If you don’t know what a “Resident Evil 4
” is by now, there’s a chance you don’t know anything about videogames or, at the very least, you’re fresh to our rich, rich world(s). The action survival horror staple, originally released back in 2004 on the Nintendo GameCube
, has been re-released and remastered on multiple platforms across multiple generations more than just about any other game. This is in large part due to its critical success where it remains one of the highest rated games in that series, and indeed even among other Capcom
franchises. It was also the last game made at the developer-publisher by survival horror visionary, Shinji Mikami
, which has only ever added to its mystique, myth and grandeur.
In fact, so broad and dark is its shadow in the annals of the genre that barely any new games seem to get out from under it, and are constantly held up against it. But that’s what happens when you manage to create the absolute benchmark in such a widely-cast genre and subgenre net.
Resident Evil 4 Remake
then, is a kind of special endeavour. One, because it follows in the current tradition at Capcom of updating some of its classics with the powerful and always impressive RE Engine
and two, because it’s attempting a rewrite of that benchmark. This is not another re-release or remaster or next-gen update of the classic. This is a from-the-ground-up attempt at capturing the magic of the original for both new audiences and traditional diehards of Mikami’s masterpiece alike.
And this means it has big shoes to fill.
I’m a Size 2004
Out of the gate, I think it’s important I explain that I’ve always looked back at Resident Evil 4 with rose-tinted glasses. Or maybe that red tint was just Ganado blood splatter. Whichever, I’ve always held it fondly in my heart of hearts as one of my top five-to-three (floating) games of all time (and I’ve been at this caper a long time, so my list is pretty extensive). And in my heart of hearts, I don’t think Resident Evil 4 Remake is as good as 2004’s GameCube original. But I also don’t think it’s as good a remake effort
as 2019’s Resident Evil 2 Remake
, though I also feel that’s because on Xbox One
and PlayStation 4
that game was an exceptional example of what RE Engine can do, and on Xbox Series X
and PlayStation 5
I honestly don’t think the engine’s as good, at least on display here (Village
was a stunning game at times, but featured a lot of smoke and mirrors).
"As a game first it is still more superior than RE2R, which might all sound a bit confusing and convoluted, but hey, so is the Resident Evil series...”
A lot of the above could be considered semantics, and I’d back you on that claim if you were to make it. But we’re talking about a company and series that dabbles, persistently, in the re-release and remake and rewrite space. It’s fair game, really. And my reasons for it vary from issues with HDR down to allegedly updated animations that feel less fluid than those in the original game. However, there’s also a lot to love about Resident Evil 4 Remake, and while as
a remake I don’t think it’s as good as the aforementioned other Leon S. joint, as a game first it is still more superior than RE2R, which might all sound a bit confusing and convoluted, but hey, so is the Resident Evil series and its twisted timelines and triple cheese-layered stories.
So, let’s alight from the preamble car and step into the twilight wilderness, shall we?
In Resident Evil 2 Remake we got an entirely new way to play that original experience, unironically lifted from the Resident Evil 4 formula. Which adds more nuanced complexity to my babbling analysis, but it was a truly original remake in the sense of how it approached an entirely new design philosophy for a game that was once driven by a fixed camera world and limited power. So in this sense, there’s a more original feel to RE2R. In Resident Evil 4 Remake, not a huge amount has changed. Leon is less rigid in the control department (though that rigidity in the OG was deliberate), while some aspects of the game-world have been changed or updated to allow for a more freeform approach to exploration and environmental puzzle expansion, at least in the early game. And this is fine overall, because if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
So What’s New, Stranger
At first I didn’t warm to the new Stranger merchant. He sounded almost too comically cockney (I always imagined he was Capcom’s interpretation of an Aussie in the OG), and his expanded lines rubbed me the wrong way. But one of the biggest shifts in Resident Evil 4 Remake is its tightened economy, which is still built off enemy drops, breakable barrels and boxes, nests and of course, hidden treasure. And it’s hugely augmented here. We also still get the shooting gallery, which is as awesome and challenging as it always was, but now you win baubles to hang off your attache case which offer up passive buffs, and these are hugely helpful. Treasure, too, is much bolstered, alongside the blue poster challenges and the trades they serve up, and much, much more.
"It was always an investment element or distraction, but felt more embedded into your story path whereas in RE4R it presents more wholly as a dynamic side-quest driven by your own desire to ‘catch ‘em all’, so to speak...”
In fact this whole aspect of the game, which is designed to feed into weapon enhancement and management of your items and overall firepower and strength, I feel, is now a second aspect to the game overall. It was always an investment element or distraction, but felt more embedded into your story path whereas in RE4R it presents more wholly as a dynamic side-quest driven by your own desire to ‘catch ‘em all
’, so to speak. And it works.
