I’m sure I’ve ranted about my love for various Resident Evil games before, but I like to start my posts with a bit of personal history. From some of my earliest memories, I was a Nintendo fanboy who also loved horror. I loved my NES, the SNES was the console that made me realize how powerful my love of games was, and I was all in on the Nintendo 64. Simultaneously, I loved slasher films, haunted houses, and, of course, zombies. This made the allure of the original PlayStation console very hard to deny. As a diehard Nintendo fanboy, I’d ridiculed Sony’s entrance into the gaming market. No one could take down Nintendo, I thought. But then I started seeing all these exclusive PlayStation games in Electronic Gaming Monthly and GamePro that I just couldn’t ignore. Final Fantasy VII? Metal Gear Solid? And, yes, Resident Evil. When I finally convinced my parents to buy me a PlayStation (“the games are different! You can’t play these on Nintendo 64, I swear!”), Resident Evil: Director’s Cut was the first game I got.
Thus began my long love affair with the Resident Evil series. Though I owned and loved my PlayStation and PS2, my fanboy heart was still beating for Nintendo, and I was rooting for the GameCube to succeed. When Capcom announced a slew of games exclusive to the little purple console, including Resident Evil 4, I was ecstatic. And when Resident Evil 4 went on to be a ground-breaking game-of-the-year, my heart swelled with nerdy joy. It didn’t bother me that RE4 would go on to be a multiplatform megahit. By then I had pretty much given myself over to the multi-console mindset. Why restrict myself to one console and one set of exclusive games when I could play everything (when I could afford it)? But my love for the Resident Evil series thrived, and in recent years it’s burned even brighter, thanks to incredible remakes and new entries alike.
When the Resident Evil 4 remake was announced, I was surprised by the number of video game content creators and podcasters that legitimately seemed to question the “need” for a remake. I’m tired of remake discourse in general, I think. The “need’ argument rarely, if ever, holds water for me. Whether we’re talking about an original piece of content, a sequel, a remake, whatever, where does “need” come in? What does it mean to need a new piece of entertainment/art? That it’s somehow “vital”? I don’t love that idea. If a video game studio releases a totally new IP, how often do we hear the same people saying “ah, yes, we needed this”? Or, if it’s bad, “we didn’t need this”? It all seems caught up in a years-old distaste for existing IP that goes back decades. This is a personal blog post so I’m not going to dig up the research I’ve read that shows the “we’re running out of ideas” mentality is ancient, but I can’t help but think of it every time gamers bemoan a new remake/remaster just because they’re not interested in it. The remake of Cabin Fever, a horror movie I love, was very bad. It didn’t magically erase the original Cabin Fever movie, just as a “bad” remake of Resident Evil 4 wouldn’t change any of the previous versions of the game, just offer a new iteration for younger gamers who prefer fresher paint and added features.
Lucky for us, the remake of Resident Evil 4 isn’t bad. In fact, like the other recent remakes and mainline entries, it is pretty incredible. Capcom once again does an amazing job at balancing elements that made the original game special with new features, polish, and careful editing. To start with, the game looks great. I’ve blathered at length about how good the RE Engine is at textures, lighting, and more, and this game is another stellar example of that. The engine doesn’t do all the work, though. It’s obvious that a lot of thought and care went into designing every outfit, item, character, and environment. I’ve always loved that you can go into your menu and examine items in Resident Evil games. Not just because you must in order to solve little puzzles or find hidden objects, but it helps me appreciate the time the designers took in crafting these fully rendered, often very pretty objects that have gotten increasingly ornate over the years.
Speaking of beautiful environments, one of my favorite design upgrades in this game is the castle. The castle in the original game was fine in terms of gameplay and basic design, but Capcom has gotten so much better at crafting spaces that feel real, lived in, and are filled with little gorgeous details. As was the case with Castle Dimitrescu from Resident Evil Village, I found myself wanting to own and live in this castle. Yes, it’s filled with blood fountains and mutant insect nests and a rickety-at-best series of underground mineshafts, but that just adds some lived-in charm! Who doesn’t want a library filled with not only books but also violent, aggressive suits of armor? I rest my case. If I suddenly became a multi-billionaire, I swear to you I would buck the current trend of being a massive, maniacal asshole and I would give so much money to the fight against climate change and ending world hunger and unseating tyrannical politicians… AFTER I build an exact replica of every mansion, house, and castle from the Resident Evil series. I just happened to have some screenshots of the remaster of the original Resident Evil 4 on my PS5, so I’ll throw in a couple for comparison.
If we’re talking about glow-ups, however, we can’t pass over one of the biggest makeovers in Resident Evil history: Ms. Ashley Graham. I’m not exaggerating when I say I love the new Ashley. To be fair, I wasn’t much of a hater of the original Ashley. I didn’t love her, and her sometimes incessant shouts of “Leooooon!” were grating, but I really didn’t get the hate about her as a companion. Had people played with other AI follower characters in video games? They were notoriously terrible and legitimately dumb, so to have an AI follower that was smart enough to duck and stay out of the way of my gunfire was amazing to me at the time. The new Ashley, like the new Resident Evil 4, is smarter, prettier, and much deeper.
