Nine years is a long time to wait for a proper port, even for a game as celebrated as Resident Evil 4. Its release on the GameCube in 2005 ushered in a new era for the franchise, as well as a different perspective and play style that its sequels quickly inherited. Capcom capitalized on its immense success, porting the game to multiple platforms, and the game was graciously welcomed by the succeeding console generation on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Though nine years is indeed a lot of time for a second PC port, there is a reason it may be warranted. Resident Evil 4 has been available on the PC since 2007, but its release was less than stellar compared to its console brethren. The horror it unleashed was more on a technical level, given the lack of mouse controls and the option to adjust visual settings. Dubbed Resident Evil 4 Ultimate HD Edition, the game has returned in an attempt to set past wrongs right. The game has received substantial upgrades, and may be the best version yet released, even if "ultimate" might not be the right word.
Resident Evil 4 has returned to the PC with a fresh purpose. Unlike the original port, this latest edition comes complete with a host of welcome enhancements. The game has been adjusted for widescreen and 1080p resolution fixed at 60 frames per second. There is also native keyboard and mouse support with options for custom key binding, anti-aliasing, a bevy of high-resolution textures, and greatly reduced loading times. Resident Evil 4 HD contains the original game, complete with all prior additional content, including the Separate Ways side campaign.
The story of Resident Evil 4 is nearly common knowledge at this point. Ashley Graham, the daughter of the president of the United States, has been abducted, and series veteran Leon S. Kennedy has been dispatched to a remote, undisclosed village in Spain to recover her. There, he discovers that the religious cult responsible for the kidnapping has unleashed an ancient, mind-controlling parasite called Las Plagas onto the Spanish countryside. The game differs from its predecessors, detaching itself from the series' staple enemies, zombies, and favoring multifaceted foes that display cunning and a dark intelligence. As Leon progresses, enemies grow more grotesque, shedding their humanity and replacing it with a cold, insectoid carapace.
Leon travels across varied and fascinating environments as he searches for the missing Ashley. Adhering to the franchise's history of creepy atmosphere and dark locales, Resident Evil 4 features misty forests, rundown houses, musty caverns, a labyrinthine castle, and military facilities. Enemy types vary greatly and include pitchfork-wielding farmers, chanting cultists, and horrifying genetically engineered monstrosities that can force even the most stalwart players to turn heel. But Leon isn't alone against the infected horde. He is joined by a cast of interesting characters, some newly met and others appearing out of his history, teasing past romantic entanglements and bitter rivalries. The dialogue and some later sequences get goofy at times, but the story's somber overtones keep things intense, from the slow trek through creeping fog, all the way to the explosive finale.
The main attraction of Resident Evil 4 HD is the graphical upgrades, and what Capcom has done to breathe new life into its aging thriller is impressive, mostly. Leon and his assortment of allies and foes have never looked shaper or better defined. The wide-screen support with high-resolution textures running at a crisp, smooth 60 frames per second should be enough to get even the hearts of most veteran Resident Evil 4 fans pumping with adrenaline once again. And, yes, it all performs beautifully. Trees and shadows are imbued with realistic grace, text featured in menus and passing notes is clean, and even the fine-stitched lettering on Leon's alternate Raccoon City Police uniform is easily legible. However, the new textures have an unintentionally negative side effect.
One of the reasons behind Resident Evil 4's launch into stardom was the game's unequivocal attention to detail. Capcom took special care in crafting a realistic and believable world with a gloomy ambiance. While Resident Evil 4 HD boasts high-quality textures, they aren't universal, meaning the original textures that have lingered since 2005 stand out more than ever, ironically making the game feel more aged than ever. In the game, you may stumble across a stone wall composed of realistic cracks and earthy green moss. But in the same area, you could find a wooden box leaning up against the wall that still retains the archaic textures, resulting in a blurry, brown object strikingly out of place.
It can get distracting, considering it's difficult not to notice a stark contrast between a building and the ground it stands upon. Many of the new skins feel too clean, scrubbing away rotten wood and rust, robbing the game of its dingy flavor. Castle walls look sharp, and research laboratories feel uninviting and sterile, but the caverns between them look muddy, with textures that are warped and stretched. Texture glitches also pop up from time to time, and measure in intensity from flickering to, on a rare occasion, getting replaced by what appeared to be the image designated for text, because the enemies turned black and were covered in lettering. The game lets you switch back to original textures if you like, but the heavy pixelation may not offer abatement.
