REview: Resident Evil 4

Boy, do I fucking love Resident Evil.

Ever since playing Code Veronica on my uncle’s PS1 (not the best start, but it was a start, damnit) and getting so scared I had to shut the game off and run to my parents, I was utterly hooked. Like a lot of late blooming horror fans, I was utterly terrified of even going near something scary (as one should be, I guess) but morbidly obsessed with them regardless.

Resident Evil 4 is about the time I stopped being a wuss and started being a man (at the age of 10, 3 years after the game had already been out.) Armed with a strategy guide I got for Christmas, I absolutely conquered that game over the year, to the point I played it mindlessly, and still could (and have when it was finally released on Steam a couple years ago.)

From there, it was a spiraling obsession that led me to playing nearly every entry in the series to date, from Gaiden to Umbrella Chronicles to Revelations. What I couldn’t play at the time, I always got to play later – 1 & 2 remade and released onto Steam, 0 being already available on the GameCube at the time (the best console, fight me), and Chronicles being a retelling of all those games anyway.

Gaiden, I emulated, because fuck that.

It was always a good time to be a Resident Evil fan (so long as you were as onboard as embracing the absolute schlock descending into Resident 5 & 6). It’s even better now, as Capcom pumps out the lovingly dubbed RE:makes on their awesome RE:Engine. RE:2 captured the survival horror atmosphere perfectly even as it shifted away from the deliberate camera-angles and tension-inducing tank-controls, and RE:3 jacked up the action in an enjoyable, if not extremely short, linear experience.

Bad touch. BAD. TOUCH. Credit to MildNorman

Now, finally, the big one. RE:4. I’ll hold my hands up to say I thought it’d never happen, not until they’d run out of other games, some games that deserved a second chance to be good after falling flat the first time. (Looking at you, Code Veronica.)  Resident Evil 4 is a game that stands up to time. It was so important and influential, it changed the design philosophy of the industry when it came to third-person. Gears of War, Dead Space, and so many other games that ubiquitously utilize third-person, over the shoulder, precision shooting owe the formulae to Resident Evil 4.

[Norman Note: It’s hard to overstate just how impactful the original Resident Evil 4 was. When the game was released in 2005, it was one of a kind. The spectacle, variability, and sheer amount of content in the game all marked it as a milestone for the medium as a whole. As for the Resident Evil series, it marked the change to more of an action focus, using the same engine as Devil May Cry and Godhand (RIP to a real one) allowed it to really push the limits of what you could do within a horror context for a game. ]

Surely a remake would be redundant for a game that, for all intents and purposes, is already pretty damn perfect. I’d definitely say so.

It’s a good thing I’m a fuckin’ idiot whose wrong. (It’s my best quality.)

Gentlemen, welcome to Spain. Credit to MildNorman.


RE:4 is a phenomenal spin on a game that was already perfect, amping up the deliverance of all three titles in its genre. There’s as much, sometimes even more, action than before – enemies advance on you on all sides, their AI is smarter about pathfinding around and behind you in open areas, and different types of enemies intermingle amongst each other to spice up the horde. Leon is even more responsive now, being able to move and shoot, though you’re given hefty incentive to stay as still as you can due to how accuracy works, and when shooting is enough, he’s still got access to his entire arsenal of boot-to-ass melee moves, all contextual as they were before. (the from behind suplex is the stand out, and at some point the game starts spinning enemies you knee-cap around just so you can do it more. It owns.)


[Norman Note: Its worth mentioning here for folks looking for comparisons to the original, the remake is way more hectic. Where the original rewarded deliberate fighting and ammo conservation through downing enemies and use of your knife, the remake rewards reacting to surprise attacks and dealing with constant pressure. It’s different but makes for a very fun combat system.]

Hectic is right. Credit to MildNorman

On top of that, they’ve even added some stealth action – which is cool, I guess, if you’re a loser who likes to play a stealth archer in Skyrim.  In all seriousness though – it’s a fine addition, not mandated, but helpful in some overwhelming scenarios. Leon can do stealth kills with his knives (that’s right, multiple knives now!) and you can set up some traps to funnel the horde once you alert them. (Trip mines, environmental hazards, etc.)

Quick Time Events are largely reduced. You won’t get them in cutscenes anymore, which is great, but you will get them in gameplay. It’s mainly just mashing the button to escape a goon grabbing you or to rapidly turn a crank. Typical Resident Evil stuff, really.

One of the biggest innovations, which the game doesn’t teach you about until Chapter 2 (they are bastards for this, especially to people starting on Hardcore) is the addition of a Parry & Perfect Parry mechanic. Leon’s knife isn’t the infinite resource it used to be, and it can break fairly easily in the beginning. You can use it to instantly escape most grabs, at the cost of a lot of durability, or to parry / perfect parry. A parry can be done by simply holding the knife, deflecting the attack and saving you some health at the cost of knife health. A perfect parry is timed, and leaves the enemy open to an attack – whether that be from the knife itself, your gun, or the classic boot-to-face.

It fucking rocks, and adds something else to get perfect at along with aiming, running, and positioning. It can save you in a pinch and turn the tide to clear some space when you’re being overwhelmed, especially on Hardcore.  It’s a little annoying in the beginning to have your knife break so easily, especially because Ganados love to grab you (whether to hold you down so dudes can wail on you, like a mook in a mobster movie, or just trying to bite your throat out) and you can lose health FAST if you don’t mash like crazy.

