Back before Twilight and the ‘tween’ vampire craze, back before the Left 4 Deads, Dead Islands and Dead Risings; before zombies were the horror faux par that they’ve become, the only real
contender on the fire-scattered, smoke-filled horizon were the Resi games. Resident Evil 4 successfully took the suspenseful gameplay of the previous 3 titles and boosted it up a notch. Providing many ground-breakingly awesome gaming experiences, this now classic GameCube, PS2, PC and (eventually) Wii title explodes on to Xbox Live Arcade with an inviting pool of blood still glistening on its infected survival-horror veneer, even after all these years.
Looking quite crisp, this HD rendition still holds its own in the visual department. An almost identical port from the original GameCube title released way back in 2005 provides graphics that surpass some lesser next-gen games currently on the market. Sure, there are lots of graphical elements we take for granted in today’s generation that are missing from Resi 4, but the game’s atmosphere and clever level construction ensures this never hinders your gaming experience.
With the exception of blockier characters (thanks to a lesser polygon count), it still looks the goods, especially with last-gen textures that have upscaled incredibly well, serving as a stamp on the visual quality of the game when it was released six years ago.
Dynamic lighting is relegated to the game’s environment and cut-scenes, not on the characters in the environment though, and shadows are your old-school dark circles under foot. And for any newcomers to this legendary game, architecture and level-design, just like the story progression, improves immeasurably as you push through this twisted Eastern European nightmare; slaying through hordes of infected villagers and cultists to destroy the Las Plagas.
Ganados, Los Illuminados, and the aforementioned Las Plagas mean it’s time to brush up on your third-grade Spanish, ‘cause your gonna be hearing a lot more spouted from the rotting voice boxes of the infected townsfolk and Spanish militants. Our first glimpse of story and the instigator for the ensuing (and expected) bloodbath come courtesy of the kidnapping of the US president’s daughter. As a government agent, Leon S. Kennedy (that’s you) is entrusted to perform this task... without ruining what is a great narrative filled with twists and turns, let’s just say that Leon deals with a lot more personal
issues than one might expect from an action game.
Kicking right into the action, Leon drops into the thick of it at a Spanish farmland and whilst there are no Zombies to be seen, the townsfolk attack on sight, acting suspiciously like zombies. They point and groan in distorted voices, hunching towards you with a mindless intent to kill. You can see that unquenchable thirst for your blood in their eyes as you attempt to target their weak areas, finding that they seem incredibly strong, maintaining several shots to the head.
Once you rescue Ashley, the president’s daughter, and your entire reason for being in this mess, the game’s dynamic changes. Protecting Ashley is now added to your already daunting task of tackling the oncoming enemy hordes. Directing Ashley to wait
and saving her when her useless self gets carried away by the enemy, requires a little vigilance on your behalf as she’s not the well-trained agent you are. Luckily, the one thing Ashley is good at is hiding, which is essential if you want to survive without her losing an arm. She rarely gets in your way and aside from being a nuisance she enables access to previously unreachable areas. The level-design occasionally requires backtracking to reach these areas and to progress but never to the game’s detriment.
At a solid 15 hours of gameplay, this is still a hefty title. There’s no multiplayer or co-op love, although once you have played right through you get access to a whole bunch of new game modes. These modes are more than simple tack-ons with some taking place in the same timeline and story as the main game; fleshing out the game’s narrative by allowing you to take on the guise of some of the many characters you interact with and play out their intertwining roles.
Resi games haves always oozed creepiness, and whilst the suspenseful elements in Resi 5 were lacking, 4 delivers them in spades. The game is just as gory and over-the-top as you would expect from series creator, Shinji Mikami, and the story is also a notch up on Resi 5. Just as intense and seminal as when it was originally released, the non obstructive third-person works great and if you’re one of the unfortunate few who haven’t played this title before, you’ll get to see the first implementation of this play style, which arguably shaped modern action games into what we play today.
Game configuration allows for two controller types. For the purists out there, the original control set-up is reminiscent of the GameCube controller, while a newer option slightly modernises things with the controller’s triggers being used for iron-sight-like aiming.
Once you get over not using your right stick (there’s no free-roaming camera system in place) and using your left stick solely, you’ll get used to not being able to walk and shoot simultaneously. This sounds like a dated mechanic, but it fits perfectly and adds to the element of suspense in what is still a relentless game, even by next-gen standards.
Add to the above a decent variety of mindless drones/n
ombies, with constant additions of new infected and bosses, all with their own strengths and weaknesses, and you‘ve got enough variety to keep the combat both challenging and visceral. Pro Tip:
Remember, those dynamite carrying enemies can be used to your advantage, just take out that stick of dynamite before they throw it and you’ve cleared a slew of enemies with a single shot. George Romero himself couldn’t have done it better.
Never a series to take it easy on us, Resident Evil 4 still offers up the staple typewriter save stations, though these can be few and far between, and don’t always mean you’re safe (unlike previous installments). Checkpoints are scattered at reasonable lengths throughout though, which you will be thankful for when you encounter the several quicktime action events the game serves up. These don’t occur too often and rarely seem contrived, although most do involve repetitively bashing the X-button over and over, or a two button push to dodge, but thankfully their placement is based more on reflexes and twitch than on cashing in on the QTE craze.
Along your travels you will encounter the Mysterious Stranger, a creepy masked salesman who pops up in the most inconspicuous locations to offer you his wares or to upgrade your many weapons. And believe me you will
need him. In the later levels he opens up a Shooting Gallery, offering you an opportunity to refine your targeting skills and provides for some old-school figurine collecting (bottle caps) that come complete with distorted sound effects.
Resi 4 offers everything a modern release should and stands the test of time with its infected head held high. Providing a steady mix of action and suspense with a puzzle thrown in here and there (for good measure), it does a splendid job mixing up gameplay so you aren’t just battling endless repetitive hordes. Its age does come through a little in the lack of dynamic lighting and some of the textures looking a little blurry by today’s standards, but this is a top-notch game and can be forgiven.
I enjoyed playing this a second time through – even more than I enjoyed my Resi 5 experience. It’s well worth the hefty XBLA asking price, and if you don’t already own this on any of its other platforms, or just want to relive the experience in glorious HD, Resident Evil 4 should be high on your “must play” list.