Resident Evil 4 Remake Proves That Some Games Are Built To Last

Games Reviews Resident Evil
Resident Evil 4 Remake Proves That Some Games Are Built To Last

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Resident Evil 4 is an incredibly good game. I sort of knew this myself, since everyone around me’s shouted a similar sentiment for most of the last two decades. Ever since it landed on the scene, Resident Evil 4 has been literally—and spiritually—everywhere; As of now, the original game has been on just about every console since its release, from the GameCube to the Oculus Quest 2. It even made it onto something called Zeebo, according to Wikipedia. It inspired Dead Space, another legendary survival-horror title, and popularized the over-the-shoulder look that third-person-shooters have employed since. You already know this though, because Resident Evil 4 has been making waves since 2005, and you’ve likely played it multiple times since then.

But I haven’t. Outside of the opening hour of Resident Evil 4, which I’ll controversially admit I didn’t enjoy some years ago, I never experienced the landmark game in its entirety for myself.  Then I got the chance to play the remake and I’m happy to say I’ve joined the choir because friends, Resident Evil 4 remains an incredibly good game.

Where do you start when remaking a classic though? For so many, Resident Evil 4 is the quintessential survival-horror game. Though not entirely horrific, it had its fair share of scares and spine-tingling sights that I’m now familiar with. And though I’ve no clue how fans felt at the time about the game’s shift to action, time has proven that it was ultimately the best move. Resident Evil 4 has long been considered an immutable text, and yet at the same time, a large enough contingent of its adorers have clamored for a remake not unlike the one I’ve played through, something that’d necessitate some degree of change to validate its costly existence. The answer, even if it sounds sacrilegious, has been to remix and refine what’s there for a modern crowd.

Beginning with Leon, players now control a more savvy and lithe combatant, like he was in 2019’s Resident Evil 2. He’s still got his signature kicks and all, but he also isn’t suddenly flipping and dodge-rolling around the arena, an actual fear I had. He is sneakier, which allows for way more stealth this time around, expanding on what you can do in the remake. Leon also retains his knife which now has an unobtrusive and very simple parry that is very helpful in a pinch without becoming a spam-to-win kind of deal. Thanks to durability, you can only use the knife—either on downed opponents who are mutating, stealth kills, counters when you or Ashley are grabbed, or as a weapon—a certain amount of times before it breaks, meaning you’ve got to smartly consider when to use it, or load up on smaller knives that’ll take up space in your attache case, a classic survival-horror dilemma that never became a chore to untangle.

And the game truly does feel like the classic survival-horror experience, even if I’ve yet to play the original. While I’ve yet to mention it, the game’s rural Spain setting feels more frightening than ever, thanks in large part due to the advancement and deployment of new lighting techniques. Across the board, the game looks and feels more terrifying than it actually is, which does a lot to set the mood across the entirety of the game. The opening skirmish in the village square escalates at an alarming rate that had me scurrying like my life depended on it. The chainsaw sisters backed me into corners I had to ferociously claw my way out of, and some of the multi-level set pieces in the game’s castle segment (which I’ve at least seen before) are stunning in how much tension they manage to produce while still feeling minimalist. Among the reasons these sequences worked so well for me was their artistic and technical direction, which never squanders the impressive RE engine or forsakes the original design. Along the way here though, the RE4 remake does begin to feel distinctly more ominous than the original and as such, less light-hearted. That part of the game is still intact in much of the writing and scenarios, but begins to feel conspicuously absent as the game marches towards its conclusion. What for some might’ve felt like a steady succession of increasingly ridiculous set pieces and encounters in the original takes on much more weight thanks to the remake’s ambiance and can feel draining. What consistently pushed me despite that feeling was just how intelligently built RE4 is.

When I picked up the remake, I was expecting to understand why everyone loves it the way they do, but I wasn’t expecting to walk away thinking it was an actual masterclass in level design. Leon’s movement speed caters to every arena so well, for example, that as my companion Ashley was being dragged from the room and I darted to save her, I felt haggard and desperate by the time I plunged the blade into her kidnapper. Though I initially tried to play the game as a straightforward action game, rushing headfirst into every encounter and thinking that’d fulfill me most, it wasn’t until I died countless times and learned alternate routes, not to mention hung back and made use of my full arsenal, that I unlocked the RE4 I’d heard about. The one where you surgically take out crossbow snipers before ripping apart a shield with a shotgun blast and planting a well-placed shot from the Red-9 between an enemy’s eyes, only to run up and finish them and whoever was unlucky to be around them with a neck-shattering roundhouse. When you’re fully in the flow of things, Leon doesn’t feel unlike this genre’s very own Doom Slayer, with an arsenal of weapons to meet every challenge and an indomitable spirit to match. To throw fuel on the fire, increasingly challenging rooms threw surprises into the mix that kept pushing me to refine my strategies before they ever became solid, and it’s incredible how solid this game’s nearly twenty-year old bones have stood up and remain top of the class.

Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay to both versions of the game is that I rarely felt the remade elements. Though some changes are more apparent than others, like parts of the script being obviously cleaned up, elements of the original and the remake more or less flowed well into one another, regardless of age. The game’s pace practically never stumbles while introducing a revision and all the while, the remake keeps the spirit of the game I’ve heard about alive and well. Ashley, who’s struck me over the years as a nuisance more than a companion, now seems more mature and intent to help Leon rather than get in his way and a toggle helps her actually keep a respectable distance or stick close by him in combat. Elsewhere, blue note requests, which are effectively side tasks given by everyone’s favorite merchant, grant a bit of structure to the game’s offerings outside of the main story and incentivize you to go back through countless of the game’s stunning environments.

Besides the obvious visual overhaul, modernizations and remixed elements of the story, RE4 is as tried-and-true an RE title as can be and I mean that in the best sense. Leon still fires off bad one-liners like the hero of a B-movie, and the dialogue with surrounding characters like Ashley and Luis is similarly camp-ish. Much of the same systems from previous games have carried over too, so if you’ve enjoyed the feeling of the Resident Evil games lately, you’ll feel right at home. The old and the new have found a healthy home in RE4’s remake.

So the best possible thing you all could’ve hoped for did come true: RE4’s remake is a smashing success. It’s both scary and thrilling, and clears up that not only was its initial success no fluke, but that few titles have properly challenged it ever since. Whether this is your first or most recent trip through RE4’s wacky Spanish cult-fest, I’m positive you’ll find lots to love in this game that seems built to last. And now at last I can say that I finally get it, and it feels good to be here.

Resident Evil 4 is developed and published by Capcom. Our review is based on the PS5 version. It is also available on Xbox Series X|S, PS4 and PC.

Moises Taveras is the assistant games editor for Paste Magazine. He was that one kid who was really excited about Google+ and is still sad about how that turned out.

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