The RE4 Remake has been out for about two weeks as I write this. I’ve had the time to play it through three times—twice on Standard and once on Professional with the Infinite Rocket Launcher in order to unlock some goodies (on the other side, I played the original RE4 around a half-dozen times near its release in 2005, and about once every one or two years ever since).
And so now seems like a good time to do a debrief/comparison of the original 2005 RE4 (hereafter “the OG”) and the new 2023 RE4 (hereafter “the Remake”).
This blog seems almost impossible to organize well, given that there are not only a bunch of individual elements I want to discuss, but that those elements interact in such important ways: I might like the design of an individual gameplay element on its own, but dislike how it affects the combined gameplay loop, or vice-versa. C’est la vie.
But because it will probably be easiest to digest, I’ve opted to go mostly with a simple listing of elements (with ensuing discussion for each) divided into categories: things I liked better in the Remake, things I liked better in the OG, and other “neutral” significant changes which I’m either ambivalent about, or whose implications are too multi-faceted for me to easily sort into simple “good” or “bad” buckets. After getting through all the individual changes, I’ll end with some concluding thoughts.
I’ll be going into excruciating detail about the mechanics, but this should be pretty light on spoilers. I’m not really interested in the story, graphics, specific encounters, etc., as I am in the general gameplay.
Improvements in the Remake
Weapons need not always be well-balanced in a single-player game—there is a certain charm in progressing to clearly superior weapons partway through. That said, and especially given the sell-back economy of the original (see next section), in this instance I prefer having weapon options that offer genuinely different playstyles, as opposed to the OG’s clearly defined “winners” in each category.
In the OG, if you ended up with anything besides the Red9, the Striker, and the Semi-Auto Rifle—and probably the Broken Butterfly over the Killer7—you were definitely an outlier. The biggest “real” choice was probably whether to opt in to the TMP or ignore it completely; ignoring it would save on upgrade costs and free up attache case space.
In the Remake, there are interesting trade-offs to be had in pretty much every weapon category.
A lot of this has been achieved through a more complex system of aiming your weapons. The OG employed a laser sight for all guns except the rifles, with precision varying only in the amount that Leon’s hands shook. In the Remake, your aiming reticle dynamically changes depending on whether Leon is moving, and whether he’s actively shifting his aim. Standing still long enough, and aiming at the same place long enough, will lead to more precise shots.
So, for the pistols, the Red9 and Blacktail have so far still tended to be considered the best, ending at power ratings of 4.05 and 3.6, respectively—but even then, the Blacktail maintains better aim while moving and takes up less inventory space, while (with its stock) the Red9’s aim will recover more quickly when standing still and has a slight edge in power. Meanwhile, though, three of the other pistol options only have about half the power of these two, but can be fitted with a laser sight in the style of the OG that makes them perfectly accurate—a not inconsiderable advantage. The Punisher can also penetrate multiple enemies, while the default pistol and the Sentinel Nine get better crit chance.
Shotguns have arguably been even further differentiated than pistols by their precision rating. The early favorite shotgun in the Remake appears to be the Riot Gun, which has almost no spread and hence excels at targeting specific elite enemies, but is useless at knocking down groups. The Striker still offers the widest spread and hence the best ability for crowd control—along with its ridiculously huge drum magazine (48 shells) to save inventory space, since it obviates the need to actually carry any extra shells around—while the Skull Shaker has a tiny inventory footprint of only five spaces (compared to the Striker’s ten and the Riot Gun’s sixteen).
It should also be noted that the Remake allows for full upgrading of weapons much earlier than the OG ever did, including the “exclusive” upgrades, which further adds to the viability of certain weapons for fresh runs. E.g., in the OG the (bolt-action) Rifle’s exclusive upgrade changed its power from 12 to 30, easily eclipsing the Semi-Auto Rifle’s 15. But since this could only be done very late in the game, the Rifle ended up being a clearly inferior option.
In the Remake, any upgrades you make to a weapon (barring the exclusive upgrade) increase its sale price to the merchant by 95% of the upgrade cost. In the OG, upgrades only increased the sell price of guns by 50% of their cost. In short, the merchant was a lot stingier in the OG.
