Resident Evil 4: Ultimate HD Edition for PC Review

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When it comes to video games, I normally don’t care for the survival horror genre. Besides the fact I don’t like horror in general, scrounging for ammo is usually my biggest issue. What if you run out? You’re screwed. That’s not fun to me. I’m not saying it’s a bad genre, it’s just not for me. However, every now and then a horror or survival horror game comes along and piques my interest. Resident Evil 4 is one of those games mainly because of its focus on action and because everybody goes on and on about it. The gunplay always looked cool as did the weapons and that’s good enough for me to give it a shot. I beat Resident Evil 5 years ago cooperatively with a friend and it was alright from what I remember. I also have Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D for 3DS and I enjoy it for the most part, even though my hands cramp. I have Resident Evil 4 on multiple systems and I’ve played it on and off over the years but never beat it. This time I decided to give it a real chance. To be clear, I’ve never played the first three and I don’t know the lore in and out. I have nothing against the Resident Evil series, it’s just that most of the games don’t appeal to me. I’ve only ever been interested in 4, 5, and 6. Developed and published by Capcom, Resident Evil 4 was released for the GameCube in January, 2005 and was ported to several systems over the years. For this review I played the Ultimate HD Edition released on Steam. This edition includes all of the content from previous releases including the main campaign, the Assignment: Ada mission, the Separate Ways storyline, and The Mercenaries mode.

The story in Resident Evil 4 apparently takes place six years after the events of Resident Evil 2. You play as Leon S. Kennedy and he’s sent to Spain on a mission to rescue Ashley Graham, daughter of the President of the United States. As you progress through the story you discover she’s being held captive by a cult known as the Illuminados. Leon soon learns the cult have infected everybody in town with a parasite known as Las Plagas, including Ashley. Along the way Leon meets up with several characters including Ada Wong who seems to be manipulating things behind the scenes. That is until you play through the Separate Ways storyline. In Separate Ways you play as Ada and basically retread through several areas of the main campaign, seeing events through the eyes of Ada. Ada is working for the series antagonist, Albert Wesker, and her mission is to secure a sample of the Las Plagas. Assignment: Ada is a single mission where Ada must retrieve five samples of Las Plagas and report back to Wesker. Separate Ways includes a new weapon and Ada can also use a hookshot which is pretty cool. Assignment: Ada seems unnecessary. I can’t really complain about them, though, because if you enjoy the main campaign then these are just more of the same. The biggest difference between Leon and Ada is that Ada seems to move faster. Now the dialogue in this game is over-the-top cheesy and whenever anybody spoke, I would laugh. The voice acting, isn’t really bad I guess, because I think the ridiculous dialogue and over-the-top lines are intended. The voice acting and dialogue actually add humor to the otherwise dark and serious tone of the game.

Several weeks before this review dropped I had created a thread on the message board, NeoGAF, to discuss some of my opinions on the game. I made it clear that I don’t like the controls. The controls are the reason I gave up on this so many times before. Regardless, the responses I got were just insane. Apparently, some people do not understand what the term “tank controls” means. I’ve never liked tank controls. It’s one of the reasons I never cared for the original Tomb Raider games. Resident Evil 4 has tank controls. If you’re going to tell me it doesn’t, you’re just wrong. I never played the first three games but apparently they utilize tank controls as well. Just because the camera has shifted to the over-the-shoulder perspective does not immediately mean Resident Evil 4 doesn’t have tank controls. The amount of ridiculous and clearly misinformed people trying to explain in great detail how the camera perspective determines tank controls is baffling. It doesn’t. Over-the-shoulder, top down, isometric, static, even if the camera was up Leon’s ass, he still moves like a tank. It has nothing to do with the camera. Leon moves forwards and backwards and must rotate his body to turn. By using the stick on the controller, you can slowly have Leon make wide turns but essentially he’s always moving forwards or backwards until you stop to rotate or pivot his body. You cannot strafe in this game. I thought tank controls were a known thing but apparently not. Granted, this game and probably others include other quality of life additions that make character movement a bit different than a “tank” but not by much. For example, you can quickly turn one hundred and eighty degrees at will in this game. But it’s still tank controls and I don’t like them. That doesn’t mean they’re bad controls or that this is a bad game. If you don’t mind tank controls, then you’ll probably have an excellent time playing this. Resident Evil 4 is interesting because the entire game is designed around tank controls and any change to that would ultimately break the game. The Wii version is a good example. If you play using motion controls, it basically removes most of the challenge. Resident Evil 4 is a slow paced game. You walk, you can run, and when you spot enemies it’s time to stop, aim, and shoot. It’s really about how accurately you can aim. You can’t move when aiming or reloading. Realistically, that doesn’t make sense to me but it is what it is. Once I got used to the controls I really didn’t have that much of a problem but I still didn’t care for them. Resident Evil 4 is a perfect example of how the controls make the game. Everything comes together nicely because of the controls and I just find that extremely fascinating. The challenge, the pacing, the tension, all of it comes together, mainly because of the controls.

