In 2005, Resident Evil 4 on the Nintendo GameCube was rightfully lauded as one of the best action adventure games ever released, thanks to stunning visuals and white-knuckle action sequences that ranked amongst the best in gaming. Later that year, PlayStation 2 owners were blessed with their own version of the game, featuring more missions and some other unlockable goodies. And now you can play Resident Evil 4 on your PC for a mere $20. It's too bad that PC gamers have been inflicted with a lazy port that does as little as possible to cater to the platform. Forget mouse support, forget tailoring the visuals to your own preferences, and don't even think about any PC-only goodies: this is a direct transfer of the PlayStation 2 version. If you can get past all these problems, RE4 is still an intense, thrilling ride that will keep your heart pounding. But if you still haven't played Resident Evil 4, this version should be your last resort.
In case you haven't gotten wind of what the game is all about, you play as Leon S. Kennedy, a secret agent in charge of recovering the president's kidnapped daughter. His search leads to a creepy Spanish village where the residents are, well, not quite lucid. The story drops the occasional cliché, but for the most part, it avoids the usual horror pratfalls to deliver an interesting and intense narrative with a number of fascinating characters. It's also genuinely creepy, leading you through abandoned farmhouses, dank churches, and dripping caves, all the while throwing progressively weirder and stronger enemies at you. Like the PS2 version, it also includes a side story called Separate Ways, where you take control of spy Ada Wong and explore some of the same storyline from her perspective.
The success of a survival horror game has a lot to do with its atmosphere, and this version of Resident Evil 4 features plenty of it. But that isn't to say that it looks superior to the GameCube and PS2 versions. Character models and environments are beautifully designed. They were also obviously created with deliberate care and detail. Of particular note are the boss characters, which get more vulgar and imposing as you progress. But a lot of ambiance has been lost in the translation. Because the grainy fog is gone, everything looks clearer but less sinister than before. It also means that you notice a lot of low-resolution textures that greatly contrast with the more remarkable aspects of the visuals. However, the cutscenes are the biggest graphical drawback. While the GameCube version of the game rendered the cinematics in real time, this one borrows the prerendered scenes from the PS2. They are blurry and badly compressed on the PC, as well as a little unsightly. Additionally, you cannot tailor any visual settings, aside from the display resolution.
Thankfully, the audio doesn't suffer much, if at all. Resident Evil 4 is a sonic spookfest, from the creepy minimalist soundtrack to the outstanding weapon effects. In fact, the most memorable aspects of the game are accompanied by equally thrilling audio, such as the roar of the gigantic bosses or the disturbing murmurs of villagers as they infiltrate your personal space. For what it's worth, Pro-Logic II technology is supported while true Dolby 5.1 is not, yet it's not likely to impact your experience much, particularly if you use a decent set of speakers.
The biggest oversight amongst all these porting issues is that of controls. Resident Evil 4 doesn't support mouse controls, though it does offer a mildly clumsy keyboard-only scheme. Plenty of console-centric games play better with a gamepad, but there wasn't even an attempt to implement decent PC controls here. To experience the game the way it's meant to be played, you need to plug in a gamepad. Whichever method you choose, the controls present an issue during the famous context-sensitive moments that require a few split-second button presses. If you end up using the keyboard controls, make sure to memorize which key is button 1, which key is button 2, and so on. The same issue exists with a controller, though it's a bit easier to get the button presses right because the in-game diagrams are tailored toward gamepad users.
Once you get past all these issues and plug in your controller, you'll find this is the same Resident Evil 4 that multitudes of players have grown to appreciate. It's a carefully paced, often breathtaking action game that keeps you on the edge of your seat with lumbering almost-zombies, chanting cultists, and challenging fights against gargantuan bosses. You view the action from a third-person view, and when you ready a weapon, the camera zooms in close. Once you've drawn your weapon, you can't move, but you can aim. It all feels very deliberate, but it's perfectly countered by the measured speed at which your enemies approach you. However, you shouldn't take this to mean that the action is any less exciting than in a traditional shooter. These are dangerous foes, and you've got to pump them full of lead before they fall.
The fundamental combat is where the game shines most. Your arsenal consists of pistols, shotguns, rifles and more, with every weapon producing credible results. Popping pitchfork-wielding villagers will cause them to drop their weapons. Or you can shoot them in the knees to make them momentarily fall to the ground. Because ammunition is not terribly plentiful, being able to handle a crowd of shambling psychopaths with as few shots as possible is a main priority. You've always got a knife as a last resort, but unless you want to take a chunk of damage, it's better to keep your distance.
Contextual actions also contribute to the general sense of urgency. Don't expect to sit back and snooze during the cutscenes because many of them require interaction in the form of a couple of button presses. If you're sleeping at the wheel, Leon will be crushed by a boulder or strangled by a hulking foe, and you'll be treated to a game-over screen. Other context-sensitive actions allow you to jump from a window, catch a companion from above, use a grappling hook, and more, depending on the onscreen action.
There's a lot of gameplay to be had here, with close to 30 hours of high-quality action and a few good reasons to head back once you're done. It's a shame that the PC got shafted with such a lazy port. It's also hard not to wonder why Capcom and Ubisoft even bothered with it. The PS2 version is unchanged in the sloppy transition to PC, so if you have no other way of experiencing Resident Evil 4 and own a gamepad, the core gameplay and budget price are enough reason to pick it up. Otherwise, pick up a different version and hope that the developers show a little more respect for the platform next time around.