I never much liked this aspect of the OG. Among other things, in a typical play I wouldn’t buy the Rifle at all and would instead wait until the Semi-Auto Rifle was available, and (most egregiously) would not upgrade my shotgun until I was able to buy the Striker, just before fighting Verdugo—all because I didn’t want to burn money on upgrades for guns that I knew I wasn’t keeping.
It’s undeniably nice in the Remake to not have to worry that you’re flushing money down the toilet by upgrading your weapons of the moment.
Both games share three plagas types: Guadaña (bladed tentacles), Mandíbula (big mouth), and Araña (spiders, undoubtedly inspired by the Alien films).
In the OG, they simply weren’t all that different. The tentacle types swung at you, the latter two types could both spit acid, and the spiders would detach upon the host’s death to continue attacking you—though these spiders by themselves simply weren’t all that threatening.
In the Remake, the differences are way more noticeable. The tentacle types are pretty much the same, and the mouth type still spits acid—but you also need to aim for its open mouth for it to be considered a weak point. Most notably, the spider types have been completely re-designed. Now instead of randomly bursting from ganados’ heads, they attach themselves to ganados’ backs, turning them ultra-aggressive and more resistant to stuns—and you’re incentivized to kill them quickly lest they keep chaining to a new host every time you down one. I appreciate the new dynamic, since the OG’s plagas types never felt different enough to justify their existence.
It's more or less indisputable that the OG never had a NG+ that was worth a damn. Carrying forward your upgraded weapons always sounded like a good time theoretically, but in practice enemy health had been balanced to account for your upgraded damage output throughout the game, so that going through the game again led to laughably easy encounters, including killing village ganados with a single Red9 bullet. Capcom apparently never thought of adjusting early-game enemy health to account for the player’s newly overpowered equipment, and it led to new cycles being mostly a bore. (Frankly, I’m surprised that no one has ever created a mod that addresses this problem.)
The Remake still doesn’t adjust early-game enemy health to account for more powerful guns, but on the other hand, (1) fully upgraded weapons don’t feel as powerful in the Remake as they did in the OG, and (2) new cycles can be started on a higher difficulty setting, which is something that the original didn’t allow. So a player can start on Standard and then move to either Hardcore or Professional with all their equipment and items, allowing for a more appropriately balanced experience on a second cycle.
There are also enough weapons to buy and upgrade that completionist players will have a reason to play through the game multiple times, just to earn enough money to max them all. Worth noting that this is likewise only possible because the Remake allows the storing of unused weapons, whereas the original had no “item box” to keep unused equipment.
Ashley no longer needs healing
One could argue that Ashley having a health bar that needed to be replenished added to the stakes and tension, but the reality is that it was never fun to have to spend healing items on her—and particularly those yellow herbs. I'm good with health-bar-less Ashley.
No more disappearing drops
In the OG, any money, ammo, or health that was dropped by enemies would only remain on the ground for about a minute, at which point it would start flashing and soon disappear. In the Remake, all items dropped by enemies remain indefinitely, and even get added to your map. It's a nice quality-of-life feature—I really don't miss dropped items disappearing.
Things the OG did better
Consistency of staggers
If the Remake has a cardinal sin, to me it is undoubtedly its inconsistency when it comes to staggering enemies with headshots or foot/leg shots.
In the OG, a shot to the head or shin of a ganado would always put them in a melee-able state. In the Remake, a shot to the head will sometimes produce no noticeable reaction. Defenders of the Remake might argue that this randomness adds more challenge and realism, but these are not arguments that go very far with me. If I wanted realism in my games, my avatars would need to periodically use the restroom! In this instance I want consistency, so that I know that when I perform an action, I get a predictable result.
This stings all the more considering how core the headshot --> melee --> knife-them-while-they’re-down combo was in the OG... and still is in the Remake, for the most part, though the knife’s role in this loop has changed. But it definitely feels terrible when you just barely manage to get a headshot to a ganado just before he’s about to hit you... and then he powers through it and hits you anyway. Nothing about that feels good.
