Resident Evil 4 Ultimate HD Edition
Upon its original release in 2005, Resident Evil 4 was a pivotal title in many ways. For the series itself, it marked a volte-face of some ambition, completely overhauling the lumbering survival horror of the previous games and replacing it with an all-out, guns-blazing, action romp. More widely, its development signalled a growing change in gaming tastes, as the formerly booming Japanese scene continued to retract and look toward Western influences to keep worldwide sales healthy. In both those regards, RE4 should have been a messy affair at best, however, if it was symptomatic of a swelling sea change, it rode in on the highest crest imaginable.
Unlike other similar games before or since, there's rarely a set-piece or sequence in RE4 that unites players in their praise. That's because developers Capcom rarely drop the ball throughout the twenty-hour running time and when they do, it barely matters. It begins with players taking on the fopp-haired, muscle-bound Leon Kennedy as he attempts to single-handedly rescue the President's daughter and simply escalates from there. A rolling cavalcade of superb boss fights and tense one-man-against-the-horde stand-offs are its core and cluster, easily elevating proceedings above its b-movie plot and lukewarm voice acting.
It may be less than a decade old, but as Halo: Anniversary proved, a lot can change in that time. Since its initial release on Gamecube, there have been two generational leaps along with the near-ubiquitous uptake of high definition that this series' high watermark now has to contend with. In that respect, and despite the admirable facelift, Resident Evil 4 is certainly showing a few wrinkles but nothing beyond its natural ageing process and this particular iteration improves on the 2011 Xbox 360 update. Its concessions to older gameplay mechanics are more noticeable, particularly the much-discussed tank-like turning of Leon, something that may put off less experienced players.
Yet Capcom somehow manage to turn every negative into a positive here, drawing Leon as a veritable brick shithouse to defuse some criticism, then using his lumbering turns to up the ante and tension as events inevitably heat up. Horror games in particular have form in utilising a systems limitations to their favour (think Silent Hill's 'fog' or even the original Resident Evil's 'loading doors'). This, along with some of the best game design and set-pieces of its generation ensures that despite the flaws, both past and present, RE4 still manages to hold its blood-stained head above the prettier, more agile pack.
In short, if you haven't played Resident Evil 4 before then play it now, on any format and on any TV display. The ambition and execution will outshine any hardware limitations like few other games. However, unlike some previous ports, Capcom have done just about enough here to warrant shelling out a few more quid on one of gaming's greats. Some may have liked a little more tweaking, and it could have perhaps benefitted from an updated inventory, but like adding CGI dinosaurs to spaceports or super-imposing walkie-talkies over shotguns, some things are best left the way they are.