Monday, March 20, 2023

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    The remake of ‘Resident Evil 4’ is like reliving a cherished memory


    (4 stars)

    There’s little in pop culture that mirrors the intoxicating experience of a remade Resident Evil video game.

    It’s not like a remaster of an old song, a mere technological upgrade that other video games series often do. It’s not quite like a cover song either, since those are perspectives from different artists. A Resident Evil remake is experiential, probably closer to reliving your favorite concert with your favorite artist, in the same venue, all with better light rigging and sound, and everyone still has the same youthful verve. The series’ ability to replicate that kind of experience has made it the gold standard of remaking video games.

    The remakes started with series creator and former Capcom developer Shinji Mikami’s 2002 revisiting of the 1996 “Resident Evil.” In 2019, series overseers Kazunori Kado and Yasuhiro Anpo revitalized the 1998 sequel “Resident Evil 2.”

    The new version of “Resident Evil 4” comes with the added pressure of remaking a title that’s often cited as the greatest video game ever made, thanks to its influence on the modern industry. The design DNA of the 2005 original can be found in so many games today, including “The Last of Us” and even “Fortnite” that it can be hard to remember how this game was so ahead of its time. It reshaped the landscape of action storytelling with its revolutionary third-person perspective and its interspersing of loud, chaos with more soothing, relaxing moments. To put it simply, there would be no “The Last of Us” without “Resident Evil 4.”

    The remake re-creates and enhances that loudness and chaos. The village attack in the game’s opening hour re-creates that same feeling of overwhelming panic when the mob is ignited by your presence, and the sensation of relief when it’s all over. (Our hero, Secret Service agent Leon Scott Kennedy, quips the same funny, cheeky “bingo” line from the original.)

    Many of the old locations are expanded and littered with new side objectives, such as hunting and killing more powerful undead monsters, or maybe just a bit of rat extermination. These objectives earn you special “spinel” jewels to trade for rare items from the iconic undead merchant, who this time has an even heavier, cartoonish cockney accent. It’s all elegantly interwoven into the original linear structure of village opening, castle midsection and zombie paramilitary island paradise as the third act.

    Cartoonish might be a funny word to apply to a horror game, but scenes from the original “Resident Evil 4” bordered on Looney Tunes-like slapstick comedy. The president’s daughter would get kidnapped via conveniently located traps seemingly placed by Wile E. Coyote. Leon himself is a bit like the Roadrunner, evading obstacles such as a giant robot version of the short-statured castle lord, Ramon Salazar. In the remake, much of this is toned down. Two fire-breathing dragon statues from the original game are now moved into the infamously difficult “water room.” That giant robot is also reimagined to be a bit less silly and is now mixed in with another infamous late-game challenge.

    The remake also tones down the original’s outlandish puzzles, giving us ones that make a bit more logical sense. One involving shooting a sniper rifle at a wine bottle is now reimagined as a challenge to re-create paintings in an uncomfortably quiet dining room. There’s just a bit more creepiness and a little less of the crazy.

    It’s this shift that takes some getting used to. People who wanted a more horror-centric experience in 2005 will eagerly welcome these changes. For myself and others who enjoyed the original’s tonal dissonance, it’s a bit awkward that Leon is the only person making quips, without the villains chiming in as well. But his new lines are sure to be classics, like when he kills a bunch of zombie knights, and then says, “Nightie night, knights.” It’s groan-inducing fun, and it makes one wonder how much more fun “The Last of Us” would’ve been if Leon, not Joel, had to escort Ellie across the United States. The pun faceoffs alone would decimate the rest of humanity.

    Other wackiness does remain. This is still a video game in which one of the best pieces of advice to remember is, “Throw a flashbang grenade at the birds for lots of cash.” It’s still a game where the merchant repeatedly pops up in the most out-of-the-way locations. There’s just one big enemy encounter that has been completely removed, and that’s a shame since it was one of the scarier, more tense moments from the original, and it would’ve fit right in with the remake’s new focus on dark horror.

    In 2005, “Resident Evil 4” was the longest game in the series at 15 hours, and the remake is the same length. But also like the original game, there are incentives to replay the game, again and again. “Resident Evil 4” has been a video game I revisit at least four times a year. I often describe it as cozy, which may sound strange for a game as stressful and violent as this. But that’s the magic of this game’s design. Going through the motions again and again can be comforting, even when punctuated with addictive sound design like the crunchy splash of an exploding monster’s head. I’ve had this new version for only a week, and I’ve already played it through completion six times.

    The remade “Resident Evil 4” feels more vibrant and present than just another rerelease of a technical product. It’s like reliving a fond memory. It’s like coming back to your childhood bedroom after all these years. Fittingly, the original series started as a remake, of the 1989 role-playing game “Sweet Home.” And even if some of the pieces are moved around, the new version still feels like home, sweet home.

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