Basque in the Horror: a review of Resident Evil 4 Remake (potential spoilers about both this game and the original)

Image from Gamesradar (In this Spanish villa, there is no mi casa es tu casa.)

I’m sure it hasn’t been overlooked by most that the best Resident Evil games coming out as of late happen to be top to bottom re-imaginings of classic titles in the venerated horror franchise. Sure, I muddle my point by the remake of 1999’s Resident Evil 3 being the worst of the new games (and possibly among the worst in the series), but if you were to put side by side the new Resident Evil 2 and 4 to the brand new numbered entries: 2017’s Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and 2021’s Resident Evil 8: Village, chances are good that people would lean towards the remakes.

This attitude about and the reality of video game remakes seems alien to those who are familiar only with remakes as pertaining to movies. Almost all the time are film remakes dismissed or made to conjure groaning on the public’s part for echoing a perceived or actual lack of imagination and risk-taking on Hollywood’s part.

Sure, there are remakes that have become respected even reaching classic status like the De Palma Scarface, the 70s’ Invasion of the Body Snatchers and to some Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Two of the three remakes of A Star is Born are well-considered including the recent one with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Nevertheless, a cinematic remake has to work a lot harder to gain favor compared to a video game’s.

It’s not that no scrutiny is given to VG remakes, it’s more so concerning whether it brings anything new to the table, can improve upon anything from the original or if the remake is actually anticipated, crossing fingers they won’t screw it up.

Remaking 2005’s Resident Evil 4, widely considered one of the best games of its series and one of the greatest and most influential of all time, must have been a frightening prospect to the Capcom team led by Yasuhiro Anpo and Kazunori Kadoi. How do you properly remake a game that some consider perfect, groundbreaking and compared to earlier titles, accessible still to a newer audience, not to mention more readily available?

Capcom’s higher ups were so very wise to choose the Resident Evil 2 Remake team to be the ones to headline Resident Evil 4’s return. They are provably the best group of developers working on RE now based on RE2 2019’s reputation. It also made sense for them to be the ones due to RE4 being a narrative continuation for two of RE2’s lead characters: rookie cop and narrow survivor of zombie outbreak Leon S. Kennedy and Chinese-American International women of mystery Ada Wong. Having the same people in charge of both the story and gameplay for these two continuity intertwined titles (say that three times fast) was wise and an opportunity that didn’t occur with the development of the original games.

To put it simply when it came to Anpo and Kadoi’s meeting the challenge, it is an unbelievable victory. During my first of what was certainly not to be few consecutive playthroughs, I was in something of a mild shock as I realized they were succeeding. I didn’t know how you could make a new version of a well-aged game from the oughts’ work nearly as well as what I was experiencing. Well, I say that in spite of this year’s excellent remake of 2008’s Dead Space. I think it’s way too early to declare this effort better than the original game save in one department but my God it’s shocking that I’m even in the position to think such a thing.

The story of Resident Evil 4 and this could be said of most entries in the series is a B-movie with a first class production and on occasion first class scares to boot. Leon has spent six years since his traumatic night fighting to survive and escape Raccoon City training to become a special forces agent for the U.S. of A. This version of events makes it clear that Leon was forced to put his life in further danger due to the things he’s seen being for a lack of a better word “classified” during the city’s fall and it could be insinuated that he takes the job for the government to care for his two fellow survivors: the other playable RE2 character Claire and young girl Sherry.

If the training was dangerous, the missions he went on, including one backstory significant one, put him nearly in as much danger of dying as the horrors he faced in RE2. Nevertheless, Leon endured and survived. He proved his talent to be more than a product of chance on one night in 1998. Now, he’s part of the Secret Service and his first day on the job is once again to prove a doozy.

His mission: To search and rescue the President’s missing daughter, last spotted somewhere in the most rural, agrarian, stuck-in-the-past part of Spain conceivable. The most powerful nation on Earth sends in one man (albeit a proven badass) escorted by two Spanish police officers and assisted over the radio by woman-in-the-chair Ingrid Hunnigan, a rarely seen but nevertheless fan favorite.

The brilliance of the Resident Evil series, especially in this particular re-imagining is taking a worn conceit of horror media and adding in genuine horror and suspense mostly due to how you the player must literally interact with that convention virtually rather than simply observe.

