James Stephanie Sterling
Resident Evil 4 Remake - ResiRected (Review)
Resident Evil 4 Remake
Released: March 23, 2023
Systems: PC, PS4/5 (Reviewed), Xbox One/XS
Resident Evil 4 is a game that needs no introduction, but I’m going to introduce it anyway because I literally have obsessive compulsive disorder and my need for exhaustively comprehensive explanations is crushing me. So yeah, remember Resident Evil 4? That was a good game, right?
When Resident Evil 4 first arrived, it was a Resident Evil revelation. The sudden shift from traditional survival horror to heavily actionized sequel was quite jarring at the time, which is strange to consider after so many years of feeling its influence. Such was the quality of the game that such a harsh genre shift was in no way a problem, lauded as it rightly was for its hefty range of entertaining weapons and tense shooting combat against surprisingly responsive enemies (it was a big deal that they reacted to specific limb shots back then).
It could be compellingly argued that this hugely influential game still holds up to such a degree that a remake is far from needed - just a few years ago I had a blast replaying it on the Switch and definitely felt no yearning for a fresh take. Nevertheless, it was inevitable that Capcom, having already remade both 2 and 3, would turn its eye toward the fourth installment. It’s an idea I never thought necessary, and having played through the entire thing, I remain somewhat unconvinced.
That said, it is a bloody good game, and maybe that's enough to justify its existence.
Resident Evil 4 Remake doesn’t so much provide a required overhaul as it does offer an alternative version of the beloved classic - it doesn’t replace the original in my estimation, but I really don’t mind the reinterpretation it brings. Its beats are familiar, the gameplay is inextricably comparable, yet I could quite happily replay the original right after this one and feel like I’m getting something out of it.
The remake does bring inevitable modernization where appropriate, such as a number of improved controls more recognizable to today's third-person action players. This is seen quite clearly in the way Leon uses his knife now - swinging it wide with a single button press, aiming with it for precise stabs, and countering enemy melee attacks via button prompts. Using the knife is quicker and easier, something I was able to confirm by the fact I actually enjoyed the blade-favoring boss fight against Krauser for once. Unsurprisingly, Leon moves while aiming instead of planting his feet like he used to, and he can crouch to sneak up on enemies for stealth kills... provided he has the knife durability for it.
I hate weapon durability, but the way modern Resident Evil games use breakable knives as disposable items is at least an interesting bit of resource management. Using the random knife items to escape grabs is pretty cool, though the need to constantly repair Leon's combat blade is a pain in the ass.
I mentioned the addition of stealth, but it is in no way a large part of the game. Ambush opportunities are rare and you’ll likely only thin the herd by one or two before the rest of RE4’s parasite-stuffed Ganados spot Leon and start to swarm. The inclusion of stealth feels more like a concession to modern expectations than a substantive feature, but it's also not a bad addition. It's a fun way to score some quick kills, and its implementation feels natural to the point that I insintinctively started to sneak behind unaware Ganados even before the game told me backstabbing was possible.
Ranged combat, aside from the aforementioned aim movement, hasn’t needed much in the way of change. It still uses the tight shoulder perspective RE4 helped innovate, Ganados still react according to which body parts are shot, and delightfully excessive melee moves can still be performed against enemies that get staggered. Leon’s predilection for crowd-clearing roundhouse kicks has been retained, thank God. Ganados overall feel a little beefier as part of an overall commitment to making the game scarier, while bigger monsters and bosses are more dynamic and threatening, making for some pretty enjoyable fights.
It’s a testament to just how well Resident Evil 4 aged that so little has to be done to make it feel contemporary. Yes, it’s more “polished," and it has those “quality of life” improvements audiences lust after (auto-sorting the inventory is a real blessing), but this feels so much like the original that it could only be taken as flattering in its imitation.
Honestly, there’s not much more I feel I could say about the combat without incidentally re-reviewing the GameCube/PS2 version. I’m not sure how positive that is for the remake, as it suggests further redundancy on its part, but… y’know, why fix what ain’t broke? Better to reproduce something than change shit just for the sake of it.
I wish they’d exhibited the same developmental conservatism when it came to Ashley Graham, the kidnapped presidential daughter Leon spends half the game escorting.
Resident Evil 4 was often praised for (mostly) avoiding annoyances inherent to the escort missions that utterly plagued games back in the 2000s. Ashley largely kept out of trouble, could be sent to hiding places during big battles, and while she did need protecting at times, I certainly didn’t feel like I had to constantly drop everything to babysit her. For some reason, Remake’s Ashley is far more of an anchor. She’s prone to getting in between Leon and enemies, frequently becomes incapacitated, and she won’t even stay in hiding places - I’ve witnessed her bursting unbidden out of lockers during horrendously hectic battles, only to be grabbed and carried off by the Ganados she staggered into like a prize moron.
Her burdensome nature comes to a head during the already challenging castle fight against several huge catapults, as players try to avoid giant fireballs while frequently accounting for the fact Ashley won’t, and enemies harass the pair of them without mercy. It’s the one part of the game I can point to as being significantly, objectively worse than the original, and it’s entirely Ashley’s fault. That said, her playable section has been completely revamped for the remake, and it's a pretty cool new chapter that makes the puppeteered armor enemies genuinely frightening.
