How Did I Miss this Game the First Time Around?
I’ve had an unusual relationship with the Resident Evil series. Unusual in that I don’t feel I’ve had the same trajectory and experience as most people. With the debut of the original Resident Evil, I proudly wore the T-shirt I received with my PlayStation copy of the game to out-of-uniform days, as much like the zombies from the game, I shambled to the local video store as often as I could, jaw agape, and devoured any and all the zombie VHS movies I could get my grubby hands on.
Resident Evil 2 would be released 2 years later and my love of the games only grew. Resident Evil 3 released on the criminally underrated Sega Dreamcast, which I had to have. After Resident Evil 3, there were 9 games in the series before the original Resident Evil 4. While I was happy to blast my way through Resident Evil Survivor games and even play Resident Evil Gaiden on the GameBoy Color, franchise fatigue kicked in for me a this time for me and I prioritised different games on my PlayStation 2. None of my friends were able to convince me that Resident Evil 4 was worth a gamble and if I’m being perfectly honest, the version of the game that released with a chainsaw controller utterly confused me.
RE4 was (and still is) a fantastic title. One that shifted the series towards a more action-orented approach. Many consider this to be the franchise’s magnum opus. It looked stunning, it played brilliantly, it was the innovation the series needed to elevate it to its iconic status.
I returned to the series for the heavily-divisive Resident Evil 5, 6 and Resident Evil: Umbrella Corps (a fine game, I might add) but 4 had always eluded me…until now.
With the rejuvenation of the Resident Evil games thanks to Resident Evil VII: Biohazard and its RE engine (also known as the Reach for the Moon engine) the series has never felt stronger. Fans are finishing remakes of RE2 and 3 and clamouring for more, and it’s at this point that Capcom have turned their focus to remaking what is arguably their fan-favourite: RE4.
A New Resident Evil 4
The very instant players lay eyes on the introductory cutscene, they will notice how gorgeous this remake is. The character models are some of the best we’ve ever seen. There’s an amazing amount of detail in each and every character, and the motion capture really is top-tier.
Players are cast as government agent Leon S. Kennedy, who is assigned with the task of rescuing the President’s daughter from a mysterious cult in rural Spain. Of course, things go off the rails very quickly as they tend to do in RE games. What was once a simple farming town has become a den of violence – the result of mind-altering parasites taking over the town’s inhabitants.
Early in the game, Leon searches for one of his escorts who has gone missing. He finds him being burned alive by the inhabitants of the village. Returning RE4 fans will notice how just how incredible this sequence looks on modern hardware with the newer RE engine. Newcomers like myself will be horrified.
Which is an important point to focus on: this is where the Resident Evil series pivoted away from the slow, shambling Romero-inspired zombies in favour of something else. Something that can be downright terrifying. Before being taken over by parasites, one can imagine the abuelas and abuelos of this small town being slower than RE’s usual minions. After being taken over, they are agile, aggressive maniacs with only murder on their minds. The juxtaposition between their physical forms and their abilities is incredibly effective.
Gameplay varies between action sequences and exploration with puzzle-solving. There’s something to be said for the action sequences managing to find the perfect balance between overwhelmingly stressful and enjoyably hectic. Like other RE games, managing your ammo and supplies is as paramount to success as your aim. I have managed to bungle quite a few encounters, and still managed to survive most of them – I have run out of ammo a handful of times though.
Some of the puzzles were difficult, but these are obviously going to feel different from player to player. I managed to complete most within a reasonable time frame, a few by trial and error, and a few just clicked immediately.
This iteration of RE4 introduces changes to puzzle solutions, gameplay and even, the plot. While I’m sure some of these will be a point of contention with long-time series fans, it seems as though they have been embraced for the most part. It’s great that Capcom aren’t simply slapping a new coat of paint on RE4 and calling it a day. I will say right now that some remakes have unnecessary censorship of violence (I’m looking at you, Dead Space) but RE4 manages to keep the majority of violence in. The Chainsaw Man’s brutal decapitation kill has been replaced with another kill, but it is still highly effective and unnerving. A whole heap of Ashley upskirts have been removed, but if that bothers you, you really have strange priorities.
There’s a reason why Resident Evil 4 rejuvinated the series with its original release, and thanks to modern hardware and the RE engine, this is arguably the best RE game of all-time. It’s highly-detailed, atmospheric, with gripping action, rewarding gameplay and cutscenes that set a new bar for motion capture and character design. While I can only speculate how long the series can go on, here’s hoping it has quite a few entries left in it – like an ever-hungry zombie, I am left wanting more.