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These days, we're hardly immune to a decent video game remake. We've seen a few projects lately that have taken a beloved classic of yesteryear and successfully made it feel refreshing to a modern audience.
The Resident Evil series is probably the most successful example of the remake process we've seen. The original survival horror title of 1996 was given a chilling remake for Nintendo's GameCube back in 2002 and was later ported to modern consoles - and then, in 2019, Resident Evil 2 set a new bar for gaming remakes. The upcoming new version of Resident Evil 3, due on April 3rd, could make it a hat trick for Capcom.
It might be logical, then, to assume that all eyes are on 2005's Resident Evil 4, which celebrates its 15th anniversary on January 11th, for the remake treatment. But here's where the line must be drawn, and you all need to back off, because Resident Evil 4 is perfect as it is. And that's said despite appreciating that the game can look and feel dated in 2020.
Sure, it's easy to say that Resi 4 could do with a lick of next-gen paint, given how all of its ports in subsequent years simply stuck with the old GameCube textures, which don't look particularly flattering on HD screens. Resi 4 in the RE Engine, the same engine used for the remakes of Resi 2 and 3 (and for Resident Evil 7: Biohazard), is surely a no-brainer, right?
But what would a more photorealistic Resi 4 mean? In the case of 2019's Resi 2, it made zombies genuinely scary again in all their disgusting detail. Now, these shambling figures were to be feared, rather than simply skipped around or head-popped from afar. But it also meant changing the game's tone. The remake reimagined 1998's Resi 2 as more grounded and realistic than its delightfully hammy inspiration.
But while the original Resident Evil 2's atmosphere was as much down to the hardware of the time as its designers' intent, Resident Evil 4 absolutely revels in its deliberate B-movie campness.
This is the game, after all, where Leon S Kennedy's on a mission to rescue the US President's daughter. The game where characters are introduced in slow-motion acrobatics straight out of The Matrix - when they're not delivering cheesy one-liners, that is. It's so knowingly, perfectly ridiculous - only outcamped by director Shinji Mikami's next game, 2006's cult brawler God Hand - and it shouldn't be changed by the slightest iota.
The same can be said about the level design. Even compared to the standards of triple-A games today, Resident Evil 4 is totally rammed with variety. It's also unabashedly video game-y in its logic. Before you know it, you've gone from a village mob to fighting huge trolls, and then onto a huge castle filled with ridiculous booby traps. One room is spewing lava, filled with fire-breathing statues. There's even a minecart section, for crying out loud.
Then there's the Merchant, who always randomly appears to sell you weapons and even goes to the trouble of setting up a shooting gallery mini-game. How does that make any sense? Spoiler: it doesn't. But that's the point. You can't hope to 'ground' any of this, in any way, without cutting away the fun and charm that's so intrinsic to Resi 4.
Most importantly, it's hard to believe that Resi 4 would be remade without changing the controls. You might expect to be able to shoot and strafe, at the same time, in any typical third-person shooter of today - but in Resi 4, Leon's feet are rooted firmly to the spot whenever you're aiming.
It sounds totally antiquated, and it certainly felt its age by the time Resident Evil 5 came out in 2009 - but it's because of this control scheme that so many thrills and such exquisite tension is delivered, as you find yourself cornered by a mob of not-zombies, coming at you with pitchforks, morning stars, explosives and even chainsaws.
It's about standing your ground and holding your nerve against the threats you can see right in front of you. It feels so fundamental to the Resi 4 experience that to add an updated strafe option would drastically change how these encounters feel. Yet it's also hard to imagine a post-2020 game that still controls in that fashion.
Resident Evil 4 is very much a product of its time, all of its idiosyncrasies coming together to create something so unique that it can't be replicated successfully again. But it also modernised its own series, while paving the way for all other modern single-player third-person blockbusters that followed, like Uncharted and Gears of War. It basically did what game remakes set out to do: updating a classic game experience for modern audiences. The greatest disservice you can do it, today, is to make it play like every other game.
So, Capcom: if you're going to remake anything else from your back catalogue, how about you make it Dino Crisis instead?
Words: Alan Wen
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