‘Resident Evil 4 VR’ review: a masterpiece given a fresh perspective

Armature transforms Capcom’s classic into a killer app for Oculus Quest 2

Resident Evil 4 is a modern masterpiece. I realise that the game is celebrating its sweet sixteenth this year, but it’s true. In that time, video games have gotten better graphics, better acting and storytelling, and even better control schemes, but when it comes down to Leon’s rescue mission in rural Europe, it’s the platinum-standard of video game campaigns, with set pieces, pacing, and variety that other games don’t come close to matching.

To me, Resident Evil 4 is such a flawless game – even in the areas where people find it dated – that I simply can’t imagine the game being improved upon. Which is why the thought of a remake greenlit by Capcom last year has me nervous. Instead, it’s this surprise VR port developed by Armature Studio that truly piqued my interest as it’s not just remaking a game, but taking it to a new exciting medium.

Sure, there have been VR ports of 3D games before (such as Skyrim) and for this series, Resident Evil 7 got there first, but it only lets you play with a controller. Resident Evil 4 VR, however, has been reworked from the ground up exclusively for Oculus Quest 2 to really put you in the shoes of the legendary Leon S. Kennedy, now a special agent on an assignment to rescue the US president’s daughter, Ashley.

Resident Evil 4 and VR are a perfect match, really: the original campaign is already a solid foundation to work from, and of a more substantial length than most single-player VR games that typically last just a few hours. There’s also the added benefit that this is essentially a port of an old GameCube game, meaning even as one of the underpowered headsets on the market, the Quest 2 can still make the visuals of a 16-year old game sing. In fairness, if there’s one criticism of Resident Evil 4, it’s that its ports over the years feel incredibly lightly touched, and it’s been left to modders to bring new HD textures to the game.

In this case, despite looking stylistically like the Resident Evil 4 you know and love, the VR version is arguably the best looking version yet with vastly improved resolution and faster framerate. This has been driven by necessity; the developers needed to make the experience comfortable in VR and fully ground you in its beautifully grim world. Take the weapons: there’s still the brilliant inventory management Tetris in the menus, but instead of dipping back into this every time you need to use an item or equip a weapon, your equipment is now attached to different parts of your body (similarly to PSVR exclusive Blood & Truth).

Resident Evil 4 VR
Resident Evil 4 VR. Credit: Armature Studio.

To be clear, in first-person, Leon is only visible by his pair of disembodied hands, wearing a smartwatch that shows his health. But by having a holster on his hip, ammo pouch on the other, a two-handed weapon over his shoulder, as well as grenade and knife attached to his chest, it really does feel like you’re Mr. Kennedy: armed and dangerous.

That said, you needn’t play it in this fashion if you don’t want to. There’s also a broad range of control options to fit what’s comfortable for you; you can also cycle through a weapon wheel to pick your equipment, and play standing or seating – the latter option moving the gun and ammo pouches from your hip to two icons on either side you just need to reach into. In my small room, I opted for teleporting movement, but you can also play in room scale (though you still move with the analogue stick), and opt for smooth or snap turns.

However you customise your control options though, it still feels great being Leon – and being in these environments really does magnify the terror to a new level. Resident Evil 4 may be considered as a turning point when the series embraced action over horror, but I’ve never bricked it quite as badly in the first village area as I have playing in VR, as your limited field of vision obscures where the mob is coming from before you hear the whir of a chainsaw. Part of the panic can be attributed to getting used to VR movement and manually reloading, and that’s all part of that pulse-raising experience.

I acclimatised to the VR setup soon enough, familiarising myself with a game I’ve played multiple times on a screen, leaning into the advantages of VR and making use of the easier aim (although you’ll need an especially steady hand with the rifle). Nonetheless, this new level of immersion still surprises frequently, such as when you have El Gigante towering over you, or being present in such vast impossible landscapes – from the huge lake that’s home to Del Lago, the lava-filled room in the castle, or the huge statue of the game’s most diminutive villain.

Resident Evil 4 VR
Resident Evil 4 VR. Credit: Armature Studio.

Another great touch is how puzzles have been adapted for VR. Where previously you might have had to approach an object and press a button on your controller, now pretty much everything has a switch, a lever, or a button that you can physically push or pull, which extends to opening doors or opening cupboards. Documents you find strewn around the game are also in a physical form you can pick up and look at, even if legible text is still in a separate text box.

That physicality isn’t always maintained, reminding you that this was originally a third-person game that Armature has done its best to adapt for first-person. That said, I can also understand that pressing a button to kick open a door is more convenient, and while Leon may not have Half-Life: Alyx’s gravity gloves, it’s just easier to pick up items by hovering your hand above them, rather than bending down every time.

As faithful as this VR port is, fans will however notice a few omissions. For one, Resident Evil 4 VR only has the main campaign, so unfortunately there’s no Mercenaries mode or the opportunity to play as Ada Wong in ‘Assignment Ada’ or ‘Separate Ways’ (the latter was a late addition and wasn’t in the original GameCube version), though finishing the game once does still unlock New Game+ with an infinite rocket launcher and special costumes.

Another is that sexually suggestive dialogue from the original game has also been cut from this version, such as references to Ashley’s “ballistics”. Frankly, I won’t lose sleep over it as the best parts of Resident Evil 4’s dialogue is its cheese rather than its sleaze (“Saddler, you’re small-time!”), though even newcomers might notice how some cutscenes feel a tad abrupt in their edits. If that stops you from calling Resident Evil 4 VR the definitive experience, then the good news is that the original is still there and accessible on just about any platform.

n any case, this is the masterpiece you remember, but given a new lease of life. You can keep that remake.

Resident Evil 4 VR launches for Oculus Quest 2 on October 21.

The Verdict

Resident Evil 4 VR takes one of the greatest, most thrilling video game campaigns of all time and nigh-flawlessly translates it to VR, making for an even more intense, breathtaking, and terrifying experience than ever. It may not innovate or execute everything as elegantly as a made-for-VR game like Half Life: Alyx, and it doesn’t necessarily replace the original as the definitive version, but it’s, without doubt, a definitive killer app for Oculus Quest 2.

Pros

  • Still one of the greatest game campaigns of all time
  • Physicality of UI brilliantly realised for VR
  • Hugely improved visuals that retain the look of the GameCube original
  • Tons of control and comfort options to suit any player

Cons

  • Cutscenes and some interactions can pull you out of the immersion
  • Doesn’t include all the content from the original game
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