Say what you will about the video games industry's dalliance with the "HD remake" -- call it a dearth of original ideas in a tired industry, a quick cash-grab from money-grubbing game devs, or what have you -- but it's tough to overlook the quality of the titles that've so recently seen high-def re-renderings and deluxe re-issuings.
The fourth instalment in the Resident Evil franchise is, for many (myself including), both a genre-evolving and console-defining title. It was also rather divisive for the gaming community at large upon its original release, steering the formerly "survival horror"-centric series squarely into shooter territory, where it's remained ever since, guns cocked and at the ready. But love it or hate it, it's tough to deny that this is a spectacularly crafted shooter, and despite a few wrinkles here and there, I feel confident saying that it's aged rather exceptionally well.
Now, for the uninitiated: the president's daughter is kidnapped by some seriously bad dudes; former Raccoon City Police Department officer Leon Kennedy has to get her back; he travels to exotic places, sees the sights, and kills the locals; bunch of creepy-crawly parasites cause persistent problems; president's daughter won't shut up I'm coming just hold on for like five seconds geez lady; "Saddler! You're small-time!"; and roll credits. Not really, but you get the gist -- Resident Evil 4's story hasn't budged so much as a campy sentence since its original release in early 2005.
In fact, not a whole lot about Resident Evil 4 has changed. The visuals are certainly prettier, and the game's high-resolution presentation works wonders on an HDTV, with the character models seeing the most notable bump in quality. There are still several spots where low-res textures shine through, though, creating a stark contrast to the shiny, upscaled areas, but RE4HD is, generally, an already attractive game that's been gussied up with a sweet sheen of extra polish.
And again, it's more than worth noting how well Resident Evil 4 has aged. While certain flourishes introduced and made common to the third-person shooter genre in the last few years certainly made me feel spoiled on more than one occasion (the lack of quick-equip weapon/item menus, a roll button, and the ability to squash downed enemies may irk newcomers), it's still very much one of the best shooters of the last console generation, and it certainly still plays as such.
I will say that some of the sound effects do sound decidedly last-gen, though, and may take you out of the experience at times. Cut-scene and radio transmission dialogue generally works well, but in-game quips, enemy grunts, and almost every time Ashley opens her mouth, things sound distinctly fuzzier. Leon's weapons suffer, too, often sounding more like pop-guns than deadly special agent armaments.
All of the extras introduced in previous iterations of RE4 are present here, too (meaning Assignment Ada, the PS2's Separate Ways scenario, and, yes, the Mercenaries), which should add some extra incentive for those on-the-fence about shelling out for a game they've likely already played, but do take note: you will have to clear the core campaign before these extras are available. I don't know what the statute of limitations is on a six-year old game, but it would've been nice to have these unlockables, well, unlocked from the get-go for veteran players looking to jump right in.
If you haven't played Resident Evil 4 yet (and if not, come on, really?) I wouldn't hesitate to download this remastered re-release. If you, like me, have cleared Leon's quest on several separate occasions, it's likely still worth revisiting, but there isn't a whole lot here to sell it outside of some extra gloss. Resident Evil 4 is still an outstanding shooter, but as I keep re-iterating with these recent high-def rereleases, your mileage is bound to vary.