Review: Resident Evil 4 HD (Switch)

The masterpiece is finally back on a Nintendo console and (almost) better than ever.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 07/31/2019 07:30 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Some of the greatest shooter mechanics ever produced; gorgeous art direction; campy but engaging narrative; tons of replay value; Leon is the Keanu of Resident Evil
Poison Mushroom for...
No motion controls; ridiculous looking low resolution FMV sequences haven't been optimized; some players might be thrown by the inability to shoot and move simultaneously

Resident Evil 4 was kind of a big deal when it was first released in 2004. At the time, Capcom was in the midst of transitioning the series from PlayStation to the then-next generation crop of consoles. It was an undertaking not taken lightly by the company as Resident Evil was Capcom’s marquee franchise at that point. So serious was the endeavor of crafting what would become Resident Evil 4 that the game went through several builds before the one fans know and love was settled upon. Resident Evil 4 was a sea change for not just the series, but also third-person shooters as a whole. The title’s revolutionary over-the-shoulder camera system and intuitive gunplay changed how video games would be designed forever.

The 14 years between then and now is a long time, though, so questions about how much RE4 “holds up” by today’s standards are unavoidable. Thankfully, the years haven’t put a dent in what is one of the single greatest action experiences ever coded. Previous entries in the series worked to compensate for many of the limitations of Sony’s PlayStation console via fixed camera angles, pre-rendered graphics, and stilted “tank” controls. While the results were some very fun and scary games, development of RE4 was done on Nintendo’s GameCube hardware where such limitations were either entirely gone or greatly mitigated. RE4 boasted fully three-dimensional environments and replaced the shambling horde of the undead with the much deadlier and faster Ganado enemies.

These differences resulted in a far more immersive game and nothing about that has changed all these years later. RE4’s art direction is timeless. The mottled brown and gray tones of RE4’s rural European backdrop are equal parts mesmerizing and foreboding. From the horrors of a rotting farm to the operating rooms of a desolate military island, RE4 steals the player’s breath with its myriad settings. The bump to HD has done little to stifle the beauty of the game world. Some textures lose their impact with the higher resolution, but overall everything and everyone is crisp and detailed. The monster designs are still deliriously gruesome. From the unsettling shaking of a Regenerator to the sight of “It” clinging to the ceiling, there are countless fiends that will have the player glued to the edge of their seat.

The campy narrative is par for the course in most Resident Evil games, but Leon is so endearing that it’s hard to not be charmed by it all. The premise is fairly simple: Leon must rescue the President’s daughter from a terrorist group holding her for ransom. Fortunately, there are some fun twists and turns that prevent the tale from becoming overly generic. It also doesn’t hurt that Leon is a real charmer. Equal measures cool and heroic, Leon is seemingly never phased by any of the madness taking place all around him. He’s truly the calm in the storm, which makes it a little bit easier to stomach some of the gauntlet of horrors that Leon (and thus the player) must endure to get himself and Ashley to safety. Throw in the enigmatic Ada Wong, the roguish Luis, and a plethora of over-the-top baddies, and RE4 really makes the most of its storyline.

The switch from zombies to the vastly more nimble and methodical Ganado enemies might have been in service to the narrative, but it was arguably more important from a gameplay perspective. The pioneering shooting mechanics of RE4 alone are an example of elegant and intuitive design, but coupled with these devious foes they really get a chance to shine. For fans of modern shooters, it might feel odd to not be able to move and shoot at the same time; others might even cynically deride this as Capcom “forcing” a sense of fear or panic by restricting player mobility. Whatever the reasons for the limitation, I found it an unremarkable omission. The action is blistering and satisfying in a way that few shooters, even among contemporary ones, could ever hope to emulate, let alone exceed. It’s a big part of the reason why the arcade-like The Mercenaries minigame is so beloved, as the core shooting gameplay of RE4 is truly engaging.

Still, if there’s anything that RE4 can be fairly accused of, it’s trading in tension and fear for bullets and adrenaline. For the most part, at least. Where games like Resident Evil 3: Nemesis would be relentless with jump scares and legitimate frights, RE4 isn’t shy about pumping the action up to eleven in order to challenge the player’s resolve, instead. While I do sympathize with the notion that the original trilogy of games were scarier, I also believe that RE4 has some truly classic moments of terror to counter the assertion that it isn’t a proper horror game. The close quarters confrontation with Salazar’s Verdugo henchman in the sewers beneath the castle is like being caught inside of a pressure cooker, while the dread of approaching that first Garrador in the castle’s prison is hard to put into words. It’s not the scariest Resident Evil, but RE4 remains scary, nonetheless.

The joy of finally being able to play RE4 on the go (that shifty mobile port doesn’t count) is a huge boon to this Switch release, but Capcom did drop the ball in a couple of ways that prevent this from being the true, definitive version of the game. For one thing, Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition’s excellent motion controls are nowhere to be seen here. Many people bemoan the waggling of a Wii Remote, but in RE4, the addition was perfectly implemented. Yet, despite the Joy-Con being capable of reproducing those controls, Capcom has elected to omit them. Odder still is the hideously low resolution FMV sequences in Ada’s Separate Way and Assignment: Ada side quests. The poor video quality is a legacy of the modes’ origin on PlayStation 2 (whose build on that console had to be scaled back), but to think that Capcom couldn’t be bothered to give the scenes a facelift after countless re-releases of RE4 is far from acceptable.

Neither of those issues breaks RE4, but they’re noticeable distractions that could easily have been fixed prior to release. I could also point out that maybe a couple of variations to the Ganado villagers could help punch up the visuals, as well, as seeing the same handful of character models over and over can become a bit redundant, too.  Overall, however, RE4 is a stunning achievement that has shown minimal wear since 2004. Whether reliving the game or playing it for the first time, players will be astounded by the meticulous care that went into RE4’s creation. A wonderfully cheesy narrative, brilliant level and character design, stunning art direction, and some of the best shooting mechanics ever made all coalesce into a legend of the video game industry. Resident Evil 4 HD absolutely needs to be in everyone’s Switch library.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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