Leon’s movement/reload animations
The OG definitely didn’t have “realistic” movement. Leon could either walk or run, but either way there wasn’t any appreciable animation start-up time; he was either moving full-speed or he wasn’t. As such, it felt quite “snappy.” The Remake’s movement, by comparison, feels sluggish. It takes Leon quite a while to accelerate into a run, and the run button can feel unresponsive. @cikame compared this to Geralt’s movement from Witcher 3, and while I would contend that it ain’t quite that bad, the comparison is apt: specifically, the devs for the remake have abandoned movement that looks stiff but feels good for movement that looks good but feels unresponsive.
This is particularly noticeable given the continued importance of staggering ganados to set them up for melee attacks, because you want to quickly run forward to close the gap and do the kick animation. Further, this sluggishness and the aforementioned inconsistency with staggers end up feeding into each other: the slower movement leads you to want to accelerate toward your enemy as soon as a shot lands, which can lead to you beginning to run before being sure that your target is actually staggered, and contrary-wise, stopping to check whether an enemy is really staggered can lose you the extra second you need to successfully close the gap.
Similar to the lack of responsiveness of the run is a lack of responsiveness in reload animations. In the OG, Leon always had his equipped weapon held up and ready. In the Remake, he’ll sometimes put his weapons away, and/or randomly pull out his equipped weapon and seem to check it. The thing is, if you hit the reload button when a weapon is away, or when Leon is in one of his “checking” animations, it will often seem to lead to him just fully readying the gun without actually reloading it, meaning I find myself jamming on the reload button until it actually reloads, rather than just tapping it once. By comparison with the movement, this feels like a minor problem, but it’s more responsiveness lost to added cosmetic animations.
In the OG, you could either tell Ashley to “follow,” or “wait,” both of which were pretty self-explanatory: she was either following very close behind you, or she remained exactly in the spot you left her.
In the Remake, there are still two commands for Ashley, but both of them have her following you. They’re “Tight” and “Loose.” In theory, “loose” seems to be the one that will keep Ashley further back behind you, away from danger. In practice, it seems to just make her movement more unpredictable, as she will still often end up near or in front of me, especially if I begin moving backwards. Overall, it feels like you have much less control of Ashley than you did in the OG. Couldn’t they have added “wait” as a third command, by, say, holding the “command” button?
Defenders of the Remake will want to point out that Ashley also doesn’t need healing items anymore (noted above), which is true enough. But I would argue that if she was as good a follower with the better control of the OG, such a concession wouldn’t have been necessary. For all that everyone and their mother professes to hate escort missions in games, Ashley in the OG always felt like one of the least burdensome followers in the history of video games. The new one feels like she gets into more trouble that’s beyond your control because you can no longer place her exactly where you want her, and because even in "tight" formation, she can end up lagging behind you more than she ever would in the OG.
Weapon role differentiation
This one is pretty subjective (I mean, most of this blog is, but this part especially so), but for me the OG’s weapon categories had very defined roles, which I liked, because I always knew which weapon I should be using for any given situation. In the Remake, however, there are some weapons that have been tweaked in functionality so that I’m not sure what they’re really for anymore, and/or I simply dislike the adjustment that’s been made. Admittedly some of this is counterbalanced by the fact that the Remake includes additional weapons with some special properties that offer alternative playstyles (see "Weapon balance," above), but not completely.
To quickly recap the OG: (1) Handguns were for headshots to set up melee staggers, (2) shotguns were for knocking down groups, (3) rifles were for long-range damage, (4) magnums were for pure DPS (usually for bosses), and (5) the TMP was the “designated” jack-of-all-trades gun, able to fill all these roles to a degree, but arguably unable to do any of them as well as its counterparts.
(There was also the Mine Thrower, but did anyone really use the Mine Thrower?)
I have two main beefs with the Remake: shotguns and rifles. But especially the shotguns.
I already mentioned above that the early fan favorite shotgun seems to be the Riot Gun, which effectively highlights the shotgun’s identity crisis, since it used to be all about knocking down groups, and here’s a shotgun with basically no spread, meant to pour damage into a single enemy. It basically ends up being a poor man’s magnum.
