It’s been a hot topic of late about when a classic game is ripe for a remake, but given how Resident Evil 4 seems to have been rolled out for re-release in one shape or another almost annually since it first appeared in 2005 it feels like a special case. There was a waggle-enhanced Wii version, HD versions for the Xbox 360 and PS3, mobile versions for Android and iOS and VR versions for Oculus Quest – by this point, Capcom’s iconic survival horror feels as ubiquitous as Skyrim.
When Capcom announced it was giving Resident Evil 4 the same remake treatment it gave RE2 and RE3 recently, eyebrows were understandably raised. What exactly can a remake bring to make it worth playing through again? Going hands-on with a short section of the forthcoming remake showed there’s a fair amount to make it more than worthwhile, and this remake provides an effective remix of some moments we know inside out, refreshing them enough to make it feel like you’re playing through this classic for the first time.
Before we get to that, though, there’s obviously a fairly hefty visual makeover in effect here. The original Resident Evil 4 has aged admirably and still looks pretty fine today, but it doesn’t look quite like this. In keeping with other games that have excellently employed Capcom’s RE Engine, this is a proper looker with moody lighting and an incredible wetness to the gore. There are some truly disturbing sights here, from fresh corpses of recently ripped apart rabbits to the enhanced horror of seeing a villager tied to the stake in astounding new detail. Perhaps most importantly, there’s an extra floppiness to Leon’s curtains, and an extra fluffiness to the collar of his famous jacket.
The section on offer for this brief preview is perhaps the original’s most memorable, the scene in El Pueblo as you first encounter the villagers. It’s short, but even within the handful of minutes available in the hands-on it’s clear there have been some fairly drastic changes with the rhythm of the whole encounter altered entirely.
The villagers are still a shuffling mass, but there’s a bit more thought behind their movements and a lot more options when it comes to dealing with them; there are now stealth takedowns possible, enabled by Leon’s knife that can be handily plunged into their necks. That knife, too, is substantially different, with some form of durability attached to it – far from the most popular mechanic in games, sure, but understandable in this instance to ensure you’re not overly reliant on it. It’s not entirely clear how you restore durability to the weapon from what we played, though perhaps Resident Evil 4’s infamous merchant has a way to sharpen it once you finally encounter him.
Get too close to villagers, too, and there’s a variety of ways things can play out. Yes, it does seem that Leon’s overstated roundhouse from the original is still there to push a rabid villager away, but it’s not quite as commonplace as it once was with new QTE-fuelled close quarter combat sequences adding some more variety. There’s dynamism in the environment, too – the cattle that sit in the barn can be prodded into action by shooting out a lantern that promptly sets them alight, sending a chunk of freshly roasted beef into the mobs which can duly help your cause.
When the chainsaw man arrives on the scene – a moment that’s just as terrifying now as it was back in 2005 – there are clear signs of a makeover. He now boasts an oddly redesigned visage with bulging eyes set far apart – which makes it look like it’s Hey Arnold under that sack – and it’s now possible to coax him to destroy a porch, opening up a whole new part of the level. It’s a surprising new crinkle to a set-piece that by this point – and after this many versions – was in danger of feeling rote.
The brevity of the demo meant it was possible to play through a couple of times and prod at some of the new features to see what outcomes might ensue – and with new stealth options, new behaviours from familiar foes and a much richer set of permutations. This is a familiar game, but one that’s now markedly more dynamic: from being previously sceptical about the worth of a remake, I’m now fascinated to see how that new dynamism finds its way into the rest of this reimagined Resident Evil 4.