As Capcom ran out of platforms to port the original Resident Evil 4 to, it’s instead decided this year is the time to remake it for modern systems in the same way it remade Resident Evil 2 and 3 in 2019 and 2020 respectively. We live in a time ripe with video game refreshes. But how does the Resident Evil 4 remake compare to the original? Does it give the beloved classic a much needed facelift, or is it lacking the charm it had?
Resident Evil 4 is about Leon S. Kennedy, a major player in the wider Resident Evil lore. He’s been sent to Spain to rescue Ashley Graham, the daughter of the President of the United States, where upon his arrival at an isolated village he encounters a violent cult called Los Iluminados.
It’s a plotline that should be all-too familiar to anyone who’s been gaming since the 2000s, and with this 2023 refresh there hasn’t been a lot that’s changed between versions. The entire story remains unchanged, with some vague details tweaked here and there, to create an adaptation that is faithful to the original while also being modernised for today’s audience. What cuts do exist, are never done to the detriment of the game. Whether you’re new to the series or a lifelong fan, the integrity of Resident Evil 4 is kept intact.
MORE THAN JUST A REMAKE
The Resident Evil series has been pioneering the idea of the remake since 2002’s Resident Evil, which radically altered the series’ direction in many ways by introducing concepts that would be retained in the series all the way through to the modern day. And with the modern adaptations of Resident Evil 2 and 3, it felt like Capcom was on a good trajectory for breathing new life into these old classics.
It’s great to see that the same care and attention has been paid here. In fact, Resident Evil 4 is easily the most faithful to the original out of all the remakes Capcom has performed. While 2&3 took liberties with certain locations or moments in the story, making necessary changes when possible, a major percentage of the original Resident Evil 4 is retained with almost 1:1 accuracy. When you put the two games side-by-side, it’s easy to see which two areas are generational counterparts, and the way Capcom has integrated it all together into one cohesive experience is nothing short of impressive.
That’s not to say there aren’t any changes at all. Of course there are. Without spoiling anything, there are new additions such as puzzles, weapons, and even enemies that will throw you off balance. Existing moments from the original are sometimes displaced and moved about to subvert your expectations. As a classic Resident Evil 4 fan, there are plenty of ways Capcom is able to surprise you, and it works out for the best.
At the end of the day, this is what the ideal remake should be. You want to recreate the experience of playing the original in front of a large monolithic television with the sound of the fans inside your fat PS2 whirring like a motor. When you make new additions to the formula that are respectful of the source material, it suddenly feels like a brand new game. When I booted up the remake for the first time and started playing the intro, I was suddenly ten years-old and back in my old childhood bedroom again.
I was extremely impressed with how Resident Evil 4 remake used its higher budget and advanced hardware to develop the two lead characters further than the original. Leon is clearly tired, stressed, and suffering from post-traumatic stress as a result of his time in Raccoon City. This, of course, was also present in the original. But the remake takes it further by spending extra time fleshing out this aspect of his character. If you were to play this directly after the Resident Evil 2 remake, you’d have a very interesting time juxtaposing the two Leons.
Similarly, Ashley is also far less annoying in the remake. The whole “Leon! Help!” shtick in the original became a meme due to how easily she’d become a liability in some of the later sections of the game. It made sense for her character to be like this, she’s a sheltered university student rather than a trained fighter after all, but it always felt like Capcom set her up to be hated. Since we’re playing as Leon for most of the time, it’s easy to forget how terrifying the situation must be for Ashley.
For the remake, Capcom has preserved these aspects of Ashley’s character while also toning down the parts that made her annoying. We’re given more time and space to see just how scared she is, how messed up her situation is, and how she’s given the chance to become braver and survive. Don’t get me wrong, she’s not exactly Ellie from The Last of Us. You’ll still need to keep a close eye on her during enemy encounters, but if we’re comparing both the original and remake version of the character, I’m firmly on Team Remake Ashley.
These characters are brought to life through the fantastic performances of Nick Apostolides and Genevieve Buechner. Leon and Ashley have great chemistry throughout the game, something that’s tricky to achieve with mocapped video game acting, and they’re able to own these versions of the duo for themselves. I never found myself thinking “this line was better in the original version”, instead I can enjoy them as individual performances.
CAMP IS BACK
The acting also helps establish the tone for the remake. While Resident Evil has always had elements of camp to it, many people refer to Resident Evil 4 as the point where Capcom had decided to embrace that, utilising many more cheesy one-liners, over-the-top combat moves and ridiculous situations as part of its charm.
And despite the apparent move to a more serious tone, as marketing may suggest, those aspects of the original game are still there. One thing I absolutely love about Resident Evil 4, original or remake, is it knows it’s camp. It knows the situations Leon gets himself into are absolutely ridiculous. A lesser game might shy away from that, or play it off subtly, but Capcom knows there is no universe where this game can play out with a straight face.
But it also knows when to amp up the horror. The initial walk into the village – where creepy sounds and mysterious voices are heard from deep within the forest – followed by an intense combat section where you’re attacked by the mad townsfolk, makes your first hour in Resident Evil 4 a stressful one. Similarly, there are sections later on that know when and how to get your heart rate up, including a sequence that is quite possibly one of the scariest things the series has ever accomplished. While the original Resident Evil 4 had some issues related to pacing towards the end, here it feels a lot more evenly distributed.
I’m a huge Resident Evil fan, and have been ever since I was a kid. It feels unreal that the series is in such a good state as it is now. In a parallel universe, we’re getting more games like Resident Evil 6 and are much worse off for it. But after the Winters’ games, the remakes of 2&3, and now this, I’m in complete disbelief at how well Resident Evil fans are eating right now.
It’s hard to really sell just how perfect Resident Evil 4’s remake is. You’d think after countless re-releases and ports that Capcom wouldn’t have the energy for this anymore, but not only has it treated the source material with the utmost respect, but has also paved the way for an experience that may even surpass the 2005 original.
For our Resident Evil 4 review, a PC code was supplied to GameByte by Capcom.