I was sceptical from the beginning as to whether Capcom needed to remake Resident Evil 4. While it wasn’t my favourite in the series (a controversial opinion, perhaps), I could still appreciate its influence on the industry and why people loved it. Given its impact, I also felt like it still played fine enough. But it turns out I was wrong. Because while I was sceptical as ever, Capcom has put an earnest effort into ensuring that Resident Evil 4 not only reimagines the original experience. It absolutely eclipses it in practically every way.
Resident Evil 4 follows the plot of the original game closely. You play Leon S Kennedy, who has since begun working for the US Government following his escapades in Resident Evil 2. He’s sent to a mountainous region in Spain to rescue Ashley Graham, the president’s daughter, from a strange cult living in the area with strange proclivities. He arrives, the villagers attack, and chaos ensues. It’s not your typical Resident Evil story, but it’s simple enough to follow regardless of whether you’re new to the series or a returning fan. It’s incredibly self-contained.
Resident Evil 4 does such a great job of recontextualising the events of the original game that I’m almost tempted to say it surpasses it. Where the original game was action heavy, the remake reimagines the whole adventure with a more horror-tinged atmosphere and aesthetic. It’s largely successful in doing so – there are some creepy moments throughout – though arguably nothing that reaches the creepier heights previously sought by the first half of 7 or Village’s now-infamous House Beneviento and its DLC.
But where the original game was lauded for its cheesy B-movie vibe and hammy one-liners, Capcom has seemingly done the impossible. It’s managed to translate the original game into the nigh photorealistic style of its current slew of Resident Evil games while keeping the cheese intact. While the one-liners and quips that Leon or his many enemies spout from moment to moment are different, they all still fit within the original game’s tone. It’s a truly masterful execution of what felt like an ambitious task.
And that’s really the running theme when talking about Resident Evil 4. It’s a remake that remarkably respects the game that came before it. It builds on the already strong foundation that the original game laid, updating it to feel like a classic Resident Evil game and a modern one. So much of the storytelling is elevated by the addition of numerous files detailing the backstory of the village and the cult. While its structure is the same – it cuts you off of each location after you finish it – it feels like three mini Resident Evil games packed into one, with each major area explorable more than before.
But it doesn’t stop there. The combat has been similarly revamped into something I can only describe as series-best. Everything in the original is here still– roundhouse kicks, goofy suplexes and a wild variety of weaponry. But Resident Evil 4 introduces a few simple mechanics that, once again, elevate the experience. Leon can now crouch – which sounds ridiculous to celebrate – but it opens up many evasion opportunities not previously available in the original. In addition to this is the parrying system, which uses up knife durability to prevent receiving damage. Your knife is repairable, and you can have many, so it’s not quite as annoying as expected.
And while the combat is excellent, the pacing is similarly immaculate. As I mentioned previously, everything you enjoyed about Resident Evil 4 is here in some form in the remake. There are key moments that you’ll remember, but they’ve either been condensed or changed entirely to flow better and offer a better experience that makes sense. Areas that previously served as weird, out-of-place in-between spaces have been reincorporated into a critical path that, once again, improves the game’s pacing. Resident Evil 4 is often said to be masterfully paced, but that remake only furthers that fact.
Even the encounters you have with most enemies have been adjusted or reimagined to be something else, and it’s often for the better. Some of the boss battles in particular have been reworked in a way that they’re entirely something different (and better). Others have most certainly played it safe, but given how strong these battles were in the first place, it is encouraging to see them marginally improved rather than completely changed for the sake of changing it. The team has done a great job of crafting a delicate balance between old and new here, which is more than encouraging.
It’s not all retreads, though, as some things are brand new. It would be remiss to spoil just how much the main story deviates from the original in structure and flow, so I won’t. But this remake plays with your expectations if you’re a returning player, playfully winking at those who think they know the original game inside-out. It’s a kind of playfulness and willingness to have fun with fans’ expectations that I haven’t felt since 2002’s remake of the original game and one that no remake since has managed to capture.
The new optional content is a nice touch that isn’t excessive or detrimental to the game pacing. From time to time, the merchant will issue requests to the player to do something. These quests are often simple; find an item somewhere or kill a more powerful variant of an enemy you’ve already encountered. But they encourage backtracking and exploration of the world. Completing them gives you spinels, which can be traded with the merchant for goodies. There are around thirty or so of the quests to finish, but they’re all introduced at an appropriate enough rate that they never get in the way of the main game.
Even with the addition of the side quests, Resident Evil 4 still manages to clock in around the same time as the original game, though it’ll still take most players more time than the original. My first run through the game on Hardcore mode clocked in at around 26 hours. It’s undoubtedly the most substantial of the Resident Evil games Capcom has done since transitioning to RE Engine, and it’s a good type of substantial too. The game is constantly throwing a wealth of old and new enemies at you and leveraging its robust combat systems and high enemy variety to offer an evergreen experience.
Die-hard fans will notice a few omissions, however. A single boss from the original game is missing, but much like Resident Evil 2 before, I only yearned for these encounters to be included once I really thought about it. Resident Evil 4 is complete. It’s not missing aspects to the same extent as Resident Evil 3 was, and in fact, has had things added. Of course, The Mercenaries is sorely missed but it is coming as a free update later on down the track. Ada’s campaign, Separate Ways, is also missing. Still, given the lower quality of that campaign I wouldn’t be surprised to see Capcom reworking it to be something much more substantial and enjoyable down the line as downloadable content.
But what makes Resident Evil 4 such a compelling upgrade is the attention to detail and the sheer quality of its presentation. I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it – this is easily Capcom’s best-looking game since they switched to RE Engine. The Village, the Castle and the Island are all brought to life in ways that respect the original games while tinkering with them to be more cohesive. A cabin that was previously a single room has been expanded to multiple rooms with all kinds of macabre charms, alluding to the cultic presence scattered throughout. It really feels like the developers used the environment to not only update the look of the world but tell a deeper story within it. It’s a fantastic upgrade.
The same can be said for the sound design too. Floorboards creak. Caves drip. Mad rabid cultists breathe feverishly and heavily. It all comes together to give the world a great sense of atmosphere. The music has similarly been revamped and incorporates a lot of choral chanting to allude to the cult’s presence in the region. It’s a step up in practically every way – and while I was used to hearing certain tracks at specific points of the story in the original – these new tracks turn every boss encounter into a loud, confident bombastic set piece.
Resident Evil 4 translates a game already revered into an absolute masterpiece. The tension is heightened and the combat is stronger than ever, all while still maintaining the corny dialogue and humour that the original game was known for. While there are a few minor aspects missing, Resident Evil 4 is a strong example of what any remake should be and is well worth your time.