When I think about influential games of the last twenty years, I tend to look at Resident Evil 4 a lot. As the series’ first big jump into the action-horror genre, it had a particularly fascinating way of making you feel capable and skilled, yet still utterly vulnerable to the mutated, grotesque threats roaming its paths.
Much like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, it was also a game that players would come to learn inside and out after its many re-releases on various consoles and platforms. With the news of the remake, there’s been a lot of apprehension about reimagining Resident Evil 4 – it was a pivotal title that set the new benchmark for genre standards, at a time when horror games sorely needed a fresh take.
But after playing the opening act of the upcoming remake ahead of the Resident Evil Showcase, I came away feeling satisfied with the choices made in updating this classic. It also had me feeling deeply unsettled, despite taking place in a familiar setting I know well.
In the same vein as the 2019 and 2020 releases of Resident Evil 2 and 3, respectively, Resident Evil 4 is a ground-up remake that modernises aspects of the original game. It’s familiar, but not totally one-to-one. This reimagining includes updated visuals, a revised story, and reworked gameplay that maintains the core tenets of survival horror, while also updating the flow and speed of the game to feel closer to modern standards. For instance, Leon can now move and shoot at the same time.
The demo started at the beginning of the game, showing a recap detailing the events after Resident Evil 2, and Leon’s path to becoming a government agent. Leon’s narration feels more sombre and haunted than in the original – and it’s heavily implied he was coerced into serving the U.S. government after the events of RE2. Interestingly, this makes the character feel more grounded and grown up, yet as I got to see throughout the demo, he still had a wry sense of humour to help ease the tension.
Walking through the dense forest surrounding the isolated village and facing off against mobs of angry villagers brought back so many memories – yet the added detail to the atmosphere allowed by modern technology made the experience feel far more disconcerting. There was a constant eerie vibe in the demo, and that familiar sense of dread the Resident Evil games are so good at illustrating is quite potent from this early gameplay. The game begins in the dark, but once the morning light comes, that eeriness doesn’t dissipate in the slightest.
One of my favourite moments from the demo – which is totally new for the remake – happens in the first house you explore. In the original, Leon enters a seemingly abandoned house and encounters the first Ganado, the infected humans claimed by the hivemind Los Plagas virus. In the remake, the quaint cabin is now a multi-level house, and the first encounter ends somewhat abruptly, which gives you time to explore the cabin and its basement.
As I explored the basement and found the remains of a missing police officer, rapid footsteps echoed through the house, leading to the basement entrance. Once I got closer, I encountered the Ganado from earlier, who shambled down the steps with a clearly broken neck. He’s still capable of attacking you though, and it’s a far fiercer scene compared to the original game. The entire encounter did an excellent job of subverting expectations, and emphasising just how more threatening the Ganado are in the remake.
One aspect that made the original Resident Evil 4 such a classic is how it balanced its different tones. It walked the fine line between chilling, tense encounters and thrilling combat that made you feel like a badass for coming out on top by the skin of your teeth.
I certainly feel that’s been left intact with the remake, but with added dangers and the need to keep your resources in check – something that made me feel more aware of how I was playing.
Emphasis on the Survival
Because the original Resident Evil 4 moved away from survival horror and closer to horror action, it had to make some concessions with the series’ familiar resource management mechanics and survivalist gameplay.
This has been a sticking point for purists of the series. Ammo and health pickups were more plentiful, and Leon had far more ways to defend himself against large groups of enemies – somewhat tempering the anxiety of being stuck in a fight on the back foot.
The remake, however, reintroduces more survival horror elements into the mix, which made me more mindful of my dwindling resources. For starters, the crafting system from Resident Evil Village and Resident Evil 3 remake returns, emphasising the need to scavenge for components to make healing items and ammo. From what I could tell, enemies no longer drop ammo either, so you’ll need to keep a sharper eye on finding materials to work with.
Failing that, you can experiment with newly added stealth options. Leon can now crouch and sneak around the environment, evading enemies and attacking unsuspecting foes. Using his trusty knife, he can silently kill enemies from behind to thin enemy crowds. The tradeoff here is the knife now has limited durability, meaning frequent use will cause it to wear down, giving you one less tool to rely on for future encounters.
All this came to a head during the now infamous village square encounter from the original, re-created in the remake, which sees Leon facing off against a large, angry mob – culminating in the arrival of the chainsaw-wielding man with a burlap sack on his head.
This was already a tense encounter in the original, but the remake makes it even more terrifying. I felt completely outnumbered and out of my depth, even as I was pulling off slick melee finishing strikes and headshots against foes with a shotgun – the motions and feel of which are all very satisfying in the remake.
The enemies simply feel more threatening and lethal, especially now that they can get right back up if they aren’t taken out properly. It’s always worth pulling out the knife to finish them off. And yes – at the end of the encounter, once all the villagers leave to answer the call of the town’s bell, Leon retains his classic quip: ‘Where’s everyone going? Bingo?’
A Promising Start
This opening sample of the Resident Evil 4 remake left me impressed. The opening act was familiar, but felt unique enough to give me a good impression of this darker storytelling vision.
That said, I’m not ready to say the remake will definitely live up to or surpass the original. I enjoyed Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 remake immensely, but I felt the remake of Resident Evil 3 was a clear stumble, particularly in how it condensed the vision of the game into a more streamlined experience. I have particular concerns about similar concessions possibly happening to Resident Evil 4, especially with how over-the-top the original game gets in the back half.
I’m not quite seeing those early warning signs with the Resident Evil 4 remake, at least so far. If anything, the expansion of the game’s atmosphere and setting, and return to classic survival horror ideas, are a welcome addition – and a good sign that the development team behind the Resident Evil 2 remake is behind this one. For anyone who couldn’t get on board with the direction the Resident Evil series ended up taking, the remake of RE4 seems to be trying to win you over, while also staying faithful to a terrifying tone and approach.
I hold the original game in high regard for how well it blends action spectacle and skin-crawling horror, and so far, the Resident Evil 4 remake is hitting the right marks in reimagining a classic. I can’t wait to see more of the game when it launches on 24 March 2023.