Reviewed on PS4, copy supplied by publisher.
It’s hard to believe that Resident Evil has had such a titanic fall from grace. Once one of the most respected, and successful series in gaming, popularising the survival horror genre, Capcom’s money spinner has since become an industry laughing stock, with poor release after poor release. Aside from Revelations, which was actually pretty good, Resident Evil has been mauled by fans and critics alike in the last few years, with the most recent release, the amazingly awful Umbrella Corps deservedly being savaged, actually managing to be worse than the terrible Operation Raccoon City.
How can such a mighty series go so bad, you may ask? When did Resident Evil take that wrong turn into mediocrity and eventual bottom of the bargain bin fodder? Well, it wasn’t with Resident Evil 4, that’s for damn sure! This, my friends, is arguably the pinnacle of the whole series, but a pinnacle that may have pushed the zombie franchise over the edge at the same time.
Capcom can be called many things, but adventurous is rarely one of them. Here we have a company that likes to play it so safe, if you open the door to its HQ, you’ll probably be drowned in cotton wool and bubble wrap. It’s a company that hits a good thing, and then milks the ever-loving crap out of it, time and time again. Just look at Street Fighter II and its endless stream of remixes and reissues, or Mega Man and its many, many sequels (sore spot there I realise, given the eventual demise of the well loved series). Sure, the company has released a huge number of games, but when it comes to its biggest hitters, risks are usually off the table, and a nice, safe approach is taken to ensure sales. Even new titles often simply rehash existing mechanics.
That’s not to say Capcom hasn’t produced good games, far from it. Capcom is responsible for some of the greats, it just likes to push a title so far it breaks, and that’s exactly what happened to Resident Evil, but not after one of the biggest, and most respectable gambles in modern gaming.
Resident Evil was a masterpiece, pure and simple. The formula took what Alone in the Dark started and packaged it into something the masses loved. Several sequels followed, each doing pretty much the same thing, with little in the way of risk taken to reduce franchise burn out. This wouldn’t always stop a developer from churning out more, just look at Activision or Ubisoft, but Capcom was still raking in the money, so why fix what wasn’t broken?
Aside from the unfortunate Resident Evil Survivor, which is often criticised harshly, but could equally be considered good, just not possible on hardware of the time, Resident Evil didn’t stray too far from the original mould, until 2005, nine years after the first game was released.
Resident Evil 4 was the new title, and after going through various designs, including the famous early version that eventually became Devil May Cry, fans got a distinctly different, and potentially very risky Resident Evil. Gone were the pre-rendered backgrounds from most of the series to that point (Veronica aside), the fixed cameras, and even the zombies. These were replaced by a third-person shooter that took place in a totally different environment, with new enemies and gameplay. It was an almost total overhaul of a series that was still doing well, and was a risk that Capcom and series Director, Shinji Mikami would be very glad they took.
Despite many fans being concerned about the change initially, Resident Evil 4 was quite simply stunning. It took Resident Evil in a new, and brilliant direction, and all the while managed to preserve the series’ feel. Leon Kennedy was the main protagonist this time, and instead of zombies, he faced a strange, crazed cult who were controlled by a creepy, ancient parasite – Las Plagas.
Both new and familiar faces made appearances, including Leon’s femme fatale shadow, Ada Wong, and even Albert Wesker. These cameos and nods to the previous games were fairly light, though, and Resi 4 did its own thing, and was all the better for it.
Viewing the action from behind Leon’s shoulder, a camera angle many games would pinch, Resident Evil 4 gave players a much greater sense of urgency and more intense fear level. Enemies now ran right at you, weapons in hand and screaming for your blood (these were no shambling zombies), and the world was more detailed and complex than before. Combat was expertly done, with precision aiming and locational body damage opening up all sorts of new tactics. For example, shooting foes in the leg so they fall leaving you to finish them off with your knife was a golden tactic, and there were many others you’d need to employ to conserve ammo and items, another Resident Evil staple.
Other elements of Resi returned, such as the usual key/door tasks, simple puzzles and many boss fights with ugly nasties, but even the old felt new here, so effective was the new engine. This engine brought a host of new features to the mix, such as simple, but effective QTE events, an excellent inventory management system, new weapon and customisations, vendor and currency system, in game cut scenes, and a design that just screams quality. Hell, it even made escort missions fun, which is an amazing achievement on its own.
Yes, you may have guessed that I really like Resident Evil 4, and you’d be correct. I consider Resident Evil 4 to be one of the best games ever made. When I first played it, I found a brilliant action adventure the likes of which I’d never played before. It looked fantastic, handled even better, and was every bit the game the series needed to keep it fresh and demonstrate that Capcom hadn’t hit a winning formula with the original by mistake. This was an instant classic. I’ve played the game so many times, and on almost all platforms it’s been released on, including the GameCube, PS2, Wii and PC. Each time I’m amazed that every playthrough remains just as good as the last, and now I’ve played it on PS4, I realise that Resident Evil 4 is one of the very few games out there that is simply ageless. If it was released today for the first time, it’d still be fantastic, that’s no exaggeration.
I’ve made no secret of my endless love for the original Deus Ex in the past (which I consider the best game ever made), and that remains true, but playing it now you can’t help but see how Ion Storm’s title has aged. It hasn’t fared well, and although the core gameplay is great, it’s hard to look past the primitive mechanics and visuals. Resident Evil 4, on the other hand, is still excellent in all regards. Sure, the high res paint job helps things visually, but even with this it’s not exactly current gen. This doesn’t matter, tough, as the gameplay is what counts here, and in no way has age degraded it. The pacing, the combat, the mixture of puzzling and action, the tension, it’s all as good now as it ever was. Each area of the game offers new and interesting challenges and foes, boss battles are never simple bullet sponge affairs, and require tactics and ingenuity, and the story, although not exactly award winning, was a refreshing change from the usual Umbrella saga.
You could argue that the shooting controls, which root you to the spot when aiming are old hat and have aged, but even here I’d disagree. These fixed shooting only adds to the challenge and the feeling of panic you get as a horde of Ganados lurch towards you, or those terrifying Regenerators with their horrible sniffling slowly edge closer. Being able to run and gun would damage this, and I’m glad the hold-over from the originals was left in tact throughout the remasters and re-releases.
On PS4 the game plays just as it did on GameCube and other platforms, save the Wii which had Wii remote shooting, and it’s another testament to the game’s original and lasting quality that nothing has changed. It just didn’t need to be. Yes, Leon can at times be a little too tank-like, leading to loss of health or wasted ammo due to clunky controls, but it’s not enough to really hurt the game. The challenge is always fair, and never cheap.
That said, I did notice one thing with this version. It may be the simple fact that I’ve played the game so much, but I found many sections of the game that were very challenging in the older versions to be much easier here. The section in the castle hall for example, where you fight waves of foes and then have to cover Ashley as she uses leavers to raise a bridge, all in one checkpoint was always tricky. Here I found it to be a total cakewalk. Again, this may just be over familiarity, but there were other sections here that didn’t seem to offer as much challenges as before.
Like previous re-releases, the PS4 version has all of the extra content, such as Ada’s missions and side story, the Mercenaries challenges and so on, as well as the extra costumes and new game plus weapons. It’s the full package, and is arguably the best for purists who didn’t warm to the Wii’s motion controls for whatever reason.
This is, of course, possibly a downside too. There’s just nothing else here that we haven’t seen in the many previous versions, except for trophy support. The game is identical to others, and so if you’ve already got it on Wii, PC, or even your good old PS2, there’s not much reason to buy it again. It does run faster and smoother than previous gen consoles, of course, but that’s about it.