Resident Evil 4 | can a remake ever recapture the magic of the past? 

Resident Evil 4 remake

Resident Evil 4 Remake is the big release of the moment. But can the industry ever move forward if we’ve constantly got one foot in the past?


It’s been a long time since Leon and I last hung out like this. Between us, it’s probably been a bit too long. I try to gloss over the fact that I was briefly enamoured with several someone elses in the interim – I won’t mention Ethan or Chris’ names – and remind myself that I’ve been getting to know Jill and Claire again, too, recently. But as I fall into step beside him, Leon’s feet crunching along the leaf-littered path, I feel bad; guilty almost. It really has been way too long since I paid him a visit.  

It’ll probably come as no surprise, then, that – like many of you, I suspect – I’ve taken today off to get to know Leon again. Resident Evil 4 is the reason I still own a GameCube (well, that and the exceptional Metal Gear Solid remake, Twin Snakes), and whilst I don’t think it’s the best Resident Evil game – yes, yes, I understand you may think so, but for me, it jumped too far from the series’ original survival horror blueprint; I loved Resident Evil for its atmosphere, not its action – there’s a reason why so many hail it as one of the greatest video games of all time.

I haven’t played Resident Evil 4 Remake yet, but Carlton has, and – like most critics, it seems – they reckon it’s “near perfect”. I can’t say I’m surprised; Capcom’s approach to remakes thus far has been a dazzling example of How To Do It Right, expertly blending the franchise’s seminal features with contemporary mechanics in a way that somehow both honours the franchise’s legacy whilst simultaneously dragging it into the 21st century. No, I have no idea how the team is pulling that off, either (and I can only hope that Bloober Team – which is currently busy reimagining one of my favourite games of all time, Silent Hill 2 – is capable of such alchemy, too).

Being Officially Very Old, I remember these games from the first time around, though. The first three Resident Evil games, in particular, set the foundations of the adult I’d grow up to be. Hyperbole? Yeah. I understand why you’d think that. But it’s not, I swear. I had already fallen in love with horror thanks to a voracious appetite for Stephen King stories and the secret stash of horror films my mother hid from us under the stairs, but it wasn’t until Resident Evil came along that I fell in love with gaming

Yet despite all that – despite being a lifelong fan of all things Resident Evil (I regret to inform you that I even non-ironically enjoyed Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City) – I’m still not sure how I feel about all these remakes. I know it’s not just Capcom that’s knee-deep in its archives, looking to see what classic franchise it can reinvigorate next with current-gen tech and a modern control scheme; Final Fantasy, Metroid Prime, Demon’s Souls, The Last of Us Part I, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Shadow of the Colossus – they’ve all been given a new lease of life courtesy of either a modest remaster or a full rebuilt-from-the-ground-up remake.

Is it important for game preservation? Indisputably. Only this month, we learned that Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers was remastered as much as to avoid the gaming becoming “unplayable” as it was to share it with a new generation of gamers. Sure, moving from last-gen to current-gen systems saw a kinder and more consumer-friendly approach to upgrades and backward compatibility than we’ve ever seen before, but that shouldn’t be the reason why we remake games, surely? To preserve them? Besides; even if they share the same DNA, I’m not convinced remakes feel the same. As much as I love Resident Evil 2 Remake, it takes a soft spot alongside the original game, not in place of it. It doesn’t matter how fantastic the graphics are or how compelling the gameplay is – nostalgia is a fickle beast, after all.

That said? I didn’t think for a second that the Dead Space remake team – however dedicated; however well-intended – could take the bones of the original and do it justice. I was wrong, obviously; Motive’s reworking of that seminal horror is a bonafide masterpiece. The Last of Us Part I, too – a remake no one asked for, quite frankly – is pretty special. But can any remake have the kind of seismic impact its original counterpart had if its secrets and storylines are already carefully archived in online guides and walkthroughs? I’m still not sure about that.

Is that a bit gatekeeper-y? Sorry. It’s not that I don’t want new generations to fall in love with these incredible games as I did. But as wonderful as it is to revisit the virtual worlds that were such a big part of my childhood, I fear we’ll never move forward and make the next “best game of all time” if we’ve constantly got one foot in the past…

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