Played on PS5. If you do, too, use Gyro!
Something something something remake
There seems to be a general apprehension about calling this game “better” than the original by people who fancy themselves action game enthusiasts, and it’s easy to see why. Resident Evil 4 2005 is historically such an action game juggernaut, it introduced the concept of the over-the shoulder third person shooter to a huge audience and the game is unmatched in the way it matches it’s core crowd control mechanics to its setpieces. A game with a 4/5 hit rate for making 20 minute gameplay scenarios great is ludicrously high, and it’s especially impressive that the single 1/5 isn’t noteworthy because it’s bad, but because it’s still good and just doesn’t reach quite the same height.
Comparisons between the Remake and the main game are inevitable, that is just something we have to live with. So, in the interest of fairness I will admit that I played the original exactly once in my adult life, and that was directly before the Remake. As you can tell, I loved it. So where does the Remake fall?
New moves
RE4R gives you a larger toolset than the original. Where 2005 was confident in letting you interface with the world around in very basic and context-free executable verbs (“shoot”, “run”, “slash”) with a few well-considered context-sensitive verbs (“kick” after a stagger for crowd control) and a few questionably implemented context-sensitive ones (“dodge” being a QTE with potentially changing inputs, timing and positioning windows for example), the Remake expands on these verbs immensely, not only by adding more (“crouch”, “parry”) but also by letting you combine old ones. Now you can, for example, “aim” and “move” at the same time, and the added free camera control makes a whole world of difference in how you can view and assess dangers around you.
Almost none of these additional options feel tacked on or underwhelming. The crouch is a great little stealth tool and making your hitbox smaller to avoid projectiles or high melee attacks feels like you are weaving through chaos. The parry is an almost universal defense against melee attacks, yet the knife durability cost makes it a neat trade-off, and having to let enemies get close is always a risk, since many of them have unparriable grab attacks. Your knife can now get you out of sticky situations or kill strong enemies at the cost of a large chunk of durability. You now have an aiming reticle that slowly closes and increases the stagger value of your shots, a way to counteract the less restricted movement. The only additional technique I don’t quite understand is an always-available knife slash that can’t be accurately directed and is slower than the little stabs you can get from actively readying the knife. It seems comparatively sluggish and less considered than the other options.
RNG in action games
Surprisingly, the biggest change in gameplay comes neither from the moveset, not the encounter design, but from the ways RE4R adds inconsistency. Not a word many action game fans want to hear, I’m sure, and I understand why. If you play a game in the style Devil May Cry and enemy or attack behaviour is inconsistent, you invite large amounts of potential frustration, because players want to be in control of the situation, or at least, they want to feel like they could have been in control if they executed everything perfectly. Often games in action gamer circles get slammed for enemy hitstun being tied to some form of hidden meter or RNG. And I agree, I don’t want this type of stuff in a melee action game and it seems wild to me that designers would tie central gameplay that is about positioning, crowd control and interrupting enemies to some degree of randomness.
Usually randomness in action games is not something the player triggers with an attack, but “input randomness” - something that happens to the player independent of choice, enemies picking their tactics from simple random attack and movement pools and the rng itself being largely isolated from the player. Being in this weird state of semi-control over enemy hitstun (“output randomness”) and it not feeling terrible is weird.
But I enjoy it here. Why?
The answer is, maybe, more simple than I expected: Resident Evil 4 Remake is not a melee action game, and as a shooter it is relatively slowly paced. You have enough time to make plans in case your shots trigger an enemy stun state, and in a slow game like this having an alternative plan isn’t unreasonable, nor does it harm the flow of gameplay. I assume you feel like you are just reacting to stuns and stagger prompts during crowd control segments when your mind isn’t trained for mapping out two possibility spaces at once, and it seems fair to me that you would critizice it if that is the case. It is a completely different appeal than most action games have (this includes the largely deterministic original), and it’s the only time I have seen this type of stun reaction RNG and actually found it exciting, so it’s not like there were a lot of well-considered games you could extrapolate this skill set from.
But all these additional gameplay quirks would amount to nothing if the game also didn’t build itself around them. If you placed Remake Leon against enemies from the OG, he would absolutely wreck them without breaking a sweat. So what does the game do with all this?