Even if much of what Leon faces seems overly familiar in description to a horror know-it-all or know-enough, that still doesn’t do justice when you’re there in the thick of it with the bishonen-haired gaming icon and his beloved bomber jacket. Leon upon entering the spookier than ever Spanish forest soon discovers that matters are terribly off and the horror he has to survive is of a quite different beast from anything in Raccoon City.

The villagers of this seemingly ignored part of Spain are taken by some madness that compels them to kill anyone, anyone, that enters their territory. The two policemen that Leon was with don’t last very long, barely longer than the original game and soon our hero is finding himself frantically looking for a safe place that isn’t there in a new take on the iconic village fight.

I detailed my thoughts on this famous video game sequence when talking about a scenario that acted as spiritual successor in a game that was itself heavily inspired by RE4, RE8: Village. There were deliberate nods to that original moment, of being trapped in a place full of monsters trying to break in and kill you. Even the resolution to that moment that is out of the player’s hands is played much the same way.

It may seem repetitive of Capcom to remake wholesale a game that was given a spiritual successor in 2021, but the truth is for all of RE8’s qualities, it still isn’t exactly RE4 nor was it really trying to be. It still had it’s eye on being the eighth Resident Evil at the end of the day. For all the changes one can list in this 2023 take, Resident Evil 4 Remake is still Resident Evil 4 at its heart. You know that is true as soon as a new Leon Kennedy enters a familiar only mildly altered village full of very angry….residents.

The sense of you and Leon being in seemingly never-ending danger is propelled through the game’s modernization of the idea and it is here where “modernization” is anything but a dirty word. The villagers are faster, more agile than last time. The ways they can attack and grab Leon are more varied and more likely to make you initially panic. Entering a building to bar off the windows and doors to fend off the horde gives you even less time this go around to catch your breath as in half a minute the house you’re in is breached and one of the townsfolk is bearing a very red-tinged chainsaw.

Old tactics I had to hold off the assault straight up did not work. Old avenues of momentary escape weren’t as reliable. Ultimately I knew that all I had to do was maintain, wait for the nearby church’s bell to ring which in turn ends immediately the villagers attempts to skewer Leon. In an even eerier trance, all of the townspeople up and leave through the town hall, utterly ignoring Leon as they chant religious tracts in Spanish.

Even knowing what caused the bell to ring and why the townspeople are the way they are for years does little to diminish how unsettling a moment this is and Leon’s more believable appearance and confused expression adds new weight to a classic moment. Then to top it all off, as the villager closes the door, leaving Leon all alone, he utters a corny yet no less valid one-liner 18 years after it was first said. Then the title flashes confidently onto frame. The rest of the game would continually reassure me, but it’s here where the veteran player knows that Resident Evil 4 is back. And it’s teeth are ever sharp.

Resident Evil 4, then and now, is partitioned into three distinctive acts, titled after the location you’re in. You start off in the “Village” region, which for many continues to be the part of RE4 that best defines it to this day. Then, you enter a massive Spanish castle, full of horror both macabre yet goofy, almost as if Sam Raimi punched up the script at this junction. Then it ends on the generally polarizing “Island”, more industrial and military focused and it’s here where RE4 forecasts its’ series future as action over horror for the next two main entries.

Resident Evil 4 for 2023 manages to do an incredible feat in maintaining the main story beats and locations while somehow making it less tongue in cheek camp silly. There are still moments that will remind you of how absurd the original game could end up being yet many will miss that side of RE4, considered by them to be one of the game’s defining traits. Personally, I was just too impressed seeing a game pull off a more grounded version of the one out and out wacky Resident Evil game that was embraced for that reason.

The writing and performances of all involved are convincingly believable, fitting with the same tone that has been established with the modern games. The Leon you knew from the new RE2 is back, a little gruffer, more world weary for reasons that are sorrowfully apparent. Nick Apostiledes’ take on Leon has now become my favorite version of the character and it’s not just that his and the writers interpretation strikes a chord that wasn’t there before but it’s the consistency.

Leon in the games he appeared in before the Remakes were voiced by three separate people and with it came drastic changes in personality. It’s kinda hard to connect with the old Leon over the course of the games he was in (RE2,4,6) because his manner and voice was too different each time. I get that a considerable amount of time passes between each of these games, but if you contrast those three voices, you may feel like I do that you end up with Three Leons.

