‘Re-infecting the benchmark of survival horror’
The original Resident Evil 4 is one of the greatest games of all time. In a series with regular entries over almost three decades – mostly hits, some misses – the fourth instalment in the main series could be considered ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ of the franchise. Pioneering the over-the-shoulder third-person gameplay and using a much larger setting full of thrilling set-pieces, it was only a matter of time before a complete remake was achieved. Now, 18 years after its first release, Resident Evil 4 is here again. But how does it translate to the current generation of gaming?
From the moment Leon is shown on screen, we are transported into a vortex of nostalgia. The graphics are outstanding and realistic, the gameplay is intuitive and action-packed, and the scares around every corner cause an involuntary jump – even when you fully expected a monster to be in the bathroom. Not only is this an achievement in design, hardware power and building on an existing masterpiece, but it may change the perception of the value in remakes on a broader scale (including in gaming awards). There is just so much that can be added to an already striking canvas.
The story of Resident Evil 4 is based on Leon Kennedy delving into the Spanish wilderness to find the president’s daughter. When the local cops go missing, we are thrust straight into the dark and damp woods to investigate. The tutorial section, or chapter 1, is the perfect format to learn all the mechanics while also being involved in exciting fights and chases. Everyone who has played the demo will know this, with the chainsaw attacker and the small village enough to demonstrate the style of the game. Leon can shoot, stab, kick and use an array of other items to keep infected at bay (or blow them sky high). Dismemberment, head removal and all sorts of gore is expected and delivered. It’s challenging – remaining still is the best way to die, but around every corner is danger. Run, dodge, shoot and hide. These hordes are far from easy.
As mentioned, graphically this game is hard to fault. The mountains in the distance loom large over the small towns, forests, lakes, interiors and other locales. Everything sways, drips, and shudders with the wind. The light filters through boarded windows, and the dust particles flutter before you. The atmosphere is always tense, which is also due to the audio (or lack thereof) that is as strong as any character. The moans of the infected, the screech of their sharp weapons against the walls of homes, the scurrying rats on the floor or even the slow opening of doors – being alert will save you. Music isn’t really a factor, and nor should it be. This is all about the spine-tingling, subtle taps of feet on floorboards behind or above you. Attention to detail is a ten, for despite the focus on the action the horror never dips. The Easter eggs and little surprises for series lovers are extremely rewarding.
The gameplay was revolutionary for 2005, but in 2023 we see some additions to bring it into the new era of gaming. Leon can now move when aiming his firearms. He can kick stunned enemies. But the best change is the new parry system that uses the knife to stagger opponents with good timing. They may sound like simple alterations, yet they create options that feel natural when fighting for survival. The satisfaction received from a perfect parry or a kick to crowd control is glorious. But beware – every time you think you’ve got the combat sorted, a new enemy capable of reflecting your new moves will keep you honest with enhanced reach, speed or distance firing. The character design is gruesome and intended to make you hesitate. Variety is strong across the array of chapters and only may get a little repetitive near the conclusion of a chapter. Detail example: a dead infected‘s hair moves with the breeze, or a headless one has the tentacles still writhing. Are they really dead, or will they pop up when you turn your back?
The depth of gameplay is extended through the items and abilities available in the merchant’s store. His accent may have deviated slightly from the original, but this fellow is your best friend – his offerings are game-changing, and when you see him after a long journey you’ll want to pull him in for a hug. New guns, new stats, recipes, treasure maps and more are available to enhance your skills, while the addition of side missions (and bigger areas to explore) will build your bank account. These can simply be ‘kill this type’ but do grow in variety as the game progresses. A particular mode will thrill gamers – we’ll save that for launch.
I had two issues with the game, and they can be considered very minor. They may in fact be fixed by the time the game is released. First: when Leon talks on the radio to his assistant, her voice doesn’t come through the speakers. I had to turn on the subtitles to catch what she was saying. This also happened with another side character. Second: the difficulty in-game can only slide down to easy once, and then remains there. It also cannot be scaled up in between chapters if you’re finding things a breeze. During a particularly gnarly battle with a lot of enemies and limited resources, I was asked if I wanted to change difficulty after a death. I clicked yes to review the differences in difficulty with harder areas, and then I was unable to change it back to the higher difficulty for the rest of the game. This will be due to the many trophies reliant on beating the game using certain settings. This didn’t hinder an experience that was all quality. And, if anything, only urges me to complete more playthroughs to demonstrate my enhanced arsenal (weapon choice is huge!). Enemy AI was generally strong to ensure no camping, and graphically playing on performance mode there was only slight drops in the more expansive boss battle settings.
Are there changes from the original game? Yes. Do they work? Oh yes, they do. Every change has a purpose, extends the story or exploration area, or enhances the gameplay. Boss battles and side characters feel more important. Bonuses are detailed and worth your time. But the reason we are all here is to see if Resident Evil 4 can again be a benchmark of survival horror and action in the gaming world.
Yes, yes it can.
Resident Evil 4 releases March 24, 2022.
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