But I can’t really blame the community for preferring the Riot Gun this time around, since shotguns in the Remake have lost an important property from the OG: they used to shoot right through enemies and easily knock down whole groups. Now, even using the shotgun with the widest spread—the Striker—you’ll at best only knock down enemies directly in its line of site; if there are enemies behind the ones you’re shooting, even if they’re closely bunched, they won’t be affected. Add to this that there are more elites this time around who won’t be knocked down by a shotgun blast, like the chainsaw maniac (Dr. Salvador). All this means that using the wider-spread shotguns feels like a fool’s errand since they can’t even CC properly; better to just pour on the damage in a specific area, and hence the popularity of the Riot Gun.
In the OG, every shotgun shell represented a powerful ability to clear the space in front of you and give you some breathing room. In this game, if that’s what you’re looking for, then you’re going to need explosives, usually grenades. The shotgun seems to have lost most of its raison d'être and is now reserved for simply pouring damage into elites or popping close-range plagas heads.
Meanwhile, the rifles. In the Remake they do 3x damage on critical areas—or, more accurately, they do one-third of the damage they should do in non-critical areas—and so for all but the exclusive-upgraded bolt-action rifle, a shot to a non-critical area of an enemy will only do about as much damage as a Red9 bullet. So essentially you need to be hitting headshots with rifles, or you’re wasting your ammo.
While this is an effort at making the rifles’ role more defined... I’m just not a big fan of how they did it. The enemies are so much faster to rush you in this game anyway that the rifles become difficult to use except at quite long ranges, so I don’t think it would have hurt anything to allow them to do better damage everywhere, regardless of whether you land a head-shot or not. I also just don’t like the weird arbitrariness of it, or that critical areas aren’t always well-communicated (Mendez comes to mind, as do the mouth-type plagas), which can lead to you unknowingly wasting ammo.
The one bit of weapon role differentiation I like in the Remake is the already-mentioned changes in aiming/accuracy (see above under “Weapon balance”). E.g., in the original the TMP could be as accurate for headshots as the pistol, but now the spread is crap enough that it’s found its niche as a mid-range body-shot gun, rather than just an automatic-firing pistol replacement with lower damage and a bigger clip.
The OG famously featured a dynamically adjusting difficulty for both Easy and Normal modes, which shouldn’t be underestimated when talking about its mainstream success. This dynamic difficulty seems to have been tuned just right, so that basically everyone playing it felt like it was the right amount of difficulty for them. Meanwhile, playing on Professional difficulty essentially just turned all the dials from Normal up to their peak levels, keeping the challenge static no matter how well or poorly a player was performing.
The Remake, by contrast, appears to have jettisoned the whole dynamic difficulty mechanic. Instead, it has settled for four static difficulty settings, and on balance they’re harder than the OG was.
I would hold that new players benefit hugely from the OG’s perfectly tuned invisible dynamic settings for a first play; it was part of the OG’s magic. But for someone like me who has played the OG somewhere between a dozen and two dozen times—and always played on Professional when available—that dynamic difficulty is a lot less interesting for repeat plays.
Shooting Range expansion/Charm system
The shooting range in the OG was kind of a throw-away thing. It was quite easy to get the maximum scores needed for the rewards—which were some cosmetic “bottle caps” and cash. In the Remake, the shooting range is more elaborate and is your primary source of gold and silver tokens, which can be used to acquire charms—which grant various positive effects when attached to your attache case (you can have up to three equipped at once, and they can only be switched out at typewriters). Anyway, the shooting range was fine to do once, but I don’t love the need to keep repeating it on subsequent plays; it ain’t that fun.
I have decidedly mixed feelings about charms, both in how you get them and how they function.
Let’s start with acquisition. You acquire charms by putting three tokens into what resembles a gumball machine in the shooting gallery. It spits out a random charm, one of about thirty in the game. But when I say “random,” I mean “based on a seed number,” which I kind of hate. Those who have been playing Monster Hunter since Tri and know what “charm tables” are in that game know what I’m talking about, and that Capcom for some reason loves pulling this crap.