Okay, maybe “much deeper” is slightly hyperbolic, but I give Ashley 2.0 a lot of credit. I know some people are disappointed that she’s still a damsel, but her kidnapping and rescue is central to the RE4 story, and she’s the president’s daughter, not a rookie cop or special agent. I think Capcom was aware of the image of a flailing, desperate Ashley and made strides in making her tougher and more of a partner rather than a parcel to be carried and protected. She helps me solve puzzles, calls out danger, and even becomes a “master of unlocking” (an Easter Egg that thoroughly charmed me). When you first meet her, she swings a heavy candle holder at your head. And when you flee the church to make your way back to the village, she says “can we take a break?” When Leon says “Sorry, we have to keep moving,” Ashley doesn’t whine or play for sympathy. She simply says “okay,” and that’s the last time she comments about being tired or living through an absolute hellscape. She’s not popping zombie heads or punching boulders, okay, but she’s far braver and stronger than Ashley 1.0.
Part of Ashley’s glow-up is also a, well, glow-up. “Really, Joey? A third paragraph about Ashley? This game is called Resident Evil 4, not Ashley Graham Magical Dress-up Time.” Okay, imaginary reader who represents a small component of my writerly anxiety, but maybe it should be called that, because the new Ashley is, in my eyes, a hottie-boom-body, as the kids say. Or they did. Once upon a time. Maybe. It probably doesn’t hurt that, as with my beloved Lady Dimitrescu, Capcom used a real model for Ashley’s face. Speaking of Lady D, pairing her with Ashley is a fair representation of my broad “taste” in women, virtual or otherwise. Smart, mousey, kind, outgoing? Yes. Tall, assertive, sexy, aggressively murderous? Also yes. Capcom knew what they were doing when they dressed Ashley like Velma from Scooby Doo and gave me nerdy-but-fashionable glasses for her to wear. And have you seen the absolute deluge of Leon smut out there? The in-depth analysis of his biceps and hair? I will not apologize for my newfound Ashley obsession. Insert emoji with the scrunchy little angry face.
Okay, phew, I may have gotten a little defensive there. Let’s settle down, take a breath, and talk about grumpy, one-eyed, spider-spined monkey dudes. Well, him and the rest of the cast of villains. While the arguably silly plot remains (and what would a Resident Evil game be without it), as does a small slice of the camp from the original, the new iterations of Mendez, Krauser, Salazar, and Saddler are more menacing and (to some extent) believable. Salazar in particular maintains his stature and vamping but feels a lot more realistic and at-home in this new world. It feels like some kind of small (eh? see what I did there?) miracle that Capcom managed to keep Resident Evil 4’s silliness but somehow make a slightly more grounded, believable reality. Yes, you’re unrealistically dodging massive chunks of rock on a jet ski and fighting gigantic, twisted tangles of flesh and eyeballs, but all the Resident Evil remakes feel interconnected and adequately less cheesy to me, and I have to think it’s in large part due to their refined villains.
Leon and Luis are also slightly toned down in terms of their quips, but I appreciate their slightly antagonistic bromance in the remake. Luis’s role hasn’t expanded all that much, but I feel like small tweaks to his backstory (like the photo of him on a certain research team) and dialog about him (between Leon and Ashley after his death) make him feel more vital to the story. Leon maintains his golden retriever aloofness, particularly when it comes to Ashley’s subtle advances. I was so tickled when they started flirting in Chapter 9, when Ashley asks him if he does a lot of missions like this and he responds with the classic “well, yeah… but I’m not used to having such good company.” And, later, when Leon balks at Ashley’s suggestion that he wear a suit of armor, she says “too bad. I think you’d look pretty dashing.” Come on, man. Chemistry for days between these two! Except Leon later just has to drop the ball when Ashley suggests she could pull some strings and get him assigned to her security detail. Leon. My man. Get it together.
I should wrap things up, but I’ll rapid-fire some other things I loved. The controls, as with the recent third person RE games, are tight and responsive. The egg bit (using eggs as weapons against bosses) is a cute, silly Easter… well, you know. I am so happy they kept the Merchant mostly the same but expanded his lines. He is so sassy in this. The way he says, “See anything you like, Strange-uh?” gets me every time. The shooting gallery is seriously well-done. The unique design, sounds, commentary, gameplay… all great. I love the inclusion of classic character models for the briefcase charms (though why not let us use them in-game, like the Resident Evil 2 remake did?). Sound design is immaculate. All of my heart to the return of the white wolf.
I’m sure I’m forgetting things, but the last thing I’ll say is that I love the costumes and wish there were more of them. With them, I was able to take one of my favorite screenshots of all time. Look at these two. It looks like an old-timey Hollywood paparazzi photo where a famous celebrity couple are caught coming out of a diner. Leon coolly looking away, Ashley stunned by the crowd of flashbulbs. I love it.
And I love Resident Evil 4. Capcom has blown me away with how frequently they’re releasing just killer Resident Evil games. A bounty of riches. Having one team work on new entries and another work on remakes is genius, and it feels like a new RE game is always just around the corner. If the pattern holds, we should hear about Resident Evil 9 next, along with maybe a tease for the next remake? I can’t wait.