Resident Evil 4 Remake is the Game I Wanted 18 Years Ago
Yes, thanks bro!
When Resident Evil 4 first launched on the GameCube in 2005, it would drastically shift the course not only for the franchise, but survival horror as a whole and, more broadly, gaming itself.
The change to an action-skewed over-the-shoulder perspective would ingrain itself as an industry standard that has endured to this day, swapping out the methodical, slower paced exploration of its predecessors in favor of constant adrenaline as Leon Kennedy mowed down hordes of displeased Spanish residents.
It is rightly lauded as a pinnacle of gaming, acclaimed by critics and fans alike for being the peak of Resident Evil. On the surface, this success after a lengthy and gruelling development period is deserving of universal approval, however there is a subset of the fandom lurking angrily within the depths like Del Lago itself; festering and wondering what could have been.
The shorthand version of events is that, due to underwhelming sales of 2002’s Resident Evil 1 Remake, series director Shinji Mikami was obligated to take things down a different path. For a franchise that had long been locked into fixed camera angles, emphasizing resource management and meticulously planned strategies, Resident Evil 4 would throw a myriad of ideas at the wall before settling into its final form.
This form was typified by former rookie police officer Leon evolving into a smug action hero, nailing assailants with a deft suplex before reeling off some kind of witty one-liner. The games had been fairly tongue-in-cheek up to this point — intentional or not, let’s not pretend that RE1’s dialogue that included “Jill sandwich” was peak drama — but now it leant hard into this, rewarding players for their hubris by equipping fallen Ganados with lootable items.
Your resources were only as limited as your capacity to kill, so fire away, Mr. Kennedy. No need to be sagacious when this random elderly woman is carrying a box of handgun bullets for you to pilfer.
It was gratifying and exciting, however it had all but forsaken either word present in the delineation “survival horror”. Some moments were shocking or gruesome, yet other than a few isolated examples, you were rarely expected to feel a sense of dread. No need for tension when you have thrills, right? This mindset would carry onto the next few entries, coming to a crescendo in the climax of Resident Evil 5, where burly beefy boy Chris Redfield moved entire boulders through a potent combination of punches and shouts.
This is all a long-winded way of saying, Resident Evil 4 was not for everyone when it came bursting out of the gates. As few as its detractors may be, there is a passionate fragment of the community that point to it as creating the downfall of the genre as we knew and loved it. Should you be seeking a more fleshed out account, I recommend watching the video below when you have a spare 40 minutes or so.
As for me personally, Resident Evil 4 didn’t particularly grab me when it first released. It looked and felt like an entirely different beast, and even playing it as recently as last year with a more open mind made me long for something more… weighty.
Indeed, the maligned swansong for the old guard, Resident Evil 0, had more of an impression on me, warts and all — and yes I am pointing directly at you, hookshot. I understand the need for evolution on a gameplay front, but the “Evil” had been diluted to eponymy only.
In a rather circuitous manner, the diminishing returns of this gung-ho brand of Resident Evil would eventually see a return to the more horrific by the time RE7: Biohazard dropped in 2017. Subsequent remakes of Resident Evil 2 and 3 in the following years were truer to form (albeit presented in third-person fashion), and at long last, we have ended up back at the junction that led us down this path.
Right from the moment the first trailer for Resident Evil 4 Remake was unveiled, a particular word kept popping up, one that would no doubt catch the fancy of the series’ more stubborn purists; “darker”. Darker in ambience. Darker in tone. Leon’s very arrival into the dreary outskirts of the village, previously set in broad daylight, now took place in the dead of night.
The distinctive setting that had hitherto been defined by a washed out sepia for much of its duration, instead dwells in shadows, allowing Leon’s flashlight to reveal putrid greens or bloodsoaked reds. Enemy placement and advances in AI turn the denizens from cannon fodder to tangible threats, working in collaboration as they circle the unwelcome interloper.
To be clear, this is not the despairing atmosphere of the zombie apocalypse from the first three entries, nor is it trying to be. Leon continues to goof around and spout pithy remarks to himself. There are still ample opportunities to show off your abilities as a one-man-army, unlike the overmatched survivors of Raccoon City. You might have to retrieve a once-priceless necklace from a murky puddle of unknown origin. To shed these aspects would be a betrayal of everything that made RE4 what it is.
But the presentation has a layer of unease to it. Leon is a traumatized, tortured individual; his aloof, rugged demeanor has been scaled back accordingly. Ashley is no longer the one-note running gag, demeaned and objectified at every turn, and in her place is a terrified, relatable girl on the precipice of disaster. Luis remains Luis, thankfully, but even he has an edge to him, with a level of distrust that elevates his intrigue.
Resident Evil 4, in its previous form, only displayed true malice in rare instances; Ashley running through the darkened catacombs being one such case, with the visit to the Regenerator-infested laboratories being another. That latter scenario, of course, was sandwiched in the middle of the divisive Island map, the most action-packed portion of the game.
Here, it is applied liberally, while still remaining true to its roots. This is a title that takes cues from the prior two remakes, assigning the player agency by rewarding skill and toning down a degree of the impenetrability Leon once showed. Though you could be reckless in OG Resident Evil 4 and get away with it for the most part, Resident Evil 4 Remake forces you to think just a little bit harder.
Has it claimed the lofty position in my heart that the 2002 RE Remake holds? Not necessarily, and I’m doubtful anything ever will as the series morphs further into something else new and strange. What it has done, however, is slotted itself more naturally alongside it, equally as capable of being macabre and distilling the things that have made Resident Evil such an enduring piece of horror legend.
Bingo night has never been quite so foreboding.
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