Encounters and Side Quests
The Remake doesn’t reach the same quality of encounter variety and scenario breadth the original does and some of the adapted gameplay segments also feel less considered than the ones in the original RE4. This is, in my opinion, Resident Evil 4 Remake’s biggest flaw. As I described in the beginning, I feel hard pressed to think of a setpiece or scenario that doesn’t fit the original well to at least some degree, but the Remake has some adaptions and original ideas that don’t quite land. The game is at its weakest when it tries to be more cinematically-minded, because, as you might have surmised by now, I think the core mechanics are incredibly strong. The minecart-segment in the original was basically a horizontal elevator segment where you had to tactically switch carts to avoid enemies and find the best avenues for attack for enemies that might jump into the carts later. The minecart-segment in the Remake is a bad to mediocre shooting gallery. Which is especially baffling, considering the actual shooting gallery in the game is addicting and leans into the shooting mechanics so well - I’d be hard-pressed to think of a better shooting gallery minigame in general.
The other scenarios in the game are of varying level of quality, and especially during the village chapter everything feels fresh, the castle is a 50/50, and during the Island some of the gimmicks feel like they’re trying too hard to swarm you with enemies and bullets from all sides. That is an original thing for RE4 to do at this point, but it’s not particularly fun, because it’s so overwhelming that playing it safe can feel like the only option.
Another big point against the game are the side quests. Not the mere existence of side quests, mind oyu – I think it’s silly to be mad at a game for optional goals if the goals actually fun, even if it’s a very 【C O N T E N T】 thing to do. The problem is that many of the side quests are just inane fetch quests or “shoot the blue medallions” and interesting ones are few and far between. A shame, because the three quests with unique enemies show great promise, and I’d rather the designers have left out other side quests and just added three more of those. Hell, you wouldn’t even need unique enemies, you could just combine existing ones in interesting and more challenging ways for these quests.
And now for something completely different
Usually I wouldn’t pay the story and tone any mind in a more mechanically focused review, but the discussion surrounding the game in that regard is nothing short of puzzling. I do not feel like this game is in any meaningful capacity more serious or “down-to-earth” than the original and neither does it try to be. Leon is a corny goofball throughout the whole experience, and he has some zingers that would make me blush when saying them out loud – and I’m a Dad.
One of the only times the game tries to give more weight to things is when it’s making Ashley more of a genuine character and less of a damsel in distress who is solely there to have her physical appearance get commented on. The other is fleshing out Luis’ character as a reliable and funny partner in a segment that tries to capture an almost Indiana Jones-esque feeling with the minecart ride and the exploration of a hidden underground lair, so it’s a far cry from saying it tries to be more serious in that way. The only real exception to the whole tonal non-shift is Saddler, who is now not a sadistic snarky asshole, but plays up the whole cult leader angle seriously - but it’s so utterly campy and contrasts with how corny-cool Leon is, that it wraps around to working out again. It’s the 80s action movie trope of a bad guy who takes himself far too seriously and the John McClane type destroying his plans single-handedly with goofy one-liners.
So, back to the original question: Is RE4R better than the original? The answer is: Kind of, sometimes, [insert other noncommital phrase here]. In its best moments I get a much bigger kick out of the core mechanics and I feel like a god weaving through the battlefield making snap decisions that result in absolute carnage, because I am prepared for eventualities without constantly falling back like a German soldier in the Russian winter. In its worst moments I feel like I am going through the motions and I wish the game did more unique little segments that fit its own mechanics, not those of its original. I am thankful that it only rarely tries to cater to the “cinematic” crowd, and that is a pretty laudable thing these days for its size and budget, so I can forgive some little blunders here and there.
I am convinced that the core mechanics in RE4R are stronger than in the original and that if you kept the momentum of the village chapters up during the whole game, it would feel less like a side-grade. The way it is right now, it’s “only” as good as the original as a whole to me, and that is still a huge feat considering how brazen some of the core mechnical changes are and how astonishingly good the original still is. I’ve mentioned before that the idea of implementing enemy output randomness in action games seemed ludicrous, but it’s a feat this game managed to pull off, and I am very thankful that it managed to open my eyes to a fair implementation of the concept that encourages the player to always ride two exciting mental tracks at once. I want future (Resident Evil?) games to expand on this concept and fully realize it. It’s not as big of a gameplay revolution as the first one, but this unique implementation is as refreshing to me as a third person shooter could be these days, and it makes me eager for other examples to come along and change my perspective on concepts I might have thought were unsalvagable for action games. I hope with passing years and more exploration of this mechanical twist in RE4Make and future games, people will grow more accomodated to the thought, and maybe look back on this game as the one that turned around RNG hit reactions in slower action games into something interesting instead of aggravating, because I think this type of gameplay definitely deserves more consideration.

Reviewed on Apr 08, 2023