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Review: Resident Evil 4: Ultimate HD Edition

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Review: Resident Evil 4: Ultimate HD Edition

Consider Resident Evil 4: Ultimate HD Edition to be the video-game equivalent of a Criterion Collection release, the definitive version of the celebrated survival-horror classic from 2005. The polar opposite of that recent, scattershot travesty, Resident Evil 6, the game remains taunt in its pursuit of series vet Leon Kennedy, stranded in a rural village in Europe while investigating the disappearance of the president of the United States’s daughter, into the horrifying unknown. All but abandoning the series’s contrived and overcomplicated narrative involving corporate behemoth and nutbag evildoers the Umbrella Corporation, Resident Evil 4 reforged the series with a new perspective, both narratively and figuratively, replacing the still backgrounds of the first three titles with a free-moving, third-person, and over-the-shoulder perspective that is now the norm for modern action games.

Although Resident Evil 4 has been attacked by purists for turning the series away from horror to action, the truth is that this is a game that evolved the franchise without turning it away from its roots, which always merged action with horror. At its core, this is B-grade horror treated without contempt, a necessary evolution from, say, the first entry in the series, which climaxed with firing a rocket launcher at a biological weapon resembling Frankenstein’s monster. Further, the game straddles the line between action and horror expertly, quickly moving from spectacular combat sequences to scary and unknown situations without the guidance one expects in a video game; the sense of uncertainty that wracks the player throughout is discomfiting, and the inability to walk or run while firing is notable for being more authentic, realistic, and intense than it is in a majority of post-2005 third person shooters. (To anyone who might challenge this, I ask if you’ve ever attempted to fire a gun while sprinting, let alone fire it accurately.) The creatures in previous Resident Evil games, while iconic, are rooted in absurdity. It’s difficult to feel genuinely threatened by killer Audrey-II plants or oversized moths, whereas the threats here are rooted in reality, with a believable science-fiction bent, and consistently change size and form. Consider that, in the Spanish setting of the game, few characters speak Leon’s native tongue, a decision that renders most of the exchanges incomprehensible and disconcerting. (Capcom even changed the locals’ language to Italian in Spanish versions of the game to ensure that even Spanish speakers had a similar experience.) That constant fear of the unknown makes the game much more compelling and uncomfortable than any of the former, or latter, entries in the series.

Resident Evil 4: Ultimate HD Edition features the terrific single-player campaign in 60fps and 1080p, a dramatic graphical improvement from all previous versions of the game, with mouse support (a first for this game on the PC) and all of the bonus material from every previous release of Resident Evil 4, including the “Separate Ways” campaign and the addictive, trendsetting “Mercenaries” minigame. As the changes for this version of the game are entirely cosmetic, this edition still suffers from the original 2005 release’s problems: The pacing in the final quarter drags, with unnecessary repetition encumbering what’s otherwise a consistently varied and engaging storyline, while the finale falls back on the kind of derivative survival-horror tropes that the rest of the game neatly subverts. Still, despite Resident Evil 4 being nearly a decade old, it’s not easy to shake the sense that it remains one of the most engrossing, atmospheric, and addictive games the medium has ever seen.

Resident Evil 4: Ultimate HD Edition is now available from Capocom. To purchase it, click here.