One of the things I was hoping for if Capcom should risk redoing Resident Evil 4 was not just seeing Apostiledes’ take return in a follow-up story of some kind, but to create a better continuity in and of itself. That alone does not justify a remake of course but it was one area that could be explored and thankfully that was realized. By the end of this RE4 Leon now feels like he has a cogent arc going for him, how the events of this game really do reflect back on RE2’s.

It’s for that reason that the new Resident Evil 4 now might be one of the best narratively drawn up games when before it was a gloriously obvious excuse plot for cool, spooky and stupid set-pieces. It’s another reason why I’m somewhat down for Capcom risking another version of the oft-ridiculed Resident Evil 6 just to see what this Leon would be like in that game’s scenario. Oh and I’m an affirmed RE6 apologist, I even have an entry on this blog about that.

Another thing that makes the plot of RE4 more worth paying attention to than before is that more than a few characters go through re-characterization, some more drastic than others. The most noteworthy is the President’s daughter Leon is trying to rescue, Ashley Graham. The original Ashley has been widely lambasted by many for her annoying attitude and voice and for being more of a gameplay prop than a real character. For many sections, you would have to escort her through enemy territory and make sure she doesn’t get hurt, killed or re-kidnapped (at least, in parts where she isn’t scripted to be kidnapped back anyway). She has her defenders admittedly, some proclaiming the criticisms of her to be exaggerated and I eventually got so good at playing RE4 2005 that she stopped being a serious nuisance for me even in the infamously harder sections.

This Ashley on the other hand gets to be both gameplay mechanic and an actual character. She’s now not annoying at all, helpful in ways that are more pronounced in the story and the interplay between her and Leon feels more organic. Capcom probably looked at the many games where you have an (often) female companion to the player character like in The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite and the modern God of War titles and thought of implementing improvements from those games into this one.

Sure, you still have to be more mindful of Ashley’s condition than you would LOU’s Ellie and Lev or GOW’s Atreus (You don’t have to worry about Bioshock’s Elizabeth period) as this is still a horror experience and Ashley’s involvement means you now have to consider her safety on top of yours which was already harrowing enough a prospect. But unlike last time, where saving Ashley from a cultist whose grabbed her, you won’t think “sigh, I’ll save you” now it’s “Don’t worry, I’ll save you!” Ashley’s improved characterization and her own little story arc actually makes you forgiving of the moments where she could’ve literally been a challenge for you to overcome.

This could well be testing the waters for a remake of Resident Evil 5 but the expansion in character and role of Luis, the mysterious, supposedly dashing Spaniard ladies man and secret scientist, makes a case that maybe that game being reimagined from the ground up wouldn’t be so terrible. Luis is a Mauser-wielding man who Leon meets early on in the game. He soon becomes one of the very few that Leon can trust but even then there’s something about him that keeps our hero on guard.

Luis and his relationship with the setting of Resident Evil 4 has been made deeper, more considered which is in line with basic expectations if you wish to be more than a lazy 1to1 redo. His connection with this trapped in the past portion of Spain is more intertwined and he is even made to connect with lore from earlier in the series which doesn’t come across as a contrived retcon. Instead it makes more sense, hell, one of the underlying accomplishments here is making this game more sensical.

In the original game, Luis dies suddenly near the mid-point in a shocking moment that when you rewatch it is both an obvious reference to a moment from Aliens (who doesn’t ape that movie?) and has a (possibly) unintentionally lewd manner to it. In the new take, as the trailers had already revealed, Luis gets to live past the point he originally died. I won’t say anything about whether he survives this version, but the moments where you and he are teamed up against the infected villagers and cultists is not just an expansion off of the original game’s acclaimed cabin holdout section, it could be seeing how players respond to sections where you are not the only capable person on the field fighting enemies.

Resident Evil 5 introduced Cooperative play to the series and in doing so brought in the character Sheva as a brand new figure. Player 1 would control veteran RE hero Chris Redfield and player 2 would control her for the entire duration of RE5. When people think of positives to bring to the first unabashed non-horror main entry for the series, it’s function as a co-op action/adventure game with horror elements is seen as it’s greatest strength. People still on occasion play Resident Evil 5 to this day despite having been released back in 2009.

