by Dan Lenois
reviewed on PC
"Where's everyone going? Bingo?"
Capcom's series of Resident Evil remakes, released in alternating order in-between the releases of new mainline Resident Evil titles, continues to impress both new and existing fans alike, with the recent release of Resident Evil 4. While other remakes confine themselves to merely being barely distinguishable from remasters, limiting themselves to merely visually re-creating the original game, Capcom utilizes the term more literally, going out of their way to rework many, if not all, of the other core systems involved as well. This includes the game's narrative structure and plot details, gameplay mechanics, and visual aesthetic. Of course, when making such extensive changes to one of the most widely-beloved action-horror games of all time, this involves a certain degree of creative risk that may alienate at least a few veteran players.
The plot has always been one of the weakest elements in this particular installment. Resident Evil games have never been storytelling masterpieces, but most of them usually have the decency to keep the plot minimalistic to focus instead on the gameplay. Resident Evil 4 though attempts to more prominently put forth its narrative. While players can collect dozens of collectable lore notes, few of them in any way directly correlate to the main plot, and those that do don't address any of the critical questions. Collecting lore notes is a worthwhile endeavor, but as games like the original Destiny have demonstrated, lazy storytelling cannot be corrected by merely relying on collectables or third-party wikis. Such things are intended to be complementary, an addition to a strong narrative, not a replacement in lieu of one. As far as structure goes, the game's episodic chapters provide useful opportunities for the player to save after a boss fight or other crucial story progression. However, the endings for certain chapters come across as rather abrupt, as if a Capcom executive arbitrarily decided the chapter had finally exceeded its budget, as opposed to it ending naturally.
Talk about near-death experiences...
The gameplay itself leaves little for improvement. Action almost always feels tense and rewarding, with the game providing ample crafting and resupply resources throughout each section of the map, assuming the player goes at least somewhat out of their way to collect said materials. Players will excess supplies can always sell said items to the Merchant, a spectral-like figure who sets up shop at convenient checkpoints across each chapter. While the Merchant will always find a way to catch up with you, the player can always revisit previous Merchant locations while backtracking and find him more than willing, enthusiastic even, to sell you the latest in anti-monster weaponry.
Boss fights and other key large-scale set piece moments can often be highly entertaining, given their often-dumb popcorn action film vibe, but from a gameplay perspective exclusively, they tend to be rather underwhelming and excessively tedious. Bosses are almost exclusively dumb fodders of meat that often just stand around for you to slowly chip away at their health without doing much to stop or counter you. Even the most incompetent of players could probably beat most of them with their eyes closed, unless playing at the highest difficulty setting.
Quality-of-life improvements like inventory auto-sorting or cutscene skipping allow the player to entirely bypass some of the more tedious elements. There are few things more unnecessarily time-consuming than re-watching a lengthy cutscene preceding a boss fight you just lost in, or unintentionally roleplaying Tetris while sorting your inventory manually.
Got a collection of good things over here, stranger...
Capcom places a lot of emphasis on collectables here, and it might even have been justified, if the collectables included were in any particular way noteworthy. The developers even integrated a point-based progression system, where as the player progresses through the game and accomplishes certain mandatory and optional objectives, certain collectables become available to purchase via said player-earned points. However, most of these revolve around basic concept art and other such inclusions that the average person could easily find in a single Google Images search. Nothing featured here boasts that indescribable feeling of rewarding exclusivity, providing the player with something they could not possess outside of the game itself.
It's never good to find your performance lacking...
From a technical perspective, Resident Evil performed more than fine in both 1080p and 1440p at max settings when tested, with the only major issue being keyboard controls. For whatever reason, Capcom has never fully grasped how PC players utilize a keyboard. I know I'm playing a Capcom game when I'm forced to use Page Up/Down to scroll up or down the terms and conditions page, (instead of using the mouse,) followed by pressing "Spacebar", as opposed to "Enter". This will not affect players in the game itself, but menu navigation is certainly a problem worth mentioning.
Resident Evil 4 is an excellent remake that more than satisfactorily manages to pull in a new generation of players, while still managing to stay true enough to the spirit of the original game so as not to offend the sensibilities of veteran players. While far from perfect, it nevertheless scores high among the long list of prior RE titles. Whether you prefer the original or its remake, however, will largely depend on your expectations from it. Being old is not inherently a sign of quality, but neither is a new coat of paint and a reinvented story necessarily an inherent virtue either.
Impressive visuals, solid action sequences, new gameplay mechanics.
Missing content from original game, poor storytelling, combat sometimes excessively repetitive.