Resident Evil 4 Remake Is the Perfect Modern Resident Evil Game (For Better or Worse)

Resident Evil 4 Remake is the triumph you heard it is, but what will this game's success mean for the future of the franchise?

Resident Evil 4 Remake
Photo: Capcom

I’ve long been one of those gamers who thinks that underachieving games with great ideas should get remakes rather than already great games. That argument doesn’t make much business sense (which is why it rarely happens), but the creative logic is sound. An incredible game is often only in need of a touch-up (if anything). Proper remakes sometimes feel like they should be reserved for games that had potential that is easier to see through modern eyes and with the help of modern technology. Of course, Capcom’s recent Resident Evil remakes have certainly challenged that seemingly sound theory. 

2019’s Resident Evil 2 Remake was a revelation. I already considered Resident Evil 2 to be one of the best Resident Evil games ever (and one of the best survival horror games ever), so I obviously didn’t think it needed a remake. Yet, that remake’s stunning visuals, reworked cameras/controls that placed slightly more emphasis on action, and reimagined sequences did what many great game remakes strive to do: recreate that feeling of playing a truly great game for the first time. The Resident Evil 3 Remake didn’t quite reach those same heights, but hopes were obviously high for the long-awaited Resident Evil 4 remake. After all, Resident Evil 4 isn’t just one of the all-time great games regardless of franchise and genre; it helped inspire some of the gameplay changes that made the RE 2 remake so special. 

So try to be surprised when I tell you that Resident Evil 4 Remake is an incredible game. It’s arguably the best overall version of Resident Evil 4 and one of the best Resident Evil games ever. It’s pretty much the perfect version of the modern Resident Evil experience that Capcom is trying to craft with these remakes. While I mean that as a compliment, it’s a compliment that I deliver with at least a small twinge of disappointment in regard to what that might actually mean.

Resident Evil 4 Remake Solidifes the Original’s “Greatest Game Ever” Credentials

Apologies for those who are already well aware of this, but 2005’s Resident Evil 4 is widely considered to be one of “the great games.”

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Originally released for the GameCube (and since ported to pretty much everything), Resident Evil 4 followed Leon Kennedy as he traveled to a rural village in Spain to rescue the president’s daughter. There, he finds a cult whose deadly experiments have turned the villagers into monsters and the village into a hellscape. As they so often do, things escalate from there. 

Resident Evil 4 was a real shock to the franchise’s system. It utilized an over-the-shoulder perspective that not only replaced the previous games’ fixed camera angles but formed the basis of a new combat system that allowed players to properly aim their weapons. It also added a merchant and a new inventory system designed to help you carry more items (when properly managed). It even replaced two of the series’ most iconic enemies: zombies and the Umbrella Corporation (though the lore is more complicated than that). 

Those changes (and more) made Resident Evil 4 much a much more action-oriented game than its predecessors. In some ways, those changes were a reflection of the times. More and more games of that era were also emphasizing cinematic setpieces, and 3D action was finally coming into its own. Other notable RE 4 changes were designed to address growing fatigue towards the old-school survival horror genre and the many RE clones that eventually watered down that style. Many felt that it was time for the series and genre to evolve, and Cpacom obviously agreed. 

Yet, Resident Evil 4 was more of a trendsetter than a trend chaser. What few ideas it did borrow it also refined and reimagined for a new kind of action-horror experience. Older Resident Evil games often instilled fear by making you feel helpless. Resident Evil 4’s brand of horror was more about overwhelming you with “holy shit” moments but giving you more of the tools you need to feel relatively in control during those moments. 

At the time of its release, there was really nothing like Resident Evil 4. It straddled the line between interactivity and cinematic presentation in ways that made nearly every beat of the experience feel like a revelation. Your first time playing RE 4 was like watching the future of gaming come at you with a bloody chainsaw. There was no denying what you were experiencing. It was so good that it even made escort quests feel enjoyable.