Playing RE5 by yourself (which has largely been my lot) is not nearly as fun nor does it showcase the entry’s genuine additions at all. You ultimately end up with a shorter, less impressive RE4 albeit with improved graphics which for the most part are still pretty sharp all things considered. Having Luis in RE4 23′ be an AI partner for Leon for a relatively lengthy section of the game seems to be a test run not so much for what new Co-op RE games could be like, but if it’s possible for an entire new game to work like that section.

Some would say that having a constant partner at your side detracts from the sense of isolation that horror games feed on. By isolation, I mean there’s no friendly faces at your side or at least not for long periods. That’s one of the points taken against 2013’s Dead Space 3, where it’s own inclusion of a co-op version of it’s campaign was seen as part of why Dead Space ending up dying as a series. For a time, thankfully. Ironically, like with REs 5 and 6, the best way to play DS3 was, yup, with a friend. It’s a strange paradox of things working and not working.

I’ll save my thoughts on what further remakes Capcom should or should not pursue until the end, but at least this probable testing of an idea also gave us a chance to spend more time with a character that honestly did leave RE4’s story a little too early.

In terms of further characterization, I’ll say mum for those who still haven’t played yet, but I will say that two major antagonists in the game have essentially new backgrounds and motivations. Almost new characters for that matter. There could be some lore purists that turn their nose up at these changes (not that I’ve heard them at all for that matter) but what I like about those changes is that they, one, make a little more sense within the context of what is occurring and, two, it makes Resident Evil 4 feel a little more tragic.

Much like how I said the slight narrative changes to the Dead Space remake increased the sense of tragedy and sorrow from the original, RE4R tweaks what potential sadness could be found in the game’s backstory and extends it to both heroes and villains. Leon himself as discussed earlier is a figure who in spite of his nearly unshakable stoicism and stronger courage is a man who has been though hell so much that he feels more weary than spooked.

This is something that a theoretical RE6 remake could touch upon and maybe even a new numbered title featuring him but more than anything else he is a man growing increasingly tired with the weight of surviving horror, again and again. Fellow protagonist Chris is also noted to have this growing fatigue as the series marches on, but with the new direction for Leon, the cracks, however slight, could be hinted at.

Sure, someone could make the watertight counterpoint that it’s Leon struggling to deal with PTSD from Raccoon City. This is actually in the text of the game as the opening monologue Leon gives shows how six years later, he can’t let go of the many lives he failed to save in Resident Evil 2. All the worse since he was a rookie cop and joined with the express intention to help others. Sure, he did manage to save some people like Claire and Sherry. It wasn’t enough.

Maybe both of these things about Leon and where he’s at mentally can be applied but what ultimately matters is that this is a Leon you feel sorry for, no matter how much fun you’ll ultimately have in his shoes. The original RE4 Leon was an utterly confident, unfazed badass that wisecracked because he could. He had conquered his fear and now he was almost kind of having fun half the time one could argue in classic RE4.

This Leon while more professional and weathered by past experiences feels more human, more willing to take the situation seriously because that’s how he stays alive. He still wise-cracks and wise cracks good, but this time it sounds more like letting off stress from stuff that would keep me up at night if I had first-hand experience with RE4’s monsters. This Leon is conquering his fear and his self-hatred for failing to be as much of a protector as he had hoped.

Now, let’s talk about Leon and a survivor of RE2 he suspected had lived but remained doubtful could have. Ada Wong, the ever red-clad femme fatale of the franchise has a reputation for being basically the Catwoman of Resident Evil. RE4 further emphasized it by giving her a grappling hook, which sure sounds like a Batman thing but whatever. Some players of the new RE4 have taken to harassing her voice actress Lilly Gao online for her supposedly tepid, bored performance, to the point she closed her Instagram account. Putting aside that I would not condone this even if her performance were lackluster or outright bad, she’s perfectly fine here.

She feels like an extension of the new Ada we were given with the same voice actress in the new Resident Evil 2 from 2019. The complaints probably extend more to how hostile she behaves when she comes to her interactions with Leon, fewer here than the original. Ada, while likely developing genuine feelings for Leon’s “good boy” personality and selfless actions, still played him as a pawn in her subterfuge mission to steal the virus that causes the hubbub that ruins Raccoon City.

In spite of her deception, Leon still feels sorry for her apparent death at the end of RE2 but a certain moment hints to him that she improbably didn’t die. Six years later do the fellow RC survivors meet again and unlike the original take on Leon and Ada where Leon is a confident hunk and Ada is a sultry spy wearing a cocktail dress in a quite mission-inappropriate fashion, Leon and Ada are mutually more abrasive to each other. If there’s any Batman/Catwomanesque flirting going on, it’s far more subdued but not necessarilly absent. Certain looks the two make can suggest something is still there.

