What's the point of an HD remake? Is it just a spit-and-polish job, moving the graphics into high-definition for classic fans and a new audience? Or perhaps it's a chance for a developer to improve on what came before in slight ways without destroying the core that fans love? Maybe it's full retune, with every aspect of the old title getting a new look and an overhaul if need be.
At their core, HD remakes are a chance for publishers and developers to repackage what worked before for more sales. We've seen a number of different versions of HD remakes; some are drastic, while others are simple repackagings of old concepts. Tales of Symphonia Chronicles, Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, and Assassin's Creed Liberation HD are recent entries in the form, with games like Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster coming soon. At the high-end, you get works of art like Bionic Commando: Rearmed, while the bottom is owned by travesties like Silent Hill HD Collection.
Which brings us to Resident Evil 4 Ultimate HD Edition on PC. This is actually the latest in a long line of Resident Evil 4 re-releases and ports. Resident Evil 4 was originally a GameCube exclusive, but a PlayStation 2 port came out later in the same year. Then there was the first PC port, the motion-controlled Wii Edition, Mobile Edition for iOS, the iPad Edition, and the first HD digital release on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Capcom doesn't want to let RE4 sleep because it was one of the franchises' critical high points.
Resident Evil 4 Ultimate HD Edition still puts you in control of Resident Evil 2 survivor Leon Kennedy, sent to a quiet Spanish town to rescue the U.S. President's daughter. The game drops the previous Resident Evil fixed viewpoint for an over-the-shoulder camera that's locked behind Leon, and ups the action with new context-sensitive controls and quick-time events. Leon isn't up against zombies this time; instead, he has to dispatch a village controlled by the Las Plagas parasite.
So what do you get for your $20 this time around? Well, you get Resident Evil 4 in 1080p or above, with anti-aliasing and locked at either 60FPS or 30FPS depending on the strength of your rig. Capcom's also gone back and remastered the game's textures for the new resolutions. All the previous bonus content, like Ada's bonus chapter, Separate Ways, is included in this version. Since it's on Steam now, you can also look forward to Steam Achievements, cloud saves, and Steam Trading Cards.
The UI and text have been resized, but some of the cutscenes are still pre-rendered (the 'What happened before now' opener and the Separate Ways scenes), meaning they're not up to HD standard. Most of the game is fine, but when those non-HD cutscenes hit you, they hit hard.
One addition that will excite owners of the previous Resident Evil 4 PC release is native mouse and keyboard support. The 2007 release required a PC gamepad of some sort, but this version works like the glorious PC gaming master race requires.
I was excited for the new keyboard and mouse controls, until I got to use them for an extended period of time. They're not horrible and I want to thank Capcom for finally including full keyboard and mouse support, but I feel like controls for games in the same genre have moved on and Resident Evil 4 hasn't changed. That feeling is what prompted the opening paragraph. Small things add up to make keyboard and mouse control unsatisfying.
The mouse controls your camera in RE 4 HD, but it's not tied to Leon's movement at all. So, if you look to the right of Leon and then hit W, Leon will walk in the direction he's currently facing. A and D make Leon turn left and right respectively, meaning you're still dealing with a version of RE's tank controls. On his right side via mouselook, he can see around 30 degrees behind himself, while on his left side it's around 80 degrees. This allows you to do things like run in a direction while checking either side of you, but I'm not sure it's as useful as other control options would be. Be prepared to use the quick-180 key (Q) to face what's directly behind you.
Hit the right mouse button and Leon will aim in the direction the camera is facing, but only at his eyeline. If you were looking at a target above you, you'll need to pan back towards it once you're in aiming mode. And while you're in aiming mode, you're rooted at a single spot.
It felt odd to me, so I loaded up Dead Space 2 to see how a newer game in a similar genre handled its controls. In DS2, you can look in a complete circle around Issac. Where you point the mouse is very important, as it's the direction Issac moves towards when you press W and it's the direction your weapon will face when you switch to aiming mode. If you're looking at the ceiling in Dead Space 2 and you bring up your weapon, it'll be aimed at the ceiling. It's a small change, but it keeps you firmly rooted in Issac's viewpoint. Look and run, look and shoot. It's simply more efficient and less annoying. Between the aiming mode implementation and the lack of strafing, Resident Evil 4's mouse and keyboard control is kind of disappointing. What felt fine on the GameCube and PlayStation 2 back in the day feels rough when played on a modern PC.
But is that Capcom's problem? I've moved beyond the style of control found in Resident Evil 4, but should the HD remake follow the player or stay in the past? It's worth mentioning that switching to my wired 360 controller was fine, but using the mouse and keyboard controls felt like a downgrade from Dead Space 2 on PC. Both the controller and mouse/keyboard options are downgrades from Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition, which remains my definitive RE4 as far as controls go. Not everyone banged with the Wii Edition controls - Eurogamer's review was quite unkind - but many reviewers seemed to agree they were an improvement.
Divorced from my personal control preferences, Capcom has done a great job here. Overall, Resident Evil 4 Ultimate HD Edition should hold the crown for the best port of Resident Evil 4 until Capcom decides to release Resident Evil 4 HD Ultimate Ultra HD Edition. If you're playing with a controller, it feels the same as previous versions and the new mouse/keyboard controls are workable. For me it feels like step back when compared to the control found in the Wii version and when I'm playing a game, that matters more than graphical upgrades. If you've never played the Wii Edition or you didn't enjoy those controls, you can expect a great experience here. Otherwise, I'd only revisit this version if you absolutely have a hankering for more Resident Evil 4. Bright side? It's only $20, so this isn't a very expensive choice.