Resident Evil 4 contains somewhat open-ended environments but overall, it’s a linear experience. In some ways it feels like a Metroid game. You can bring up a map at any time and you’ll see all kinds of different paths and locations. You’ll frequently be backtracking through areas but there’s always going to be something new to see and do along the way. There’s three main areas – the Village, Castle, and Island. Each major area is well crafted and the design of each environment definitely looks and feels European and they just ooze creepy vibes. Destroying crates, barrels, and other objects, even killing enemies, will usually grant you items like ammo, herbs, and even money. Although, some boxes contain snakes that can attack you so you need to be careful. On your journey you’ll discover files that provide backstory and lore along with treasures that are scattered around the environments. Treasures can be sold to one of the many creepy merchants found in the world. However, you can buy weapons, weapon attachments and even first aid spray from them. You can even buy upgrades, or what the game refers to as weapon tune ups. You can increase a weapon’s firepower, fire speed, reload speed, and even ammo capacity. In the Separate Ways campaign, merchants are also present but you can’t tune up your weapons. There are no merchants in Assignment: Ada. Some merchants let you participate in the Target Practice minigame where you shoot targets for a high score to earn Bottle Caps. Bottle Caps seem to be character models that you can view from the pause menu. New weapons become available for purchase as you progress through the game and you won’t be able to carry everything. Leon carries a case to store all of his items including weapons, health, and ammo. Bigger cases become available for purchase as you progress but you need to be aware of how much space you have and manage your inventory properly. However, Resident Evil 4 desperately needs quick weapon slots. You need to access your case every time you want to switch weapons and that just becomes tedious. Different colored herbs can be combined to grant more health and a combination of yellow and green herbs will permanently increase your health.

When you do finally rescue Ashley, she’ll tag along with you. You need to make sure she doesn’t get carried away by enemies or die. If any of those two things happen, you fail your mission and have to restart from the latest checkpoint. I hate the babysitting in this game but, luckily, she’s not with you most of the time and you can always hide her in a dumpster. You can command her to stay or follow you and some obstacles require the cooperation of both Leon and Ashley. You’ll need to monitor her health and if she’s running low you can use one of your healing items to restore her health. I just hate having to worry about another character, at least in a game like this and I would have preferred to play through the game as a solo character. At one point you get to play as Ashley and it mostly involves puzzle solving. I’m just grateful it didn’t last long. I’m only a fan of puzzle solving in select games but, luckily, Resident Evil 4’s puzzles are not that difficult to figure out. Resident Evil 4 does include quick time events but they’re not all over the place. This game was also released before quick time events were infamous and they actually aren’t that obnoxious here. However, I don’t like how they’re included in some cut scenes. I get that it’s to keep you engaged but I just don’t normally expect it during a cut scene and if you fail to press the buttons in time you have to restart the cut scene. And, yes, you can skip the cut scene up to quick time event. Resident Evil 4 also contains many context sensitive actions. Whenever you approach something you can interact with you’ll be prompted to press a button on the controller. Same when approaching things you can jump over or even when you can kick enemies. This is a very slow paced game and the button prompts are the only real times you need to be quick to react. Throughout most of the game you have plenty of time to assess situations and determine what you need to do. For example, there’s plenty of environmental hazards but because of the controls and slow paced nature of the game, avoiding obstacles like this isn’t hard as long as you’re careful. Whether it’s overcoming an obstacle or dealing with a multitude of enemies, all situations like these really boil down to what you need to do, how well you can do it, and if you can do it properly. Understanding those three things is the real key to success. Throughout the environments are typewriters that enable you to save your game and you can also save at the end of each chapter. There’s also plenty of checkpoints so even when you die, you don’t have to trek all the way back from the last typewriter.