It’s really for the best that Leon and Ada are framed this way. In Leon’s experience, Ada is a duplicitous agent that was trying to sell a terrifying medical creation to some likely spurious third party. She used Leon emotionally to get what she wants. Now, six years later, she’s back clearly trying to get something from the cult responsible for his current predicament. Leon is on guard, wondering how she’s gonna take advantage of him next. The tricks she used on him before won’t work again obviously, so what’s her play now?

It might be that upon returning to the narratives of RE 2 and 4, Capcom recognized how toxic Leon and Ada really are as a potential coupling, and in a more realistic take on the games, make Leon more cognizant of how unhealthy and possibly lethal it would be to really give her a chance. Leon’s sad connection with Ada adds to Leon’s tragic story as well. Considering how young he was during the events of RE2, between 18 and 21, this could’ve messed up his sense of trust when it came to relationships, romantic or otherwise. Sure, he probably has a tight connection with Claire and Sherry but he wasn’t with those two all that much in RE2’s story. He didn’t even meet Sherry until he was finally escaping Raccoon City.

So, no, Gao’s performance as Ada Wong is perfectly fine, a natural continuation of what she would be to Leon and vice versa if they were to meet again. Admittedly, Ada does seem to have less of a presence in RE4 23′ narrative then before but with the near inevitability of a future DLC containing her Separate Ways campaign (Leon even namedrops it at the end), we might get a deeper picture in time of Ada’s contribution to the story, let alone perhaps her true feelings about Leon and a nagging self-spite over using a guy that she actually likes.

Having replayed Resident Evil 4 2023 many times at this point in writing a review, I’ve come to realize that the new version is shorter than the original. Some think that classic RE4 is a little overstuffed here and there and the Capcom team likely heard those complaints and used it to make a new take that is still lengthy but more compact. This move is made justifiable due to how like with every modern RE the game encourages you to complete the game faster, under a certain time based on chosen difficulty, all to unlock rewards both useful and cosmetic for Leon and Ashley. If you want Leon to sport his 1930s’ Gangster look with tommy gun and Ashley her hilarious yet handy suit of armor, you gotta beat the game faster and better now, rather than just period like before.

Unlike my completionist streak I accomplished with RE2’s remake, I’m more doubtful I’ll ever 100% RE4 23′ content. Beating this game on the hardest difficulty under a certain amount of time will give me the adorable “cat ears” for Leon which also gives him infinite ammo for all weapons but considering that part of the appeal of a Resident Evil game is the challenge of maintaining your finite resources, I wouldn’t be keen on unlocking something that all but removes the challenge though, true, you have to work your Secret Service ass off to get it.

With the tightening of RE4 in this modernization comes the removal of certain moments, some that may hold a special place in veteran’s hearts. Entire boss battles are gone, though thanks to the potential Ada campaign on the horizon a certain boss that was notably missing from Leon’s journey could well become Ada’s opponent. The game’s lore even namedrops this tardy adversary so it may not really be an omission rather a rearranging.

RE4 23‘ does a lot with its rearranging or reconsideration of existing elements from RE4 05′. A section late in the Castle part acts as a chimera hybrid of three separate scenarios Leon once confronted. The clock tower, the giant statue of the Castle’s villain Salazar and the circular tower stairwell and elevator that gets you to fighting Salazar as a boss are now all in one. The clock tower before was a puzzle area where you had to shoot wooden boards blocking the machinery. Now, it’s all set dressing as Leon can’t affect the clock at all.

The Salazar statue has been drastically shrunk and no longer inexplicably starts chasing you in a manner that is one of the looniest in the entire series. Now, it stays in place but it’s head will rotate, bellowing fire out of its mouth as you ascend the tower. As for the elevator tower, that remains most faithfully kept though the Donkey Kong barrels the cultists would drop down the stairwell via lever have been replaced with giant spikey balls.

This amalgamation of disparate parts of RE4 is part of making the intended speedier runs for multiple playthroughs more practical to accomplish and it tightens the pace, correcting a long standing complaint that for me was more nitpick if even that.

