There’s a case to be made for striking while the iron is hot, so for those who subscribe to the idea of video games being regularly tossed aside for a newer release, Resident Evil 4: Ultimate HD Edition is a strange proposition. Critics (and fans) have maintained that the game is still one of the best entries in the series, and now a new audience is being brought into the fold.
Following Resident Evil 4‘s debut on the Nintendo GameCube, a wealth of ports brought the game to various home consoles, including later ‘remastered’ versions on the Xbox 360, Ps3 and the PC. But the PC version was never the adaptation PC fans had hoped for – which is exactly the problem that Capcom claims to be fixing now. Does the Ultimate HD Edition live up to its title?
Exactly how you see the game measuring up to that question depends on your hopes for the long-awaited PC port, with the previous version lacking mouse and keyboard controls, customization of graphics, resolution, and framerate. Those problems are solved with this “definitive” PC version of the game, adding mouse support, (some) custom key bindings, remastered textures and customizable resolution. Not to mention a framerate locked at 60 frames per second.
For those who may have missed the original release of RE4, it’s worth pointing out just how much the game differs from what is now expected of the series. When Ashley Graham – daughter of the American President – is kidnapped and held hostage in rural Spain, the game’s hero Leon S. Kennedy is sent to track her down, crossing paths with a village filled with infected members of a religious cult, intent on killing nearly every outsider they encounter.
The decision to populate the game with frantic, maniacal human beings instead of zombies still pays off, resulting in twisted monsters and genuinely shocking enemies that still hold up in terms of character design after all these years. And while Capcom has pointed to the increased level of polish and improved textures as one of the Ultimate HD Edition‘s biggest selling points, there is only so much that can be done with nearly decade-old assets.
Since the quality of the game itself – which PC gamers wanted to enjoy in the first place – was never in question, it comes as little comfort to say that the majority of the criticism that can be leveled against this version are technical. Hiccups or overlooked glitches are par for the course, but when the game bears the title of an “Ultimate Edition” of a beloved game, even the minor problems seem like massive drawbacks.
For starters, the decision to lock the game to 60 fps sounds promising, and when all aspects of the game are hitting their stride, the results are impressive (in the sense that the game doesn’t seem to be a decade old, merely several years). But when a taxing effect, texture, or amount of enemies onscreen deal a blow to the game’s speed, the action slows to accommodate it. Those who watched us play through the first 30 minutes of the game saw the slowdown firsthand, and while it’s far from game-breaking, significant chugging for a game this old will be unacceptable for many.
If that were the only technical issue that managed to make it past Capcom, it might be forgiven. But the improved textures are a similar source of drawbacks that seem unnecessary; improved textures can only do so much to boost the appearance of characters boasting the same number of polygons they did originally, but it’s the inconsistent application of the improvements that is most jarring.
Fans will enjoy seeing characters and key locations rendered with higher levels of detail than ever before, but placing them up against textures which have not undergone similar improvement results in an odd but attention-grabbing contradiction. It certainly doesn’t erase the benefits of adding detail where the developers have, but it is nearly impossible to overlook.
The bottom line is that the improved textures can occasionally give locations and spaces entirely new levels of detail – but projects a design that the original developers never intended. Where the original assets communicated a clear and cohesive sense of foreboding and horror, the uneven improvements can’t help but affect that. The original resolution and textures are accessible from the main menu, but it speaks to the issue at the core of RE4‘s “definitive” PC port: the times have changed in some fairly important ways, and Capcom’s efforts to re-tool, reconfigure, and remaster this game aren’t always flawless.
From a mechanics standpoint, the game is as soundly designed as ever. Even if mouse and keyboard support has been added (with some questionable choices, like removing mouse support in menus, inventory screens, etc.), there’s no ignoring the fact that the game was designed for a gamepad. Hopefully, the time elapsed since the game’s original release means most PC gamers possess either an Xbox 360 controller or third-party gamepad to avoid the issue entirely, but if PC owners wish to hold the grudge, they still have grounds to.
It’s difficult to criticize too much of Resident Evil 4: Ultimate HD Edition since games are made to be played, and the terror of having to plant your feet to fire on a horde of enemies – and the feeling of power it brings – is as strong as ever. The mechanics, pacing, and… unique story and writing that fans initially loved are alive and well, preserved in greater detail than ever before. But the technical issues and inconsistencies in a game this old is where Capcom dropped the ball; had they managed to avoid those pitfalls, it would be easy to name this the “ultimate” incarnation of the game.
As it stands, Resident Evil 4 is as strong an experience as it was in 2005, no matter how pretty it looks. But as the “ultimate edition” of the game, this port stumbles where it doesn’t have to, and invites criticism instead of silencing it once and for all. A shame, but for those who never played through the title, or those thinking of strolling (or sprinting) down memory lane, this one is a no-brainer.
Resident Evil 4: Ultimate HD Edition is available now for the PC.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.