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After Capcom’s successful remakes of its 1990s Resident Evil titles, a new take on its magnum opus, Resident Evil 4, was inevitable. Whether it was necessary was apparently a point of discussion. Now that we have the remake, how does it compare to the influential original? Pretty damn good, with most of the changes improving the story and gameplay. It has one or two disappointing changes (and some outright deletions), but it’s a fantastic way to experience Resident Evil 4, whether on a repeat or for the first time.
You all know the story by now: Raccoon City survivor Leon S. Kennedy is now a government agent and is sent to a rural Spanish village to retrieve the kidnapped First Daughter, Ashley Graham. The assignment quickly spirals out of control when he must deal with an entire city of parasitized Ganados, a seedy parasite-based cult, and keep tabs on a few allies who aren’t quite what they appear to be.
There are a lot of remake-specific things I won’t talk about due to spoilers – I want all fans of the original to experience the specific differences for themselves. I will try to discuss the changes in general terms. However, I feel safe to state which things have remained the same. There’s enough of both to keep the veterans guessing and the newcomers entertained. Basically, I was convinced there was no reason to remake RE4 – and now I’m glad they did.
Secret agent training pays off
The first thing to notice – and I take this as a positive thing – is that RE4 make isn’t the same kind of remake as Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3. Those games were massive seismic shifts in style and design (which, ironically, both looked more like RE4), and the RE4 make is more subtle. These minor changes made for a refreshed experience, free of the more deteriorating elements of the original.
The gameplay changes are the first and most notable. Leon can now move while aiming – which is much more of a blessing than you might realize – and he can also crouch to hide. That’s right, the remake of the game where Resident Evil has added stealth back with action. It’s not very useful, but it’s nice to have the option so you can save a few bullets before the hordes come after you.
And there will be hordes. Resident Evil 4 heats up the battle, multiplying the number of Ganado and other enemies Leon encounters in the medium portion of the game. The game almost takes pleasure in pushing the limits of what the player can handle in all three main areas of the adventure. The Ganado are stronger than before, and even a perfect headshot isn’t a guaranteed kill. Playing on the Normal difficulty, I chewed a hole in my lower lip in an attempt to keep my ammo supply long.
The RE4 make gives Leon’s trusty knife a new purpose… mainly in the sense that it is no longer reliable. The blade gains a durability meter and can break if Leon uses it too often. This is likely, as another new gameplay addition is the ability to deflect incoming weapon hits with the blade. I’m sure most people will see Leon in the demo against Dr. Salvador used. Although the game gives you spare blades as a backup, it is possible to find yourself in a scenario where you have nothing to slay the enemies with.
The RE4 brand also benefits from Capcom’s own RE engine, as the village no longer looks as muddy and dingy as before. It is a bit reminiscent of its successor, Resident Evil Village, in that both the castle and the village look a bit more atmospheric. I’m a little worried about the amount of foliage being added, as navigating gets tricky at times in the back, but this is only an issue in the first third of the game.
A missing senorita
In addition to the gameplay, the story and characters have also been updated. The two characters who benefit most from the remake treatment are Luis and Ashley, Leon’s two main characters in the story. Leon spends more time outside of the cutscenes talking to them, and they interact with him more than they did in the original. This also helps make Leon a bit more interesting by association, as this version is more stoic and less willing to tease with his enemies.
While the beats of the story haven’t changed, the order has changed. Veterans will notice that things don’t always play out the way they did before, and the rewrites keep the story fresh and make everything more logical. I can’t be more specific because, again, spoilers, but certain characters appear in different spots throughout the story, and some of the silly dialogue has been cut to make the villains downright more menacing.
Luis is much more personal in the remake, being a little more candid about who he is and what he does. Ashley is more fleshed out, coming off less like a prop and more like a character with thoughts and emotions. She spends most of the game understandably terrified, but is willing to do her part to help, and the new version of her solo chapter is one of my favorite parts of the game.
Even our old friend The Merchant is getting a makeover. Yes, he’s still a hard-spoken Cockney gun peddler, and he still gives you the ability to buy, sell, and tune your guns. But he also has a new trading system, where you can do him small favors in exchange for spinels, which you can exchange for useful and valuable items. These extra bits give the game some replayability and extra things to do.
Oh, and one minor gripe about the original that I’m glad the developers addressed: the Spanish peasants actually sound Spanish, as opposed to Mexican. In the first game they walked around a bit and directly said it took place in Spain (which I always assumed was an attempt not to offend real Spaniards). In the remake, they all have real Spanish accents and Luis makes several references to Don Quixote. It doesn’t make a huge difference, but at least it’s not that distracting to listen to.
The more things change…
While I generally like the Resident Evil 4 remake, it’s not perfect either. There are times when you can almost feel that the developers are holding back big changes. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that the desire to stick with the original in big ways means they sometimes skimp on the little things. Sometimes in-game chapters don’t always flow well story-wise, as it feels like they don’t have an interesting moment to wrap everything up.
If Ashley and Luis get more charming and interesting in the remake, then poor Ada is the one who suffers. Gone is her air of sexy mystery – here she is curt, apathetic and downright tired. Her scenes with Leon lack the chemistry of his with the other two allies, and it makes her performances (which are admittedly rare) fizz. I think her voice actress probably got some bad direction because I can tell she’s trying to sound sultry and instead sounds like she has a sore throat.
Speaking of Ashley, she unfortunately retains some of her more annoying traits. Instead of shelters, which are almost completely absent, the RE4 make trades in a “formation” system. This allows Leon to tell Ashley to stay close to him or move further back and keep her distance. In theory, this is to prevent her from being clocked by the melee attacks from both the enemies and Leon. But with the game’s tight map design, she’s always on top of you whether you’ve told her to back down or not, meaning an enemy is more likely to pick her up and run off with her.
Gameplay-wise, there’s one change that grounds my gears, but hey, Leon’s run animation is so slow. His in-game sprint feels about the same as the original game’s standard running speed. This gets trickier later in the game when you have to sprint away from bigger, more aggressive enemies (and those horrible Regeneradors), and it feels like Leon is running through quicksand. These complaints aren’t enough to ruin the game for me, but they did dampen what was otherwise a very joyful experience.
“Where is everyone going – bingo?”
The Resident Evil 4 remake feels like something made by a huge fan of the original, but one who wasn’t afraid to make things a little different. I sank about 20 hours into a single playthrough, and I’ll almost certainly be playing more of it. While I sometimes wish the developers had changed even more than they did, I’m pleased with the ratio of faithful to new in the remake.
There’s a chance fans of the original won’t like this modified version, and some of the elements in the section above keep it from being a perfect experience. Aside from being a remake, it’s still a solid game overall, and will bring joy to new players experiencing this refreshed and revamped Resident Evil 4.
Capcom has provided GamesBeat with a PS5 code of this game for review. Resident Evil 4 Remake will launch on March 24, 2023 on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4 and PC.
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