Resident Evil 4 consists of three difficulty modes – Easy, Normal, and Professional which is only unlocked after completing the game on Normal. Now I recently learned this game employs a feature known as “adaptive difficulty”. What does that mean, you ask? Well the game will tweak the difficulty depending on how well you’re playing. For example, if you’re blasting through enemies like butter, quickly moving from area to area, enemies will be able to do more damage and I’ve heard  some say ammo drops for your preferred weapons will be decreased. Now if you’re having a tough time, it’s the opposite. I can’t really prove it myself, I guess, but one of the reasons I dislike the survival horror genre is because ammo scrounging is usually a thing. However, throughout my entire Resident Evil 4 experience I never once fully ran out of ammo which is amazing. I always felt like I was about to but never actually did. Therefor, I do believe this game employs “adaptive difficulty” and it employs it so well. It’s very subtle and it keeps you on edge. I’m well aware that one of the key aspects of this game is to learn how to conserve ammo. You shoot an enemy in the head to stagger him, then use a melee attack, and then whip out your knife and slice him to death. That seems to be the ultimate strategy at conserving ammo, even if I’m not great at doing it all the time. However, if you’re a first time player the “adaptive difficulty” can really help you out and balance out the difficulty if you enjoy using firepower, even if you’re trigger happy. You need to learn how to make every shot count. Go for those head shots. The game never seems to give you too much ammo, but does know when to provide it to keep you moving forward. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that does this so well. Keep in mind, I’ve only played this on Normal but it was truly a consistent challenge throughout the entire game. Once you master the controls and hone your aiming, things will become easier in general but the “adaptive difficulty” is what keeps you alert and aware.

Now I’m not a huge fan of zombies in games. Mainly in modern games because they’re used way too often nowadays. But Resident Evil 4 came out in 2005 and doesn’t really include zombies. The enemies are infected. Another difference between them is that the enemies here are a bit smarter then your standard zombies. They’ll sometimes move out of your sight and even duck but most of the time they come walking or charging towards you. Some enemies like to throw shit like axes and scythes, even explosives. Any enemies with a chainsaw are a pain in the ass because they’re just bullet sponges and can basically kill you instantly if they make contact. Infected, what I guess are dogs, can also be annoying since they can jump you. There’s a lot of running away in this game unless you’re a master at aiming. You stop, aim, shoot, and either melee or run away. Rinse and repeat. That seems to be my strategy, anyway. There’s no lock on mechanic or anything like that. You need to manually aim before taking each shot. Headshots are satisfying as all hell but sometimes the parasite comes emerging from the neck of a headless enemy. Some of the later enemies can be really annoying like the dudes that carry chain guns. Actually, there’s way too many of these guys in the Assignment: Ada mission. Some enemies carry shields and others wear armor. There’s an enemy type late in the game that can regenerate missing body parts. This enemy is annoying but once you acquire the infrared scope you can actually see the parasites you need to shoot inside the enemy, itself, to kill it. It’s pretty cool. There are several boss battles in this game and they contain a mix of just pure shooting and quick time events. Most of the bosses are all big, grotesque, horrible looking creatures. The only boss battle I didn’t really care for is Krauser and yet he might be the easiest to kill if you know what you’re doing. However, if you don’t, the entire battle can be really tedious. But the bigger issue is you fight him way too much. He’s a boss in the main campaign, again in Separate Ways, and he’s even a boss in Assignment: Ada. I found the final boss battle to be a bit on the anti-climactic side either because I was finally competent at playing or the boss wasn’t really that difficult.

One of the things I love about this game is the satisfying gunplay. Leon is always equipped with a knife for melee attacks. Now every gun feels satisfying to shoot and the sound blowing an enemy’s head off is just the best. There’s no crosshair and, instead, every weapon, minus the knife, is equipped with a laser sight for aiming. There’s a good variety of weapons including different types of handguns, shotguns, rifles, a submachine gun, a mine thrower, and even a rocket launcher. Although, the rocket launcher can only be fired once. There’s even grenades including hand grenades, incendiary grenades, and flash grenades for disorienting enemies. The Separate Ways campaign includes a bowgun which fires explosive arrows. It’s a very satisfying weapon. As excellent as the combat is, some of the encounters are not that great. Most of the time you’re in areas with enough space to deal with multiple enemies at once. Other times it’s just way too cramped. With the tank controls, being unable to move and reload at the same time, and sometimes having to watch out for Ashley, some of these battles can get a bit frustrating. But most of the time, each scenario feels fair. You’re timed during some sequences and I never like being timed in most games. Luckily, in this game, these sequences never come down to the wire. At least in my experience on the Normal difficulty. Now both the Separate Ways campaign and Assignment: Ada feel more like tight action packed experiences compared to the action packed horror feel of the main campaign. Separate Ways seems to have you going from area to area clearing out hordes of enemies. Assignment: Ada can be beaten in under thirty minutes and it’s all about blasting your way through the facility to grab the samples. You can even run past most enemies if you know what you’re doing.

