I approached my review of the Resident Evil 4 remake with caution. I thought the remake of RE2 was an excellent modern translation of the original. However, the Resident Evil 3 remake was lacking in content and showed little regard for the original. So I was wondering which direction the remake of RE4 would take.
Fortunately, this is Capcom’s crowning achievement. It raises the bar for remakes in the same way that the original Resident Evil 4 did for the action-horror genre. Most importantly, it mends the rift that the original created between survival horror and action.
Finding the Balance
The original Resident Evil 4 and the remake share most of the same story beats. You won’t find any major omissions, though there are tweaks throughout. The biggest change, more so than anything else, is the tone.
When Resident Evil 4 released in 2005 it caused a schism in the fanbase. It pushed the series away from its survival horror roots and toward more action-based gameplay. While RE4, 5, and 6 were some of the best-selling games in the series, this direction also alienated many of the fans that stuck by the series since its inception.
Starting with Resident Evil 7, Capcom has tried to find that magic ratio of horror and action that would win both sides of the franchise’s fanbase over. Resident Evil 4 remake is the studio’s biggest challenge since it started this new approach since a lot of what has made it endearing is the campiness and over-the-top action.
Fortunately, the remake manages to navigate the issue with finesse. It retains many of the campy and humorous moments, but unlike the original, it features some truly horrific scenes. A great example of this is in the opening scenes (which can be played through in the demo). The first building you enter, the hunting lodge, is a quick in and out in the original, but it’s been expanded in the remake to showcase the revamped horror elements. Blood, decay, and detritus cake the building, and you face a surprise Ganado attack that sends you scrambling toward the village. Of course, that environment is even more hostile than the one you left.
But, just because the remake puts more emphasis on horror, that doesn’t mean Leon isn’t still the sardonic wise-cracker he was in the original. When the bell finally tolls and the village empties, he’s still quick to ask, “Where’s everyone going? Bingo?” However, it’s counterbalanced with a bit more character depth for the cast. Leon is more forthcoming with his PTSD and Raccoon City, and Luis shows a more vulnerable side, though he’s still a flirt and a rascal.
Even Ashley, who was the quintessential helpless escort character in the original, is a lot more likable here. I remember people criticizing Luis commenting on Ashley’s ballistics in the original (that line, unsurprisingly, didn’t make it to the remake) because they thought she was underage from how she acted. Here, she’s more mature, which makes it a lot easier to get invested in the mission to rescue her.
The parts where you have to escort Ashley are also much improved. There are some select areas where you’ll have to defend her against an onslaught of foes, and she’s still vulnerable to capture. However, she seems a lot better at dodging attempts to grab her during regular gameplay. As a result, I found myself looking forward to the sections where she and Leon traveled together instead of dreading them.
A chilling reimagining
Thankfully, Capcom took the same approach with the Resident Evil 4 remake that they did with RE2. So the answer to “what’s the same and what’s different” is “everything.”
Almost the entirety of the original made the cut, and many areas were expanded to include new puzzles. However, unlike the RE2 remake, which cut the factory and made significant modifications to the lab, the original game is very much the core experience, and any additions or changes branch out from there. There are many new locations to explore, and the map has been remixed a bit to throw even seasoned RE4 veterans off. As a result, the game is around 1.5 to 2 times longer.
While the map will be familiar to those who played the original RE4, the environments are much more detailed and lean heavily into the series’ horror roots. You’ll find evidence of the Ganado’s depravity everywhere, with bones, blood, and gore showing proof of their descent into madness.
There’s a lot more interplay between light and darkness in the remake as well. Several areas which were bright in the original are dark and foreboding, and Leon will only have his flashlight to guide the way. I noticed locations that I blazed through in the past caused me to creep through cautiously in their new form.
The rest of the story
Of course, replayability is a big concern here. While the game has quite a few unlockables, including some that require you to beat the game on the highest difficulty with an S+ rank, it’s missing a few things at launch that I hoped to see.
Mercenaries Mode, the fan-favorite minigame, will be added as DLC at some point in the future. However, its presence at launch is sorely missed as it’s a great way to take all the skills you accrued in the main game and push them to the limit. Part of me is glad Capcom didn’t delay the game, but given how much value Mercenaries adds, it might have been better to wait until it could launch alongside the main game.
Unfortunately, Separate Ways and Assignment: Ada aren’t available either. Capcom hasn’t commented about whether either DLC will be remade, but I was hoping that the former would be available at launch or integrated into the main game. Unfortunately, however, neither is the case, so we miss out on a considerable chunk of Ada’s story and what she was doing behind the scenes.
I can’t really dock RE4 remake for “missing” content since Capcom didn’t promise it. I just hope we’ll get Ada’s side of the story remade when the game sells well. That would make this version truly definitive.
Resident Evil 4 Remake Review: The final verdict
The Resident Evil 4 remake is a remarkable achievement that walks the fine line between action and horror, appealing to both old and new fans of the series. Capcom has kept the original’s essence and expanded on it with beautiful and detailed environments, expanded gameplay, and deeper character development. While the absence of Mercenaries Mode and Ada’s storylines at launch is disappointing, the overall experience of the main game more than compensates for this. Resident Evil 4 remake is an exceptional example of how to reimagine a beloved classic properly, and it is undeniably a must-play for both horror and action fans alike.
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