Resident Evil 4 VR Review: Reviving an Old Terror
There’s a farmhouse in the woods of rural Spain I’ve visited several times in the past year. Some might call it too remote and isolated, but I know the area around it well and am familiar with its secrets and surprises. For example, the farmer inside will try to kill me when I enter, but he never succeeds. This time is no different, except in one respect. I enter the building, pass him a photo, and he grabs a hatchet.
The difference was this time, I was scared. I’ve played Resident Evil 4 several times, yet Armature’s VR port made it feel fresh and, at times, terrifying in ways I didn’t think were possible. It’s got a few problems in how it handles movement and motion recognition, but this is easily the best way to experience
Resident Evil 4 VR Review: Reviving an Old Terror
Resident Evil 4 VR is mostly the same journey as the numerous ports that came before. Leon Kennedy left the police force following the Raccoon City disaster and found himself working in a special ops branch directly under the president of the United States’ authority. The president’s daughter is missing, presumed kidnapped in Spain, so off Leon goes to save the day — and ends up in a far more bizarre situation than he found himself in Resident Evil 2.
The story is familiar, but it’s impossible to understate just how dramatic VR is on how you perceive it. Seeing a tense scene taking up a 6-inch handheld screen or an old 24-inch TV is one thing, but having it occupy your entire view is something you have to experience to understand.
Absolutely nothing is left untouched. There’s a sense of dread in even the third-person opening scene where the hapless driver relieves himself on the side of the road, dread that has nothing to do with realizing there’s still no hand sanitizer in the car.
Heck, even the title screen is ominous and threatening. It puts you eye level with one of the altars in the church, and even though it’s a static scene, there’s still a nagging certainty that a Ganado is going to come through that door and shave a few days off your lifespan in the process.
And, of course, there’s the farmhouse. It took me three tries to actually go inside because I kept saying “nope” (with a few other words sprinkled in, perhaps) and shutting the headset off.
After you get over the first hurdle, tension replaces fear for the most part, only its tripled in Resident Evil 4 VR. The first-person, limited perspective plays a strong role in maintaining that tension throughout, though a few other visual tricks help as well.
Paths are very linear in Resident Evil 4’s first half, but Armature managed to soften the hard edges. There’s still only a handful of ways to go at any point in the village, but it looks more like Leon’s finding his way through the forest instead of just being shunted along a predetermined path.
“For the most part” was key, though. Resident Evil 4 VR isn’t as terrifying as Resident Evil 7, but its big moments are certainly more frightening than they were the last time I played it. Entering the castle for the first time, the barn fight, creeping through the castle maze with a pack of murderous dogs in hot pursuit — even areas that didn’t bother me normally were far more intense in VR.
Resident Evil 4 VR’s immersion mode is another vital part of what gives this port its identity though. Using your hands is a small touch, and one common to almost every other VR game, true.
However, the actual actions you have to complete make both it and the game itself feel fresh and new. You’ll grab ammo and physically load it into your handgun, pick up herbs and other items from the bodies of the Ganados you slay, and, in a throwback to the Wii days, even wiggle the controller around to use your combat knife.
Immersion mode has a downside, though. In theory, reaching down to grab a gun, pulling first aid spray from your shoulder holster, and reloading your handgun should be intuitive and fun. It is, mostly. It’s also a bit fiddly and tougher than I expected to get the right positioning.
That’s a bit of a problem in Resi 4’s more crowded and hectic segments, including the village and any point where you need to defend Ashley. You can swap to a traditional weapon wheel to make choosing your gun easier, though it’s not as fun.
Resident Evil 4 VR supports a limited normal movement mode and comfort mode. Comfort mode is essentially point and click, letting Leon leap forward by several feet without you having to deal with movement. Normal movement mode is a bit intense unless you’re used to VR motion already, though even that has a slight blemish.
You can’t actually turn left or right, not in the usual way. Flicking the right stick in either direction forces Leon to do a hard 90-degree turn. It’s off-putting and makes dealing with peripheral threats more challenging than it should be.
It’s not impossible, of course. All you have to do is move your head to find what you need. However, it did make me feel like I had less control over Leon — and the situations he was in — than I wanted.
Resident Evil 4 VR Review — The Bottom Line
- Some of the best immersion in VR
- Genuinely frightening in places
- Fantastic gunplay
- Minor, but impressive, visual upgrades
- Feels fresh after all these years
- Finicky movement
- Occasionally sloppy motion detection
- Hard turns mean you have less control over Leon
- No Ada missions
Movement issues and annoyingly precise motion controls are a small price for what’s otherwise the best possible way to experience Resident Evil 4.
I didn’t think there was a way to make the same paths, actions, enemies, and even story seem exciting and new again, but Armature managed to make it happen. It’s disappointing that Ada’s story didn’t make the cut, but the core of Resident Evil 4 is better than it’s ever been — at least until Capcom remakes it.
[Note: The copy of Resident Evil 4 VR used for this review was purchased by the writer.]