Resident Evil 4 remake is the second horror video game that hit my review roster within the space of two months. For someone who has always steered clear of the genre because of being very easily scared — even of the most ridiculous horror movies, this was a steep order to climb. Yet, I was looking forward to this one, for this was also the second successive new-gen remake of a cult-classic video game that I got my hands on.
First, a bit of recap — Resident Evil 4 is lauded by the entire multi-billion dollar video game industry for changing the way the entire genre was perceived. Japanese game director Shinji Mikami, the creator of the game and one of the most prominent figures in the global gaming industry, shook things up by throwing out jump scares in favour of a more nuanced, story-driven approach. It also introduced to horror the over-the-shoulder camera angle for the very first time, and gave a story and shooting dynamics that completely overhauled what anyone ever expected from video games.
Today, its publishing house, Capcom, has sold over 11 million copies of the original Resident Evil 4, making it one of the top five most popular horror video games to have ever sold globally. This figure has now been augmented by Resident Evil 4 remake, which was released on March 24 — according to Capcom’s official figures, the RE4 Remake has already sold 4 million copies worldwide in the first two weeks of sale.
Interestingly, once you settle into the game, these tall numbers take a back seat, and you understand why Resident Evil 4 holds such a special place for anyone who has ever played a video game.
An enduring storyline, now made even better
Inside the game, you don the role of Leon Kennedy, a United States government agent who has been sent to a remote, dark forest in the corner of Spain to rescue the daughter of the President of the United States. Within the first five minutes, you’ve seen your first death, faced the first mass attack from mutated humans, and figured that the President’s daughter is being held somewhere deep within this menacing environment.
What follows is a storyline of whom you can trust, how and why these people have mutated, and where truly the horror lies. It is here, right at the onset, that you realise that you cannot outrun or outgun fear — what you need is something far greater than just bravado to survive. It isn’t quite akin to The Last of Us, but for what it’s worth, is every bit as heart wrenching as it is frightening.
Without giving away too many spoilers, the storyline follows Kennedy’s tryst to rescue Ashley Graham, the daughter. In due course, Kennedy learns about how his ex-mentor, iconic Resident Evil character Jack Krauser, is now with a dark cult named Los Illuminados. He also finds the causing factor behind the mutating humans, a parasite called ‘Las Plagas’. The latter, as the game reveals, can give abilities that range from mind control to superhuman strength, and most importantly, an all-pervasive grudge against all of humankind. It also brings back the iconic Resident Evil character, Ada Wong, who ranks among the top femme fatale sex symbols from the video game world.
The thematic undertones of Resident Evil 4 Remake, heightened by the hyper-realistic graphics abilities of the latest generation gaming hardware (I played it on a Microsoft Xbox Series S), somehow make much of the game even more relevant in today’s socio-geopolitical environment. From dissent against power, the might and desires of corporates in controlling world functions, to a political faction rising out of dissent and turn branching into ideologies that qualify as conventionallyevil — RE4 feels like a damp, alarmist news ticker that reminds you of how our world truly is one cataclysmic event away from bioweaponry.
The ‘remake’ bit heightens every emotion
All of these thematic undertones are brought to life by the remake, which makes it a resounding success. Even without jump scares, RE4 succeeds in using minute movements of light flickers, character shadows and even Leon’s bouncing hair to heighten the taut, tense environment.
New-generation ray tracing graphics ensure that combat sequences look hyper-realistic physically, and when you’re in one of the main fights within the game — such as when you eventually face Krauser — the mechanics of the game’s weapon access and firing system make it so much more fun to play.
The one aspect that I really liked is how RE4 actually wants you to succeed, as you expand your weapons arsenal. The in-game mechanics focus on healthy combat sequences, and not ones where you feel entirely doomed to fail. This is one big win for the Remake, even more so given that I do not naturally take to horror games. The easy ability to map weapon switches, combined with improved character abilities make it a fun and rather engaging game to play from a combat standpoint. You can also use your co-character Graham to carry out menial side-tasks within a mission, which makes the story flow within the game feel more natural.
Your constant communication flow with Ingrid Hunnigan, a passive in-game character who guides you through your solo mission, now appears in the form of a holographic augmented reality video feed — which is fitting of a graphical overhaul. There have also been clear dressing and demeanour overhauls in the game’s two main female characters — Graham and Wong. While many users have apparently called these changes ‘woke’, they do not particularly take anything away from the story flow. Capcom has taken a shot at reprising Wong’s role as a femme fatale anti-hero without excessively sexualising her, while maintaining her enigma and unpredictability.
Overall, much like the Dead Space remake that hit the stores earlier this year, the Resident Evil 4 Remake is every bit a resounding success with its added tinkering with lighting scenarios, combat mechanisms, and character touch-ups. If I were to nitpick, I didn’t quite find too many ‘stunning’ in-game visuals that have become a regular presence in video games on latest gaming console hardware, and Resident Evil 4 surely had plenty of scope to create such visual experiences that heighten gameplay tensions even further.
The subtle art of reinstating a legend
It is a common saying that the most difficult task is to outperform a standard that one sets for themselves, and the same definitely applies for every ‘remake’ of every iconic video game from two (or at times, three) decades ago. Yet, Resident Evil 4 only seems to have gotten exponentially better.
At the crux of its gaming experience is the storyline that keeps making you feel that this could very well happen in reality one day, and that is perhaps its biggest horror-driven victory. You get this along with dramatically improved visuals that heighten your heart beat, and great in-game mechanics that also make RE4 Remake one of the best shooting games to play.
The developers, to sum up, aced the very subtle art of reinstating a legend up to modern standards. So much so, that despite hating the horror genre, I’ve now delved obsessively headfirst into the complete storyline, folklore, trivia and easter eggs of theentire, vast Resident Evil universe.
A copy of the video game was sent to Mint for review.