Resident Evil 4 was one of those games that changed the gaming landscape at the time, and its influence is still seen all over gaming to this day, from Gears of War to Dead Space. It feels so common now, but its approach to controls and gameplay was simply genius for the time. Much like the previous entries, all of which were still on tank-controls, Resident Evil 4’s controls were designed deliberately to enhance the feel of the game.  You had more fluid movement, more freedom to run away from the danger and explore, but if you wanted to fight back? You had to stand still and take your time to carefully aim at the hordes menacingly making their way towards you..

Credit to MildNorman

If you’ve somehow missed it, RE:4 is the 3rd Resident Evil remake (Norman Note: Technically its #4 because the original Resident Evil Remake, which was released over 20 years ago, was the first remake. It holds up!), coming not-so-hot off the heels of RE:3 (the most divisive of the REmakes so far, which is stupid, because it was honestly fantastic. For the price, it was –very– short, and I think that’s more to corporate meddling than game design.)

Unlike the previous REmakes, which were transforming fixed-camera, tank-control survival-horror experiences into third-person action-survival horror games, RE:4 straddles the line a lot more between similarity to the source material and its own distinct additions to the gameplay.

Resident Evil 4 being already such a massive influence across the series, briefly departing in 7 and returning wholeheartedly in 8, means that the RE:Make formulae of simply adapting games to play more like Resident Evil 4 was pretty redundant when it came to adapting Resident Evil 4. (and honestly, I predicted the next remake was going to be Code Veronica or another trash entry into the series because of this.)

Saying that though, those geniuses over at the studio have absolutely done it again and delivered a phenomenal remake of one of the best games to come out in the 2000s.  RE:4, from the get go, is somehow a comfortable and familiar experience that manages to pull the rug out from under you over-and-over again with new additions that all serve to make the game more fun and enjoyable.

Action Survival Horror is delivered in equal abundance. Resident Evil 4’s horror faded out the further the game went on, resurging in key parts, such as Ashley’s section, the first interaction with the blind fuckers with the claws, (Norman Note: The Garradors, which translates to… The Clawer?) and the cursed Regenerators down in the laboratory.

In RE:4, the horror is ever-present. It might be a little biased, as I played on Hardcore for my first, and so far only, playthrough of the game, and I was struggling the entire way. Resources were precious, and in the beginning, I’d routinely find myself lacking any ammunition at all as my dinky pistol barely even staggered the workin’ joes whose village I was fucking up.

Set pieces from the original are enhanced wholeheartedly by this approach. It captured the same panic I had as a kid when I first face-rolled into the village to take out all the baddies and got my head chainsawed off.

In fact, the game goes all in on its showcase with the village sequence in the same way the original did, with new tricks and twists. Dr. Salvador is a menace, triggering contextual cutscenes of him fucking shit up as you desperately try to kite him around the village, shrinking it smaller and smaller all the while (and unlocking some alternate routes in the process too for later!)  It only heightens when the enemies make deliberate efforts to grab you from behind, and hold you in place for some impromptu bowel surgery.  It owns.

Action is steady throughout, as it always was, as you move from arena-to-arena, and then back again as you backtrack around the map. Encounters predictably throw wrenches into a smooth backtrack towards the centre, with monsters, cool setpieces, and the odd bossfight thrown your way. Some key changes were made to even perk up the action, forcing more bosses than the original could muster – no longer must you choose to reunite with your faithful doggo to kick El Gigante’s huge ass, or get absolutely eviscerated by the bella sisters. Now you simply just get to deal with both! Thanks Capcom!

Coming hand-in-hand with both the action and horror, the survival aspects are almost exactly the same – you manage your knives like a resource now, choosing durability for health, and risking being without if you spend it too frivolously. It’s hard to horde in this, especially on Hardcore, as you’re constantly just using everything you have to scrape by some encounters.  Money especially is something I part with easily in RE:4 – you have to repair your knife, and your vest eventually too, and it makes seeking out treasure all the more worth it.

Speaking of treasure, that system has been overhauled to make it less frustrating – you’re not guessing which gem fits in what treasure anymore, and accidentally holding onto something not knowing if it’s ever going to drop a new piece. Neat!

Moving beyond gameplay, graphically the game looks as good as every other game has on the RE:Engine, and it’s used to its full effect. I personally think it still struggles a little bit when it comes to faces, there’s something a little off about it, and not in a good, intentional way. It’s gotten a lot better since 6, that’s for sure.

It accomplishes what the original couldn’t due to the graphical limitations at the time – weather effects, lighting, slight reimaginings of original level designs to enhance the tone of each area. It really pushes the horror atmosphere deeper than the original, beginning with gloomy, dying forests with claustrophobic footpaths that lead to dilapidated shacks that have long been left to entropy and ending with the industrial, militaristic nightmare of the island.

It isn’t too bad to run either, despite looking so good. I’m playing on a rather outdated laptop 1060 and I manage to play the game on medium at a rather consistent 45FPS (though, it definitely has drops. Your mileage, as always, will vary based on your specs.) I wouldn’t recommend trying to run it on anything lower.

For people who are like me, there’s a lot of settings to tweak to find the right spot for performance and graphics, with helpful indicators to tell you the impact something will have.

Final Verdict

Overall, I’m going to declare RE:4 a worthy remake, and maybe the definitive way to play and experience the game for newcomers, but there’s definitely merit to playing both. There are story beats which occur in the RE:Make that Resident Evil 4 simply didn’t cover too much, and characters get more time to shine in 2005 than 4 did. (though, this is entirely dependent on how much camp dialogue you like.)

Norman: I actually think that while the remake is a fantastic addition to the series, I think the original still has a ton of merit. It plays in a different, equally engaging way, and provides another perspective of the same story. One with more supervillain banter and out of pocket comments. The original also stands as a historical piece of video game history, and is well worth revisiting for that reason at all.

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