Version tested: PlayStation 3
As a title, Resident Evil 4 HD is either a lie or the most severe case of 'lost in translation' since the SNES era. What's on the block here would be most accurately described as Resident Evil 4 Upscaled or, if you're feeling saucy, "the PC version".
'Remasters' are thick on the ground and, obviously, there are good and bad: when they're good, as with the scrupulous Ocarina of Time 3D a few months ago, they can be very good. And even bad ones are rarely horrid - after all, no-one's going to bother remaking Rise of the Robots, and this is still Resident Evil 4, probably the best action game of all time. The question is whether this is the best version of Resident Evil 4 available, and it surely should be.
It is the most high-resolution version of Resident Evil 4. Capcom may be one of the top developers in the world, but there's no denying its love of a quick buck - and Resident Evil 4 HD has been done as cheaply and quickly as possible. It's a cynical exercise resembling nothing so much as a naked emperor: standing tall with its high-res output, with everyone too astonished to remark on its itty-bitty textures.
Resi 4 HD's visuals are the GameCube version's: textures designed to be viewed at a maximum of 480p. Nothing has been done to the game's assets bar the upscaling, and what makes it worse is that Resi 4, from start to finish, requires you to pay especial attention to your surroundings. It begins with Leon approaching an unknown village through a sparse, scrubby forest, which is dotted with bear traps to snag unwary adventurers, often hidden under patches of grass. You spot these bear traps by looking at the ground.
The blades of grass look like Lego; yesterday's autumnal leaves are an auburn mush; the grey and black pixels of the bear traps blend into such a swamp, deadlier than ever. What have your eyes done to deserve this?
The problem never goes away. When in Salazar's castle, there are sumptuous hanging draperies emblazoned with the Los Illuminados crest, intricate and weird designs woven in rich red and gold. There are pictures of Lord Sadler on the walls, and incredible one-time-only sights like a reception hall where the curtains flutter in the wind as you fight scythe-wielding cultists. Look too close at any of them and it's horrible - and given how many times Lord Sadler's picture is used, to pick but one example, it soon begins to grate.
Simply up-ressing a game and calling it 'HD' might work for some: not here. It's like looking in the mirror on an extremely sunny day, every lump and bump exposed, the ugly and brutal truth. Leon's character model, the floppy hair and the stitches on his shoulder holsters, are right in your face: and by the way, don't forget that this is a 'premium' download and you'll be paying top dollar. It's part of a pair of Resi remakes with Code Veronica, which, incidentally, looks laughable.
That said, the fact is that Resident Evil 4 is one of the best games ever made. It set a bar for third-person action yet to be topped, backed up by a grotesque zoo of monsters, the greatest merchant in gaming, the best kind of B-movie scripting, and a frenzy of superb boss fights determined to one-up each other.
Leon S. Kennedy, the dork version of Dante, has to rescue the President's daughter and survive increasingly elaborate and deadly attempts to stop him by Lord Sadler and assorted baddies. One of Resi 4's many twists is in making Ashley, the damsel in distress, a tangible presence: Leon is a bad enough dude to rescue her almost immediately, but she's a defenceless companion that can be easily captured or killed during battles. Ashley's AI is almost non-existent and your commands are limited to 'wait' and 'follow me', but this simplicity is exactly why it works. The burden of managing her is entirely on the player, and the rare occasions when she does die are down to nothing more than cowardice.