The Ultimate Evil
In more than a few circles, Resident Evil 4 has been declared as one of the great games of the past decade. If you take away the hypnotic newness of Resident Evil and its PlayStation 1–era shock, this fourth installment in survival-horror is probably the best—and some evangelical fans and critics alike will go as far as calling it one of the best games ever made.
Playing Resident Evil 4 again—for the fifth or sixth time on what feels like as many platforms—is an interesting exercise for me. I’ve reviewed it on GameCube, PS2, and most recently the Wii. This high-definition polish for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 is essentially another go with the same game that received exceptional accolades upon its 2005 GameCube debut; any aesthetic improvements are minimal, beyond the always-welcome HD presentation, and, yes, the control scheme is still locked in tightly over the shoulder, pushing claustrophobia over ease of movement.
When I say this most recent offering in the Resident Evil tome is an exercise, its reach does, in a sense, feel scholarly—like I’m going through an old book I know front to back and continue to discover more riches. But through the years, I’m also increasingly focused on what I forgave more readily before, and it’s that control scheme with which I’m starting to find more issues. Some players hate the way this game feels—the leaden movement of the character and very deliberate aiming mechanism, as well as the lack of strafe when a weapon’s drawn. I get that. You have to adapt; the core design is very specific and unforgiving for someone more used to flowing combat and higher-velocity strategizing. For what the game gives back—a slight helplessness and focus on anticipating a scene and the enemy pieces like a game of chess—Resident Evil 4 can be distinctly satisfying.
The camera’s often framed right up against the character, bringing in the cone of vision so tightly that the disorientation can often become distracting. This time around, I found this a bit more off-putting than I have in the past—but in those same moments of slight annoyance, I came to appreciate the grounding within these terrifically designed set pieces. For a game this technologically limited, the way all the creepy, dirty details texture the world is an example of high artistry over workmanlike graphics. The gamemakers had to compromise and understand the limitations of the GameCube when building Resident Evil 4, and I can think of few better examples of such a triumph over process. There was a moment in the graveyard, with the lonely church looming in the distance, lightning crashing, and darkness spilling into the corners of the gravestones that I had to just sit back and enjoy the visual achievement of it all.
In that same scene, and those like it, a scrutinizing eye will point to the stilted animations of a lumbering zombie or the confused run of a wolf bumping into a wall. Resident Evil 4 is, along the depths of its seams, clunky and worn, but the tapestry is damned absorbing. The gamemakers know where to drop in enemies and populate the scene with architecture, mood, and gothic wonder. To this day, fighting the El Gigante monster, yet again, and watching him emerge from his prison and kill his captors before setting his slobbery sights on me; or descending the castle tomb and engaging the shackled warrior, blind and in a rage, is genre gaming at its best. Resident Evil 4 can be brain-dead, silly, and overblown, but it’s also a spin on horror that nails those important beats. It deserves those accolades it once received and will remain a storied classic—HD remastering or not.
Summary:It’s Resident Evil 4, once again, in slick HD. Love it or leave it, I love it.
- The Good: The best Resident Evil available
- The Bad: Control scheme takes some adapting
- The Ugly: That horrible look on a zombie’s face when he’s dying