Capcom has seen a lot of success and acclaim for their ambitious efforts to remake classic entries in the Resident Evil franchise but faced a new challenge with their reimagining of Resident Evil 4 – arguably considered the best and most iconic game in the franchise.
Unlike most of the previous modern Resident Evil remakes, there wouldn’t be a radical shift in gameplay since the original Resident Evil 4 is what inspired their gameplay. Resident Evil 4 was the first game in the series to use an “over the shoulder” third-person perspective that would become heavily influential in the series. The gameplay style would be used in follow-up mainline games as well as recent remakes of Resident Evil 2/3 and bring the series into a more action-heavy feel. While later games would suffer greatly from not feeling as horror influenced, Resident Evil 4 totally shined because it found the right balance. While the game still provided grotesque mutated monsters that instilled chills and made players’ stomachs turn, it also exuded the charm and personality of a big-budget action game. Plus, the game’s protagonist Leon S. Kennedy instantly became a fan-favorite for the incredible one-liners and constant badassery he displayed as a real-deal action hero.
Frankly, even for being nearly 20 years old, the original still holds up incredibly well and nearly every aspect of the game elicits a superb survival-horror experience. So, attempting to recapture the magic of an all-time classic and remake a game whose legacy hasn’t been tarnished in the slightest would seem like a fool’s errand. Yet, Capcom has somehow beat the odds and crafted a nearly flawless remake of Resident Evil 4 that excellently modernizes the experience while still capturing most of the essence of the original.
Even for the original being so prolific and adored by fans, there are some aspects that show the game’s age a bit. Although the original has had HD remasters over the years, the graphics still look like a game that debuted on GameCube. Also, while Resident Evil 4’s gameplay was heavily influential for the series, the inability to move while shooting does feel a little archaic. In terms of looks, Capcom’s new RE Engine continues to impress with how it creates a much more haunting atmosphere. Leon’s trek into a desolate European village to find Ashley, the president’s daughter who has been kidnapped by a disturbing cult that’s been empowered by Umbrella’s bioweapons, now has a fitting dark and foreboding feel that’s much more horrifying than the original.
The improved lighting effects and environment design help make Resident Evil 4’s settings incredibly creepy to traverse. The narrow feel of each area creates this uncomfortably tight experience that’s perfect for horror. Also, the redesigned character models are much more unsettling, and the horrifying mutations and transformations of enemies are immensely grotesque. The original was known for showcasing some serious body horror, but this remake takes things to a whole new level of gore galore – especially with how enemy limbs can be shot off to reveal mutations that’ll make players cringe in disgust. The love for worm-like tendrils will especially gross players out and perfectly elevate the horror-driven elements of Resident Evil 4’s otherwise actiony experience.
Resident Evil 4’s main sense of horror comes from its looks and the way enemies swarm up to constantly put players on their heels. Enemies are now much smarter with their attacks and can quickly overwhelm players if they don’t take action. Sometimes they’ll even work together to take players down and there’s an even greater variety of foes that players will face this time around. While most of the enemy roster is the same, there are a couple tough newbies and some alterations to past creatures. The spider Plagas can now control other enemies by jumping onto their back and the giant bug creatures have found new ways to camouflage themselves. Even bosses now take new forms and show some new abilities that alter what longtime fans remember about the original.
Enemies aren’t the only thing that Capcom has redesigned for this remake either as the maps have been heavily expanded. While the remake maintains the original’s linear feel, there have been new areas added for players to explore and find hidden treasures. Once again, players can find small treasures around the map to sell to the Merchant, who is more charming and hilarious than ever. However, Capcom adds a new twist to finding loot as players can insert different combinations of smaller gems into larger loot to make them more valuable. It’s a great way to reward thorough exploration and adds to the puzzle elements of the game.
Spinels also take new form in this remake as they go from being a common valuable to a whole new form of currency. There’s a new section of Merchant’s menu that lets players trade Spinels they earn for new weapons, items, and even treasure maps for each area. Now, instead of finding Spinels just lying around, players can take on small side missions that’ll see them take on tougher foes, do some side-activities, or destroy those blasted blue medallions. Side objectives were a small part of the original as players could shoot blue medallions to earn the Punisher handgun, but here there’s plenty more to do. While it would’ve been nice to see the side-quests be utilized to expand the lore more and have real side stories develop, the side missions are a great example of how Capcom does more with this remake than a simple polish. Also, fans will love to see that the Shooting Gallery is back as well with the ability to win special charms that boost stats for players who have the sharpest skills.
Combat also takes a slightly new form in Resident Evil 4 and there are some key changes that highlight the game’s focus on survival and action. The faster sense of combat and Leon’s awesome-looking physical attacks are what made the original Resident Evil 4 more action-oriented than previous entries. Here, the combat remains mostly the same with players having a wide variety of old and new weapons to pick from their ever-expanding attaché case. However, there are some big changes to the combat knife that make it not as invincible as the past, but far more useful. The knife now has a durability meter to it that lowers each time players use it and while that might make it seem like Capcom has totally nerfed the knife, that’s not the case whatsoever.
