long while. The game still has the same issues it always did, so no buying ammo, a decent amount of Active Time Events and instant death attacks, as well as a few escort sections and a complete lack of multiplayer, and since this is one of the first games to do what it does how it does it, it shows its age compared to more modern takes on the design. Resident Evil 4 has still, however, held up far better than one would expect or than it has any right doing, and even now it’s still a fantastic game that’s well worth the asking price whether you’ve beaten it to death or are coming in new.

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