Basically, you get to choose any combination of three gold or silver tokens to put in the machine, meaning there are exactly four combinations: all silver, all gold, one silver-two gold, or two-silver one-gold. Together these constitute four separate “tracks” predetermined by a seed number that’s generated when you start your run. It means that if you put in three gold tokens five times in a row and get charms A, B, C, D, E, then reloading the game and trying again will always give you the exact same results... at least until you switch difficulties and get a new seed. As a result, I’ve played through the game through three cycles on one file, and I still haven’t acquired all charms, even after saving, reloading, and checking the results of all four “tracks” (I have a spreadsheet with the results on it!). Nor is there any way to guarantee yourself an important one on a fresh file.
It would have been nice—if Capcom is going to be so insistent about employing this type of randomness in their games—if they had also created a system that allowed you to trade duplicate charms for others that you don’t already have. That would have at least guaranteed that you could be working toward something worthwhile, rather than be stuck with a crappy seed that’s not giving you anything you want. God forbid you’re not doing what I’m doing and gaming the system as much as possible, or you’d really never get anything good.
Beyond acquisition, actually using some of the charms feels needlessly fiddly, for a number of reasons.
The chief one is that a majority of charms are used either to craft greater amounts of ammo or grant you cheaper prices at the merchant (or better sale prices to the merchant). Frankly, I don’t see why they make you go through the rigamarole of equipping and unequipping these things at all. The merchant by definition is always next to a typewriter, and so you always have the ability to switch charms out before interacting with him. So why do I need to actually switch my charm to the one that makes ammo sell for 40% more? Can’t he just see that I have it? This type of switching has more than once led me to accidentally heading off and not realizing until later that I had forgotten to switch my active charms back on (like increased movement speed, higher melee crit chance, 50% more healing from green herbs).
I also wish that all the ammo crafting charms simply gave you small, guaranteed increases to crafted ammo, rather than being a percentage-based chance to give you good-sized amount. The latter, rather than make me grateful when I get the bonus, just leaves me feeling screwed when I don’t. It can also be gamed by simply saving before you do it, and reloading until you get the result you want. Rather than that, why not change these things to a smaller, set increase?
I wrote a whole blog pre-release about how much I objected to knife durability on principle, given how core the knife was to the OG’s high-level combat loop. After playing the Remake a fair bit, all of the knife changes are too complex to write off as simply bad; it’s just very different. You can parry with it, you can instant finish with it, you can stealth kill, you can craft bolts with disposable knives, none of which were things in the OG.
I mentioned above, in the section "Consistency of staggers," that the knife's role in the combat loop has fundamentally changed. In the OG, it was headshot --> melee --> slash-at-them-while-they’re-down... that last step being a thing largely because the knife wasn't a finite resource like your guns' ammo. It didn't cost anything, and RE4 is nothing if not a game about trying to conserve your ammunition.
But in the Remake, there's no longer any "free lunch" to be had: using the knife costs durability that will need to be repaired. In general, it seems like that durability is best spent on doing instant kill animations—stealth kills or stopping plagas heads from popping when a ganado starts writhing on the ground—or parrying/escaping from grabs. Randomly slashing with it is pretty much the least useful thing your knife does in the Remake. And the knife's changed function(s) has implications all the way up and down the combat loop. In truth, ganados are so much faster and more aggressive in this game that even with an infinite durability knife, it's hard to do follow-up slashes on downed opponents in the same way as the OG without getting constantly grabbed by other enemies rushing toward you.
Anyway, it would be fair to say that I still find knives as a disposable resource kind of annoying, and the idea of carrying around three different kitchen knives a little ridiculous. I also mostly avoided using my primary knife on my first play because I objected to the idea of spending money to repair it—probably more of a “me” problem there, but that’s how I felt, I wanted the maximum amount of money going toward upgrades. Now that I have the infinite-durability knife available, I’ve more or less opted out of the mechanic, and don’t feel the least bit bad about it.
I do wish that the instant-finishers when a ganado is writhing on the ground, about to pop a plagas head, were a little more generous with the area of the prompt. If you’re not standing in the right place and looking at them at the right angle, you’ll end up just swiping down at them. I’ve missed a lot of finishers over my three plays due to that—it can be harder to manage than you’d think with the aforementioned sluggish movement and overall faster and more aggressive enemies surrounding you.