Benefiting from the graphical overhaul are all but one of the cutscenes during Leon's campaign, which play out in real time. Capcom gave far less attention to Separate Ways, which still includes low-quality full-motion video cutscenes that look even worse due to the game's higher resolution. There is also a grievous error that occurs following nearly every video. As the game transitions from the clip back to gameplay, there is a strong chance the screen will turn bright green for up to five seconds.
This passing annoyance quickly treads into frustrating territory. The game occasionally challenges you to complete a quick-time event between scenes. This transition alone, which takes you from a blurry clip, to sudden action, and onto the following clip, oscillates with enough force to threaten whiplash. Being asked to press a pair of buttons between the scenes comes as a jolt, and the lag produced may decrease the amount of time allowed to complete the move, ending in failure. In one such moment, I missed my cue and had to try again. Except the second time, the green screen overlapped the brisk moment of gameplay and cleared only after it was too late. To continue my game, I had to press the appropriate buttons right as the green screen appeared.
The loudest complaint befalling the original port of Resident Evil 4 to the PC was the lack of mouse support. The squirrely, nauseating user-created aim mods that followed only exacerbated the issue. During that time, PC users had to either get used to it or opt to play the game using a controller. Though aiming with the mouse is finally possible, it is far from perfect. When you're fighting at close range, the laser sight has a chance to twitch, making fights against advancing ganados more strenuous than necessary. At long distance, aiming a weapon's laser pointer has a slippery, unnatural feel, making shots difficult and unnecessarily taxing on your ammo supply. There is also a short, but noticeable, delay between holding out the knife and being able to look around.
Like before, your best chance is to equip yourself with a gamepad. The most preferable choice is the Xbox 360 controller, since the game has been updated to support it; gone is the need to memorize the cryptic numbered buttons from the old PC port, because the game includes appropriate onscreen graphics for the device. When you have a gamepad in hand, the controls are roughly comparable to the GameCube experience. The camera floats behind the protagonist's shoulder, creating a third-person view. When an enemy is spotted, the game requires you to first hold your aim, while the camera flies down closer, enlarging your field of vision. Combat favors strategy, offering different ways to dispatch enemies based on the current situation. Going gung ho and blasting away may leave you scrambling for ammunition, and the optional knife does only so much against tougher foes later down the line.
The story's somber overtones keep things intense, from the slow trek through creeping fog, all the way to the explosive finale.
Shooting enemies in the head stops them in their place, causing momentary disorientation. Going for the legs is often a better choice, because it causes your targets to drop down, giving you ample opportunity to either deliver a bone-crunching spin kick or momentarily escape and create some distance. There are many crowd-control options, from shotguns to a variety of grenade types, as well as long-range weapons such as sniper rifles, which add a bit of stealth to the mix. Though the game is more of an action adventure game than survival horror, it is not without tense moments and jump scares.
Aiming locks you in place, forcing you to carefully position the laser sight before taking shots. The choice behind this method of combat is done with purpose in mind. By keeping you grounded, the game challenges you to take your shots intelligently, all the while staying aware of the environment around you. No matter how far into the campaign you have gone, you perpetually suffer from a tingling sensation at the back of your skull as you fearfully wonder if someone, or something, will pounce from behind you. Enemies range from regular fodder to the deadly special types, who carry fearsome weapons like chainsaws and miniguns, and are able to stand up to a lot of abuse before falling. And don't forget the infected dogs, with their strained panting heard even above the thundering sound of their pads hitting the dirt, forcing the hairs on the back of my neck to stand on end even after all these years.
Such moments are a constant reminder of the excellent gameplay at the core of Resident Evil 4, which set the benchmark for action adventure games. It has been many years since I delved into Leon's quest, and I was delighted by the visual upgrades, from the lovingly retouched Amenhotep typewriter to the finely detailed garbage bins I gleefully tossed Ashley into at every given opportunity. Texture gripes aside, Resident Evil 4 still has the chops to stand up to the test of time thanks to its moody atmosphere and tight, edge-of-your-seat gameplay.
It took longer than it should have, but PC players finally have access to a proper port of the game. It may be showing its age, but Resident Evil 4 HD stands as the best version available. There is about 30 hours of content in this edition, which runs for a reasonable $20. So if you have waited this long to try the game out, or if you feel the urge to give it another go, there is no better time than now. From its humble beginning, Resident Evil 4 has taken a long journey to get to this point.