It’s no surprise that some instantly labeled it the best game they had ever played. Even a growing army of Resident Evil 4 clones couldn’t immediately diminish its impact. Many of those games couldn’t match the ways that RE 4 balanced skill with approachability, presentation with interactivity, and action with horror so expertly.

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Yet, time has taken a toll on the game. Resident Evil 4 was never actually a perfect game, and some of its problems (sometimes clunky controls, final act pacing issues, and an occasional overreliance on QTE sequences, just to name a few) became more pronounced over the years. Games like Dead Space also arguably improved the RE 4 formula in some pretty notable ways. It also didn’t help that Capcom failed to produce a worthy follow-up to RE 4 in the style of that game. Resident Evil 4 remained great, but those “greatest game ever” claims started to sound a little more hyperbolic. 

In that sense, Resident Evil 4 Remake’s greatest accomplishment has to be the way it revives the game’s “GOAT’ status by doing what the original did: modernizing the RE experience. 

Resident Evil 4 Remake Shows How Changes Don’t Have to Feel Like Changes

Resident Evil 4 Remake is not a nearly complete overhaul of the original game like the divisive Final Fantasy 7 Remake was. Anyone familiar with the original game will find many of the same characters, moments, levels, and mechanics in this one. There are some cut sequences (such as the infamous running from the boulder section), cut items (no more incendiary grenades), and cut mechanics (you can’t kill the merchant, you monsters), but the core of the game is certainly still there. 

However, there have been quite a few changes and modifications made to the original game. The full list of changes is extensive and still being put together, but it’s worth noting that most of those changes have been made in the name of accessibility and modernization. That’s especially true of the original game’s once-revolutionary combat. 

For instance, Leon’s knife is significantly more useful in the remake. You can even parry incoming blows with it (though the knife will degrade over time). Leon can also crouch on command this time around, which is also useful for avoiding incoming blows. When it is time to shoot your guns, you’ll find that it’s significantly easier to do so in the remake thanks to (*gasp*) controls that let you move and shoot at the same time. It’s black magic sorcery, as are the new weapon upgrade mechanics and customization options that greatly expand the original game’s Merchant economy and offer you even more combat options. 

It’s not just the combat, though. There are more significant changes made to the original game’s story, characters, level designs, and key moments that will catch long-time fans by surprise. I don’t want to spoil all of them here (we’ll save those for later), but the game’s almost entirely eliminated QTE sequences are certainly one of its most notable alterations. They still exist, but there are fewer of them. That also means that a certain famous boss fight near the end of the game has been completely reworked. 

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Some will balk at some of those changes (welcome to the internet), but it’s hard to deny what they’re trying to accomplish. Most of those changes have been implemented to delight existing players looking for surprises/improvements while allowing new players to experience Resident Evil 4 not as it was but how it once felt.

Take the Ashley sections, for instance. While always slightly frustrating, the sections once helped justify the entire escort mission concept by invoking that necessary sense of panic found in older survival horror titles. The remake enhances that feeling by making Ashley capable enough to not get in your way but not so capable that she loses that vulnerability that makes her role in the game so important. 

Actually, the Resident Evil 4 Remake is significantly scarier than the original game. It retains the original title’s sense of action-fuelled panic but adds notable moments of pure, “classic” horror that will catch new and old players by surprise. It’s kind of a miracle that this game is so much scarier than the original game given that it also offers the player so many additional ways to defend themselves and control their character during combat. 

That’s really the magic of this remake, though. Like Resident Evil 2 Remake, Resident Evil 4 Remake almost feels like the culmination of what Capcom has learned from both its own endeavors and the efforts of the rest of the horror game industry. It’s scary, it features some classic survival horror elements (resource management, save rooms, etc.), and it is playable and enjoyable in ways that some otherwise great horror games are not necessarily playable and enjoyable. 

Once upon a time, Capcom failed to create a proper follow-up to the monster that was Resident Evil 4. Well, Resident Evil 4 Remake is that long-awaited follow-up, despite its obvious remake status. It’s pretty much the perfect version of what Capcom is trying to do with these modern Resident Evil titles. That’s also what’s so bittersweet about the whole thing. 

