How Resident Evil 4 Remake’s Scarier Visuals Hurt the Original’s Campy Charm

Resident Evil 4's remake certainly looks scary enough, but will that game ignore the secret sauce that made the original such a masterpiece?

Resident Evil 4 Remake
Photo: Capcom

Resident Evil 4 is arguably the most famous entry in gaming’s biggest horror franchise. The game is so popular that rumors and hopes of a remake spread as soon as Capcom started talking about revisiting some of their older titles. Of course, with the promise of a remake comes the inevitability of changes, and judging by the Resident Evil 4 remake’s most recent trailer, the new version of Capcom’s classic will almost certainly be scarier than the original. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be better.

During their recent digital showcase event, Capcom was generous enough to share some Resident Evil 4 Remake gameplay footage (which you’ll find below). True to the standards set by recent Resident Evil remakes, it was nothing short of visually impressive. The game will keep the over-the-shoulder perspective of those other remakes (fitting since the original RE4 popularized that perspective) but it will seemingly reinvent large chunks of the original RE4’s atmosphere and visual style. Unlike the original game, the remake’s opening scene of Leon S. Kennedy walking around a dilapidated town isn’t mood-lit by a setting sun but rather by thick fog. The tone is undoubtedly more in line with the recent Resident Evil titles. Mind you, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that approach. In fact, lots of gamers love those remakes and the latest mainline numbered RE entries for their scares. However, that particular style has never really been the biggest reason why Resident Evil 4 was as successful and acclaimed as it was.

If you look at most Resident Evil 4 reviews and retrospectives, you will certainly find quite a few shared opinions about how well that game transitioned the franchise from a survival horror experience to a more action-oriented one. However, quite a bit of additional praise is reserved for the game’s presentation, which exhibited strong B-movie vibes. Mind you, that’s not the insult you might think it is. Truth be told, the entire franchise up until that point revolved around that B-movie feel, thanks in no small part to the original Resident Evil’s live-action opening and wooden acting. However, Resident Evil 4 dives headfirst into the campiness, and every character is in on the joke. One of the main villains is even a diminutive nobleman who cackles like a maniac and tries to kill Leon with death traps that include a giant walking statue of himself. The original Resident Evil’s ceiling trap room has nothing on that kind of madness.

Actually, the biggest contributor to the game’s campy charm might be Leon Kennedy himself. Throughout RE 4, he’s presented as a snarky, confident hero who mocks his enemies and does his best to look cool (which typically involves slow-mo cutscenes and over-the-top QTE sequences). I would make a joke comparing him to Dante from Devil May Cry, but it’s no secret that an early, scrapped build of RE4 was actually recycled to create Devil May Cry. RE4 Leon’s over-the-top personality might not be relatable, but it is just so fun to watch and is by far one of the most popular iterations of the character.

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After all, during Leon’s first outing in Resident Evil 2, he is just an average rookie cop trying his best to survive a surprise zombie apocalypse. In Resident Evil 6 and the CGI movies (which, unlike the Paul W.S. Anderson ones, are actually canon), he’s significantly more morose. Judging by the Resident Evil 4 Remake trailer, the Leon in that game will fall more in line with that more morose version of the character. It seems that Leon is intent on forgetting the events of Raccoon City. Without getting too deep into his presumed mental state, he might even be suffering from depression or PTSD due to the mental strain of surviving zombie hordes. Admittedly, that direction bridges his personalities between RE2 and RE6 far better than the original RE4 Leon’s bravado, but it’s nowhere near as entertaining. 

Now, campiness in a vacuum doesn’t always work. Something campy typically needs another ingredient to shine, and in the original Resident Evil 4, that ingredient is still horror. Earlier I said that the remake looks like it will be a more terrifying experience, and that remains true. While we only have a 5-minute presentation to go by, the Resident Evil 4 Remake will apparently utilize advances in technology and game design information to produce another contemporary RE adventure dripping with that kind of horror atmosphere that we saw in the Resident Evil remakes. However, while the remake looks like it will be mostly horror with little to no camp, the original walked a tightrope between those two styles and came out the better for it.

Besides, Resident Evil 4 stands out from so much of the rest of the franchise because it relies on a different kind of horror. In the original games, the remakes, and the entries that focus on Ethan Winters, the horror usually stems from tension and atmosphere. So many memorable moments in those titles put players on edge and makes them anticipate a zombie or other Umbrella B.O.W. The kicker is that players don’t know when those creatures will pop out to chew on their tracheas. A lot of the fear in those games depends on a player’s imagination. To be fair, those games obviously succeed in that regard. It’s just that RE4 featured a more moment-to-moment type of fear. Its threats are often far more immediate.

When audiences think back to the scariest moments of RE4, they usually recall something that punctuates the action to increase tension. Those moments include hearing Dr. Salvador’s chainsaw, your first encounter with a Regenerador, and watching a Las Plagas burst out of where a Ganados head used to be. Mind you, those moments shouldn’t be confused with jumpscares (the game already has a great one of those for anyone who shoots Del Lago’s lake). Instead, those presented new dangers that forced players to think on their feet. Dr. Salvador is terrifying because he is tougher and faster than other Ganado and because his chainsaw offers a one-hit kill. Conversely, if players ignore smaller enemies, they can easily be boxed in. Meanwhile, Plagas are so scary because they flip the script on a series-standard method of quickly dispatching enemies. Plus, the very sight of a Plagas parasite crawling out of a freshly-created neck stump to create a rudimentary, weaponized head is peak body horror.

Crucially, those moments are not constant. They punctuate the game and strategically elevate it instead of painting it. More importantly, they’re balanced by Resident Evil 4‘s moments of camp. For instance, early in the game, Leon is forced to fight off a swarm of Ganado. It’s an impossible task that makes players sweat like crazy. Most gamers only survive by waiting out an invisible clock and being literally saved by the bell (a church bell to be precise). How does Leon respond to this brush with death? Does he realistically catch his breath and sneak around corners? No, he strolls into the town square without a care in the world and jokingly says to himself, “Where’s everyone going? Bingo?” That kind of tonal whiplash could have been a disaster. Instead, it’s exactly the kind of moment that gives Resident Evil 4 its necessary charm.

While it is far too early to judge the Resident Evil 4 Remake, the trailer makes it abundantly clear the game is shooting for that kind of tone that is increasingly becoming the franchise’s standard through recent entries and remakes. Again, that is far from a bad decision. Look how well it worked for those games. However, that’s never really been what made Resident Evil 4 special. The original RE4 was a lightning-in-the-bottle experience that struck a balance between horror and camp that fit its action-oriented gameplay direction. No remake could ever measure up to its impact, which is honestly probably why Capcom isn’t even trying to do that and are opting to go a more horror-themed route. That’s hardly a bad thing, but the best we can hope is that these remakes won’t cause people to forget that many Resident Evil masterpieces of the past were often as campy as they were scary.

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