Horror game remakes are all the rage these days, and Capcom have been great proponents of this, really kickstarting the movement with Resident Evil 2 in 2019. Now it’s the turn of Resident Evil 4, with the game that dragged the genre away from fixed cameras toward third person views and more action-oriented horror now getting its own ground-up remake.
From one perspective, there’s an innate appeal to a remake such as this. Resident Evil 4’s still regarded as an all-time classic, but it still has some early-2000s game design quirks, and when you see the leap forward that the other Resi Remakes have been able to take graphically, the potential to breathe a much darker visual atmosphere into this game is clear.
We got to go hands on with a slice of Resident Evil 4, from pretty much the very start of the game through to the end of the tone-setting battle for survival in the village, and the vast steps forward were immediately apparent. If there’s one thing that deserves to be consigned to the annals of gaming history, it’s tank controls. Sure, the restricted movement was a part of how older horror games built up tension and fear, your restricted field of vision and dexterity forcing you to play strategically, but there’s other, much better ways to get similar effects these days. Resident Evil 4 now lets you side-step, move while aiming (albeit slowly), and there’s more flexibility and abilities within the combat as a whole. We’ll come back to that, though.
That initial trudge through the woods to the isolated cabin has a very different tone. There’s an inky blackness to the forest around you, a low-hanging mist tapping into classic horror movie vibes, and so much more foreboding imagery tucked into your surroundings. In fact, it wasn’t until coming up to the house that I understood where I was.
That house has been utterly transformed as well, going from a standard looking building with basically just one main room and a tiny upstairs areas to something with more living space. It’s still falling into disrepair though, which is immediately visible from the broken-in roof, and the narrative beats that play out here take what was in the original and build on top of it.
I almost feel like it’s a shame for the old MGS-style talking heads radio comms being consigned to the annals of gaming history alongside the tank controls, but it’s allowed the cutscenes team to shine. Coming across a room filled with clues and information, Leon calls in to Hunnigan, the camera cutting to her office as they chit-chat and plan next steps. Not much later, when escaping the house, we still get the campy, Bond-esque quips and humour from Leon – don’t worry, that side of the game is absolutely still here.
It’s pretty obvious that while Resident Evil 4 will retain the same overarching layout and progression through the story, Capcom is also revising many elements and improving the flow, when it makes sense. The path from the house to the village is shortened significantly, but then that village? It feels almost identical to the original game.
All of the buildings are in the same place, the side-paths and escape routes remain, and there’s a similar if not identical patrol that the villagers take around the central pyre. Fans of the original will know exactly what to expect when they take a few steps forward and trigger the first real encounter with the Ganados – there’s a little bit more of The Thing to them this time as they come at you with zombie-like persistence.
Thanks to the much freer movement, it will feel like you’re able to take them on with much greater ease than before, and that’s only enhanced by some new tricks that Leon’s been taught. For one thing, you can now use the knife for stealth takedowns, helping to thin potential hordes coming at you, but once things kick off, if you’re grabbed you can prevent yourself from losing too much health while mashing X to escape by pulling the right trigger to use the knife to break free more quickly.
Similarly, incoming attacks and potentially be blocked with a well-timed knife parry. This will even lop someone’s hands off if they’re trying to punch you, and can withstand Dr. Salvador’s wild chainsaw attacks. Incidentally, Salvador is more than happy to cleave his way through villagers that get in his way and can chop through some parts of the environment.
All of this comes with the caveat that the knife has a limited durability and quite quickly gets worn down through use – you’ll be able to fix it up later on, though. Don’t worry though, because Leon still has his one-two hit of shooting to stagger and then delivering a round-house kick to finish off and enemy.
It’s not as claustrophobic feeling as the original game – again, tank controls are a big part of that – but things like the breakable knife show how Capcom are giving with one hand and taking with the other. There’s certain tricks, like hiding up in the tower, that might have worked in the original but simply won’t in the remake.
While there’s no way that Resident Evil 4’s remake will be as revolutionary and trend-setting as the original, Capcom’s considered approach to updating the game will make sure that it’s not being left behind either. It looks fantastic, it plays with a modern flair, but it finely balances that with staying true to the original.