Parrying is of course entirely new, and very powerful. Arguably it was needed as a way to balance a game that’s faster-paced in general and that has otherwise decreased Leon’s ability to manage groups (see the discussion of the shotgun above, under "Weapon role differentiation"). It’s not a cure-all, since some attacks need to be dodged rather than countered, and it does use some durability. But it’s rather easy to do on all difficulty settings except the highest, which has much tighter parry timing (I never really got that timing down, but admittedly I didn’t get much practice since I was running through it with the Infinite Rocket Launcher). I guess I don’t mind it as a new way to fend off enemies, and to add depth and a new skill dimension to the gameplay... but I’d trade it away in a second if I could have the OG’s shotguns back.
I’d said in an earlier thread that I liked the idea of ammo crafting in principle. In practice, I’m a little more middling about it. I don’t love that it takes two elements—resources and gunpowder—and that you almost by definition will always have more of one than you have of the other. Further, these crafting elements together take up more space than the ammo they produce, which if you’re hoarding them becomes awkward... a thing you might want to do particularly if you’re looking to first get charms to take better advantage of the system. So, yeah, more flexible, sure, but there’s a part of me that wishes they’d just stuck to plain ammo drops just to make it all less fiddly.
So, uh, there’s stealth in the Remake. I suppose. In reality there are only two or three sections in the whole game where stealth seems to matter much, since without it you get alarms and a bigger crowd scene than you’d have otherwise. But RE4 was always an action game primarily, and I can’t say that the stealth actually feels that good, particularly since Leon’s crouch walk feels very slow. It’s pretty half-assed and I’d really rather just shoot things anyway. At least I can mostly ignore it.
Ganados vs other/elite balance
It’s pretty undeniable that the Remake’s ganados—which are most of the enemies you fight—are much more difficult and capable opponents than they ever were in the OG. They’re faster, more aggressive, and move more unpredictably. It’s way easier for them to overwhelm you, not to mention that it’s also way easier to miss those all-important headshots as they barrel towards you.
What surprised me a little bit about the Remake is that a lot of the non-ganado enemies actually seemed easier than they were in the OG. The dogs, for instance, can now be handled by a few shots with Red9 or Blacktail bullets (at least until they pop a plagas), and the same for the flying insects, whereas before pistol bullets wouldn’t even faze either one, and you’d usually want a shotgun. The main exception as far as elites being generally easier—or at least not much harder—is the regeneradors (see below).
But it’s worth noting that—largely due to the difficulty of the ganados, your most frequent opponents—the Remake is simply harder than the OG, even on Standard difficulty. And while I’m generally a fan of hard games—the Souls and Monster Hunter games are some of my all-time favorites—harder isn’t always better. The line between a game being engagingly challenging versus feeling like a bit of a slog can be a thin one, and there was a definite appeal to the OG's slower, more predictable ganados.
Boy are these things harder now. The main thing about them in the OG was that they never came at you any more quickly than a slow walk. Now they can run about as fast as Leon can, and sometimes will slide to the ground and slither toward you, making their parasites almost impossible to hit. I mean, they’re definitely way more terrifying, but arguably just annoyingly so, especially since the hitboxes on those parasites feel even less generous than before on top of the increased movement speed of their hosts.
The Remake has added a whole “request” system to earn spinels, which are now a currency used to trade for some things that can’t be bought with money. I don’t mind it as a concept, but in execution it leaves something to be desired. The (three?) “strong threat” missions are interesting challenges against tough opponents, but the others all consist of killing rats, or shooting medallions, or selling collectibles, which all feel like useless videogame busywork.
Oh, wow, you’re still here. Good on you for reading about 5,000 words of excruciatingly specific RE4 gameplay analysis. Hopefully you actually got something worthwhile out of it, even if only to help clarify your own opinions.
A lot of the discourse surrounding the game leading up to the release concerned whether a remake was really necessary. Spoiler: it wasn’t. It’s undeniable that not only was this Remake much less of a departure from the original than the other RE remakes have been, but that the OG RE4 remains a compelling game experience even eighteen years later, as evidenced by its re-release on practically every platform in existence, even recently in VR! It didn’t need a remake. But Capcom was pretty sure that it would make a lot of money, and it sure seems to be doing that.
