Capcom has been leading up to this Resident Evil 4 remake for at least three years. Many of the enhancements made in the successful remakes for Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 took their cues from the original RE4 as well as the latest games in the franchise like RE7 and Village. Now it’s time for the developer to take what it has learned up to this point and apply it to what many believe still remains as one of the best horror games of all time. And based on what I’ve seen of a demo showcasing roughly the first thirty minutes of the RE4 remake, Capcom is well on the right track.
A reimagined residency
While the demo was short, stopping right after the bell tolls in the first main village (with Leon Kennedy making the same sly remark about bingo), it revealed a wealth of information on the changes the remake has made over the classic. From the very beginning, the remake alters the opening cutscene, explaining less about the history of Umbrella Corporation and focusing more on the extensive training Leon has gone through since the Raccoon City Incident. Receiving a secret mission to locate and extract the president’s daughter is his chance to prove that he’s no longer a naive rookie cop, but a US special agent who is strong enough to face a horde of biological terrors on his own.
From there, the demo skipped over the original cutscene where Leon has some banter with the two Policia officers and stuck me right at the start of the level. It’s likely that the scene hasn’t been cut entirely, though, as the first objective was to check on the whereabouts of one of the officers who went on ahead without you. (Yeah, that wasn’t a great idea, pal.) So as the other agent waited in the police car blocking the path back, I forged ahead down the beaten trail toward the house.
Wow, there’s actually color now
Once I had control of Leon, the most noticeable difference made itself known: there was actually green – green from the tree leaves and green from the brush. By comparison, the original game is pretty much devoid of color and explores the full spectrum of browns and grays, understandably to show how decrepit the area has become. Here, the addition of green flora made a nice contrast between the world I was leaving and the sickly, corrupted village I was about to enter.
After a quick scene with Ingrid Hunnigan, in a cutscene which no longer used the Metal Gear Solid-like interface from the original game, I flipped through the widely expanded settings. Not only were there six different control schemes, but I could toggle the HUD, the critical red damage borders, and an option for auto-reloading. How handy! I decided not to change anything but some of the subtitle settings to increase their size, just to make them clearer on the small screen I was playing on. The options menu also made it clear that I was playing the demo on Standard difficulty, suggesting that this would be adjustable too.
Starting with just a small box of handgun ammo in my inventory, which I still needed to “Tetris” a bit, I slowly walked toward the first house to figure out where the missing officer went. The “tank” controls were familiar, tighter than I remember them being. Every step had a satisfying, uncompromising weight to it. I could also crouch low to make less sound and ready my combat knife for quick jabs. Aiming a gun at the head of an infected villager is easier now that the red aim lines have been replaced with a simpler reticule. Stunning a common enemy with a well-placed bullet to the head or knee now prompts a white double-arrow over its head so that Leon can walk up and perform a powerful kick.
Don’t dig your own grave with your own knife
However, in a more controversial choice, the demo added knife durability similar to the RE2 remake. Using the combat knife gradually degrades the blade, with the weapon taking a substantial hit in durability if you use it to push back an enemy that has grabbed you. It was a bit unclear how I was able to repair the blade, as I didn’t find additional knives out in the open. Successful runthroughs of the original RE4 typically rely on Leon swiping the knife at downed enemies to save precious ammo, but I wasn’t able to do that here once the knife broke. Unfortunately, I ended up having no knife in the last section of the demo where I was swarmed by villagers and one Chainsaw Man, his left eye glaring through the burlap sack on his head.
Luckily, even without a knife, I had gathered enough handgun ammo and a few green and red herbs by that point. This time around, items are more frequently placed inside shelves, crates, and cupboards instead of being out in the open. I also found a lot of components, a new element in the remake, where I could mix gunpowder with other items to create ammo of my choice. A nifty menu for combining components together made this process much easier than in the original game.
To save ammo, I didn’t test whether shooting a crow would drop items. Nor was there a short section where I could save a wolf from a bear trap, so I’m not sure if it will show up later in the game. I did notice that Leon could speak at least a little Spanish during a cutscene, which makes sense for a special agent to learn. I missed Leon being able to somersault through glass and leaping down ladders without somehow breaking his knees, but I suspect that the remake’s design toward realism might take these feats of acrobatics out too.
Still frightening the second time around
Even with all these enhancements, surviving remains difficult — as it should be — if you make a careless mistake. Getting surrounded by villagers on all sides is an easy way to turn Leon into mincemeat. Despite Leon’s extensive training, his health can still be knocked into the red with one or two solid hits, so understanding all the possible routes on a map is important for the keep-away game. The layout of the village is quite close to the original game, so RE4 veterans should have the upper hand here. That said, without a knife and forgetting all about the shotgun (as panic makes me forget important things), I needed four attempts to successfully stand my ground against the horde and evade the Chainsaw Man by mere pixels until the bell finally rang. A sigh of relief pounded through my chest.
In just thirty minutes, the Resident Evil 4 remake already appears to capture what made the original game a classic, modernizing the HUD, menus, and graphics without ruining the core gameplay with unnecessary edits. The remake is set to release on March 24, 2023 for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, and PC via Steam.
Nick Tan posted a new article, Resident Evil 4 Remake is terrifyingly impressive so far