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Resident Evil 4 HD Review

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While the HD may disappoint, the content surely will not ...

Resident Evil 4 HD

It’s six years since Resident Evil 4 first hit the Gamecube, and for each of those years it’s been made available on six different platforms. Clearly, this is a game that made a big splash when it first arrived, and now it’s come to PS3 and Xbox 360 in HD glory (or has it?). RE4 single-handedly redefined the survival horror genre – without this you’d never have had Dead Space, Gears of War or even Shadows of the Damned and even now it still sets the benchmark for how it's done. The over-the-shoulder claustrophobic camera of RE4 shaped an entire generation of third-person shooters, and arguably for the better.

Resident Evil 4 HDSo it’s comforting to know that six years on, one of my favorite games of all time is still kicking ass and taking names. Any fears that RE4 might have aged badly should be quashed here and now. It’s not as good-looking as its sequel, obviously, but in every other department it is leaps and bounds ahead. What Capcom managed to get so right with RE4 they completely blew with RE5, a game that lost all sight of its horror elements and dumped you with one of the worst AI partners in the history of gaming. Many of the components of RE5 bore a strong resemblance to its predecessor, but crucially lacked one thing – they forgot to bring the scary.

Never in my twenty years of gaming has there been a sound that has chilled my bones as much as the ragged, raspy breathing of a Regenerator.

Well, RE4 is bringing scary back. I doubt many gamers have forgotten the fear that would rattle through you every time you turned a corner or heard a crashing sound in the distance. Never in my twenty years of gaming has there been a sound that has chilled my bones as much as the ragged, raspy breathing of a Regenerator. You haven’t seen it yet. But it’s there, waiting for you. Fashioned like a corpse held up by puppet strings, the Regenerators move with a terrible slowness that loosens the bowels until suddenly it’s on you and biting your neck like some demented Gollum-vampire. Moments like this set your heart to pounding with terror, and there will be instances where you pause the game just to catch your breath.

Part of what makes the horror so effective in RE4 is the music. It’s a hair-raising work of art. Misao Senbongi and Shusaku Uchiyama deserve a lot of credit for so effectively making audio a crucial part of the atmosphere of the game. Equally brilliant are the sound effects. Even the simple echo of footsteps in an otherwise silent castle dungeon heightens the atmosphere exponentially. As does the beautifully satisfying click of the bolt-action rifle after a reload, or the sound a shotgun makes when it eviscerates a group of Ganados. I could go on.

There was a time when I could play through any level of the Mercenaries with any character and get a 5-star ranking without batting an eyelid. These days, the controls feel oddly janky in my hands. Perhaps I’m simply out of practice, but something about the controls felt a little different to how I remember them. It could be it’s simply been a while, but I’d warn other experts of old that things may not be quite the way you remember them.

Perhaps unsurprisingly but nonetheless disappointing is the lack of any new content. You won’t find anything here that wasn’t in the PS2 version of the game – that said, this is nothing to be sniffed at. Sizeable spin-off mission Separate Ways pitches you in Ada Wong’s red dress and heels on an  entirely different mission to Leon’s, and while it doesn’t have the replay value of the main campaign, it is a brilliant addition to the game. Assignment Ada is a smaller affair, more self-contained but still good fun. Perhaps best though is The Mercenaries, a mode completely disconnected from the story in which you select a character, a location, and kills as many zombies as possible in a limited time. It’s seriously addictive fun, and unlocking a 5 star ranking on each scenario with each character will reward you with the so-powerful-its-not-funny Handcannon.

Resident Evil 4 HDThe story – such as it is – focuses on Leon S Kennedy, survivor of Racoon City and RE2 protagonist and now working for the secret service on a rescue mission to retrieve Ashley Graham, the president’s daughter. If you turn your brain on, it all falls apart, so it really is best to play RE4 pointedly ignoring any loops in logic and simply allow the game to works its charms on you at the areas in which it excels: gameplay. Resident Evil, whilst having a surprisingly deep mythology throughout the series, has never been much of a plot-driven game, and its super-cheesey dialogue would feel cheap in a B-movie. Nonetheless, there’s a certain charm to the godawfulness of it all and Leon’s cocksure bravado never fails to entertain, nor Ashley’s banshee wailing enrage. Best of all though is the dead-eyed stranger known only as “the Merchant”, whose cockney drawl is genuinely laugh out loud funny.

Harping on about the virtues of the game is well and good, but the burning question here is, what makes this version of RE so superior to the five that have preceded it? Well, in short, it’s now in high definition…sort of. It’s very disappointing to say that rather than give RE4 the full remodel it deserves Capcom have instead opted for a face-lift and some botox. This is not the complete overhaul it should be, but instead an upscaling – the game certainly looks better than it does on the PS2 emulator or even on the Wii, but only if you’re playing on a non-HD TV. It’s a damn shame, because there are few games on the PS2 that deserve a true HD conversion as much as this one, and while the results are pretty, you can’t sincerely call them beautiful. The only other new feature is the inclusion of trophies, but without a single Platinum and only 12 trophies under its hood, this feels like another missed opportunity.

If you can handle that, then RE4 HD (false advertising?) is absolutely worth the £11.99 or 1200 Microsoft Points it’s asking for. If you’re a PlaystationPlus user, this deal is made even better at an unbeatable £6. I joined PSPlus just to get this whopping 50% discount, and consider the extra £4 for three months of PSPlus well worth it.

4 stars


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