One of the most beloved games of all time comes to the Switch but has the Resident Evil game that changed everything still got it?
With the deserved success of the Resident Evil 2 remake it now seems only a matter of time before a similar revamp of Resident Evil 3 is announced. And if that’s a success too then it will surely be time for Resident Evil 4 to be modernised as well (although hopefully Capcom will stop to give CODE: Veronica, the real Resident Evil 3, the same treatment first). Resident Evil 4 has already had a clear influence on the new version of Resident Evil 2, so this is another good excuse to see how the original game stands up.
We say ‘another’ because, over the years, we’ve reviewed Resident Evil 4 more than any other over single game. Partly because it’s been re-released for almost every format going and partly because it’s one of our favourite games ever. And yet despite so many versions, on so many formats, there isn’t really a definition edition, with none of them being full remakes but instead medium (at best) effort remasters. And, predictably, that’s the same case with this new Switch version.
The problem has always been that Resident Evil 4 is a game caught awkwardly between the modern and retro eras. At the time its graphics were state-of-the-art and although the low polygon visuals still polish up remarkably well today, they’re not stylised enough to be considered timeless. Likewise, the third person combat was revolutionary in 2005, but although it’s often cited as the primary influence for Gears Of War many playing it fresh today will wonder why it doesn’t handle more like that, or indeed the new Resident Evil 2.
Although the phrase survival horror accurately describes Resident Evil 4 the game has surprisingly little in common with previous Resident Evil games – and virtually nothing with the likes of Silent Hill. This is an action title first and foremost, with ammo in abundance, relatively little exploration, and almost no puzzle solving.
As the game starts you’re tasked with rescuing the president’s daughter from a spooky Spanish village. The village makes up only a small part of the entire 12+ hour game and yet it remains one of the most memorable opening sequences ever. It starts by ratcheting up the tension, as you observe the weird, Texas Chainsaw Massacre-inspired villagers and then suddenly throws everything at you as you’re mobbed by hordes of enemies (which are absolutely not zombies).
Running around in a blind panic, looking for a place to hide, you duck into a two-storey house. At this point one of the game’s innumerable sieges starts, as chainsaw-wielding villagers break down the door below and others use ladders (which you can knock down) on the top windows. Nowhere is safe and there’s no right way to go: it’s just down to your wits and your aim.
Despite sequences such as this progression is much more linear than other Resident Evils and there is almost no backtracking. Instead there’s an emphasis on set pieces: not just sieges, but also a number of escort missions and multiple boss battles. The sense of anxiety and desperation is fantastic and there’s usually many ways to succeed, from barricading doors to creative use of gas lamps and the game’s many and percussive weapons. With no fixed camera angles the game uses what was at the time an unusual third person view that stops at the waist. This is then zoomed in to over the shoulder for aiming those weapons that don’t have a first person view.
It still works extremely well and although the inability to move while shooting should feel restrictive it becomes part of the distinctive gameplay and tactics. Non-believers will complain about the ‘tank controls’ but traditionally the series has always depended on a degree of clumsiness in the controls, helping to instil the idea that you will never be fully prepared for all the game can throw at you.
Resident Evil 4 also features some of the best quick time event sequences ever seen in gaming. Used sparingly these give you the illusion of control in many of the cut scenes, with a knife fight towards the end being a particular classic. The game as a whole has an excellent cinematic look and feel, with superb pacing that manages to come up with new ideas, enemies and situations right until the very end.
There are a few unequivocal flaws though, the most obvious being the inventory system, which despite the loss of the magic storage chests from the old games still makes changing weapons awkward and jarring. There’s also a new shop system where you can buy and upgrade weapons. This adds to the gameplay, but at the cost of immersion as you stop to shop in the middle of a charnel house. Although that’s not to diss the wonderfully cheesy, and now iconic, merchant.
The other strange thing about Resident Evil 4 is that it’s not actually very scary. Incredibly tense and exciting but rarely ever a tax on your nerves in the same way as the originals were. This is a probably unavoidable side effect of the increased amount of action and ammo, but since the end result is such a uniquely entertaining game it hardly seems to matter.
Resident Evil 4 remains a triumph. It’s a constant temptation to spoil some of its surprises by reminiscing over favourite set pieces, but if you haven’t come across it before we certainly don’t want to be the ones to ruin it for you. In terms of performance, this Switch version seems to be based on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 remasters from a few years back, with the only major difference being a lower resolution.
The frame rate is also a little uneven, especially in docked mode, but portable mode feels superior not just because of that but because on a smaller screen the 14-year-old visuals don’t seem quite so jarring. There’s no attempt to use any of the Switch’s other features though, such as replicating the Wii version’s motion controls, and there’s the quite considerable problem that the game is £29.99. Despite the PlayStation 4 version being just £15.99.
That’s a shocking price increase (Resident Evil 1 remake and 0 were also released at the same time and for the same price), with no added benefit. It turns what would have been a welcome trip down memory lane into an expensive indulgence even for those that have, somehow, never played it before.
But then our advice for a long time has been that, until the inevitable remake happens, you should try to play the original GameCube or Wii versions, borrow an old non-HD telly and experience the game as it was originally intended to be played. Cost factors aside, it’s far better to remember a game like this from when it was in its prime, rather than yet another half-hearted remaster.
Resident Evil 4
In Short: Still one of the best action games ever made, but while this is a competent port/remaster the absurdly high price makes it an expensive novelty.
Pros: Endlessly inventive set pieces and action, with enormous variety and some great enemies and boss battles. Endearingly cheesy characters and plot.
Cons: Intrusive inventory can spoil the atmosphere. Many of the control mechanics now seem very outdated. Minor frame rate issues and an unfairly high price.
Formats: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Capcom Production Studio 4
Release Date: 21st May 2019
Age Rating: 15
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