Reviewing Resident Evil 4 Remake Without Playing Resident Evil 4, While Living With Someone Who Has
This is my first time playing and finishing Resident Evil 4. My first time trying a Resident Evil game was the first port of RE4 on the Nintendo Wii, it didn’t go well! The game has since been ported to most platforms in the world, and forever lauded as one of the greatest games ever made. It was remarkably ahead of its time, and changed the shape of what video games could be in such a shock wave that we’re still feeling the effects of it in the modern gaming landscape.
Those shock waves influenced so many, that I’m beginning to feel the inverse of my position when telling people to play Metroid Prime, another recent remaster of a 20 year old GameCube classic; every part of this beloved game has been so influential that it’s elements have bleed through into the design of most other ambitious AAA action and horror games. Even having never played Resident Evil before last year, I’ve played every part of it in the form of Lugi’s Mansion, Dead Space, Uncharted, Last of Us, God of War, Bioshock, the list goes on.
Where’s Everyone Been? Bingo?
Having finally played 2019’s Resident Evil 2 Remake, I am beginning to understand the rush you can get from the Survival Horror genre. With my personal love of the Metroid franchise, if someone had tried to sell me on Resident Evil as part of the Metroidvania gameplay pantheon rather than overindulging in lore explanation, I probably would have jumped on sooner.
Capcom’s Resident Evil 4 Remake, however, finds a way to perfectly balance appealing to both me, someone who has only played the RE Engine remakes, and folks like my roommate, who has been replaying RE4 semi-annually since 2005. For myself, the game makes efforts to more coherently thread the series’ story, the effects of Raccoon City on the world, and on Leon’s psyche, and matches in visuals, tone, and performance by Nick Apostolides, making the former cop recognizable in his charming stiltedness, but also how his experience in Resident Evil 2 Remake informs his personality and decisions as he ventures in the Valdelobos village.
For my roommate the game features details that have been modified from the original, like the Del Lago serpent in the lake’s angered reaction to shooting too many fish, or the charms that attach to the briefcase for buffs, or to quote Leon directly, “hey, it’s that dog.” Story details were also expanded, such as the encroaching of Lord Saddler early on in the game to create a more ominous presence, but also in supporting characters like Luis Sera’s new ties to Umbrella Corporation, the new seeds of of Jack Krauser’s tyrannical form, leading up to his boss fight, and overall more delicate cohesion in the level and world design.
As the game weaves its linear chapters together, the maps open up, granting players a taste of freedom as they can explore massive parts of the map and backtrack for collectibles they may have missed throughout the Village, The Lago, the Castle and The Island. These surroundings become more bizarre, ornate and grotesque, making the transition between each feel like a slow descent into a maddening world that worships Las Plagas.
Don’t Worry, She’s Cool
Then there’s Ashley Graham, the president’s daughter. I’ve heard about her for years from my roommate and online. Some folks thought better of her than others as one of the prime examples of the “companion character.” Ashley is always the main point of reference for companion characters that must be guarded at all costs and why this design is frustrating to work with. I’ve seen the gameplay, I understand the old mechanics, I understand the tedium that players went through with Ashley, but that doesn’t change the fact that in Resident Evil 4 Remake, most of that is streamlined and permanently resolved.
Her new hair looks great, she looks older and appropriate for being in college, and her motion capture performance by Yukiko Saitani and vocal performance by Carolyn Lawrence combine to create a character that should make all players desperate to protect. She’s extremely brave in the situation, receptive to teamwork, useful in puzzle sequences despite understandably being absolutely mortified of oozing men and monsters lurking around every corner, and her only line of defense is an ex-cop with a very stale sense of humor.
Man, That Stinks!
Speaking of Leon and his quips, the tone of the game is notability the biggest change in this game’s presentation outside of the stunning visual redesign via RE Engine. These changes adjust characterizations as aforementioned regarding Leon’s history, but the original’s tone is so iconic that it has become ingrained in the culture. It’s hard to not still have Leon dodge rolling and jumping out windows while making dad jokes to himself to cope with the unspeakable situation.
It comes across like taking a protagonist from Jackie Chan’s Police Story and making him the main character of a Blumhouse horror flick, but it somehow works only in the way that Capcom’s delightfully awkward style of dialogue has done for over twenty years. It’s a bit unfair to compare directly to a game for the Nintendo GameCube, but even by modern game standards, Resident Evil 4 Remake’s performances are possibly on par with Naughty Dog’s; but in broader, more animated strokes, as each character fulfills a role that feels appropriate for an early ‘00’s action film: still grounded, but cartoonish in expression.