Some areas are just plain gone, though they could have some manner of return for Ada’s campaign. Some are less likely than others like the brazenly nuts “Lava Room”, where RE4 really stops trying to be consistent, all for the sake of gameplay variety, which is a fair enough goal for a game from 2005. Part of me does sorta miss those moments, if only because it does make the new version feel shorter, even if there is a perfectly solid reason for it. To perhaps compensate, there are entire sections which are borderline one to one in layout from the original, which could stand as testament to how well aged those parts remain, how well they still mesh with Leon’s more agile control setup or because these moments are just so caught up in the game’s identity.

As for things that I really did miss though this is much rectified by the painless process of playing classic RE4 which is again much more readily available than older games, was the humorous interactions Leon would have with two of the game’s bad guys, Napoleon complex-addled Ramon Salazar and the main antagonist Osmund Saddler. Whether in person or over Leon’s radio, the often funny conversations Leon would have with these two feel like something really is missing in comparison to other cuts.

True, Saddler is a much different person in this version so the radio calls just wouldn’t work the same but I still think they could’ve had Leon and Salazar interact more. On my first couple of playthroughs, I almost forgot Salazar was in the game. The original really wouldn’t let you and Leon forget and that adds to the particular charm of classic RE4’s mid-section. Sure, when Leon does interact with Ramon now, it’s still not bad. The boss battle almost overcompensates with regards to Ramon’s manic frustration with Leon not dying by his hand. It’s great stuff albeit tethered to one of the remake’s more difficult battles.

As for whether it is actually more of a survival horror game, well I would certainly say in parts it is scarier. The new version of the segment where you control Ashley is nerve-wracking in new ways. It’s a combat devoid area that plays on being all but helpless against a kind of enemy I don’t want to give away. Sure, foreknowledge of the original game should already tell you what Ashley’s up against. But how it happens is different enough and scary enough where not only is Ashley more vulnerable than before you also have to solve puzzles amidst that anxiety.

The puzzles are overall more difficult, especially on the first couple of runs. Only a handful of puzzles from the original were difficult and even the hardest one has a solution so easy to utilize that it makes it a cakewalk once you remember it. Certain puzzles, particularly of an electronic kind late in the game continue to hassle me and one for an optional treasure can bust your brain good.

On the subject of treasures, RE4 incentivized replay value due to the presence of the ever mysterious Merchant, whose pirate like voice is doubled down on in the Remake though his voice is (controversially) softer. He’s also much more talkative when perusing his wares so I can imagine more than a few players getting annoyed with him. I like him nonetheless as not only does his appearence and his teleporting shop guarantee you’re in a safe place, it also gives you a chance to unwind: check your attaché case containing your weapons, supplies and ammo, save your progress, buy some new stuff, upgrade your weapons and sell stuff including the many beautifully realized treasures.

Five of the merchant’s locations have the returning shooting gallery, completely pirate themed and while it certainly is a massive tonal shift from this darker take on the game, it yet rewards you with challenging ranges to conquer, all to acquire tokens which when placed in a vending machine get you a grabbag “charm” to attach to your attaché case with a special benefit. To showcase that the developers really care, they’re all figurines modeled after characters, enemies and items from the original game.

It’s the Merchant and his services which is more or less the core reason behind RE4’s immense ability to make you return again and again. Even when the horror diminishes, the fun doesn’t or at least much slower. Certain weapons are kept out of reach until New Game Plus and even the unlockable weapons can be upgraded such as a knife that can’t be broken.

That segues into one of the Remake’s best additions, if not it’s best one. In recent years, parrying enemy attacks has become a more popular game mechanic due to how it naturally coerces the player to train their reflexes and to take even less dangerous encounters seriously. I don’t know which game started the trend of parrying getting big but one likely culprit to spark the trend was the Soulslike titles from…From Software. It’s more of a strong recommendation in titles like Bloodborne, Elden Ring or Dark Souls but it’s a necessity for Sekiro.

Save for the hardest difficulty, RE4 Remake allows you to not always be completely on the mark when pressing the button to parry. Some fights, like a plot significant one (or two) are more demanding of what you’ve learned through using your knife to ward off attacks big and small. The expanded use of the knife helps forge RE4R as having something distinct about it mechanically, not just from the game it’s remaking but in the series as a whole. It ties in with the background behind Leon as a survivor being trained to be an agent after Raccoon City and upon using the knife as a handy tool in close encounters it shows growth both for Leon as a character and as manifestation of the player’s own skill.

