Resident Evil 4 (2023)

Resident Evil 4 (2023)

It may be difficult for any young people or new fans who have lately joined the Resident Evil community to imagine that not all that long ago, the entire Resident Evil brand was seen as a shambling, rotting shell of what it once was. After the first Resident Evil basically created the contemporary survival-horror genre, the original Resident Evil 4 pulled off a miracle by leveraging the franchise to utterly redefine third-person action/horror games once more. However, it was all downhill after that for more than a decade.

Although I’d say that since its 2009 release, RE5 has aged poorly, RE5 was fine. The series almost ended completely as a result of the bloated and frequently nonsensical Resident Evil 6. For years, we would only get poor multi-player tie-ins and portable spin-offs. It wasn’t until the 2017 release of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard that CAPCOM appears to have realized it was sitting on one of the gaming industry’s biggest legacies and started treating it as such.

Since then, CAPCOM has completely spoiled us with its spooky treats. In addition to the outstanding Resident Evil Village from a year ago, the company has released two hugely successful remakes of Resident Evil 2 and 3 that both manage to live up to the impossible standards of their predecessors (yes, you read that correctly: The 2020 Resident Evil 3 rules, and I won’t be taking any questions about that unquestionable fact). After over twenty years, CAPCOM is revisiting the only title in the series that may be regarded as equally revolutionary as the original, and, my friends, the results are astonishing.

Purists who haven’t yet dove headfirst into the delicious sludge that is Resident Evil 4 should be aware of the following: The plot and overall experience are essentially the same as in the original RE4 from 2005. While each of the game’s three “acts” has some fun new surprises to be found and the visuals and audio have all been updated to (almost) perfection by CAPCOM’s ridiculously well-optimized RE Engine, the game’s fundamental gameplay mechanics have largely remained unchanged. However, this is not a terrible thing. Resident Evil 4 was regarded as one of the finest video games ever developed for a very good reason, as those of you who haven’t replayed the original RE4 at least a dozen times over the last 18 years are about to discover. Basically everything that was good about the original game is improved upon in this remake.

The devil is in the details with everything Resident Evil 4 does to raise the stakes in 2023, but all of the big and small things CAPCOM has done to spruce up Leon Kennedy’s European Vacation are based on the same underlying principle of understanding everything that made that original game feel so new and enjoyable in 2005 and never losing sight of the fundamentals. Although Leon’s gunplay is as visceral as ever, each battle feels even more immediate and intense thanks to his increased mobility and the addition of some improved melee fighting elements. The fantastic art design and outstanding visuals have increased the complexity and intrigue of the different locations Leon and Ashley explore. As the player searches for additional pesetas to gather and utilize in the game’s famed store, a sizable number of “Requests” (also known as side quests) have been thrown in for them to complete. Even the collectibles themselves have received just the right amount of depth enhancement, with a small gem-slotting mini-game allowing players to customize how they combine their loot in a manner similar to how managing ammo and resources has always been a crucial component of the RE gameplay loop.

As satisfied as I was with Resident Evil 4’s gameplay updates, I was even more astounded by how much work had gone into the game’s narrative and atmosphere. Even if the original was thumb-blisteringly entertaining, the greater focus on action-adventure spectacle and Leon’s corny one-liners made the game less frightening. Yes, it is tense. Unquestionably thrilling. Given the series’ history, many devoted followers still bemoan RE4 as the turning point when gaming’s leading survival-horror flagship ceased attempting to be horrifying.

Resident Evil 4 manages to better honor the scares-above-all ethos of its predecessors than the original ever did, though I won’t try to claim that it achieves the same pants-darkeningly frightening heights as RE7 or the most recent remake of RE2. The settlement is positively dripping with ominous gloom, especially when the sun sets and the surrounding countryside is enveloped in oppressive blackness. Thanks to the RE Engine’s unique abilities in displaying all gooey grotesqueries, the twisted bodily horrors of the Las Plagas monsters are even more visible. You’ll see what I mean when you get there, but there’s one sequence where you take control of Ashley while Leon is busy taking care of monster-slaying business.

Additionally, because you now care so much more about the human characters in Resident Evil 4, the scares are more effective. The new screenplay retains some of the original’s cringe-worthy trappings while still playing up the campy vibes when the time is proper. This eliminates any uncanny valley effects, which are the bane of any horror game. It’s impossible to say if Leon S. Kennedy feels more like a “real” person, but you believe in him more since he’s a round-house kicking repository of corny jokes and perfect photos. Ashley is far more like a real partner you’re trying to survive with than a bothersome mission objective you’re just trying to put up with.

Are there any issues I should air now that Resident Evil 4 has received so much praise? Honest to God, not really. The story still threatens to drag toward the end of the game, but given that I’m already thinking about playing it again, I can’t claim that the pace is too off. On my PlayStation 5, I also saw some strange visual issues, particularly with the HDR mode, which appeared washed out and off no matter how much I adjusted the settings (though this might possibly be a problem with my display rather than the game). Apart from that, I saw no obvious issues over the entirety of my 20 or so hour session despite using the game’s Framerate Focused graphic settings.

The game’s absence of features like the Separate Ways campaign and the survival-focused Mercenaries Mode, which explain what Ada Wong was doing during Leon’s quest, is really my only significant complaint.

There is, however, at least one piece of dialogue in the main game that all but indicates that the Ada campaign will be arriving in some shape or form, and CAPCOM has already stated that the Mercenaries add-on is coming as a free patch in just a few weeks. Just as with so many other recent AAA releases, it’s unfortunate that the version of a game that players who support on Day 1 receive is the least complete.

However, it gives you a good idea of how flawless the Resident Evil 4 remake’s core game is when almost all of my criticisms center on how much more I want to play it and how all of the challenges and unlockables I have yet to complete will already keep me more than busy until the DLC is released. I’m in awe of how well CAPCOM has been performing lately with all of these Resident Evil games, with each original installment and remake inexorably appearing somewhere on “Best of…” lists, year after bloody year. Nothing is different in Resident Evil 4. It updates one of the all-time greatest third-person action shooters for a contemporary audience of both new and devoted players. You owe it to yourself to pick it up and follow Leon into the shadowy crevices of the night, where the monsters lurk, if you have any affection for Resident Evil or games from this era in general. You won’t soon forget the experience.

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