Since its original release on the GameCube in 2005, Resident Evil 4 has been ported to seemingly every console known to gamers. The last three PlayStations, iOS, a surprisingly good Wii version and a Central/South American console called the “Zeebo” are just a few of the platforms included in the game’s long legacy. Despite its breadth however, Resident Evil 4 has never really received the loving remasters as in titles like Crash Bandicoot or Shadow of the Colossus. The current versions can run at 60 fps and a variety of resolutions, but the game’s muddy textures and 2D models have only grown more pronounced with each console generation.
Enter the Resident Evil 4 HD Project. In production since February of 2014, the “project” is a mod that’s updating and replacing virtually every single texture in the game. As ambitious as that sounds, the mod’s scope extends far beyond simply making things prettier. The HD Project replaces flat objects with 3D models, corrects mapping discrepancies from the original game, and even visits real-life locations for additional reference work. The breadth of this mod is breathtaking and, perhaps due to its two-person development team, remarkably consistent.
— RE4 HD Project (@re4hdproject) August 28, 2016
Although the project’s frequently updated website has a donate button, nothing is kept behind a paywall. The project’s leads, who go simply by Cris and Albert, estimate that they’ve spent far more money than they’ve received in donations. The pair are doing it for the love of the game. Capcom, for its part, are well aware of the project. The publisher declined to comment on the mod, but the fact that it hasn’t been shut down a la Nintendo fan projects implies Cris and Albert are probably in the clear.
That’s all background info though. How does the HD Project work in practice? Is it fun to play?
The mod comes in an 18 GB download, and it fits seamlessly into Resident Evil 4 on Steam. But when I first booted up my modded game, I thought I messed something up; It looked exactly like I remembered. For one, Leon’s iconic jacket is still distinctively low-res; presumably for sentimental reasons, the creators have said it will be “the last texture that’s completed in the project.” But more significantly, the visual rework is extremely faithful to the original game. The colors, the shadowing, and everything else about the overall tone of Resident Evil 4 is preserved. From a distance, the two versions are close to indistinguishable. But the HD Project isn’t about distance; it’s about little details.
— RE4 HD Project (@re4hdproject) March 26, 2016
The game is probably best known for its opening hours in a grimy Spanish village, but RE 4’s later levels are positively ornate. This is where the mod truly shines. In Salazar’s absurd castle, statues adorn the walls and complex brickwork forms every spire. The reworked textures in these areas are stunning. The original’s decorations were so compressed and pixelated that the castle’s decorations were more implied than actually present. Now, every painting and piece of flaking plaster is rendered with such care that they almost leap off the wall. I’ve never spent so much time staring at doors in a game.
Every couple weeks or so, a Skyrim overhaul or a tweaked version of GTA 5 reaches the top of Reddit, with the bloom turned to 11 and the colors made so vibrant they’re almost blinding. The tech used to create these vistas is always impressive, and the artistry of the creators should be commended. But despite their beauty, I always find these changes somewhat hollow. They always seem to be saying, “It looks so good, you’ll forget you’re playing Skyrim/GTA!”
Resident Evil 4 is one of the best games ever made; I don’t want to forget I’m playing it. When the game starts in proper, when the not-zombies start shambling and Ashley begins to cower, the mod fades away and I had exactly the experience I remember. I was still gathering herbs and kicking Ganados. The Red9 was still the best handgun that’s ever been put in a game.
Recently on the Game Informer Show, Suriel referenced seeing Resident Evil 4 footage and thinking “I don’t think a game could look any better than this.” Years ago, I had the exact same thought. Adding the HD Project won’t make Resident Evil 4 the best looking game of all time. Of course not. But it preserves the atmosphere and dread from the original, the tension that practically drips down every wall. I’ve played Resident Evil 4 every year for the better part of its existence. From now on, I’ll play with this mod installed.