Resident Evil 4 Remake Will Leave You Wondering Where This Franchise Goes From Here

“Bad” games with great ideas should get remakes, which is why 2002’s Resident Evil Remake is still my favorite of the RE remakes. No, the original Resident Evil wasn’t necessarily a bad game, but it was a game with a lot of problems, most of which were representative of its innovative nature and the limits of the times it was made in. The Resident Evil remake felt like the version of the original game that Capcom would have made if they had been able to do so. You can’t necessarily say the same for the incredible Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 4 remakes. Both are modernized (and certainly sometimes improved) versions of already great games that many people already thought felt fairly complete at the time of their releases.

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Selfishly, I’m somewhat sad that we might not get another remake in the style of the Resident Evil remake. I know that particular style of Resident Evil game has fallen out of favor over the years, but there is something special about those early games. They’re still some of the scariest Resident Evil games ever made, they emphasized survival in every element of their designs, and say what you will about those fixed camera angles, but they give those games an “every frame a painting” quality that remains visually appealing. Resident Evil Remake offered an optimized version of those classic experiences that Capcom has never really followed up on outside of Resident Evil 0

That’s the bigger point here. I’m blown away by the quality of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 4’s remakes, but I’m not convinced that their style of game design is a one size fits all solution for this series (or even just future remakes). 

Just look at Resident Evil 3 Remake. Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is generally considered to be worse than Resident Evil 2 and 4. That being the case, you’d think that Resident Evil 3 would be the best candidate for a remake among those games. It was certainly the game most in need of a second chance among the Resident Evil games that Capcom has remade so far.

Yet, Resident Evil 3 Remake is generally considered to be the worst of the recent RE remakes. That remake features many of the core elements that make the other recent remakes so great, but it fails to successfully reimagine some of the things that made Nemesis unique. The fights against the Nemesis itself are often treated like an expansion of RE 2 Remake’s Mr. X encounters, and some of the original game’s flawed, yet fascinating, ideas (like complex puzzles, branching paths, and entire areas that just needed a few tweaks) are cut from the remake so that the original game can better fit that new formula.

Resident Evil 2 Remake and Resident Evil 4 Remake are great remakes of great games. People are calling for Resident Evil 5 and 6 (maybe even Code Veronica) to soon receive similar treatments, but I’m not sure those projects are as obvious as some think they are. Those games have notable flaws, but, like Resident Evil 3, they also have unique identities that should be preserved. You can run them through this remake design machine and you’ll probably get technically better games out of the other end of the thing, but I’m not convinced they’ll be games that fully realize the true potential of those original experiences as they were conceived.

There are also those calling for the mainline modern Resident Evil games (meaning post-Resident Evil Village titles) to play more like these recent remakes, which may be an even more troubling idea. After all, Resident Evil is one of the only (certainly one of the last) true blockbuster horror franchises. Every new release shakes the industry, and Capcom has always been pretty good about keeping the series fresh through the occasional reinvention, reimagining, and, when necessary, reboot.

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For as much as I love Resident Evil 4 Remake, I don’t want it to be the only kind of Resident Evil game. I’m also hesitant to buy into the popular idea that these games can truly replace what came before. There is a charm to so many different kinds of Resident Evil experiences, and it would be a shame if this remake’s admittedly stunning critical and commercial success did lead to this style of RE game becoming the style of RE games in the future, especially if it comes at the cost of those older titles which still have so much to offer despite their age and wrinkles. 

None of that should diminish what an accomplishment Resident Evil 4 Remake is. This might just be the perfect version of what Capcom seems to want this kind of Resident Evil game to be, and it’s pretty much exactly what a remake of Resident Evil 4 should be. It just remains to be seen whether or not Resident Evil 4 Remake becomes the template for what fans and Capcom expect all modern Resident Evil games to be.