After 15 hours of outmaneuvering infected villagers in VR, I have a newfound appreciation for Resident Evil 4. While the original version was my gateway into the Resident Evil series nearly 16 years ago, the moment I booted up this remake on my Oculus Quest 2, I knew Armature Studios had created something special. Resident Evil 4 was already an excellent game, but experiencing it in VR recaptured that feeling of playing it for the very first time.
The perspective has shifted, but no significant changes have been made to Resident Evil 4’s corny but easy-to-follow action-movie plot. You are still playing as Leon S. Kennedy, now a U.S. government agent in rural Europe to rescue the president’s daughter while fending off hordes of infected villagers and monsters. Sure, there are some references to earlier entries (specifically Resident Evil 2), but Resident Evil 4 was an effective entry point to the series for many people like myself because you don’t need to have played the previous games to know what’s going on.
Unlike some VR adaptations of major games, most notably L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files, this is not a watered-down version of Resident Evil 4: you can experience Leon’s mission from start to finish. However, I noticed the absence of some content that is commonly found in modern re-releases of this game, most notably additional modes like Separate Ways and the Mercenaries, so it’s not technically “complete.”
Of course, the story campaign is what we’re all here for, and it flourishes in VR. Resident Evil 4 was never a terribly scary game, but the sense of dread is enhanced in the VR version thanks to all the action being up in your face. So many of us have ventured through this gloomy yet beautiful world multiple times before, but Resident Evil 4 VR really does a good job at conveying the gloom and creepiness the setting has. Salazar Castle, in particular, struck me when I saw the armored knight statues and the rusted and rundown look of the armor. And to me, that’s what makes this such an incredible experience.
Some examples of moments that felt new and awesome in VR include fighting Del Lago, where you can see this creature’s giant mouth opening wide as it tries to eat you whole. And there’s the Verdugo boss battle, where a creepy, almost xenomorph-like monster charges at you with glowing red eyes. Even some non-boss fights against regular enemies like Garrador, Regenerator, and the Iron Maidens are a lot more tense to endure. Especially with the latter two, where you can hear their dreadful, heavy breathing sounds and then see these massively tall and creepy enemies slowly coming in your direction, and you have to hurry to pull out your rifle and aim down the infrared scope. Defeating them gave me a sense of adrenaline rush I haven’t felt since I first played Resident Evil 4 back on the GameCube in 2005.
Part of that is in how you control the action. Resident Evil 4 VR has been remade from the ground up to accommodate several VR play styles. Full Motion is for those experienced in VR gaming and comfortable with camera movement while Comfort mode is there for you if you’re prone to motion sickness, but you can tweak movement options like teleportation at will. My preferred playstyle was a custom setting that gave me the benefits of full motion, such as moving my head to look around, but also quick angle turns using the right thumbstick that made it easier to manage waves of enemies when my muscle memory forgot I could physically turn my head around.
There’s an added benefit from enabling full motion in that it allows you to control Leon’s movement while aiming and shooting at enemies independently. This design choice might anger purists who loved the added challenge that came from Leon being forced to stand still while he aimed, used his knife, or fired weapons, but for me it is a welcome change considering the volume of enemies Resident Evil 4 can throw at you and the awkwardness of a VR game refusing to let you move when your body wants to. That said, I did not personally find myself moving that much while shooting and only ever found it useful in boss battles, most notably the one against El Gigante.
The bigger deal is that with full control of Leon’s hands, all of your weapons and items can be physically grabbed when necessary. Your knife, for example, can be pulled from a holster on your chest. If you need an herb or first aid spray, you grab it from your left shoulder. There’s also an option where you can map all the items from the Quest 2 controller’s right trigger by holding it and then selecting the weapon by moving the left thumbstick. I opted to map the items to my controller buttons instead of picking them up in real-time as I found it a lot more convenient for me to access my arsenal this way versus having to remember where on Leon’s body I need to go to grab a particular item.
Reloading your weapon is done manually, too. Depending on which way you grab your weapons, ammo will either be in the pouch on your left side, or there is a button prompt that has a little ammo icon that you need to interact with to get ammo. Grenades also require body movement, requiring you to pull the pin before throwing it. And the knife works just like you’d expect a knife to: the pointy end goes in the zombies.
When playing with full motion you also have the option to dual-wield weapons, making it a lot easier to get out of tight situations or just double your arsenal as you fend off hordes of Ganados. Two-handed weapons like the sniper rifle and the shotgun can be fired with one hand, though with the latter you still need to use the other hand to pump it after firing a shell and it generally offers a lot more power when wielding it with two hands. (The rocket launcher requires two hands, which makes sense but firing it one-handed would’ve been hilarious.) Aiming also feels a lot more accurate than with a typical controller, and if you want to work on your aim, the shooting gallery is a good way to happily enjoy some low-stakes target practice.
The changes to combat are a welcome addition to Resident Evil 4, making this playthrough stand apart from the many I’ve done in the past. But there is a severe learning curve to master. Reloading guns, especially when hordes of Ganados are coming after you, quickly activated my fight or flight and caused me to accidentally switch to my knife or improperly reload my weapon. Also, grenades require a lot of body movement – you have to pull the pin before throwing it, and that can be tricky, especially if you’re playing sitting down. But on the whole, the new combat mechanics are a good challenge for even the best of Resident Evil 4 players.
Outside of combat, Resident Evil 4’s puzzles are also a lot more fun to navigate and a lot easier to solve. In 2D, there are a lot of button prompts that control parts of puzzles that move, making it feel a bit tedious, but in VR you can physically interact with the objects to intuitively work through them.
One of my biggest concerns going into Resident Evil 4 VR was how Armature would tackle quick-time events in VR, but I’m happy to say that these QTEs are more similar to Resident Evil 4’s Wii port than just a random series of button mashing. Typically, you’re required to shake the controllers when Leon is doing things like a chase sequence or he is hanging on a cliff and needs to pull himself up. But some scenes, most notably the knife fight with Jack Krauser, require other commands, such as pressing the triggers on both controllers or moving the controllers upward, downward, or to the side.
There are a few areas, though, where it’s pretty much impossible to convert a 2D game to VR. Most cutscenes, for instance, are viewed in a windowed, virtual theater-esque screen in front of you, which is understandable but still a bit of a letdown. Thankfully the cutscenes Leon has on his communication device have been moved to VR, and you even have to physically press the button to start the call.
While most of the actions Leon can do are performed in first-person, you can toggle between third-person mode as well for all these actions. Certain actions, like Leon jumping out a window or pushing a heavy object like a bookshelf, are all in third-person, which I think is for the best – I am not sure that kind of thing would have been a very pleasant experience in VR. I did notice there was an option where I could grab the doorknob to open some doors, but also you can have Leon perform a third-person kick.