Remakes of games are a dime a dozen nowadays, and close to none have managed to top 2019’s Resident Evil 2 by Capcom, who took a classic title that hadn’t aged that well and turned it around, making it one of the best reimaginings around and a modern masterpiece in its own right. Then again, do all old games need a remake?
Ever since word came about through various rumors that a new version of Resident Evil 4 was in production, I was skeptical. For many, including me, it was 2005’s game of the year, and for good reason: it was revolutionary to the third-person action genre and to videogames as a whole. And it remains so whenever I replay it from time to time. Resident Evil 4 went on to inspire countless developers, such as the ones from Visceral, who made the brilliant Dead Space (which also recently got its own amazing remake), and to this day it remains an example of how to shake up a stale franchise.
And now that whispers became a reality and the remake is out, I can’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t wrong back when I first heard about its existence. For as great of a game as it is, the new Resident Evil 4 is only that because of what came before it, and outside of a few improvements to gameplay that make it a bit more dynamic, there was little need for it to exist. It just doesn’t do the same as the Dead Space remake in completely replacing the original version.
Resident Evil 4 picks up the story where the third entry in the series left off. It’s been a few years since the incident at Raccoon City, and having survived that ordeal, Leon Kennedy’s eventually whisked away by the U.S government and trained into becoming a special agent. He’s assigned to a mission deep in Europe – supposedly Spain – where the president’s daughter is believed to be held hostage by unknown figures.
Up to that point, this new version of RE4 is nearly identical to the original. Outside of mentioning and flashing back to visuals from the remake of Resident Evil 4 during the initial cutscene, the premise is exactly what it was 18 years ago if you happened to have plopped that tiny disc into your GameCube. Elements added in for context and events are expanded, such as why Leon starts off his exploration of the village, now in search of the missing cop who was escorting him, for instance, before it all goes to hell in a handbasket.
Few are actual substantial changes to this new version of Resident Evil 4 and to a certain extent, they do in fact improve what was already an incredible game. One, which to me is the biggest, is the way the game handles your use of the knife. You can now use it to stealthily take out enemies and even deflect incoming attacks if timed right. Then again, if you use it too much, it eventually breaks, forcing you to find a replacement and pushing you to go all in during encounters.
One of gripes many have had playing the original was how Leon would stop in order to attack. That’s also something that’s been changed and it makes combat that much more dynamic. As a means of balancing the game based on your improved movement, Capcom has made enemies a whole lot more aggressive and numerous. You can notice the difference right away, during the opening section, where you get to fend off a mob of villagers trying to maul Leon.
There’s also a number of optional objectives you can fulfill along the way that benefit mostly your coffers and most importantly, your arsenal. The merchant, in particular, will have you explore the world and do a bunch of missions for him for which he’ll reward you with currency that you use to upgrade weapons, as well as unlocking brand new ones to buy from his shop. If you remember the blue talismans you’d shoot down in the 2005 version, it’s the sort of activity he’ll have you do, but also some in the line of treasure hunting to shake it up.
Another nitpick with the first iteration of RE4 was its length, where by the latter third of Leon’s journey the game got padded and broke up the breakneck pacing that had been almost perfect up to that point. That’s been remedied in the remake, and is sped up considerably, resulting in a very satisfying loop. Sadly, though, there aren’t any special modes like the original’s Separate Ways campaign to play after finishing the game. The only post-game is to replay the game and hunt to unlock all collectibles and special items you’ve missed.
But perhaps the most obvious improvement comes with the graphics and overall presentation of Resident Evil 4. It now makes use of the RE Engine, the one that’s been powering all of Resident Evil since 7 and almost every other Capcom release. It’s a very versatile graphics engine that provides fantastic and obviously much more detailed and beautiful visuals to RE4 when compared to the original.
The lighting is especially noteworthy, with gloomy and positively unnerving darkness all around the game’s world. Character models have also gotten a big upgrade in quality, and if you haven’t appreciated Leon’s carefully rendered straight hair in the Resident Evil 2 remake, you’ll certainly do now. I do, however, kinda miss the look of the villagers from the original as the new ones are scary for sure, but for some reason don’t carry the same personality as their older selves.
Interestingly enough, the voice acting has also been completely redone, and has done away with many hilariously inadvertently cheesy lines that have since become memes. It’s a sad day when you find the merchant and he doesn’t sound quite like the old one we grew to know and love. Then again, Ada Wong’s now voiced by an actual Asian person, Lily Gao, who also happened to play the same character in 2021’s guilty pleasure of a trainwreck, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. In sum, everyone sounds fine, I guess?
It’s good that even though there’s a remake, Capcom hasn’t done away with the option for folks to continue to buy and own the first version. In fact, it would be nuts for them to do so considering that the first Resident Evil 4 has been ported to just about every platform, including phones, since the GameCube original. It’s been the modus operandi for the company since the Street Fighter II days, and in a way it’s comforting to have them continue it to this day.
Resident Evil 4, the remake, exists, and thanks to the improvements that have been made, most importantly presentational ones, for as needless as it feels it is in the end, it can, in fact, be thought of as the ultimate way to enjoy RE4. Then again, it doesn’t completely replace the original, which remains a very playable and enjoyable timeless classic. If you have yet to bask in and pop an army’s worth of Ganado heads, you won’t go wrong with the remake, but if the chance presents itself, try playing both.