Resident Evil 4 for the GameCube is, without doubt, one of the finest games ever made and its existence alone made purchasing a GameCube worthwhile. The PlayStation 2 version lacked some of the visual brilliance of the GameCube original, but the core game remained intact and was in many ways improved upon by the addition of the Ada mini-campaign. Two years after UK gamers first got their hands on the game it's time for the PC hardcore to get their turn. Is Resident Evil 4 on the PC the ultimate version or another lazy port?
Before you go on to read about how great the game is, I better break it to you: Resident Evil 4 on the PC isn't the ultimate version. In fact, it's far from it, with the port being one of the laziest I've seen in some time. Almost no effort has gone into tailoring the controls to the PC, and the only visual options you can tweak are display resolution and if you want to run in widescreen or not. Lighting also seems to be rather subdued and lacks the subtleness of the console games. To make matters worse, there isn't even support to use a mouse, so unless you plug in a controller (360 wired pad works very nicely) you're stuck playing the whole game with just the keyboard.
Such blatant laziness can't be condoned but if you can accept it and use a nice analogue controller, you'll still be able to experience one of the finest console games ever made. What makes Resident Evil 4 such a great game is its amazing atmosphere. From the moment you start, walking alone into a quiet village, nothing seems right. Straight away you feel like you're entering a part of the world that has been cut off from visitors for good reason, but you don't know for sure what lies ahead. As Leon Kennedy you must find the President's daughter, Ashley, and return her safely. It's just typical that she's fallen in with the wrong crowd.
Resident Evil 4 really feels like a modern action adventure title and breaks away from its survival horror roots. There are still scares but now it's more about you against the odds, taking on more enemies than ever before. And what enemies they are, boasting some of the best art design the genre has ever seen. Forget about your bog-standard zombies; these guys are so much more. I won't ruin the surprise by going into too much detail, but expect to wowed at regular intervals.
The game is a big departure from previous games in the series in terms of controls as well. Resident Evil 4 does away with the fixed camera angles and clunky controls from years gone by, adopting a new third-person over-the-shoulder viewpoint and a more modern dual analogue stick control system. You still don't have the level of control found in an FPS but the new system works very well, limiting your control for good reason. You can't strafe, so there's no quick way to scope out a room, and you can't move and shoot, making you vulnerable to multiple enemies. It all makes the game more intense and keeps the essence of Resident Evil alive.
It's an epic adventure, too, compared to previous games in the series at least. The environments you'll work your way through vary immensely and each has been thought out and created with such care. There's some backtracking at points, but it's never a chore and the game seems to fly by, with its 12-hour playtime passing in a few extreme, unstoppable gaming sessions. Few games have the ability to draw you in and keep you there like Resident Evil 4. Whether it's a stunning set-piece or a much needed rest in the company of a bizarre travelling salesman, the game always knows what you need.
It's got a great pace, too, never throwing too much at you (although it might seem like it) and it's always fair. Save points are frequent and can be used as many times as you like (there's not a ribbon shortage this time, just magical inkless typewriters) and should you die a while after your last save, checkpoints prevent you from losing too much progress. Action sequences are nicely interspersed with general exploration and puzzle sections, and Quick Time Events provide some stunning interactive cutscenes. You'll think you've seen it all, only to be faced with such an awesome boss battle that you simply must play on to see what else is dished out. It's truly an immense game.
Ada appeared in Resident Evil 2 and her appearance in Resident Evil 4 made many fans very happy. Thankfully PC gamers get all the Ada content that appeared in the PlayStation 2 version of the game; so, on top of the unlockable Ada mission that GameCube owners could play, PC gamers get to play with Ada for an additional six hours (or thereabouts) in 'Separate Ways', a side quest that takes place alongside Leon's main adventure. This gives players a greater idea on what Ada's reasons for being there are and helps flesh out the overall story.
You also get all the other unlockable stuff from the console games. It's a real bumper package - not that the original version needed anything more to make it worthwhile. It's just a shame that more wasn't made of the port. Visually the game seems to have lost something, with that "Wow!" factor not being as great as it was two years ago. Nothing has been done to improve the graphics and the bump in resolution has done it no favours at all. Its new found sharpness doesn't fit with the game's atmosphere and highlights some of the visual flaws that were hardly noticeable on consoles.
PC gamers who don't own a PlayStation 2 or GameCube can now finally experience Resident Evil 4 but it doesn't quite feel like the same game. This could have been the ultimate version and a great way to replay the adventure before Capcom wows us all again with Resident Evil 5. Sadly, it's a game that should be your last port of call if you're after some Resident Evil 4 action. It's a simple port of a console game and as such is best played on a console.