When Resident Evil 4 launched back in 2005, it revolutionized the third-person action genre and, for better or worse, redefined what it meant to be a Resident Evil game. It is considered one of the greatest games of all time, memorable for its fun action, campy self-awareness, ridiculous set pieces, and fantastic replayability. So it’s not surprising at all that Capcom has announced a Resident Evil 4 remake, and following the recent success of both new Resident Evil games and remakes of other titles, I think it’s safe to say this game will be good. However, I think it’s also safe to say that, no matter how good this remake is, it’s not going to be as good as the original game.
One of the inherent charms of the original game was its attention to detail. If you boil RE4 down to its most basic elements, it’s a shooter where you have to rescue the president’s daughter and you need to kill a whole lot of people to do it. It’s a familiar premise. It was all of the little things that made Leon’s journey through Spain so captivating: the way he had unique animations for reloading all of his guns. How he could kick open a door or gently open it and then blast through it to damage enemies on the other side. How he could shoot a torch-bearing enemy, making them drop the torch and burn themselves and save ammo. Those details still stand out today.
There was also a self-awareness that Resident Evil 4 had that separated it by miles from every other game in the series. There were still plenty of horrific moments within the game, like the gruesome transformation sequences of its villains and the various villagers infected by Las Plagas, but the game was absolutely ridiculous and never took itself too seriously. Moments like Leon running from a giant statue of Ramon Salazar or dodging obscene amounts of lasers make no sense whatsoever, but they were absolutely a treat to watch. This may not have been the original Leon S. Kennedy from Resident Evil 2, but he was better. He was basically an action movie star that was too cool for school.
However, the reveal trailer for the Resident Evil 4 remake utterly lacks any of that charm. Capcom seems to be going all in on making the remake more horror-oriented. The trailer is shot almost entirely at night. It evokes imagery and scenery associated with Resident Evil Village. We see a terrified Ashley run through a dark forest. It all points to a tone more in line with recent series entries than the original game.
On a certain level, I’m okay with that. If a game is going to be remade, I’m all for adding unique touches to it to distinguish it from the original release. That version is always going to be there, so why not try something a little bit different? It’s one of the reasons why I loved Final Fantasy VII Remake. The remake and the original complement each other. But that remake is not better than the original Final Fantasy VII, for reasons not just including its scope. The same is probably going to be true of the Resident Evil 4 remake. If Capcom makes any significant changes to Resident Evil 4, it’ll lose what made the original so good.
Final Fantasy VII Remake made sense as a remake because it was something that many fans deemed necessary. The original game is clunky to go back to, visually at the least. Resident Evil 4 is a bit different because it’s not like Capcom rarely re-releases the game; it’s available on more than a dozen current and classic platforms. That most recently includes on Oculus Quest 2 last year, and these releases do have small improvements, like tweaking the controls or updating textures. It’s still the same game from 2005, but every release is still as fun to pick up as it was back in 2005.
Capcom has been known to try new ideas and gameplay scenarios in its RE remakes to distinguish them from the originals. The remake for Resident Evil 2 famously expanded the role of Mr. X into something truly terrifying and also made several adjustments to Sherry Birkin’s characterization, among many other changes. The remake for Resident Evil 3 removed the decision-making mechanic from the original and heavily changed how Nemesis functioned. Interestingly enough, there are those who argue the changes made to the RE2 remake made it better than the original release, while the changes to the RE3 remake made it worse.
While the Resident Evil 4 remake trailer served as a mission statement that this isn’t going to be the same Resident Evil 4, we can only speculate what changes are actually coming for now. Hopefully, quick-time events will at least disappear. However, if Capcom radically changes the fundamentals of Resident Evil 4, it runs the risk of tampering with the secret formula and repeating what happened with the Resident Evil 3 remake; it could feel like change for the sake of change.
It’s an especially precarious situation this time. If Capcom is going to try to remake a game that is considered by many to be one of the most influential games of all time, how does it do it successfully? The game is “reimagining the storyline of the game while keeping the essence of its direction,” which is pretty ambiguous. Would the team cut some action sequences to streamline the pacing? Would this Leon be a more consistent continuation of his remake counterpart? God help them if they remove the attaché case!
All of those changes would come with inherent risks. Change the story and you could remove a lot of the campy charm from the original game. Cut some action set pieces and that would inherently mean certain levels will need to be trimmed. If this is the same Leon as the one in the RE2 remake, then I can’t see this Leon dramatically posing on Saddler’s throne or quipping with Salazar in his castle.
I’m not opposed to change in any way, but this new version of Resident Evil 4 has an uphill battle to outshine its predecessor. I’m not even the biggest fan of Resident Evil 4, but I know enough that trying to mess with something that isn’t broken or outdated isn’t the best idea. It’s going to make a huge amount of money regardless, but if Capcom screws it up, it’ll never hear the end of it. Even if Capcom doesn’t, the Resident Evil 4 remake has some gargantuan shoes to fill, and it will be incredibly difficult for it to live up to what the original achieved.