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Resident Evil 4 HD (Xbox 360) artwork

Resident Evil 4 HD (Xbox 360) review

"I didnít die all that much during my playthrough of RE4, yet I constantly Ė constantly Ė felt like I was within an inch of my death, scraping for ammo, thrust into overwhelming situations that I was ill-equipped to handle. RE4 is a game that unyieldingly makes you feel helpless when you never are."

Few opening sequences have set the stage more perfectly than the first fifteen minutes of Resident Evil 4. After picking off a few violent locals without much trouble, you wander into an old Spanish village whereupon you are suddenly ambushed by dozens of crazed hostiles, all dressed in ye olde attire, all shouting and moaning, some wielding knives and pitchforks. You barricade yourself inside of a house just as you hear someone firing up a chainsaw. Upstairs, you find a shotgun mounted on the wall and a hand grenade in a cabinet. Youíll need them immediately, because the locals have already propped ladders against the side of the building and are now breaking through the second story windows. And as youíre holding off the seemingly never-ending mob Ė initially aiming for headshots to conserve ammo, then getting sloppier as your slow-but-determined attackers get nearer Ė youíve got to keep an ear perked for the roar of a chainsaw getting louder, lest your diverted attention cost you a head.

This sequence was the talk of the industry when shellshocked journalists were first able to play it themselves. Itís fondly remembered as the moment when Resident Evil became awesome again, or perhaps for the first time. Seven years later, it still knocks me on my ass, and that rush is reinstated countless times through RE4ís 15- to 20-hour campaign. See, in most cases, an opening level like that would be setting the bar too high, but whatís most impressive is that RE4 lives up to its early promises in that itís constantly exploring new ways to thrill you, scare you, excite you, rivet you. Youíd think Capcom would have run out of ideas at some point; they did not.

Resident Evil 4 HD asset

Survival horror used to mean weighing your options. You had an extremely limited amount of everything (including saves), and you never knew what youíd face next. If you ran into a zombie, you could choose to simply run past it and save your bullets for something you canít ignore. But while your enemies in RE4 certainly arenít human, theyíre not zombies. They ambush you in large, coordinated groups. They wield weapons and shields. They outflank you. Thereís no getting around it here: RE4 is a game about shooting things. If something attacks you, if must be attacked back. The game moves swiftly and in a relatively straight line, and youíll generally only be permitted to continue when no one and nothing else is still breathing. Economic consumption of ammo is certainly required, but ammo conservation most certainly is not. It doesnít matter whether you might need that grenade later; you need it now.

But RE4 is not, as many argue, an action game. Aiming via laser sight is intuitive and analog-enabled Ė a first for the series Ė but you still canít move while shooting, and the firearms are wobbly and intentionally difficult to use. You can buy weapons and upgrade them, but you canít buy ammunition. Youíll find enough lying around to manage, but not enough to be comfortable, and thatís the thing. The difference between action and survival horror is how vulnerable you feel. I didnít die all that much during my playthrough of RE4, yet I constantly Ė constantly Ė felt like I was within an inch of my death, scraping for ammo, thrust into overwhelming situations that I was ill-equipped to handle. RE4 is a game that unyieldingly makes you feel helpless when you never are. If thatís not survival horror Ė and first-class, grade-A survival horror at that Ė I donít know what is.

Capcom employs every horror device in their arsenal Ė suspense, atmosphere, tension, surprise, fear of the unknown. They toy with our expectations, raise the stakes, or change the stakes completely. They masterfully, and frequently, lull us into a false sense of security, such as when we shoot an attackerís head off only to see an enormous tentacle spring out in its place, or when we close a gate on an overpowered boss who can simply rip right through it. They suddenly and without warning throw us into close-quarters combat situations Ė in a cage, or on an elevator, or while riding a mine cart Ė in which slow, delicate, ammo-conserving precision will get you killed. They dump you into an industrial area for the gameís final act and pit you against enemies that actually shoot back, and for a while it seems as if RE4 has gone full shooter modeÖ and then Capcom unveils the gameís scariest (and most difficult-to-kill) enemy yet. The first time you encounter one, you donít have the equipment to bring it down. If youíve played the game, you know what Iím talking about. If you havenít, thereís no way in hell Iím going to spoil it.

