We’ve always been conflicted when it comes to Resident Evil 4.
It’s a good action game, for sure. But is it a good Resident Evil game? Raccoon City is left behind, and so are the slow-moving zombies that we so love to decapitate with a shotgun tucked just under their chins. And so we’re left with a game that, outside of some familiar characters, has little in common with what came before. Though perhaps Resident Evil 4 was always inevitable; something had to be done to keep the series fresh, after all. What’s more, the emphasis of the series was always on action horror. Resident Evil 4 just nudges the balance even further in the direction of action.
With Capcom going back and remaking the early entries in the series, freshening up the gameplay and making them more consistent in terms of tone, character appearances, etc., we wondered how the company would approach Resident Evil 4. Would it make sweeping changes and alienate some fans like it did with the remake of Resident Evil 3? Or keep it more faithful like the excellent reimagining of Resident Evil 2? The answer lies somewhere in between. Much of this Resident Evil 4 remake will be very familiar to fans, but there are also some meaningful changes that will keep them on their feet.
For a start, there are the controls. Leon is much more agile this time around; repositioning in the original game was a task thanks to its tank-like controls, but now you can easily turn heel and find some space. Hell, Leon can even strafe now, and move forward and back while shooting, which is a godsend. And that’s just the beginning. How about being able to parry certain attacks with your knife, or crouch? The latter opens up some welcome stealth options. See an enemy up ahead that hasn’t cottoned on to you yet? Sneak up behind them and get a bit stabby. It not only makes you feel cool, but also saves ammo.
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To make sure that Leon can’t run rings around his enemies, they’ve also been upgraded. They’re faster and more aggressive, making you work harder to avoid their attacks and put them down for good. One of the original game’s strengths – enemy variety – also remains impressive. You really do need to keep your wits about you, and for some enemies either use the environment to your advantage or carefully choose your tools. But in general, combat feels more dynamic, which can only ever be a good thing.
Despite these gameplay changes though, this very much still feels like Resident Evil 4. Put an enemy off-balance by shooting their legs, for example, and you can deliver them a mighty roundhouse kick or even a suplex if you get up close. Leon isn’t a boulder-punching asshole, but he isn’t afraid of using his body as a weapon. Still, some of the ridiculousness has been toned down a little, making this remake somewhat more grounded. All of the quick-time events have been removed, too. Good riddance, we say. But this is a game that still likes to have fun. It’s a B-movie in videogame form. Albeit one with a considerable budget.
What hasn’t been changed is the flow of the game. Arriving in a rural European village, Leon, now a fancy special agent with years of advanced training, is tasked with rescuing the President’s kidnapped daughter. But of course, you guessed it, things soon go awry. The locals seem a little bit off, attacking him on sight. And so it soon becomes much more of a complicated mission that you anticipated. By the time you’re done you’ll have left the village in your dust, stormed a castle, and battled your way across a fortified island. All the while dealing with horrifying bug-like creatures and the followers of a strange order infected with parasites.
While the village section of the game throws up few, if any, surprises for those who have played the original version of the game numerous times in the last 18 years, later areas have very much been played around with. It’s inevitable that some fans will be unhappy that what is possibly their favourite encounter or room has been cut of the game or changed in a way that makes it no longer recognisable, but in the context of this remake, everything flows well and makes sense. Thanks to the improved controls, it’s hard to even be mad that the game forces you to babysit Ashley, the President’s daughter, at various times throughout the game’s running time. Though it can still be infuriating to have her picked up and carried away while you’re dealing with a grotesque fleshy monster that just won’t die.
There are some things about this remake that have frustrated us, though. Avoiding enemy attacks is one of them. Some attacks you can parry, some you can crouch under, some you can avoid by running at just the right time, and some you need to press a button when a prompt appears on the screen to evade. It’s not always clear what you need to do though, so on your first playthrough at least, you sometimes feel like you’re having to simply absorb damage. With the focus on action, perhaps a dodge button would have been more appropriate than a crouch button.
Ammo is another bugbear. Resident Evil 4 does that thing where it’s very easy to feel like you’re constantly on the edge of running out of ammo for your favourite weapons, but you always have enough to get the job done. At least on normal difficulty, anyway. The problem is, what’s the point in fully upgrading a gun so that it can hold 40 or so rounds if there’s little chance of actually having that much ammo in your possession at any one time? You can’t even buy ammo here. All you can do it craft it, and perhaps hope that you get a charm you can affix to your attaché case that boosts the amount of ammo you obtain when you do so.
Ultimately, this is pretty much everything you’d expect of a modern day remake of Resident Evil 4. The story has been renewed to tie it into the other games in the series with more panache, and the gameplay has been updated. It doesn’t feel as revolutionary as the original did way back in 2005, but that’s to be expected. And while we sometimes felt frustrated after taking a health bar-demolishing attack with little sense of how we should have avoided it, it just made us keen to play through the game again to get better. And that speaks of the game’s quality: warts and all, once you step into the boots of Leon Kennedy, there’s not much else that delivers the same thrills.