After the incredible success of the Resident Evil 2 remake in 2019, it was a no-brainer for Capcom to revitalise more of its older games to better suit a modern audience. With every step forward, though, the quality gap between past and present becomes less striking. And now it has finally arrived at the progenitor of the successful, over-the-shoulder Resi playstyle, it’s hard to imagine how much an all-time classic can be improved beyond a fresh coat of paint. But from what I’ve played of Resident Evil 4 so far, Capcom seems less interested in creating an RE2 remake-style gigantic leap. Instead, it appears more laser-focused on making one of the best games of all time even better.
During my play session, which began at the very start of the game and concluded just after the villager onslaught, everything felt equal parts incredibly familiar and unsettlingly different. The sequence of events was almost identical, but the graphical and design improvements made locations feel noticeably more lived in, claustrophobic, and haunting to explore. Despite my experience with the original, I still found myself nervously tip-toeing around every corner, with the anticipation that at any moment something unexpected could happen.
Much like in 2002’s Resident Evil remake, elements were strategically organised to subvert my expectations. A highlight in that remake of the original was the early fake-out that preyed on fans’ memory of the dogs smashing through the window, which doesn’t happen when you expect it to. With the Resident Evil 4 remake, I experienced similar twists in my short playthrough, one of which also related to a dog.Fans of the original will fondly remember the opening chapter’s unfortunate dog trapped in a bear trap, and how the game gave you the option to release them. You may also remember his triumphant return (if you saved him) when he assists Leon to defeat an El Gigante. This time around, though, the dog is still there, but he’s already dead. Did I not reach him in time? Or was this a signifier of the noticeable shift towards a darker tone for this remake? Either way, this brief moment laid the groundwork for a game that is not necessarily going the way I expected.
Where Resident Evil 4 does feel incredibly familiar though is in its combat. As mentioned previously, with Capcom remaking its classic library based on the ideas pioneered by Resident Evil 4, it was only inevitable that this game would feel the most familiar. Controlling Leon still feels exactly like you’d expect, and he even maintains some of his iconic moves from the original. It was only a matter of seconds before I instinctually began shooting at kneecaps and lining up roundhouse kicks, knocking down anyone in proximity. The muscle memory instantly kicked in and it all felt extremely satisfying.
That’s not to say the combat doesn’t have any new inclusions, though. Beyond the expected update to aiming that now allows you to move (which although a staple of the genre now, wasn’t allowed in the original) there’s also some light stealth gameplay. It wasn’t particularly advertised to me through a tutorial or anything, but with the addition of a crouch button, it became apparent that I could avoid the attention of nearby Garnados by silently creeping my way around the village, gathering resources before the onslaught began. You can also now perform stealth attacks from behind on the unsuspecting locals with your trusty knife. I don’t suspect stealth will play a huge part in the full game, but it’s great to have that variety.
Leon also now has a light parry system with his knife, being able to resist or deflect attacks with a well-timed button press. I didn’t get time to explore the depth of this system, but it did come in handy when confronted head-on by the chainsaw-wielding, burlap sack-faced maniac himself, Dr Salavador. In a flash, I was not only able to resist the full power of the chainsaw, but the deflect also managed to shut down his tool for a few seconds, opening up a window for me to make a run for it.
For those familiar with the opening village attack from the original Resident Evil 4, you’ll know what to expect here. But this time the process is extremely intensified. The gaps between houses are smaller, the area is tighter, and it feels overwhelming in the best possible way. Dr Salavador can now destroy wooden structures to block your paths, enemies will flank you from every corner, and some even grab and hold you from behind for their fellow Garnados to attack you from the front. It felt like every second and decision counted as I desperately wiggled through the herd trying to survive.
Despite being familiar with the scene, there were still plenty of surprises to be had, especially considering many moments could easily be missed depending on your strategy. Climbing up the bell tower no longer led to a safe space (thanks to the floor collapsing beneath me) and the previously static cow observing all the chaos can now be spurred into action should its barn, unfortunately, catch on fire! Despite a flaming cow running past being initially upsetting, I can’t say it wasn’t useful when it came to managing the Garnardos, ploughing through several of them while ablaze.
Much like the combat, Leon, the rookie cop from Resident Evil 2 turned government agent, is familiar, yet modern. He seems threatened by the situation and approaches it cautiously. It’s a more grounded take on the original’s fearless, cocky, and superhero-like bravado. That being said, the guy still has no problem forward rolling out of a second-story window and spouting cheesy lines (yes, the bingo line is still there!). But, at least from my small taste of the game, the way he interacts with people, Hunnigan in particular, feels far more grounded in reality.
It was always going to be hard for any newer game in the series to experience quite the same technical jump that the Resident Evil 2 remake did. But so far Capcom seems to be making smart choices in what it iterates on for Resident Evil 4. It feels as if it’s trying to find that perfect balance between tribute and innovation. And on the basis of the changes and updates I’ve seen so far, I’m very excited to see more.
Dale Driver is IGN’s UK Video Lead and rumours suggest he may have shat his pants when Dr Salavador first arrived. Be thoroughly bored by following him on Twitter at @_daledriver.
Source: IGN Video Games All