Capcom clearly keyed into how fans loved the knife in the original and have now given it more mechanics to make it even more impactful. Now with the ability to crouch, players can sneak up on enemies and take them out with the knife. They can use the knife to stop enemies from transforming into their Plagas form. Players can even parry attacks with the knife making it a great offensive and defensive tool. Honestly, even if the knife breaks players are far from being out of luck as they can repair it at the Merchant or find weaker knives to get them by. Plus, you can upgrade the knife’s durability so it can easily become a player’s most versatile and powerful weapon. Capcom shows some great love to the combat knife that fans will deeply appreciate and the way that a special knife fight with Krauser from the original is done this time around is undeniably epic.
Another big change to the gameplay in this remake is the removal of quick-time events that required players to have fast reflexes. This means that players won’t see Leon have to run from boulders or do wild flips to avoid certain attacks. Frankly, it’s not an omission that fans are going to miss since the mechanic was sometimes tough to predict and caused unnecessary deaths.
However, quick-time dodges are still in the game though and are much simpler with how they add some good thrills with the press of a single button. Even the ability to move and shoot now adds some great mobility to the combat and makes the game’s action DNA feel present. There’s such a smoothness to this remake’s gameplay that can’t be understated and the combat in Resident Evil has never been better. Also, it’s worth noting that there is a section where players will get to play as Ashley and it’s far better and scarier than the section in the original.
The biggest and most notable changes Capcom makes with this remake easily come from the new depictions of its story and its characters. Where the original Resident Evil 4 felt like just another entry in the franchise and didn’t really push the story of the previous games forward, this remake feels like a true sequel to Resident Evil 2. The events and horrors Leon went through in Resident Evil 2 feel present within him and there are some interesting moments that see him wrestle with unresolved feelings from it – especially when he reencounters Ada. The original game saw Leon instantly become a full-blown action hero, but this remake sees him have a real character arc that continues from his previous endeavor. Surprisingly, the same thing can be said about Ada as well and this remake canon seems to add more heart to her personal story rather than just have her be a mysterious femme fatale.
Fans will honestly love most of the story changes that are made in the Resident Evil 4 remake. Ashley and Leon’s dynamic has an actual arc to it that’s fulfilling and warm. Fan-favorite character Luis Sera gets much more screen time and players will even get to work alongside him a little more. Even Leon’s relationship with his former mentor Krauser gets a little more backstory that influences his evil turn. Even for how much has changed with the remake, the game still harnesses most of the charm of the original.
Leon still cracks some funny one-liners and showcases some strong fighting abilities against grave foes that give him an action hero feel. Big action set pieces, like the ending escape sequence and a memorable minecart sequence are still there and upgraded to be more epic. Key moments within the central story still leave a big impact – especially when it comes to some big deaths. Plus, there’s still a fun nature to everything you’re doing, from fighting to watching cutscenes, and it really makes this remake feel like a welcomed return to a beloved classic.
The only areas of Resident Evil 4’s story that falter in this remake are some of the choices made for the villains, Ada, and specific story alterations. While the remake follows a similar pattern to the original’s story formula, there are some big deviations. Saddler’s presence as a villain isn’t felt as much throughout the game because he’s only seen through visions Leon has after being injected with the parasite. So, his connection with Leon isn’t as strong here and really, Leon’s connection with the villains is far weaker. His interactions with the villains aren’t nearly as fun or memorable and it’s largely because of how seriously this game takes itself. Sure, Leon does crack jokes, but it’s nothing like the original and the remake’s overly serious execution makes the villains not as fun to encounter.
Some of the changes to the villains’ backstories and execution are also far weaker. Krauser’s role is heavily changed in this remake and he’s no longer the shady double agent he was in the original. Rather than share a good connection to Leon, Ada, and Saddler, he’s just a power-hungry soldier out for revenge and it’s a severe detraction for his character. He’s honestly just a douchey mentor here who blandly refers to Leon as “rookie” most of the time and it makes him way too generic. Also, there’s kind of a plot hole with Salazar’s second-in-command since he just kind of disappears from the game for no apparent reason instead of being utilized in Salazar’s boss fight like in the original.
With any remake, it’s also a shame to see how Capcom has cut some content, including boss fights, from the original, but most of the cuts make sense. The things that got cut frankly wouldn’t have made sense with the flow of this story and fans will be happy that most of what they remember from the original is still here. What is disappointing though is that separate modes focused on Ada called “Assignment Ada” and “Separate Ways” aren’t available at the moment. Without them, Ada’s role in the main storyline feels way too minimal and kind of confusing to the point where her sudden shift to disobeying her boss, who’s shown in a post-credit scene, feels unearned. Separate Ways was a key part to filling in the gaps of her story and without that and the beloved Mercenaries arcade mode, this remake does feel a little incomplete. There’s no doubt that Capcom is likely going to add Separate Ways and Mercenaries in the near future, but it’s disappointing that they’re absent here.
Capcom continues their streak of strong remakes of Resident Evil’s greatest hits with Resident Evil 4 by maintaining most of the original’s identity while further taking the experience to new heights of horror and gameplay. Fans will easily come away pleased by how Capcom brings Leon and Resident Evil’s most iconic story back in a new light with some fantastic upgrades that nearly make this remake achieve perfection.