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Following Capcom’s successful remakes of its ’90s-era Resident Evil titles, a new take on its magnum opus, Resident Evil 4, was inevitable. Whether it was necessary was apparently a moot point. Now that we have the remake, how does it stack up to the influential original? Pretty darned well, with most of the changes enhancing the story and gameplay. It has one or two disappointing alterations (and some outright deletions), but it’s a fantastic way to experience Resident Evil 4, either as 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 as he must contend with a whole town of parasitized Ganados, a shady parasite-based cult and keeping tabs on a few allies who aren’t quite what they seem to be.
There are a lot of remake-specific things I won’t talk about because of spoilers — I want all of the fans of the original to experience the specific differences for themselves. I’ll try to talk about the changes in broad strokes. However, I feel safe in pointing out which things have stayed the same. There’s enough of both to keep the veterans guessing and the newcomers entertained. In short, 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 note — and I do consider this to be a positive thing — is that RE4-make is not the same kind of remake as those of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3. Those games were massive seismic shifts in style and design (which, ironically, made both look more like RE4), and the RE4-make is more subtle. These small changes put together a refreshed experience, free of the original’s more poorly aged elements.
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The gameplay changes are the first and most notable. Leon can now move while aiming — which is way more of a boon than you might realize — and he can also crouch to hide. That’s right, the remake of the game that action-ized Resident Evil has added stealth back in. It’s not hugely useful, but it is nice to have the option so you can save a few bullets before the hordes starting coming after you in force.
And there will be hordes. Resident Evil 4 dials up the combat, multiplying the number of Ganado and other enemies Leon will encounter in the average area of the game. The game almost takes glee in pushing the limits of what the player can handle in all three of the main areas of the adventure. The Ganado are tougher than before, and even landing a perfect headshot isn’t a guaranteed kill. I played on Normal difficulty and chewed a hole in my lower lip trying to make my ammo supplies last.
The RE4-make gives Leon’s trusty knife new purpose … mostly in the sense that it’s no longer trusty. The knife gets a durability meter, and it can break if Leon overuses it. This is likely, as another new gameplay addition is the ability to parry incoming weapon blows with the knife. I’m sure most people will have seen Leon use this against Dr. Salvador’s chainsaw in the demo. While the game does give you spare knives as backup, it’s possible to wind up in a scenario where you have nothing with which to fight off the enemies.
The RE4-make also benefits from Capcom’s proprietary RE engine, as the village no longer looks quite as muddy and dingy as it did before. It takes a bit after its successor, Resident Evil Village, in that both the castle and village look a bit more atmospheric. I take a little issue at the amount of foliage that’s added, as it sometimes makes navigation a pain in the rear, but this is only a problem in the first third of the game.
One missing senorita
Besides the gameplay, the story and characters have also received an update. The two characters to benefit the most from the remake treatment are Luis and Ashley, Leon’s two main side characters in the story. Leon spends more time outside of cutscenes talking with them, and they have more interactions with him 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 banter with his enemies.
While the story beats have not changed, the order has. Veterans will find that things don’t always play out the way they did before, and the rewrites both keep the story fresh and make everything make more sense. I can’t be more specific because, again, spoilers, but certain characters appear at different spots in the story, and some of the sillier dialogue has disappeared in favor of making the villains more outright threatening.
Luis is much more personable in the remake, acting slightly more forthcoming about who he is and what he’s doing. Ashley is more fleshed out, coming across less as a prop and more as a character with thoughts and emotions. She spends most of the game understandably terrified but willing 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 gets a makeover. Yes, he’s still a gravel-voiced Cockney gun-hawker, and he still gives you the option to buy, sell and tune-up your weapons. But he also has a new trade system, where you can do him small favors in exchange for spinels, which you can trade for useful and valuable items. These extra bits give the game some replayability and extra stuff to do.
Oh, and one small complaint 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 kind of skirted around directly saying that it took place in Spain (which I always assumed was an attempt to not offend real Spaniards). In the remake, they all have proper Spanish accents and Luis references Don Quixote multiple times. It doesn’t make a huge difference, but it’s at least not as grating to listen to.
The more things change …
While I like the Resident Evil 4 remake overall, it’s not perfect either. There are times where you can almost feel the developers holding back on big changes. This wouldn’t be a problem, except the desire to adhere to the original in big ways means they sometime skimp on the small things. Sometimes in-game chapters don’t always flow well narratively, as it feels like they lack an interesting setpiece moment to wrap everything up.
If Ashley and Luis become more charming and interesting in the remake, then poor Ada is the one who suffers. Gone is her air of sexy mystery – here she’s curt, apathetic and downright tired. Her scenes with Leon lack the chemistry of his with the other two allies, and it makes her appearances (which are admittedly rare) fizzle. I think her voice actress likely received some poor 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 characteristics. In lieu of hiding spots, which are almost completely absent, the RE4-make swaps in a “formation” system. Using this, Leon can either tell Ashley to stay close to him or to move further back and keep her distance. In theory, this is to keep her from getting clocked by both the enemies’ and Leon’s melee attacks. But with the game’s tight map design on the, she’s always on top of you whether you’ve told her to fall back or not, which means it’s more likely for an enemy to pick her up and walk off with her.
As far as gameplay goes, there is one change that ground my gears but good: Leon’s run animation is so slow. His in-game sprint feels about the same as the original game’s default walking speed. This becomes more troublesome later in the game when you have to sprint away from larger, more aggressive enemies (and those horrible Regeneradors), and it feels like Leon’s running through quicksand. These complaints aren’t enough to ruin the game for me, but they did temper what was otherwise a very joyful experience.
“Where’s everybody going — bingo?”
The Resident Evil 4 remake feels like something made by a big fan of the original, but one who wasn’t afraid to switch things up a bit. I sank about 20 hours into a single playthrough, and I will almost certainly play more of it. While I sometimes wish the developers had changed even more than they did, I’m satisfied with the ratio of faithfulness-to-new in the remake.
There is a chance that fans of the original won’t take to this altered version well, and some of the elements in the above section do keep it from being a perfect experience. Even leaving aside the fact that it’s a remake, it’s still a solid game overall, and it’ll give joy for new players who experience this refreshed and renewed Resident Evil 4.
Capcom provided GamesBeat with a PS5 code of this game for the purpose of review. Resident Evil 4 Remake launches on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, and PC on March 24, 2023.