“This time…it has to be different”- Leon S. Kennedy
This line is spoken at a point in the story, and I can’t think of a better way to describe Resident Evil 4 Remake’s experience. As a long-time player of the franchise, when the title was announced at State of Play in June last year, my first thought was, ‘Why? Resident Evil 4 still holds up well,’ and my thoughts were echoed by fans all over social media. But now that I’ve experienced what Capcom has made, I don’t think I can ever go back.
Sure, the original title holds nostalgia for long time fans. The cheesy one-liners, outrageous acts of super-hero strength, insane enemies, and S-Rankings will always hold a spot in my heart. This was the game that defined Resident Evil for many. It changed horror games forever with its tanky shooting controls, quick time events, and diabolical, yet foreign, setting. This title takes that innovation and elevates it to new heights while making it difficult to simply label it a remake.
Now, let me explain. Ever since the success of Resident Evil 2 Remake and Resident Evil 3 Remake, Capcom has been taking the structure of the original games and rebuilding them for a modern audience (along with long-time fans like myself). We might just be a bit more elicit with our criticism. My point is, Capcom has been following a blueprint they started in 1996.
Minus the cringe-inducing acting and cheesy lines, these remakes have evoked a new tone and a new continuity for the franchise. They have fleshed out characters’ ambitions, choices, and lore, and given these beloved characters an identity that extends beyond simply being quip-making action-stars who spin kick zombies for fun. They’ve retained the elements of the fantasy and original story but are creating a new line of Resident Evil games with characters that we can relate to because they’re a bit more grounded in humanity.
The reason I say RE4R isn’t much of a remake is because it is the perfect follow-up to RE2R. It is, in some ways, a re-telling of the original game but does not strictly follow its frame. Instead, it starts by delivering plot points and unresolved concepts that players were left with after finishing RE2R. It provides a story much more psychologically fulfilling as we see the character development of Leon right in front of our eyes, resolving his inner-most conflicts left from Raccoon City. These changes make RE4R less of a Rambo game with zombie-likes and more of a grounded tale that’s at least a bit more believable.
Horror…but Scares Aren’t the Focus
The story of RE4R is an absolute experience. While it maintains horror-elements (that are less of a focus this time around), it still has moments that build stress for the player in ways that creates fear, tension, and panic.
Lavished in rural Spain, RE4R makes it a mission to make you uncomfortable. Its color palette and use of contrast and shadows make the game’s locations feel alien and isolating. Whether you are somewhere you think you are familiar with or not, the RE Engine’s capabilities have turned these locations into something new to experience. They will have you loading your armory of weapons after every altercation because you never know what will surprise you next while admiring the rich environments laden with lore, parasites, and gore.
REfreshing the Loop
The gameplay loop is adaptive and will often find ways to push you to your last bullet, force you to improvise with your knife, or even take careful aim and hope an enemy drops some more ammo. These moments are where the gameplay truly shines because Capcom has found a way to re-create the magic of the original’s combat loop while simultaneously making it significantly more difficult.
I played through RE4R on standard and, at times, really had to dig deep and ask myself, “Is there a better way to handle this encounter?” This is in no way a bad thing because it made surviving that much more rewarding.
In the original title, Leon could shoot specific body parts on enemies that would then allow him to perform a kick or suplex that would do a load of damage. These moves could even hit other enemies that are slowly trying to cut you up with their primitive farm tools or chainsaws. The remake maintains this, but adds in some spice to make a delicacy even Emeril would love. BAM!
The combat knife is no stranger to Resident Evil. In fact, I think I would be appalled if a title didn’t have it. But Resident Evil games have never seen a knife that performs as it does in RE4R. After Leon’s extensive military/secret service/bio-terrorism training, our young slender police rookie has become a master of cutlery. And I’m not talking about cooking this time. Leon can now parry enemy melee attacks, providing you with a sharp window to counter. But the best part? If you time it right, you get a nice Taekwondo kick that’ll send members of Los Illuminados soaring like a weaponized Jill-Sandwich into their cohorts.
This re-creation of the combat adds a new layer of skill players need to strive for to perfect their battles and maintain their resources. Much like the dodge mechanic in RE3R, this provides a layer of growth for the player and for Leon, who was limited in what he could do in RE2R. Now when moving, shooting, and engaging enemy combatants, you quickly learn this is not the same Leon you got to know the last time you played as him in the new RE Engine.
John Wick vs. Not-Zombies
As someone who comes from a military background, I must give absolute praise into the dedication that went into Leon’s movements, technique, and the attention to detail in handling his weapons. I was nearly jumping out of my seat every time Leon did a chamber-check for his pistol (especially the one time he does it one handed), engaged an enemy with his knife and followed up with a strike with his off-hand, or whenever he brought his pistol close to his chest when aiming at an enemy inches away from him.
These movements are real techniques, and they make Leon’s movements feel concise and driven by expert muscle memory. This attention to detail makes him feel more grounded and realistic than he was in the original title.
REimagining Loot and Progression
Hidden throughout the course of your trek through parasite-infested Spain, you can find all sorts of treasures and jewels. I mean, this is something that is not necessarily new, but this time you can collect jewels and maximize your profits by combining them into elegant necklaces, bracelets, or goblets. It’s yet another reason to visit everyone’s favorite arms dealer, the Merchant.
The weapon progression is tied to the iconic Merchant and, depending on the difficulty, you get more as you progress. Although in the beginning of the game some guns will be better than others, by the end you will realize that if you max every weapon out, each weapon in the game is designed to have a specific function that it does well, whether that’s shooting through multiple targets, dismembering them one-by-one, or blowing enemies apart at the waist.
Included in RE4R’s armory are many weapons, old and new. My favorite inclusion is the bolt-thrower, which I found myself using the most to conserve overall ammo. This crossbow-like weapon is an absolute powerhouse once you get the hang of it, and it can turn angry mobs of infected villagers into a mosh-pit of spin kicks, throat stabs, round-houses, or, better yet, turn them into piles of bodies or body parts if you attach explosive mines to your bolts. And the best part? You can use the bolt-thrower in stealth encounters for that troublesome granado that turned around before you could stab them.
Stealth became a big part of my playstyle and was a challenge I reveled in. When I completed an area that I thought might be difficult with relative ease, I found it was because I unleashed my inner Sam Fisher. This is certainly rewarding and a welcome addition to RE4R’s incredibly fun gameplay loop.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved Matthew Mercer as Leon in the original game. But Nick Apostolides makes Leon his role – giving him emotions, swagger, and heart in this revised journey. The same can be said for anyone that lent their voice for this updated take on the classic tale. Although Ada has a new voice actor, she, too, delivers an excellent performance in her role of the story.
We may not have asked for Resident Evil 4 Remake, but I love the franchise so much more because of it. You might know the original, front and back, but what Capcom offers here is a compelling sequel in the realm of horror. Resident Evil 4 Remake is gripping from the beginning to the end, with highs that are as adrenaline-infused as driving off of an imploding Halo ring or battling the wild hunt in Kaer Morhen. I never wanted to put down my controller for a moment during my playthrough. My only regret is that I can only experience RE4R for the first time once.
“Come back anytime”- The Merchant
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