RE4 should be required playing for anyone seeking to design a game, as itís a masterclass of pacing. Even the enormous castle in which the gameís entire middle act is set somehow never finds a way to grow repetitious. One minute youíre traversing battlements while avoiding catapult fire. The next minute youíre creeping through a hedge maze while fending off more than a few very angry dogs. I recall with much dread an instance in which the game hinted that Iíd be shuffling through sewers while fighting off giant bugs, and then left me to discover on my own that the giant bugs in question were also, in fact, invisible. In between such water cooler moments, Capcom finds ways for even the seemingly mundane encounters to jump out at you. I once walked into a large ballroom and was immediately assaulted by at least a dozen whispering monks. I bought myself some time with a few shotgun blasts, ran into a small back room while they were picking themselves up, and pointed my gun at what I perceived to be the only entrance. Then they started dropping in behind me through the square hole in the ceiling that I hadnít noticed. Christ.

Even if youíve never played RE4, youíre probably aware that a major element of the game has you escorting an NPC named Ashley. For all of its other accomplishments, RE4 can be celebrated as one of the few games to get an escort mechanic totally right. Ashley is dependable. She is always either right behind you or waiting where you told her to wait. When you aim a gun in her general direction, she ducks. You never need to rely on her for anything, nor do you need to worry that she isnít doing what you want her to do. What she does is simply apply another layer to the gameís already overwhelming tension, because in addition to looking out for your own well-armed self, you need to be concerned about the well-being of someone who is literally helpless. Fending off flail-wielding soldiers with a pistol is surprisingly tough; itís much tougher when the girl youíre supposed to be protecting is being dragged away screaming before your eyes. In the hands of most, it would be tedious. Here, itís just another appliance on Capcomís horror tool belt.

You may be wondering why Iím referring to RE4 in the present tense, why Iím acting like the thrills presented by a seven-year-old game are anything new. While Iíve revisited RE4 in pieces over the years Ė on GameCube, and then with the Wii edition Ė this HD remastering is the first time Iíve played it from beginning to end since the gameís original release. For sure, not everything has held up. Movement is still clunky. The quick-time events feel arbitrary and add nothing (though, in all fairness, this was one of the first games to incorporate them as a central mechanic). The story is still a silly afterthought. And while the character models hold up alarmingly well Ė especially with a sharper image Ė the textures are extremely muddy, and no one will mistake RE4 for a current-gen game.

Yet in every area that truly matters, RE4 is faultless, and experiencing its rapid-fire succession of unconventional battles, elaborate set pieces, and creatively horrifying images in full again Ė for the first time in so many years Ė was an absolute delight. What I remembered, I dreaded in the best way possible. What Iíd forgotten took me by storm. Itís one of the richest, most densely packed games ever created, and revisiting it has reinforced that absolutely nothing in the last seven years has even come close to topping it. If you havenít played it, do so. If you have, download this re-release and get giddy all over again.


Suskie's avatar
Featured community review by Suskie (March 03, 2012)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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If you enjoyed this Resident Evil 4 HD review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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Suskie posted March 04, 2012:

Aw, crap. I thought I subbed this review in time, but I guess I won't be in the running for this week's RotW after all.
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threetimes posted March 04, 2012:

Wow. That review took me along at a fast pace, dropping in surprises along the way and seemed to me to reflect the pace and excitement you felt playing the game. I loved the way you gave a sense of the action with your examples seamlessly interwoven into the whole. A great read. :)
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Suskie posted March 04, 2012:

Thank you both! And Masters, see... Bloomer is doing next week's, and I don't think I've ever once placed in one of his. (First world problems etc.)
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Masters posted March 05, 2012:

Let's troll the people who give us positive feedback. Sounds like a good idea.
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Suskie posted March 05, 2012:

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Suskie posted March 07, 2012:

I thanked you! And then I laughed at Jerec's joke because it was funny. He got modded for that? Seriously? What, is EmP gonna get modded the next time he says Americans are fat?
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Linkamoto posted April 04, 2012:

Wow! Beautifully written piece here. I, too, feel like very few games (if any) stand up to the sheer quality of RE4. Your review absolutely transported me back to those great moments I experienced right from the first time I played the demo (Ho-LY SHHIIIT WTF MOMENT OH MY GOD) up until the conclusion of the full title. Bravo. And thanks.
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Suskie posted April 04, 2012:

Thanks a lot! Playing RE4 after all these years was an absolute pleasure. The game hasn't lost it.

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