Resident Evil 4 remake—a complete reimaging of the classic 2005 survival horror game out now on consoles and PC—follows Capcom’s previous Resident Evil refreshes. Following the somewhat standalone Resident Evil 1 remake, we got the excellent Resident Evil 2 remaster. After that, we got the good if a bit short remaster of Resident Evil 3. And while fans may have wanted Capcom to remake Code Veronica next (and I still hope they do…), most assumed the publisher would hear the siren’s call and once more return to Resident Evil 4. It’s a game Capcom has re-released over and over again. I was, admittedly, nervous about it. After Capcom’s previous remasters, HD ports, and a VR version, did we really need a remake of such a great game? Would it even be worth it? Well, I’m glad Capcom ignored me and other fans and made the RE4 remake, a game that is better than the original.
Remaking this beloved Resident Evil installment would be different that Capcom’s past projects. Unlike RE2 and 3, RE4 wasn’t a slow horror game with tank controls and static camera angles. It was the entry in the series where Capcom ditched all that and added more action and shooting into the formula, complete with a now-famous (and often imitated) over-the-shoulder camera. So the room for modernization was narrower, and the places where Capcom could “improve” the game were less obvious.
So instead of tossing it all out or slavishly sticking to the original, the developers smartly pruned and tweaked it, as if the game was a delicate plant that could topple over if fucked with too much.
At its core, this is still the same basic game. You still play as handsome good guy Leon S. Kennedy, a few years removed from that terrible night in Raccoon City. In the time since RE2, he’s become a badass federal agent and is sent on a mission to save the President’s daughter, who has been kidnapped by some creepy cult in the middle of rural Europe. Once Leon arrives and starts blasting and kicking his way across the area, he uncovers a disturbing secret, involving dangerous parasites and religious zealots. Veterans of the OG RE4 can confirm none of that has changed. Even the campy tones and cheesy dialogue—like Leon yelling out one-liners before killing bosses—mostly remains intact.
It’s in the details and execution where Capcom has tweaked and edited the narrative and overall game. Some boss fights are missing, replaced either with new ones or just left off the table entirely in an effort to keep the story moving. Ashley is still a young woman, with a similar outfit, but you no longer can look up her skirt, and characters aren’t constantly hitting on her in uncomfortable ways. Leon can now move, aim and shoot at the same time. Oh, and QTEs are gone from cutscenes!
Added up, all of these tiny tweaks and changes do make the game feel noticeably different than the original. This is a faster, more aggressive, and more modern-feeling Resident Evil 4. My first few hours were spent being knocked around a ton while getting cornered by large groups of enemies. Yet, I didn’t mind this at all. In fact, modern improvements to controls make it easier to fight big waves of baddies. And all of this—including the way the remake better handles its characters and narrative—felt like they were implemented by people who really, really cared about this shit.
This is more noticeable in the ways Resident Evil 4’s remake doesn’t change things up. There’s still a mysterious merchant who will sell you various upgrades and weapons and buy your unwanted items, though you can no longer kill him. The opening village fight remains an intense baptism by fire. The Regeneradors in the latter sections of the game are still scary as hell. You can shoot crows to get coins like it’s 2005. You can once again abuse Leon’s massive kicks when attacking a stunned enemy. And if you shoot the lake, you’ll still get your ass eaten by the giant monster hiding below the murky surface.
It’s clear the devs knew what could be tweaked, removed, or heavily altered and what needed to remain. It’s a balancing act that seems unbelievably hard to pull off, and yet throughout the entire 16 hours or so it took me to beat my first RE4 remake playthrough, I never stopped and shook my head over some tweaked mechanic or missing piece of content.
Well, that’s not completely true. When I discovered the Ada Wong-focused side campaign “Separate Ways” wasn’t part of this remaster, I did get sad. But thankfully, it seems Capcom may have plans to add that side adventure in the future. Similarly, The Mercenaries mode is absent at launch but will be added via a free update on April 7.
Still, even with that stuff missing out of the gate, the RE4 remake feels like a complete package. The kind of game we don’t get anymore. After beating the game once, you’ll unlock fun extras and new costumes. Beat it again on a harder difficulty or with a faster time and you’ll unlock more powerful weapons and cheats. All of that wonderful stuff is here and just like in the original game, it makes RE4 remake hard to put down and easy to get lost in. I literally started up a second playthrough via New Game+ the moment the credits ended.
If it wasn’t clear before, this isn’t a 1:1 recreation of Resident Evil 4. This game is a bit darker, a bit faster, and easier to control. It cuts some bosses and annoying parts but has also expanded on fan favorites, like the attache case inventory system and merchant-ran shooting galleries. (The shooting galleries are more elaborate now and the case can be modified, granting bonuses and perks.)
Really, instead of recreating the classic title, Capcom has instead seemingly dug into my brain and pulled out the version of the game I remember playing in 2005 and slapped that onto a disc to sell back to me. Crafty bastards, I’ll give them that.
I didn’t think we needed a Resident Evil 4 remake. I guessed that Resident Evil 4’s remake would look nice and play well, just as the other recent remakes. But what I didn’t expect was a game that not only recreates the original but also builds on it in smart and interesting ways to create something different and better than the classic.
In fact, when I go back and replay Resident Evil 4 again one day in the not-too-distant future, I think it will be this new version that I’ll return to instead of the original. And I truly can’t think of higher praise to lay upon the remake than that.