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.
And what is there to say about its combat? Every great third-person game since has been influenced by Resi 4's over-the-shoulder viewpoint and pacing, whether that's Gears going all-out for the meat, or Dead Space re-assembling and refining it all with relish. The game introduces its once-unfamiliar mechanics slowly before letting you loose in a Ganado-infested village where the sound of a chainsaw cuts through whatever heroic plans you had, and from there it just builds and builds.
Leon is the unluckiest guy in the world. Sea monsters, giants, mad Russians, head-munching worms, acid-spewing insects, psycho turncoats, room-filling masses red in tooth and claw and a half-scorpion, half-Gene Simmons: they all want a piece. The boss encounters are spectacular, without the over-reliance on repetition that's the hallmark of so many Capcom games - and when the odd one does return, things get even more interesting.
Take the Garrador. The name in Spanish means 'man with claws', and this one's blind, but capable of tracking running and gunshots. The first encounter's in a relatively open room with bells at either end that can be rung to attract him, exposing the good old weak spot on his back. Easy. The second is in a tiny cage, with minor enemies inside and outside. Here you can't simply bide time and set up shots, but have to escape quickly and put down the grunts before confronting the Garrador. The third time, it's the most open room yet - but you're at one end, two Garradors are at the other, and you're surrounded by cultists that simply have to be shot.
This technique of addition and variation holds true for Resi 4's basic combat. The Ganados and cultists are awesome opponents, not quite intelligent but definitely inexorable, forcing you into ever-tighter corners and more desperate moves. The touch of genius here comes with context-sensitive melee moves that, against all instinct, have you rushing towards the crowd again and again to deliver a roundhouse kick and just squeeze a little breathing room. And when you're in that corner and make that headshot, only Resi 4 would turn it back in your face by having an even more deadly enemy sprout from the corpse's neck.
Certain encounters have been tweaked. The sequence fighting Salazar's 'miserable insects' in the sewer is the most notable beneficiary, a dangerous encounter that experienced players could sneak through with a sniper rifle in previous versions. Here, they get right in your face and are much more adept at not sitting around waiting to be shot, and it's a much better battle for it. The difficulty level on Normal has been upped a notch from the rather weak-sauce Wii equivalent, pleasingly enough, though it's annoying you that can't select Hard without completing the game first - which surely many have done five times by now, albeit not here.
Resi 4 HD includes all of the bonus content that previous versions have introduced, though the only substantial tidbit is Separate Ways (an Ada-starring mission), and that's forgettable enough. Resi 4 is a huge game, however, clocking in at around 12 hours per play-through, backed up by the superb Mercenaries mode and loaded for repeat play with a clutch of in-game weapons and costumes.
But surely we're all repeat players by now. (If not, where have you been? And buy this as soon as possible.) For those of us that have played it, the question is, how much? If, like me, you've been through its various versions many times and unlocked everything again and again, you just don't need to see her like this. If you enjoyed it at release and haven't been back since, seriously consider the Wii version. It'll be cheaper to get hold of, the pointer controls are great, and if anything, it looks better with soft edges.
That's the killer: Resident Evil 4 HD doesn't look better than Resident Evil 4 SD. Who would have known, but scaling back clever fogging and lighting effects (as this has done in many places) and simply exposing old textures in 1080p doesn't look that good. It's a stark sight.
Resident Evil 4 is a brilliant game, but that's exactly why Resident Evil 4 HD is such a disappointment. This is no definitive version or director's cut (wouldn't that be something), but a criminally half-baked attempt to winkle a little extra cash from the still-beating heart of a classic. Resi 4 deserves better than this; Resi 4's legions of devoted fans deserve better than this; and Capcom should be much better than this.
7 / 10