It’s more than just ensuring that an enemy attack won’t hit, if you time it right it even gets you the chance to counterattack and even instantly down the enemy. The innovation with the knife is proof that you’re not just getting RE4 again, you’re getting it back with a new technique that makes the combat loop even deeper than before.

In spite of the shorter length, RE4 Remake is still capable of wowing you with it’s implementation of enemies in their environments, in how they complement the player no matter what your status is with regards to ammo, weapons and supplies. Like the original, they are hidden exploits or tricks that can be used not only to make a potentially grueling section less so but to also make new runs in the future more viable for a game plan you formulate in your head.

In spite of the praise I’ve heaped onto the new RE4, and you better believe it’s already a strong contender for Game of the Year, I still have cold feet about declaring it better than the original. I say this and I haven’t talked about the strong new soundtrack where even brand new tracks sing and how some of the puzzles can themselves be used as weapons against enemies. The thing about the original RE4 is that it is a game that can’t be truly replicated in one respect: it’s groundbreaking position.

It would be far too much to expect any developer let alone Capcom to make a game that would change the industry like the first Resident Evil 4. In more or less one area, it’s use of an over the shoulder third person camera, it established a template that is still being used today as standard practice and I see essentially no reason why it should ever go away. Not unlike how Super Mario 64 introduced us to how to properly, freely navigate a three dimensional environment to the point that non-Nintendo games took note like GTA developer Rockstar, RE4 ensured that one of the go-to ways of controlling a character in a video game would be a variation of over their shoulder.

Gears of War, Uncharted, Batman Arkham, Mass Effect, The Last of Us, Dead Space and later iterations of already existing franchises would permanently adjust their use of the camera to be modeled after Resident Evil 4’s innovation. Games like these do not come around often, even less so than before.

That legacy being replicated was far too tall an order so Capcom did the smartest thing and refined and experimented on what Resident Evil 4 specifically did for itself as a video game, on its own stand alone merits. The intent was to take what worked 18 years ago and make it work within a modern game engine with a reworked script, vocal performances and a different tone regarding horror. That intent has led to what may be the best modern Resident Evil experience, even if it is a recreation of the game that shifted the series for a time from its roots.

It’s too early to call this better than the 2005 version, it’s too early to declare it among the series’ overall best games or even among the best games ever made. But it’s clear respect for a half serious, half absurd masterpiece makes it a masterclass for getting at the heart of what makes video game remakes so wonderful when done right.

Do I really want Resident Evil 5 or 6 to be remade? Half of me says yes, half of me says no, no, NO. There are ways I can see those games be more so “reimagined” than remade like the games we’ve gotten recently. Many would however say RE5’s not exactly sensitive or accurate portrayal of Africa might by itself be a dealbreaker, let alone that it’s plot out of all the games feels like an 80s Saturday Morning Cartoon with an R-rated aesthetic. I mean, it ends with you punching a boulder out of your way inside a very, VERY active volcano. All while fighting social Darwinist Johnny Bravo.

It’s a miracle that Resident Evil 4 could be restructured into something more sensical. I don’t know if you can take what I just described about Resident Evil 5 and make it even a quarter grounded. As for Resident Evil 6, my apologetics aside, it’s utter craziness is part of what makes it the game it is. It’s approach to combat and movement is predicated on it being the “foaming at the mouth” member of the RE family of games. Making that more serious or believable would involve a total reconsideration of what RE6 even is and could in turn make it essentially a brand new game all it’s own. That description actually does sound inviting I can imagine but would that in turn honor what RE6 actually got right?

Some have suggested two alternatives to RE5 and 6 getting the reunion tour. They could look at older titles that have not gotten remade like the much requested Code Veronica from 2000 to even a second remake of the very first game, redone top to bottom in the RE Engine that has fueled the series’ entries since 2017. The other option would be to stop at this point. After all, Capcom will soon be turning its attention and hopes to do the same to you with the tentatively titled Resident Evil 9.

Maybe it wouldn’t hurt for Resident Evil as a franchise to go on a hiatus after that, to give you, me and the possibly exhausted people at Capcom a reprieve from the series. Of course I’m not saying no new REs after 9 but a good couple of years to just let that world of survival horror rest.

Every franchise, especially a horror franchise, needs to release the tension eventually.

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