I can’t say that I’m hugely surprised to see what appears to be a majority of people saying that the Remake is superior to the original, or even that there’s now no reason to play the OG aside from “historical value.” I very much disagree, but I’m not surprised. For those who have enough distance from the original, or who dip into it for only a few minutes for quick comparison purposes and notice the tank controls and clearly inferior technical graphics, etc., the OG might seem fairly easy to write off. The truth is that the Remake and the OG are very different experiences, despite all the surface-level similarities—which is hopefully something that’s come across in this blog. That difference is a good thing, since we really didn’t need a carbon copy of the OG RE4... we’ve already got the fan HD remaster for that.
But the question that keeps coming to my mind in thinking about these two games is this: the original RE4 was released eighteen years ago, and I—and a fair number of other RE4 devotees—am still playing it today (hell, I played it through yet again in preparation for the Remake just a month or so ago). Will the Remake still be played to any appreciable degree in eighteen years?
In a sense, this is a ridiculously unfair question for the Remake, because while I have difficulty imagining that it will still be receiving any appreciable attention two decades from now in the same way that the OG has, this actually has little to do with the Remake’s merits. The problem is that the OG had a huge impact and influence on the gaming world, spawning such third-person action games as Gears of War and Dead Space, and influencing countless others.
By comparison, the Remake does nothing drastically new, and it was never supposed to. It’s a very polished big-budget video game that has reviewed and sold very well, and will probably also do well come this year’s awards season... and then I suspect we shall all move on to the next thing, because ultimately this is another one of those. We’ve seen this before, and not just because it’s a remake, but because it exists in the wake of eighteen years of the original’s influence... not to mention that Capcom is likely to continue to make more like it.
All of this means that the OG will almost certainly end up being more enduring, and it’s self-evidently more “important” in the history of video games than the Remake will ever be... but that doesn’t actually help us decide which one is a more compelling gameplay experience.
Maybe I just have Stockholm syndrome. There are rose-tinted glasses, and then there are rose-tinted glasses. There are the kind that you peer through to a fond experience from eighteen years ago, and they make the heart grow fonder, or at least dull the memory of the imperfections. And then there are the kind that you peer through to an experience that you’ve never stopped having, so that you know every peak and valley like the back of your hand, until they’ve all become old and dear friends.
I am wearing the latter pair of glasses. They’re fused to my face and I can’t take them off. I’ve never really stopped playing RE4 since it first came out, and as a result, it’s impossible for me to be all that objective about it—though true objectivity when it comes to the experience of an entertainment product is, of course, sheer illusion. Nonetheless, the fact that RE4 is one of only three games to which I continue to return with some frequency after two decades says something.
I continue to believe, fully cognizant of my bias, that the original has a magic that the Remake didn’t quite manage to replicate, great as it may be in itself. Part of that is the context, as described above, but not all. The original was a once-in-a-generation type of game whose gameplay was almost unfathomably well-tuned, some of the pieces imperfect on their own, but combining to create a near-perfect whole. Given its troubled development history, and that even Shinji Mikami hasn't been able to replicate it since, I chalk a lot of that up to a very happy accident.
The thing I will always remember about first playing RE4 is that I bought it at release despite not even owning a Gamecube. I was in college at the time and living in the dorms. I knew a guy who had a Gamecube and would be gone for the weekend. And so that first day, I sat down to play, with a few other guys just sitting there watching. I ended up playing for eleven straight hours without stopping to eat... and my audience seemed almost as enraptured as I was. At the time, there truly was nothing else like it. It was the video game equivalent of seeing God.
I’ve only had a handful of experiences with games that were that intense, and in every instance I can think of, it was an experience of something genuinely new that inspired genuine awe—like the first time my cousin showed my brother and I his new Playstation, or the first time I played Demon’s Souls. In that sense, I knew right from the word “go” that the RE4 Remake could never give me that same feeling that the original gave me, and that I still see echoes of through those rose-tinted glasses of mine.
The Remake never really stood a chance.