author: Giancarlo Saldana
Resident Evil 4 Remake Review: Survival Horror Perfected
Back in 2008, Capcom gave us a game that redefined the survival horror genre. Who knew it could continue to refine itself nearly two decades later.
Resident Evil 4 was one of my favorite GameCube games back in the day. It had the right level of action, suspense, and atmosphere the series had perfected throughout the years. It made me jump at times, traumatized my brother whenever he heard a chainsaw, and kept me revisiting it years after my initial playthrough. It was one of those rare Mature-rated GameCube games that still holds a special place in my heart and in my library.
- Amazing atmosphere that amplifies the horror, panic, and moments of stress you’ll experience
- Inventive puzzles and level designs that outdo the original’s
- Improved combat and movement controls that give you more room to explore and fight
- An scary good time for new players and veterans alike
- Mercenaries side game not included at launch
With so many accolades under its belt, it’s no surprise that Resident Evil 4 is the next main series game to get a remake, but for a game that is regarded by many as a near-perfect example of a survival horror experience, what else could Capcom do to it to make it even better? Several hours and playthroughs later, not only did I discover the answer to this question, but I am confident we now have a new standard by how Resident Evil games, or any game in this genre, are made because – oh yeah, it’s that good.
One of the reasons why RE4 was so successful was that it created an atmosphere of dread and hopelessness the series has been known for, but it also introduced new ways to explore your surroundings and shoot down enemies, while featuring some intense fights and cutscenes that put us on the edge of our seat. Those button-mashing quick-time-events of the original are long gone, but what is left is a level of intensity that is hard to replicate in words but better to actually experience for yourself.
Take, for example, the introductory part of the game. As Leon enters this creepy village and notices people huddling around a stake as they light someone who is very much alive on fire, reality kicks in. Not only are you someplace you shouldn’t be, but you also now have to fend off against all those crazy villagers on your own. You don’t know this area yet so what if you run into a dead end while people are chasing you, or even worse – what if you run out of ammo because you’re new to the game and your aim is just off? And just when you thought you survived the worst, you then hear the sounds of a chainsaw-wielding guy behind you.
These are the ingredients that make for some thrilling, if not panic-inducing situations in the game that RE4 introduced and the remake has now perfected. Even if you already played the original many years ago or even last week, chances are you will feel all those feelings all over again simply because of how different yet familiar it feels. The game’s music, sounds, and improved graphics intensify the jump scares you thought you were used to, and constantly knowing that something is out there will continue to plague your mind until all enemies in a room are cleared.
Leon can now run and shoot, which took me a while to actually realize was new because games nowadays feature these controls. This slight change makes showdowns against groups of enemies more of a chance to test your skills with your aim but also offers you more options on your approach. Do you want a headshot to take them out faster or do you want to aim at their knees to knock them down and follow up with a melee attack? Along with being able to crouch, moving while aiming offers you some space and gives you the chance to plan your next move. It doesn’t take away from the stress you’ll feel when you are backed into a corner, but it makes it easier to explore and get your bearings when stuff hits the fan.
Even Leon’s knife plays a more active role in your survival this time. Playing the game on hardcore difficulty for my first playthrough, I had to quickly learn to perfect the art of parrying or else I would lose precious health or end up dead before I knew it. The knife lets you deflect attacks and even use it as an extra weapon if you are running low on ammo. The more you use it to deflect or to stab enemies, the more it wears down and eventually breaks until you get repaired. Just like with your controls, this new use for the knife doesn’t make the game easier as it also forces you to consider these possibilities and forces you to juggle with your limited resources as any good survival horror should.
A Gripping, Cheesy, Memorable Story
The original Resident Evil 4 told a disturbing story that got more and more sinister the further you got along in the game. Six years after the events in RE2, agent Leon Kennedy is tasked to locate and bring back the president’s daughter after she was kidnapped and taken to a remote Spanish countryside community. There he discovers more secrets and experiments that turn people into living hosts of a deadly parasite. Its remake tells that same story but new lines, cutscenes, and slight narrative adjustments keep your attention throughout its many chapters even if you already know what’s going to happen next. In fact, because the game probably knows that many players have beaten the original already, there are moments that will take you by surprise in the best way possible. This isn’t just a carbon copy of the original – this is a shining diamond that continues to sparkle in the darkness.
Resident Evil 4 freaked us out when we were younger, but it still leaves us shaken (in a good way) nearly two decades later while setting the benchmark for what survival horrors and remakes should look like.
A great example of how the game feels even better than the original is how its many areas have been redesigned to make the experience even more eerie without taking away from the original’s creativity. The castle, for instance, features various new rooms and puzzles. You may know you need to find a certain item to place on a statue to move forward, but where you’ll find that item or what you need to survive to get to it is completely different. These moments will always give you a rush and will keep you on your toes whether you’re new to the game or not.
Some of the cheesiness of the original has also been toned down and new lines mean Leon doesn’t sound as cringey as did back in 2008. That said, Leon is still one witty fella so his plethora of one-liners will make you chuckle even when he’s facing a scorpion-like mutated priest in a burning barn. Even Ashley, the president’s daughter, seems more mature and less annoying than before. When hit, she becomes incapacitated but you won’t need to give up a healing item anymore. Cutscenes continue to give substance to your actions, but you don’t need to worry about button prompts and can simply take a breather as your quick reflexes are now needed during combat.
Even the merchant, one of the more memorable characters in the game, returns but offers you more ways to make some money in your fight for survival. You still need money to afford all of his weapons, upgrades, and repair services, but now you can dress up certain treasures with gemstones to increase their selling price. Now, you can also complete requests such as shooting down blue medallions nearby or finding a golden egg among some chickens to score yourself spinels that you can trade for even more goodies.
Setting the Bar Really High
I remember spending hours playing the add-on Mercenaries mode in the original so while Capcom plans to release this separately as free DLC in the future, for now we just have to make do with the main game that will offer you around 16 hours of fun – and that’s not counting the many times you have to replay certain areas because you end up dead. Each chapter reveals some challenges to complete that will motivate you to play the game again as these provide you with points to spend on new weapons, art, and even costumes for Leon and Ashley. I personally don’t need an incentive to replay it, but amassing these points to then spend on more things for my next playthrough is half the fun. Not to mention, you will need all the help you can get if you plan to brave the hardest mode with no quick saves and finish the game with a perfect S-rank.
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Resident Evil 4 freaked us out when we were younger, but it still leaves us shaken (in a good way) nearly two decades later. Because the game changed how we experienced the genre when it first came out, the developers had their work cut out for them to release a game that still met all those expectations but didn’t distance itself too far from what made the original so good in the first place.
Playing the original now, I am actually surprised at how limiting the game feels. There was definitely room for improvement despite being such an outstanding entry back then, and Capcom knew this. The result was a remake that is a resounding success and has everything the original offered but refines it even more. Ultimately, Resident Evil 4 is impressive and sets a new benchmark for what survival horrors and remakes should look like.
Giancarlo Saldana | Gamepressure.com