Capcom’s Resident Evil 4 is generally regarded as a masterpiece. It might indeed be the best game in the franchise, but it is also 9 years old now, which means it is ancient by videogame standards. Has the recently released PC port brought anything new to the table and is the game still worth playing after all this time? You play as Leon S. Kennedy, a US special agent sent to find and rescue the president’s daughter from a cult known as Los Illuminados, which is supposed to be hiding out within a small village somewhere in Spain. You have barely arrived in the countryside, when all hell breaks loose and Leon, chased by a bunch of creepy villagers, stumbles from one incredulous plot twist towards the next.
Being dropped into a foreign place with crazy people who speak a language you don’t understand doesn’t sound too reassuring. When they also hunt you down with hatchets and pitchforks, it turns into the stuff of nightmares. The addition of grotesque monsters, mind-controlling parasites, and a generous dose of body horror doesn’t make it any better. The Resident Evil games always tread the very thin line between cheesy horror and intense, unsettling shocker. RE4 leans towards the latter, creating an incredibly dense atmosphere. Its bleak presentation and memorable, spooky music are pretty much perfect in conveying a constant sense of dread – even if the graphics definitely show their age these days.
The game is fairly lengthy, taking the average player around 15 hours or more to beat for the first time, but there is also a wealth of post-game content. You’ll be able to unlock silly costumes, new weapons, two additional mini-campaigns and the Mercenaries minigame, which pits you against hordes of enemies and a ticking clock. The most dedicated players can try to secure a spot at the leaderboards, which isn’t all that easy. Resident Evil 4 is pretty popular among speedrunners. The competition is fierce with really good runs taking merely 2-3 hours using a “New Game +” save file with some ridiculously powerful weapons unlocked.
My issues with the game are basically the same as they were when I first got my hands on it in 2005. Leon is portrayed as an action hero who can jump through windows and survive falling from high distances unscathed, yet he lumbers around and cannot even dodge properly. “Ludonarrative dissonance” indeed. The merchant, who keeps appearing at regular intervals and is peddling new weapons, upgrades, and other useful stuff, won’t ever sell you some of the ammunition he’s stocking. And QTEs already felt a bit outdated back then. Button-mashing and controller-wiggling don’t make for compelling gameplay, even if they only occasionally pop up. Having to replay a section, just because you missed a particular button prompt, will always feel cheap. But make no mistake, the game isn’t any less fun to play because of these niggles. You just have to learn to live with these little idiosyncrasies and Resident Evil 4 will be one hell of a ride, even after all this time.
The HD port is based on the Xbox 360 version, which in turn is based on the Gamecube original. Despite better textures, there is no denying that Resident Evil 4 looks and feels like it’s almost a decade old. Capcom released this new version with the intention of giving PC gamers an optimized experience with the game running at 1920×1080 with 60fps. As far as I can tell, the new HD textures make the environment and especially the characters look a lot crisper than the old, often muddy-looking ones. Specular highlight and bump mapping effects, which were absent from the Xbox 360 port, have also been reintroduced.
This is a neat graphical update, but it still doesn’t make Resident Evil 4 look fully modernized all of a sudden. You can choose between the original framerate of 30fps or fixed 60fps, which makes the game run a lot smoother and generally more of a joy to play. Well, at least it does in theory. Currently, just a small drop in the framerate leads to the game suddenly running in slow motion. Capcom identified this as a bug and they are working on it, but at the time of this review being published sudden framerate drops make the fixed 60fps setting nigh unplayable for me. Granted, my PC is barely up to par of modern gaming systems, but it runs other current games such as maxed-out Arkham Origins or Tomb Raider just fine. RE4 HD is essentially the port of an old game that should be running flawlessly. The recommended system specs are quite low, and if Capcom manage to fix the 60fps bug, most players will be able to enjoy the game just fine without any performance issues.
Another technical problem being currently addressed is the audio output. Sound effects are mono and there are no audio options to be found. However, positional audio is soon to be implemented. That’s laudable, but it does make you wonder how such an oversight could happen in the first place. On the other hand, Capcom’s post-release support has been nothing short of excellent so far; you can tell that they are really interested in delivering a good port, even if it takes a while to get there. In any case, issues are being addressed in weekly patches, and a lot of concerns, such as slightly better controls, have already been fixed.
Speaking of controls: when playing, I focused on keyboard and mouse, since most PC players will probably be using them. Compared to the first port of Resident Evil 4 to PC (a legendarily sloppy conversion that got a lot of hate when it was released) the mouse controls have been considerably improved, but they are still not perfect. It is important to keep in mind that the mouse is used to look around, which only slightly changes the camera angle, but it cannot be used to turn Leon around unless he’s aiming. The infamous “Tank Controls” haven’t been redone, either. There is no strafing, and only slightly adjusting your position or even dodging incoming attacks requires turning on the spot and moving forward or back. When you’re aiming your gun or knife, you’re also stationary. In today’s PC gaming world, this is all needlessly complicated. Most 3rd person shooters use the mouse to look, turn, aim and shoot. I didn’t expect Capcom to rebuild the old control scheme from the ground up, but if you weren’t aware of these quirks before, this is still essential information.
The keyboard controls definitely need some customizing before they feel comfortable. I’m not sure how anyone could think it was a good idea to have some extra keys just for QTEs. Or to use another, non-rebindable key for rotating an item in your inventory. That’s Page Down, by the way, in case you haven’t found it yet. Whoever set those keyboard commands probably isn’t used to playing games with a keyboard. Playing Resident Evil 4 with a gamepad, on the other hand, is a smooth and flawless experience. I highly recommend you make use of this option if it’s available to you. There’s another big issue, and it is inconceivable how Capcom didn’t address this. Resident Evil 4 has no English subtitles. Captions for other languages are available, but anglophone players are entirely reliant on the game’s audio. There are several reasons why this is a no-go, the least of which is that people with hearing disabilities won’t be able to play this game at all. This problem isn’t likely to get fixed, so if you insist on English subtitles, you’re permanently out of luck.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
Resident Evil 4 is still an important game worth experiencing. The thing is, if you have played any of its previous iterations on other systems, there is nothing new to be found here aside from better looking graphics. If it is your first contact with this essential entry in the series, Resident Evil 4 HD is definitely worth the $19.99. However, be advised that it’s a port of a nine year old game and comes with a bunch of mostly technical issues which could ever so slightly mar your experience. Since Capcom are still trying to fix some of those issues, we will revisit it soon and update the review accordingly.