It also detracts from the flow of the game, and there’s a lot of backtracking more akin to the most recent God of War Ragnarök
than to, say, Metroid Any
. It’s not game-breaking by any measure, but one of the other major shifts for RE4R is tone. This Remake team wanted to bring the more action-oriented experience of RE4 OG back in line with the darker, more horror-centric pacing of most other Resident Evil experiences, and while they succeed to a degree, if you let yourself just become Josh S. Gates
and go on treasure-hunting tears (and we’re gamers, so let’s face it, we do-slash-
will) you’re going to lose a lot of the work that has gone into re-pacing the overall experience.
New Mechanics, Same Car
And it is
a darker experience. More sinister, too. Which is saying a lot because what little story there was in RE4 OG was kind of there to simply support the visual and animated horrors Mikami and his team came up with. This was okay too; being story lite-on, with Mikami himself revealing they penned the whole thing in just under three weeks and that he specifically hoped any remake of his masterpiece would address that first and foremost.
“The game itself is close to perfect,” Mikami said to Newsweek
in early 2022 when rumours of a Resident Evil 4 Remake were circulating. “But we only had two and a half weeks to make that story and so I have a different view; there just wasn’t enough time to make it [the story] good and the people I wanted to work on it declined because of that restriction.”
"So the idea here is a poignant one -- that the game’s original creator hoped its remake team would build on the things he and his team couldn’t, because many of us feel Resi 4’s story is about as perfect a summary of the silliness of the series as you can get...”
Oddly, the fact the game’s mechanics, setting and new beasties, alongside its redefined presentation, all contributed to an edge-of-our-seats experience
where the lack of any overly dragged-on storytelling only helped
proceedings, is one of those incidental things that can only
happen in games. (And where many transmedia snobs
might possibly miss the mark on the point of games at all.) So the idea here is a poignant one -- that the game’s original creator hoped its remake team would build on the things he and his team couldn’t, because many of us feel Resi 4’s story is about as perfect a summary of the silliness of the series as you can get, while also capitalising on the definition of survival horror and what it means to both be and
deliver that “sinister” adjective dropped earlier.
Sometimes the best horror is not lore-laden, it’s just visual blunt force trauma you’re forced to deal with, and try to extrapolate from later.
So has Capcom fulfilled Mikami’s hopes on its story expansion for this remake? The answer is a very muddied yes, and a kind of overcast no. And the reasons are fairly varied, but mostly it comes back to what this is tapping into in the first place. There’s more cohesion
, and definitely Ashley
is probably better written, and represented, but I still think the barebones nature of the first outing is best. That first time you came across the Garrador was a watershed moment for the game and the series as a whole.
The Ganado and their head-popping, mutated necks with organic blades swinging this way and that, as their ultraselves, was certainly eye-opening, and different, but locked within the castle you found these angry, eyes-sewn-shut monstrosities wearing Vega
claws and bent only on your destruction and the mind swam; who were they? Why are their eyes sewn shut? Why are they muted? Why does the bell anger them even more?
"If anything, what Remake does is bring RE4 OG’s story more into the canon as it probably should have been written back in the day, and I’m sure Mikami’s thankful for that...”
Pavlovian torture starts to spring to mind and then story kind of no longer matters, because the lack of context, but the horrors of what you’re witnessing -- and facing -- suddenly fills your mind with myriad “what ifs”, and now you’re
the storyteller and Mikami is just the puppeteer. And it made the first game so strong despite the fact it shouldn’t have. That cohesion mentioned before, it’s more tied to the throwback near-Easter Eggy stuff from the first game, such as Ada Wong
and the others (you know who they are). So, if anything, what Remake does is bring RE4 OG’s story more into the canon as it probably should have been written back in the day, and I’m sure Mikami’s thankful for that. I just also think RE4 OG is probably more closely tied to The Evil Within
than it is a Code Veronica
or a Revelations
, and that’s because
it was quintessentially anti Resident Evil.
My Ganado Umbrella Blew Away
So after all of that, where does this sit?
Honestly, my opening stanza remains -- as a remake, I think Resident Evil 4 Remake kind of falls flat. As a game with shiny new visuals, a more cohesive on-brand story and a darker tone, that also doesn’t change much of what made it brilliant in the first place… well that’s the thing, it’s awesome. How you take that will fall directly into the columns of whether you wanted fundamental change, a basic Remaster (which is what I think this ultimately
is), or something entirely new. For the newcomers, you’ll love this and it is an absolute buy. BUT. If you’re into the root of all things; how things started; what came before; genesis
and that type of thing, I honestly think I’d recommend giving one of any number of the original re-releases or remasters a go. And if you don't first, and I get that because ‘next-gen’ and all, do yourself a favour and go and play the OG immediately after.
It is still the benchmark, untopped here, albeit close, in spite of its tapped self.