This fall has been a hard time for many a gamer, emptying their wallets and forcing them onto the streets to beg for pennies to survive the onslaught. I hadn't even gotten out of the first area of Dead Island when Gears of War 3 came out, only to find a few weeks later that Dark Souls had shuffled out onto store shelves. In a little under a week, Batman: Arkham City will be in my hands as well, and from there, it's less than a month until Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and Saint's Row: The Third. We're literally drowning in great stuff.
So why, why, why did I spend the better part of two weeks playing through a game from 2005?
Resident Evil 4 HD released for download the same day Gears of War 3 did, and despite me telling myself I would 'Just try it for a bit', Resident Evil 4 HD hooked me hard. Despite its age, this game is still easily one of the best video games ever made, and I'd argue that it is the best action game ever made.
When this game first came out, Resident Evil had fallen into a bit of a slump. It was a slump I was always ravenous to play, but it was pretty much the same game every time. They wanted to freshen it up, maybe try out something a little different. What they settled on leaned more toward action, but had all of the characteristics the franchise was known for. Tight item management, fearless hordes of unyielding and unrelenting enemies, ammo famine, and creepy horrors were all infused into a third-person shooter, creating something that was exciting and new in ways that would never be duplicated, even by the same developers.
Now, I have always loved this game, but I expected it to show its age a little bit when I booted it up. The main place its seams started to show was in its controls. Now, don't get me wrong, these controls work. They are quick and responsive, giving you a lot of freedom of movement once you master the quick turn, but they are a far cry from what a modern player would be used to. The only problem is in how you aim the gun. To bring your gun up, you have to hold left trigger (In the scheme I picked out), and then instead of moving you, the left stick now aims. After years of other games making the right stick aim, it was a little difficult to adjust. The fact that I couldn't move while aiming didn't bother me, as this game encourages you to back up against a wall and plug away, or at least plan your moves carefully. Using that left stick to aim, though, felt like relearning how to play video games again.
Not that the game ever gives you much time for that. Once you cross over into that second screen, the game essentially tells you, in no uncertain terms, that the tutorial is over and you'd better know how to play. What follows is meant to break weaker players by drowning them in an unending horde of intelligent, yet fearless, zombies. They might not look like zombies, but they share a lot of aspects with them. They walk heedless into danger, are always approaching, and never seem to stay down no matter how hard you hit them. The key difference is in their intelligence, though. While one approaches you from the front, a few more are typically working on flanking you. Some might hang back and throw axes or, if you're unlucky, dynamite. They will vary their movement speeds, weaving around your laser sight if they notice it on their chests. Above all, they are always, always advancing, and there are always a lot of them.
And if you know some information in advance? Feel like grabbing the shotgun from that first house will tip the scales in your favor? Well, the developers thought of that, and a chainsaw maniac will activate the second you step through the door. I hope you like getting one-shotted. This game never lets you get a huge advantage at any point. I'll admit, in the end game you can put guys down pretty fast, but even then, I was often down to my last handful of shots when a downed enemy thankfully dropped some ammo. There are points in the game where ammo always shows up, but for the most part, the game analyzes what you have on you and gives you an item based on that. If it thinks you have enough bullets to scrape by as long as you don't miss more than once or twice, then you get nothing, or some money. If you ever do find you're starting to have a comfortable buffer zone of item, then a boss is coming. It happens without fail. You'll be poor again in no time.
That constant ammo famine creates a tension this game that I'm just not used to seeing in action games. It's been argued that this game isn't really survival horror any more, but really, survival is the key word they took to heart with this game. You're scrambling for every bullet, and have to make almost every shot count. And as for the horror aspect, while the zombies in this game aren't called as much, they are easily as frightening in groups as their official undead counterparts. Defending yourself from them in the house just before the castle will tell you as much, if you don't believe me. Fighting to keep 40+ guys from entering a two-storey house is a lot more frightening than having a handful of flesh-eaters coming your way, I'll tell you that much.
And these hard areas I'm talking about? That's every room. There is no down time in this game, at all. At most, you have a little bit of quiet to shop and save your game, but that's it. Every single room in this game has been meticulously designed to be a challenge, giving you a constant barrage of difficult parts. Enemy numbers are always set high, always giving you the feeling that if you reload your gun at the wrong time, you will be overrun. At the same time, you can see your chamber dwindling, with no end to the enemies in sight.
And that's just your basic guys. They are used extremely well in tandem with the monstrosities this game came up with. Take the Garrador, for example. It's blind, but navigates by sound, lashing out with claws that would give Wolverine an inferiority complex. Also, its weakness is on its back, and walking is loud enough to draw its attention. It forces you to stand very still and watch its movements, waiting for an opening. Now, imagine fighting two of those things at once while you tangle with six regular bad guys, and you get an idea on what this game is willing to do to you. How about invisible insects that spew highly-damaging acid? Maybe just a jerk with a portable chain gun? The game sets up every room to push you to just about your limit, making every area feel like an endurance challenge that you're always proud to have overcome. Even so, when you're about to open the door to leave, that pride shrivels up in the realization that you have no idea what's coming next, but that it's going to be even harder.
The boss fights are incredible. Sitting on a rotten wooden fishing boat and hucking spears at a huge lake monster that is hurtling toward you is the definition of terror. Fighting the village chief in a burning barn, trying to see where he is through the smoke and fire only to realize that he's just behind you is delicious. Dodging around Krauser's constant attacks while waiting for him to get close enough to slash with your knife, weaving through a cage maze with only thirty seconds to find the exit while you're being chased, and running through a cramped room while avoiding the seemingly-invincible Verdugo's assault are all intense fights, reinventing what it means to be a boss in a video game.
But all of this could be said for the game before. What about the graphical overhaul? Well, if you've ever tried to hook up a PS2 or gamecube game to an HD television, you'll know how bad things can get. This game looks great, though. There are a few points where they just didn't seem to remember to fix some stuff, but overall, this game looks like it could have come out in the past year or two. It's not the amazing overhaul they did for Resident Evil on the Gamecube, but it still looks sharp. Up close its not so nice, but this game looks like it could easily come out this console generation.
This game is still the crown jewel of the past decade, and I'm beyond pleased that people have a chance to play it on this generation's consoles. Resident Evil 5 just doesn't measure up to the quality and care put into its predecessor. It may not have multiplayer, but Resident Evil 4 HD will make up for it by being the tightest, most rewarding experience you can have with a video game. At twenty dollars, there is no excuse not to own this masterpiece. If you haven't played it, you need to.
If you liked Resident Evil 4 HD, you might like...
Resident Evil 5 (360/PS3) – When this came out, I called it an HD remake of Resident Evil 4, and that comment still stands. Many of the set-piece battles, like the horde of villagers and the giant humanoid beast, feel like they were ripped straight from the previous game. Just the same, it's a quality two-player experience, even if it feels a lot weaker than the last game.
Alan Wake (360/PS3) – While the whole game seems to take place in the forest and a few wooden buildings, the game really captures the feeling of being assaulted on all sides. The enemies come from all directions at once when they're after you, forcing you to rush for the safety of the next cone of light. When you come to a pull-motor to start one, and can almost feel the monsters breathing down your neck, it's fantastic.
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