It was January 2005 when Capcom unleashed Resident Evil 4 into the world, delivering the stand-out title of that year and in the process setting a new benchmark for third-person action adventure gaming. It was a masterpiece. Remarkable given the game had been in gestation since 1999, was the fifth attempt at Resident Evil 4 and marked a significant departure in series conventions (no focus on Umbrella; no zombies - only Ganados), both artistically and in terms of the mechanics. Visually it was stunning. The narrative was arresting and fresh given the change in approach. The mythology of the Resident Evil series was superbly integrated. Set-pieces were jaw-dropping and the game gave us the greatest ever merchant.
But that was nearly seven years ago. Since then Resident Evil 4 has been released on multiple home consoles, re-released on Wii with motion controls and now finds its way to PSN and XBLA. It is very much in vogue right now to remaster and share old games. It serves two sets of gamer - those looking to play retro games they have fond memories of and newcomers to the title who want to see what all the fuss is about. For developers it's a quick way to earn a buck. With re-releases the production costs are low and the risk's reduced. It's a no-brainer. Capcom know this. They have always re-released titles and upgraded existing games to ensure a steady of flow of their top titles (e.g. Street Fighter). Previous
The most important thing to point out is that Resident Evil 4 remains the amazing game it was when first released. You play Leon S. Kennedy, tasked with heading to a rural European village in order to locate and save the President's daughter who has been kidnapped. Once there you learn locals have been infected with Las Plagas (the plague) and you quickly become embroiled in an attempt to understand why this is happening and who is causing it. From the very moment you take control of Leon you are engrossed. Immediately the game grabs you by the throat and will not let you go. As you progress through the various locales, meet new and old characters and uncover more and more details surrounding the situation, the intensity of the game hits hard. It's palpable throughout and clearly ascending as you edge towards the goal. The beats of the story are all still there. The scares still hold up. Being attacked by a running, chainsaw-wielding crazy is still as spine-tremblingly pant's soiling as it ever was. The boss fights are spectacular and varied whilst always in keeping with the spirit of a Biohazard / Resident Evil game. In short, the game is still very much at, or near the benchmark it set when held up against its peers today.
Capcom have taken the original GameCube version, included bonus content from subsequent versions and upscaled it to fit modern day HD televisions. It looks surprisingly good which is testament to the original work done rather than anything new in order to release this version. It hasn't had the work done to it that Nintendo gave to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, nor anything like the overhaul given to the Resident Evil GameCube release. But then it's not intended to sell new hardware or send a very specific message as those examples were. There are trophies and achievements of course (mainly story-related ones), and the game will last around 10-12 hours before you even get around to the mercenaries mode (keep killing the enemies from stage to stage until there are no more, basically) or other content. If you have never played before, or no longer own the game and want to replay it none of this is a problem. It's arguably the best package you can get; the best version of Resident Evil 4 available - lack of motion controls accepted (which seems a missed opportunity with PlayStation Move). If you have played it to death and / or own it already there's little to no reason to invest further.
If you've never played this game however, you absolutely must head straight to your digital download store of choice and get hold of this title immediately, ready to settle in front of the telly at night-time. By so doing you will be allowing yourself to experience a masterpiece amongst masterpieces in the young medium that is games. As a piece of entertainment, of creativity and artistry, it is impeccable. The problem is, experiencing it for the first time in this day and age is a difficult thing to manage. The control of Leon is archaic to say the least. At the time, the scheme implemented herein was a radical departure from previous entries in the series. Viewing the action over Leon's right shoulder you can move forwards, backwards and turn very slowly. You can't strafe. You don't get to hide behind cover. It's a struggle at first to get going as compared to more recent releases it feels antiquated, but eventually you get it. Then it works perfectly in the world you're presented with. In fact, it plays superbly into the hands of the game, helping to create the fear and tension. Leon may feel like a lumbering beast with a turning circle of a tank compared to the fleet of foot Drake, or balletic star of Vanquish but that just builds the pressure up even further. If you persist and invest the energy required to get past this activation hump, you will reap rewards.
In the end what we have here is a stunning piece of action gaming as relevant today as it ever was. As in the cinema techniques and technologies utilised in gaming move on. That doesn't make older movies, or games, any less good. In fact, they get better with time as long as you accept it will be different to what you're used to right now. Resident Evil 4 deserves to be experienced again and again by newcomers and old-hands alike. Any concerns will dissipate early on leaving behind an enduring masterpiece. The only shame is that Capcom didn't treat the game the way it deserves to be treated. Had they forgotten about the bottom line and re-imagined this as they did with their other classic, Street Fighter IV (or Resident Evil!), we would be proclaiming this the game of the year, as opposed to 'just' the enduring classic it undoubtedly is. In the grand scheme of things it's splitting hairs - the game retains its place in the pantheon. But we already have that, don't we?