After completing the game you unlock all kinds of things. You can replay a new round of your existing game which means playing through it again with all of your current equipment. You unlock the Professional difficulty, new weapons become available for purchase, costumes, a movie browser to view cut scenes, and the extra game campaigns plus The Mercenaries game mode. Mercenaries is an arcade style mode where you need to kill enemies for a high score before the evac chopper arrives, or in other words, before the timer reaches zero. You only start with Leon but can unlock other characters by earning a a specific ranking in any of the four stages. Each character comes with their own set of weapons. You’re rewarded with points for killing enemies and different enemy types reward you with different amounts of points. You can find items to extend your time including Bonus Time items that grants you one thousand points for each kill for thirty seconds. Achieving a high score is all about chaining kills together to accumulate combos. I enjoyed The Mercenaries 3D for 3DS so I was looking forward to playing this. The Mercenaries mode does add plenty of replay value to the game and its sole focus is combat. It’s actually a great mode to practice aiming. Besides the fact that I suck at it, I still had fun playing Mercenaries. I hear this mode has been improved in Resident Evil 5 and 6 so I’m looking forward to playing it in those games as well when I get around to them.

For a game with the Ultimate HD Edition moniker, it doesn’t look too spectacular. This looked pretty good for 2005 but calling this version Ultimate HD is a bit of a stretch. It runs at sixty frames per second and supports widescreen resolutions but the textures are blurry and some cut scenes are clearly low res or just blurry. I mean, yeah, it looks better than the original but it’s not like this is an HD remaster or anything. This game includes a motion blur effect which looks awful but can, thankfully, be turned off. I can’t talk about Resident Evil 4 without mentioning the reload animations. Anybody who has played this game knows the rifle reload animation is one of the best reload animations in video games. And all the reload animations are of this quality. However, they seem a bit choppy or display at a lower frame rate or something. I don’t know if they looked like this in the original since I never played it but it does look a bit weird here. They still look sexy, though. Resident Evil 4 is very atmospheric and immersive game with plenty of visual variety in each of the major areas. But there’s also plenty of little details that add to immersion like when Leon or Ada lose enough health, they’ll constantly hold onto their side when not in combat. Enemies growl, roar, and they’ll even shout in what I’m guessing is Spanish, too, which also emphasizes that they’re not really zombies, just humans infected with a mind controlling parasite.  When talking about the audio design, for the most part it’s pretty good. Dramatic music kicks in when you’re engaging enemies and it helps intensify the encounters. Now the weapons do sound powerful but I do wish some them sounded louder. On the technical side, the game only crashed on me once when I attempted to start the Assignment: Ada mission but other than that I experienced no problems and the game ran perfectly smooth.

Resident Evil 4 offers plenty of bang for your buck. I finished the main campaign in about thirteen hours. Separate Ways can be beaten in about two to four hours and you can beat Assignment: Ada in thirty minutes or less, depending on your skill level. But with The Mercenaries mode, Professional difficulty, and all of the other unlockable content, this game gives you plenty of reasons to return. But would I say this is one of the greatest games ever made? I guess so. I’m not a fan of the horror genre or tank controls so Resident Evil 4 is not in any of my top ten lists but it is better than I thought it would be. I really enjoyed the action, arsenal, and satisfying gunplay. That’s what intrigued me to begin with and that’s what kept me playing. I understand that this game was a huge departure from previous entries in the series but it also revolutionized third-person shooters and basically set the standard for the whole over-the-shoulder perspective we see in games today. I think it’s more of an action game than a horror game but it’s a damn good game and I would recommend it to anyone that enjoys the horror genre or third-person shooters. I would describe this game as an action packed horror adventure. And a good one at that. But I still don’t like tank controls.

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