Who. The Hell. Are You?
While I played the game at a slower pace than the action suggests, I think a lot of that is from coming off of Resident Evil 2 Remake, and understanding much of what I was encountering was surprising to me. RE4R is wholeheartedly an action game but while I quickly acclimated to kneecapping and knife parrying plenty of attacks, being overwhelmed by hordes of enemies was frightening in its own right as I scrambled to make flash grenades and reload handgun clips.
There’s also sequences that had my heart genuinely pounding, mainly in the Island laboratories that introduce the new and improved Regenragadors and Armaduras. Any moment I saw those horrid frozen bags, or suits of armor chilling against a wall, I would feel simultaneously stressed but also very rewarded. Thankfully, as should be the case in adapting a game that once relied on “Tank Controls,” strafing and parrying allowed Leon to move deftly through these encounters.
Great… A Chainsaw
Combat is brisk and intense, and as survival horror games strive for, you’re always scraping for materials to make new bullets and heal. If you’re a terrible shot through the first half like I was, the remake is accommodating in adaptive difficulty with what materials and how many enemies it throws at you. Even in moments when I had ten bullets on me in the Red9 and two hand grenades, the game never felt unfair in what it threw at me. A lot of that is thanks to the new system with the iconic Merchant.
In every save room, he and his protective blue flame are there to sell you weapons, tune up knives and armor, and upgrade your existing armory to perfection with the cash you find throughout the game. It creates a very simple loop, as my Metroid brain clicked with this aspect of the world and I tried to scour for almost every gem and treasure in every chapter. The Merchant very generously sells you a map which marks their location exactly on your map screen and even without it plenty are hard to miss as you search for bells containing precious trinkets.
It should be noted that the visual design of the creatures and the environment are phenomenal. While there are only so many enemy varieties throughout, each feels distinct, and never so repetitive that it stands out. I love the chainsaw sisters sequence, taking on the beast men with their hammers and machine guns, being able to spot the Novistador insects through their blended camo, and the Regenerators might be the most terrifying thing I have encountered since the Under the Well sequence in Ocarina of Time.
The only enemies I couldn’t stand in the slightest were the blind and fully knived Garradors, not because the sequence was scary, though it was, but rather that I am terrible at being subtle and had a hard time not alerting them to my presence. Once again, I eventually found myself victorious over them and received that incredibly rewarding feeling.
There’s also many challenges, like the iconic blue medallions, scattered throughout every chapter, and they’re so approachable at each point they’re introduced that its hard not to go and do them right away in exchange for spinnels, a currency that gives you upgrades like expanded cases, attachments for your guns and extra resources. By the end of the game, I was drowning in money, selling guns I didn’t need anymore, and had my main set of three weapons fully maxed out in power, and they felt incredible to use by the final confrontation.
I’ll Give You A Holy Body
My only gripe is not one with the game, but my external experience with my Resident Evil boomer roommate insisting what weapons I use and upgrade to min-max how I played the game. While the Red9 is undoubtedly an incredible handgun, I see what other methods are out there and feel the temptation to go back and do a reply to experiment properly with what is possible, especially in different boss fights like the various ways to take down El Gigante, one of many encounters that is spiritually the same, but apparently has gotten a top to bottom redesign.
Motivation via backseating aside, the exploration was rewarding to do and easily expanded my save file to nearly 20 hours by the end, which is fantastic for a game of this type. A lot of that exploration also motivated me to explore the environment, not just in reading logs on the worships and science of Las Plagas, but also the meticulous level design, that exudes a wet, grotesque European gothic aurora in every corner.
I can absolutely see myself relaunching this game, not just to try for a faster run with the best items in the game from the start, but even in experimenting with Mercenaries mode to unlock new weapons, and play around in The Merchant’s pirate booty shooting gallery to win medals. Speaking of, if there’s something I can agree with my roommate: we all miss hearing his mantra “What’re ya buyin’? What’re ya sellin?” Even through cultural osmosis, I understand the impact of that man’s charms. Perhaps they’ll add those lines back in if they get around to the Ada Wong expansion as DLC.
Featured images ©CAPCOM U.S.A., INC
Game Copy Purchased by reviewer / Played on Xbox Series X