Perhaps one of the most influential games of all time, Capcom effectively created a new spin on Resident Evil 4 with this remake. Less of a one-to-one recreation of the original, this entry is more or less a reimagining of the classic action horror title. While it introduces some interesting new mechanics into the fold, its pivot to action may leave it a divisive entry to fans of the series.
The Resident Evil 4 remake is Resident Evil 4 in spirit, but little else. It has a clear foundation to the game it aspires to be through familiar locations, level design, and enemies. But functionally, it feels more like an action game given the introduction of the parry system and stealth kills, which the game relies heavily on for a more balanced player experience. While you can still take down enemies through more traditional methods using the returning roster of firearms like the Red9, Blacktail, and even the Killer7, it is clear Resident Evil 4 was made with the parry system as part of its core gameplay mechanic.
Leon can parry almost anything. This includes chainsaws — as demonstrated in a trailer leading up to the release of the game — and most attacks slung his way, so long as they are within melee range. Resident Evil 4 remake really wants you to make use of this. It is arguably the best way of circumventing damage, and only takes a small chunk of your knife’s stamina depending on its durability. But timing for parries can sometimes be inconsistent, especially if there is input delay. Sometimes windows feel generous, while others feel more precise, and some players may struggle until they get a proper feeling for this new mechanic. The issue is that a majority of the game feels balanced around knife parries, while still imposing item durability on players, sometimes taking away their most useful tool.
You can, of course, repair your knife or even use other, less powerful knives you find scattered around the game to defend yourself with, but with one of the core mechanics of the remake tailored around this specific weapon, it feels like a mistake to give it durability. An argument can be made for it adding tension through gameplay, but given that Resident Evil 4 remake verges more on action than its predecessors, it creates a level of artificial difficulty that could be frustrating to some.
Thankfully, the game can be run without a knife. It will make your experience significantly harder, but the remake does allow for a greater variety of builds. I actually went through a majority of the game without a sniper rifle, only purchasing one when I felt it was absolutely necessary, which was during the last two or so hours of the game. Even then, there were ways to circumvent its use, so I mostly stuck to using the Red9, the Bolt Thrower, and Riot Gun — the Riot Gun having been a staple for my playthroughs of the original Resident Evil 4.
Additionally, areas feel more tightly paced. There isn’t that same sort of lull between areas, with the Village effectively being a near complete recreation of how it appeared in the original. While some liberties were taken with both the Castle and the Island, they arguably feel better for it. That said, players familiar with the original game may be surprised to find the layouts of these areas changed, along with the respective bosses that appear in these areas. Though that is mostly relegated as to how certain fights play out mechanically.
One boss fight in particular can still be done easily with the knife, assuming it has full durability and you make careful use of it. But I encountered several glitches during this specific fight that caused me to restart from a checkpoint several times, as using the Bolt Thrower with its mine attachments caused the opponent’s hitbox to glitch into a wall, preventing the final phase from starting. However, the tempo of fights changed somewhat significantly to accommodate the wider range of movement the remake provides. That said, at times it feels like Leon moves significantly slower than certain enemies. This wouldn’t be a problem if the game wasn’t so stingy with invincibility frames, another issue that is alleviated with parrying depending on the enemy or attack. Or if your camera wouldn’t sometimes swing into a wall after getting clubbed by an enemy. Thankfully, this can mostly be fixed through changing the camera settings in the menu, but it can be bothersome.
While significant changes have been made to how Ashley works as a companion character, I did find myself missing how her A.I. functioned in the original. (You can no longer tell her to stay put somewhere outside of instructing her to hide in very select locations, but instead tell her to either stay close to you or hang back. This leaves her fairly vulnerable). One change that players will potentially be happy with is that she no longer has a health pool, but instead can get incapacitated. This leaves her on the ground for players to pick her back up before a second attack instantly kills her. There are no invincibility frames for this animation, so you can be knocked out of getting her up, which sometimes results in her death. Also like in the original, you can accidentally kill her while shooting down enemies carrying her away.
Another big change is the addition of “side quests” distributed by the Merchant. Players can obtain spinels (which used to be a type of low rarity gem you could sell) to trade with the Merchant by completing side quest objectives to obtain treasure maps or valuable weapon upgrades. While interesting, locking things like stocks or high-powered scopes behind this currency feels like Resident Evil 4 remake is forcing you engage with this system to simply play the game better. This leaves it feeling like something that bloats your time spent with the game if you don’t go into areas with some of these side quests in mind. Some upgrades will cost a fairly significant amount, making some items only possible to obtain on a second or third playthrough depending.
That said, one of the absolute highlights of the game was the new soundtrack, which carries the same kind of dramatic elements from Resident Evil: Code Veronica (X), and characters like Luis have been given significant rewrites to make them more interesting. He was probably one of the best things about the game, similar to how Capcom changed Carlos for the Resident Evil 3 remake, which made him feel like a more significant character to the overall story. There are also nods to other Resident Evil games, specifically The Darkside Chronicles, and a very overt reference to one of the endings of the original Resident Evil 2. It was great to see these acknowledged. However, certain narrative changes have made the Resident Evil 4 remake feel toothless in comparison to the original, which is a shame.
In an attempt to make Resident Evil 4 with more modern sensibilities, it has left behind what made the original game so great to begin with. Reload animations are significantly less punchy, Leon’s dialogue and character writing feel inconsistent at times, with voice performances for certain characters feeling extremely lacking by comparison. It’s a fine game, and it’s passable in terms of quality, though it has some great accessibility options, but it’s hard to follow up on something that legitimately changed the direction of both the survival horror and third person shooter genre upon its initial release. This will definitely appeal to players that enjoyed both the Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 remake, but fans of the original may walk away feeling lukewarm. Ultimately, it feels like a byproduct of the current state of the industry, where innovation comes second hand to profit, which is ironic given the influence Resident Evil 4 had on the industry at large.
Resident Evil 4 remake will come to the PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X, and PC on March 24, 2023.
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