One element that deserves thorough praise is the audiovisual effort on display. Latter day Resident Evils always look amazing - the series’ lighting effects, especially when it comes to flashlights, is utterly beautiful, and Capcom has showcased some of the juiciest blood and gore in all of videogames over the past few years. The remake benefits fully from all this, giving Resident Evil 4 a deliciously brooding mood alongside scenery that manages to be both beautiful and hideous at the same time.
The new character designs are impeccable, with enemies especially looking grotesque and scary. Special mention must go to the iconic chainsaw-wielding Dr. Salvador, who now peers from behind his sack mask with ghastly, bulbous, unblinking eyes. As far as audio goes, the constant chatter of the Ganados has been ramped up, and blends into an environment full of spooky noises to quite expertly unnerve the player. If there was ever anything to justify rebuilding Resident Evil 4, it is the way this new iteration both looks and sounds. I can find absolutely no fault there.
Remake’s story-led campaign follows the original’s fairly closely, expanding it in some ways and reducing it in others. The starting village area, for example, has surprises in store to subvert the expectations of anybody familiar with the original, tossing new events and encounters into the mix. On the flip side, a number of iconic moments haven’t just been changed but removed entirely. The chase sequence with a giant automated statue of Ramón Salazar is one such event that conspicuously fails to put in an appearance, and it’s not the only memorable aspect that’s gone missing.
The story is said to more closely resemble what Resident Evil 4 was supposed to have always been before stuff was cut in development. I wouldn’t say much has been altered as a result, though. If anything, I’d say the remake feels more streamlined than expanded as far as the plot goes. It’s much more to the point, offering nothing that really deviates from nor adds to the existing narrative beyond a few continuity alterations.
While some big moments have been removed, much has been added to the environment and general gameplay content, all of which pleases me. RE4 Remake is terrific at maximizing the mileage it can get out of a single playable area. In the original, the notorious lake was simply a setting for one boss battle before Leon’s boat took him to the next chapter, but the remake provides both the means and reasons to sail the water more, offering a number of places to dock and explore for extra rewards. Players are encouraged to spend more time in every location, hunting for treasure and scrounging resources to a greater degree than before. This does occassionally necessitate backtracking, but not to such an extreme that I ever felt truly bored or exasperated. The rewards, at least, are always worth it, since using them to upgrade RE4's returning bevy of delectable guns is an exciting enough incentive.
Sidequests add an extra level to this exploration, with a gloriously returning Merchant rewarding the fulfillment of such objectives as shooting hidden blue medallions, killing elite monsters, or hunting certain animals. The shooting gallery from the original has a far larger presence with an intermittently updated selection of pirate-themed challenges that award tokens for a related gachapon machine. Said machine offers little figurines of RE4 characters that can be hung off Leon’s attaché case to provide passive gameplay bonuses. It’s utterly stupid, but charmingly so.
As far as charming stupidity goes, it saddens me to say the adorable goofiness of Resident Evil 4 is disappointingly subdued in its reimagining - not entirely gone, but certainly steeped in a lot more seriousness. This is most obvious with chief antagonist Osmund Saddler, his once affable smugness replaced with the flat characterization of a generic doomsday cult leader. He’s but one glaring example of how much straighter things are being played.
RE4 always had its scary moments, but one of the best things about it was how unabashedly camp it was, and while the remake isn’t above silliness, it’s far more preoccupied with emphasizing the horrific over the humorous. Leon still utters some cheesy one-liners, but little quirks like his failed attempts at suaveness are missing. Ashley's character was often criticized for being “annoying” in the original, but at least she had character - Remake’s answer to her critics was to remove the old personality and replace it with nothing. The iconic Merchant, however, is both better and worse in his new incarnation - he’s incredibly likeable and his genuinely friendly banter feels welcoming in an otherwise hostile world, but he’s not as deliciously absurd sounding as once he was. I’d have loved the new Merchant if I wasn’t stuck comparing him to the old one.
That, right there, typifies the constant struggle this game has.
Resident Evil 4 Remake’s biggest problem, ultimately, is that it’s a remake of Resident Evil 4, and as such it’s always going to have to be compared to the mechanically brilliant, stylistically unique game it’s trying to succeed. On its own, Resident Evil 4 Remake is a damn great game. It plays fantastically and boasts plenty of quality content. In a bubble, there’d be little to find disappointing about it, but in context, it’s just not quite as unique, just not possessed of the same personality, just not as fun as the Resident Evil 4 that surprised us all in the 2000s.
Again though, I really must stress that this is a great game. It’s more serious, and suffers in comparison as a result, but its wealth of additional content, its few minor adjustments to an already terrific combat system, and the sheer excuse to enjoy Resident Evil 4 in another way makes this is a worthy title indeed.
Now we get to sit back and wait to see how Capcom handles the Resident Evil 5 remake. Good luck opening that can of worms, chums!