Resident Evil 4 is my favourite Resident Evil game. If you’ve followed my work over the last few years, you’d no doubt be aware of that. Between the perfect gameplay loop, the absurd goofiness and phenomenal pacing; Resident Evil 4 is the perfect encapsulation of the “video game ass video game. And when I first heard it was getting the remake treatment, I was confused as heck. RE4 had gameplay that has actually aged pretty well, unlike 2 and 3 which aged like yoghourt left out in the sun for three weeks. I’m being mean. I just prefer the style of 4 as opposed to 1, 2 and 3 because running around with bad controls and getting my face chewed off because I have no ammo to defend myself while doing needlessly complicated puzzles isn’t my idea of a fun time. I’m exaggerating for comedic effect, but my underlying point still stands. And then I started playing Resident Evil 4 the remake. It’s a decent reminder that Resident Evil 4 is awesome. But it also makes some changes that are of the “this makes it more of a different and very interesting take on Resident Evil 4” as opposed to the definitive take on the game.
The perfect microcosm of this is the knife. Primarily because the knife actually feels like it’s worth using. I again am mostly kidding. This is because the RE 2 and 3 remakes approach to the knife as more consumable items, and it mostly still works here as well. But the difference is that there’s also a main combat knife that Leon has as a main knife (it's the same one he got from Marvin 6 years prior) and it can be both upgraded and repaired at the merchant. The main functionality of the knife is the same as it was in the OG version of RE4, a quick get-off-me tool for when you get swarmed by Ganados. The main difference is that there’s also a parry attack for it. You can use this to stun enemies that melee rush you, to swat their projectiles out of the air, and perhaps most importantly: to be able to parry chainsaw attacks like a boss. You don’t really need any of this, but all of it is great, that last one in particular.
Resident Evil 4 also takes this approach with its narrative in some smaller, more subtle ways. It's still set six years after the Raccoon City disaster and you as Leon still have to find the president’s daughter after she was kidnapped in Rural Spain by the cult Los Illuminados. I initially feared that they were going to play the entire thing straight, I can safely say that that isn’t the case for the most part. Leon still has his cheesy one-liners and you can tell that Nick Apostolides is having fun flexing his cheesy action-hero chops, but it is still in line with how he was portrayed in the Remake of 2. While he’s not exactly in his sad boy era, the events of Raccoon City clearly left their mark on Leon in more ways than one. And seeing those dual characterizations and how one could choose to read it as Leon using the bravado of a badass US Agent as a means of masking his trauma is incredibly interesting. I’m probably reading too much into it, but it’s there and that’s how it read to me. Other characters also sort of get this, with Ashley understandably coming off as more terrified, and Luis both giving off big Oscar Issac energy and playing a substantially larger role this time around; as opposed to showing up giving some exposition and then dying. Overall, it’s very interesting to see how the benefit of time and hindsight has informed some of these changes and while I still love the original game and its story being a parody of Resident Evil for the most part, I like what the remake does in terms of fleshing out these characters and providing different takes. The Merchant is still the Merchant though. More talkative this time around, but still the best shopkeeper in video games. He’ll still buy and sell you assorted items, and he'll give you requests that give tokens for special items and weapon upgrades. I recommend doing those.
As for the gameplay, it still feels like the other remakes made in the RE Engine, completely with the trademark weight, but it’s used in a manner that adapts the Resident Evil 4’s gameplay loop into it. It’s still based on the foundation of “run, stop, shoot” and all of the variations done therein to keep things both challenging and interesting throughout the sixteen-chapter runtime. A lot of the more interesting stuff comes when you get out of the village and start fighting the more specialized cultists and have to change your tactics and weaponry to tackle them. And this is on top of the crafting of ammo and rebalancing of the item drops to compensate for that. There are even some gameplay sections that were either changed or nixed entirely, the most prominent of those being the reduction of Quick Time Events. This is best exemplified in your first run-in with Krauser, which instead of being a cutscene is now an actual, straight-up boss fight. I love it when games do that, Kingdom Hearts 2 did that with the scene of Roxas fighting Sora in a cutscene being changed to a full-on boss fight in the Final Mix version. It’s rad. A thing I’ve noticed is that enemies at first did feel a bit bulkier this go around, but so far I think that’s just me not upgrading my weapons and aiming for the head for melee attacks to save ammo.
The remake of Resident Evil 4 is an interesting re-interpretation of what’s possibly the most important video game of the 21st century. If you’ve never played RE4 or are looking for a new spin on this, I’d say go for it. The changes Capcom made here are more than enough to justify the remake treatment. That and Resident Evil 4 is a great game on top of that.