I was at some friends' place in mid-January, drinking margaritas flipping around the menus of their PS4 Pro. They were partway through Resident Evil 4—his first time playing, her nth—and since it'd been a few years, I decided to start a save file myself. 40 minutes later I'd avoided the forest's tripwire traps, gotten the shotgun, hidden from the zombie horde in the village belltower and scavenged for a bunch of eggs to augment my untouched supply of green herbs. Resident Evil 4 had turned 15 years old just a week or two before, but it still doesn't show it. It's the kind of game you can just slip right back into no matter how much time has passed.
After the stellar Resident Evil 2 remake last year, it seemed like Capcom was destined to keep going, updating its greatest hits with a new generation of technology. Now Resident Evil 3 is proof that a remake isn't necessarily a surefire home run, and I hope that Capcom isn't planning to go after RE4 next. Not because the RE3 remake has shaken my faith, though. Resident Evil 4 just doesn't need a remake, period.
In 2005, RE4 marked the start of Resident Evil's modern era. It put the focus on action, not horror, though it was still tense and gross and sometimes outright scary. It did away with static camera angles, which had been practical on the PlayStation's limited hardware and also deliberately evoked the creepy cinematography of horror movies. Resident Evil 5, 6, and later spin-offs all more or less followed RE4's new playbook, though none of them did it as well.
The remakes of Resident Evil 2 and 3 made both games as pretty and detailed as possible with cutting-edge graphics, of course, but mainly they served to bring both into the post-RE4 era, with familiar controls and a comfortable camera perspective. Resident Evil 4 doesn't need either. It did those things first!
Those reload animations still rule
Looking back, it's hard to believe there's barely more than a five year gap between Resident Evil 3 and 4, but that's how quickly technology and game design were evolving at the time. Almost all developers have left those static camera angles and "tank controls" behind, except for indies deliberately evoking the sensation of late-'90s horror games. Because Resident Evil 2 and 3 belong to a different era and had to be changed so fundamentally after 20 years, the remakes easily stand apart from the originals as wholly different games. Any remake of Resident Evil 4, at least right now, would just be a shallow reskinning of the same damn game.
What would Capcom really change? Sure, they could make it prettier. Revel in the gore of Leon getting chainsawed in half, of a plagas parasite bursting out of the neck hole of its zombified host and writhing in the air. But what else? Adjust Leon's movement and aiming to be a little less stiff? Expand on the context-sensitive actions, like kicking enemies or jumping out of a window? None of that would be worth it.
If anything, I think remaking RE4 today would actually highlight its flaws. Throw a fancy new graphics engine on and the quick-time events will feel archaic, even if they're actually still pretty damn fun. Change Leon's movement and you have to rethink all of the environments and how the enemies behave, too, because those things were so, so finely tuned 15 years ago.
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For any positive changes a remake introduced, it would feel like a missed opportunity if it didn't make every little aspect of RE4 as perfect as possible. Resident Evil 4 isn't perfect, of course—I'll admit the island can't match the peaks of the castle, which itself isn't quite as great as the opening hours in the village. But a remake likely would not dramatically reimagine the island with the same care the original designers poured into this game. Today I see RE4's little imperfections like the lines of a face I've become intimately familiar with over the years. Give it a nip and tuck, though, and it'll be hard to stop looking for more blemishes to eradicate.
Maybe Capcom's actually going to pivot and remake a spin-off like Code Veronica instead, which could definitely use some love. But if the developer is dead set on more remakes of the mainline games, it should skip RE4 and RE5—a far inferior game, but again, already modern enough that a remake would feel strangely old if primarily gussied up with new graphics—and move on to Resident Evil 6 instead. That one is famously a mess, but in that mess lies an opportunity.
As we've written in the past, there was some genuinely great stuff in Resident Evil 6, an advanced movement system and cool action that really comes to the fore in the mercenaries mode. A remake of Resident Evil 6 could give Capcom a do-over on an ambitious but messy and bloated campaign. It could refine the action and movement, explain them better to players, and slow the whole thing down a little to bring back some of that survival horror flavor.
Resident Evil 2's remake showed Capcom does still know how to exercise restraint, when it needs to, and Resident Evil 6 would be a far better game if someone, anyone on its team back in 2012 had known when to stop. It was too long, too ridiculous, too obsessed with being a blockbuster. Why not take another crack at it, Capcom? RE4 will definitely keep for another decade or two.