Capcom is no stranger to making the same game twice. The publisher has done multiple takes on its “Street Fighter” games and it has revamped past franchises such as “Bionic Commando,” but its most successful remake franchise has been “Resident Evil.”
Its teams have performed magic with a series that began on the PlayStation in 1996. The updates offer more than improved textures and a bumped-up resolution. Capcom has done full-scale rebuilds, where developers have reimagined the series. They’ve added new wrinkles to the design, improved the gameplay and fleshed out story beats.
THE BEST IN THE SERIESThe latest remake is “Resident Evil 4.” The 2005 original rewrote what was possible for the survival-horror genre, and its influence can be seen in games such as “Dead Space” and the latest “God of War” titles. Remaking such a beloved classic presents plenty of challenges and adds plenty of pressure on the developers.
Thankfully, Capcom’s team handled the task with aplomb because of the developers’ reverence for the original’s vision. It follows the exploits of Leon S. Kennedy, a survivor of the Raccoon City zombie outbreak. He’s no longer a rookie officer but a highly trained government agent sent to look for the U.S. president’s kidnapped daughter, Ashley Graham.
His investigation takes him to Spain, where he runs into homicidal villagers, who are part of a mysterious cult. Through a 20-hour campaign, players will have to locate the girl and stop another biohazard incident involving a parasite called Las Plagas.
The over-the-shoulder perspective was popularized by “Resident Evil 4” and is now featured in plenty of video games. (Capcom)
BUILDING ON OLD INNOVATIONSThe major innovation that “Resident Evil 4” introduced was a new over-the-shoulder camera angle and novel emphasis to the survival-horror genre. The original focused on action and overwhelmed players with crazed villagers. It induced a sense of panic as Leon had to fend off the armed enemies while also running away. The tight camera angle created a more intimate and visceral perspective that brought players closer to the action but also created anxiety-inducing blind spots.
The remake builds on this fantastic system by adding new functionality to the knife. In the past, it was a weapon of last resort when players ran out of bullets, but it now allows Leon to parry attacks with a well-timed button press. Of course, this is balanced by the fact that knives degrade over time.
It adds an element of skill to combat that accentuates the new granularity of gunplay. In the past, players could do things such as shoot dynamite in foes’ hands or knock axes out of the air with bullet. Now, if villagers are swarming Leon, players can shoot foes in the leg to slow them down while also opening them up to a toppling roundhouse kick, or they can shoot oil-filled lamps to rain fire down enemies.
The minecart level has more of an “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” vibe as players fend off cultists and shoot at switches to keep the cart going. (Capcom)
HELPFUL STEALTHThe other improvement is a renewed emphasis on stealth. Sometimes going into a room full of enemies is a bad idea; instead, it’s better to crouch and stalk them to cull the targets. Players can also set up traps or use environmental elements like a chandelier to take out foes. All of this updates the gameplay so that it feels more modern while also staying true to the original.
That’s the line that the developers have been successfully straddling with the remakes. They’ve not only found ways to make the games look modern but they also made the right changes to revamp the gameplay while staying true to the spirit of the original.
The developers expanded on Leon’s first fight with his former partner Krauser and it’s a full-fledged boss fight. (Capcom)
BETTER THAN QUICK TIME EVENTSOne of the biggest improvements is how the developers handled the quick time events. The element was a clever way of adding a gameplay element to what was essentially a cut scene, but with technology advancing so far since 2005, such scenes are passé, remnants of a time when hardware couldn’t keep up with developers’ imaginations.
The “Resident Evil 4” remake mostly eschews this relic, opting to craft fuller experiences that flow seamlessly together. Instead of a quick-time knife fight with Jack Krauser, players will engage in an actual boss battle, while other moments, such as one on the lake, feel more epic and fluid without the interruptions. Players will see prompts telling them to evade or break free but they feel much more in the flow of the action.
Leon S. Kennedy tells Ashley Graham to follow him closely during a fight in “Resident Evil 4.” (Capcom)A SMARTER BODY TO GUARDThe other issue with the original was the escort chapters featuring Ashley Graham. This is where Leon has to protect her while also fending off cultists.
They’re less annoying in the remake, but she does get in the way of fighting cultists at times, and the fact that she can die if hurt after being incapacitated can make certain parts of the game frustrating. Thankfully, players have better control over her actions as Leon tells her to stay close or run away and take cover. Her artificial intelligence is better at positioning the character in unobtrusive areas, but when she’s caught up in a crowd of enemies, it isn’t pretty.
For better or worse, the “Resident Evil 4” remake maintains its hokey dialogue and plot structure. This entry has some cringe-worthy dialogue, but after more than a decade, it just accentuates the project’s campy vibe. The game tones down more of the absurd part of the original and focuses on the tension and atmosphere.
It’s the right decision as the “Resident Evil 4” remake is just as nerve-racking today as it was in 2005. The developers kept the essence of the original alive in the remake so that a whole new generation of players can enjoy one of the best chapters in the series.
‘Resident Evil 4’
3½ stars out of 4
Platform: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and Series S, PC