Especially when it comes to Resident Evil, I’m not easily given to superlatives. I’ve been with the series since I was 6, and rented the original game for what was then my brand-new, Christmas-present PlayStation. I loved Resident Evil 2. I thought 3 was okay, and the original Resident Evil 4 was terrific. When it comes to RE7, Village, and the beloved remake of Resident Evil 1, I’m a bit of an outsider – for me, those games represent various low points in RE series history, when the creators were either at their most bland and staid, or flailing for something – anything – original. I’m also wary of remakes; it’s a gut reaction, I suppose, an instinctive flinching at the game industry reheating old ideas instead of braving something new. I’m not easily given to superlatives. I’m a wizened old soul. But as we head towards the Resident Evil 4 Remake release date, and the next iteration of Capcom’s horror game series, I can’t resist the feeling that this one’s going to be good – like, very good.
In my hands-off preview of Resident Evil 4 Remake, especially to begin with, I’m struck by how different everything looks. I’ve finished the original Resident Evil 4 maybe 25 times. If I shut my eyes, I can kind of air play the entire game in my head – I look like Neo, twitching in the Matrix boot-up chair while he flash-learns kung fu. Everything in Resident Evil 4 is familiar to me, but the remake – not just because of the modern visuals or the rebuilt animations – looks like a completely different game.
Especially in the village sections, each chapter seems to have an entirely altered and expanded layout. As well as the motorboat, which you can use to travel between expanded, optional zones (you could do this somewhat in the original, but now they look bigger), I see Leon crouching and crawling through caves, stalking through a darkened wood, and battling Ganados inside mini, pseudo temples, built into the wilderness.
Like 2019’s RE2 and the remake of RE3 which followed a year later, this is not the original game only with nicer graphics and added features. This is a remake in the fullest sense of the word. The spirit, energy, and atmosphere of Resident Evil 4 remain intact, only now applied to a different and expanded game world, seemingly full of new ideas.
Leon is incredibly nimble. It’s like everything he could do in the cutscenes in Resident Evil 4, in the remake, you can do them yourself. If an enemy hurls a scythe at you, you can tap a button to duck. If they’re coming at you with an axe, you can parry them away with your knife then roundhouse kick them to the floor. Particularly telling is the fight against Garrador, the blind, parasite-riddled muscle man boss with the enormous steel claws. If you crouch down you can sneak around him, staying out of earshot with carefully placed steps. Strafe your way around to his back, and rather than taking out a gun and shooting his weak spot, you can simply tap a key to jam it with your knife.
I was always impressed by Metal Gear Solid 5, and how functional and mobile Venom Snake felt in the player’s hands. Resident Evil 4 Remake seems to achieve something similar. If the key victory of the original RE4 was to always gave you something new to experience – battling a lake monster; wave defence in a cabin; running away from a giant robotic statue; using thermal vision to kill the Regenerators – then Remake seems to be aiming for the same. The combat looks so versatile, the enemies and encounters so interactive, that it should never feel like doing the same thing twice.
If I started this article by establishing some kind of connoisseurial taste threshold – “when it comes to Resident Evil, it takes a lot to impress me” – then I suppose I’m about to undermine myself, by admitting to a very base pleasure. Then again, I maintain that this in any good RE game, this is vital: the gore and blood effects in Resident Evil 4 Remake look fantastic. And I don’t mean in a kind of splatterhouse, more is more, gratuitous kind of way. I mean visually, artistically, aesthetically. When you stab a Ganado, a big red splat appears on his chest. When you blast him with a shotgun, terrific plumes of red and yellow gunk momentarily fill the screen.
If a game is primarily about shooting – if I’m going to spend 15 hours aiming, firing, and killing – I want the guns to sound good, I want the squibs to leap off the screen, and I want the deaths to be spectacular. From what I can see, Resident Evil 4 Remake delivers on all fronts. I was never opposed to the series going more action – given the amount of zombies, hunters, and bosses you kill, even the very first Resident Evil is pretty action heavy. But shooting and gunplay, even though they’ve become the series’ focus, have felt quite damp and ungratifying in the latter-day Resident Evil games. Resident Evil 4 Remake looks like it will finally and thoroughly correct that course.
There’s so much more to say. The knife fight with Krasuer, which has been upgraded from a simple QTE sequence to a full, almost Dark Souls-style boss encounter, looks terrific. Weapon customisation has been massively expanded, too – as well as building your guns and storing them in the attaché case, when you access save points, there’s an additional storage option, like the item box, so you can swap out your arsenal whenever you like.
There are also some miniature sidequests. Remember collecting the blue medallions for the Merchant? Now, you will find little notices posted around the village inviting you to hunt down dozens of different items, including the coveted golden chicken egg.
Your interactions with Ashley have been improved and expanded, also. Rather than the simple “wait/follow me” commands from the original, you can now tell Ashley to either stay close to you, or separate and find cover – during gunfights, she’ll dive behind something nearby, giving you space to slay the Ganados en masse without inadvertently slashing her with your knife. And if she does get hit, it no longer means an automatic game over. Instead, Ashely will go into an incapacitated state, meaning you have a short time to go and revive her. Particularly in the opening section of the castle, where she used to take collateral damage from all the catapults, this new system is a massive relief.
I’m not easily given to superlatives. But more than any other Resident Evil game of the past fifteen years – excluding the excellent remakes of 2 and 3 – I am excited to play RE4. I’m excited for other people to play it, and to talk about it with them. I’ve learned that if you get too breathless and hyped up during previews you risk looking foolish when the final game comes out. This time however, with Resident Evil 4 Remake, I think I’m going to be fine.