When news first broke of a potential Resident Evil 4 remake by Capcom it wasn’t uncommon to see articles asking whether the game actually needed to be remade. The original game was released on GameCube in January 2005 to critical acclaim, hailed as the next evolutionary step not just in the field of survival horror but in video games as a whole. Given this, it all begged the question, why update a classic that’s still influencing games as we speak. Furthermore, how do you upgrade or rework something so groundbreaking for a new audience to appreciate without undoing the things that made it special to being with?
Looks like we’ll be having answers to these questions soon as Capcom formally announced the March 24th, 2023 release date for the Resident Evil 4 remake during Sony’s recent State of Play event. It’ll be coming to consoles and PC with all the bells and whistles expected of a next-gen game along with new gameplay mechanics to help it better fit in with today’s gaming sensibilities.
Bits of gameplay were shown in a trailer made for the event, showcasing highly detailed character models and environments not unlike those seen in the Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes in terms of design and overall polish. What little we see of the Ganado (the now iconic infected Spaniards out for Leon’s head) looks terrifying, and opening village segment seems more claustrophobic and denser. If anything, it’s easier to compare now with Resident Evil: Village, especially in terms of color palette. It all bears a more gothic sense of horror, as was the case in RE8.
It’s not unfair to state that RE4 marked a watershed moment in gaming, of the kind that strikes a dividing line between the ‘pre’ and ‘post’ times of a game’s release. RE4’s over-the-shoulder camera angle, for instance, has basically become the standard for third-person experiences, seen in games such as Gears of War (2006), Dead Space (2008), and 2018’s God of War, extending as far as the most recent Resident Evil remakes (albeit with more modern mechanics featured as part of the update, such as the ability to aim while walking rather than having to stand still to do so as was the case in RE4).
The same goes for targeted limb damage, which wasn’t so much created by RE4 as it was equipped with more layers of gameplay mechanics thanks to the precise aiming controls and the well-rounded the weapon upgrading system. Running foes could be shot in the legs to stop them in their tracks while axe-wielding enemies could get their murder weapons knocked out of their hands by well-placed shots. Dead Space picked up on this with its own limb dismemberment system while The Evil Within series stuck more closely to RE4’s combat stylings (down to the weapon upgrades).
If the trailer for the RE4 remake is any indication, it’s fair to assume the trip to back to Spain will result in a celebration of these contributions to gaming. And yet, it does invite questions as to how much of what made the game so revolutionary will carry over into the final product. This makes the existence of the remake exciting beyond all expectations, especially when one considers what current gamers are used to when engaging with the latest offerings and whether they make RE4 come off as outdated or not.
I for one consider RE4 to have aged quite well. Upon revisiting it, the only thing I find myself taking time adjusting to is having to stop in my tracks to then be able to aim my weapon. It’s nothing that requires much wrangling from my end to get used to again, but it’s a noticeable shift.
It doesn’t compare to the amount of work I have to do to get back into the swing of things with the Playstation 1 line of Resident Evil games, which extends to the GameCube remakes. The tank controls require tapping into muscle memory you were already glad to be rid of (meaning the use of a single d-pad or analog stick to both turn and move backward and forwards as opposed to the first-person controls-inspired scheme that came later).
Resident Evil 4 didn’t do away entirely with the classic survival horror control scheme, but it made it infinitely more flexible when compared to what came before. Remakes post-RE4 would use that game as a map for their comebacks.
I’m not holding my breath for this, but I do hope there’s a classic mode that keeps the original controls in place for an experience that comes closer to what so many of us experienced when Resident Evil 4 first came out (if only for the sake of recognizing its contributions to gaming). I also hope the context specific actions Leon could pull off if he staggered an enemy crossover as well. I want to be able to roundhouse kick the infected after I’ve shot them enough to make them trip over their feet.
Resident Evil 4 quite simply broadened the scope of an entire industry, opened its eyes to change. It’s curious that the franchise has found so much success in remakes that update their classic entries by not only giving them very generous facelifts but also by changing the gameplay of the originals into something that plays more like Resident Evil 4. That’s how important this game is. It looks to update the past while still offering a viable blueprint for future games. Now it’s a matter of seeing how well the Resident Evil 4 remake captures the original Resident Evil 4.