Building tension: can this golden age of horror remakes sustain itself?

Resident Evil timeline - Resident Evil 4
(Image credit: Capcom)

A Resident Evil 4 remake. Just the thought of it alone sends a shiver down my spine quicker than a mindless Ganado shambling up a rickety old ladder. And now it's officially happening. Soon, too – March 24, 2023, as revealed during Sony's most recent State of Play showcase. As a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Resident Evil 2, I was blown away by the standard of Capcom's brilliant 2019 reimagining, and while failing to hit the same heights the following year, I loved the Resident Evil 3 remake despite its rough edges. 

With RE4 now on its way, as well as a new slant on the original Dead Space, a Silent Hill 2 remake seemingly in the works, and the fact that the long-awaited System Shock now appears to finally be on the cusp of release, it really feels like we're in the midst of a golden age of horror remakes. With E3 2022 now upon us (be sure to keep your eyes on our E3 2022 schedule), who knows, we might have even more to look forward to in due course. My only concern at this stage is: does all of this come at a cost?

Long shadows

Dead Space remake

(Image credit: Motive)

Resident Evil 4 was undoubtedly a watershed moment in 2005 – not just for Resident Evil itself, but for the entire survival horror genre, and, in fact, the wider landscape of video games. 'Game changer' is a term reserved for the absolute best, and while somewhat sullied by that insipid Daniel Radcliffe-starring GTA docudrama from a few years back, the fourth main series instalment of Capcom's enduring line of scare 'em ups really did set a new tone. Its over-the-shoulder perspective, more fluid controls, and new breed of nimble zombie baddies fused action and horror like never before, and set an established blueprint for years to come. 

Fast forward 14 years, and Capcom's brilliant reimagining of Resident Evil 2 was so good that it became its own watershed moment; a game changer for video game remakes across the board. The Resident Evil 3 remake failed to capture the same buzz in 2020, but I'd argue that's partly down to the fact RE2 is simply a better game – in both its past and present iterations. Moreover, despite the popularity of the original Resident Evil 2, its 2019 offering was, in essence, a free hit. As with any big-budget project, Capcom was under pressure to deliver, naturally, but given the fact this was the first of the series to be properly reworked – good as it was, the first Resi remake was ultimately a remaster, first launched on the GameCube in 2002, just six years after its PlayStation release – and thus set its own bar in quality terms. I think it's fair to say it well-exceeded expectations, and in the process cast a huge shadow in its wake.  

The most obvious implication of this, if rumors are to be believed, is the fact that while languishing behind the scenes, the Resident Evil 4 remake is said to have been scrapped and restarted as many as four times over the last few years. RE4 is therefore under so much more pressure to deliver than anything before it – doubly so, given how well-executed Resident Evil 2's reimaging was, and how revered its source material still is some 17 years on. It's also easy to forget just how massive Resident Evil 4 is in scale – from Salazar's sprawling castle, to its winding village, its haunting island prison, and its superbly claustrophobic suspended cage puzzle – so you'd have to assume the decision to trim, well, just about anything has been made with the utmost care. From the very little teased during the State of Play reveal, there appears to be more in the way of exposition this time around. We see Leon physically meeting with the president, for example, something that was originally explained in a text-heavy pre-game montage; while we're later shown the intrepid protagonist spying on a Los Iluminados ceremony – a set-piece which, presumably, will fill in more background info on how the cult came to be.

Silent Hill 2

(Image credit: Konami)

"The thought of a Silent Hill 2 remake falling short makes me wince harder than Mr Kennedy upon first confronting El Gigante".

With all of this, I'm quietly confident the Resident Evil 4 remake will deliver on its promise, and, if it does, it will set the bar even higher so far as horror game remakes are concerned. My only worry, then, is how this impacts the broader landscape of horror game remakes. Don't get me wrong: I'm not complaining. This is a great position to be in, but I love Silent Hill 2 more than anything the Resident Evil series has ever served up, and the thought of it falling short makes me wince harder than Mr Kennedy upon first confronting El Gigante. System Shock's Kickstarter, on the other hand, was funded in 2016 and, as if being held to the Resi 2 remake's gold standard of horror remakes wasn't enough, it now bears the weight of six years' worth of anticipation. The original Dead Space was unashamedly inspired by OG Resident Evil 4, therefore the Dead Space remake's arrival mere months before the latter's reimagining needs to be on the money. And then consider that The Callisto Protocol looks like Dead Space 4 under another name; while Slitterhead, led by Silent Hill creator Keiichiro Toyama, looks like a modern take on old school Silent Hill, all in the wake of Hideo Kojima's much-hyped but ultimately ill-fated Silent Hills project, and it's safe to say there is some fierce competition, and some remarkably high expectations, encompassing the modern horror genre. 

Is it sustainable? I don't know. It's an odd position to be in – praising video games for being brilliant, taking risks and steadily setting new, higher standards; all the while being simultaneously terrified that one big high-profile failure could bring the whole thing down. Hypothetically, should one hyped-up horror remake fall flat, would that make another developer think twice about investing in the next one? I guess time will tell. I often praise horror games for their scope to scare with what we cannot see, and here am I figuratively crapping my pants about something that hasn't yet happened, despite what I think is probably inevitable at some stage. In any event, I'm more than happy to see horror remakes go from strength to strength, as I edge myself further and further behind the back of the couch. And with so much to look forward to in the next year or so on the horror remakes front, I could be behind there for some time. 

Scare yourself silly with the best horror games out now. 

Joe Donnelly
Features Editor, GamesRadar+

Joe is a Features Editor at GamesRadar+. With over seven years of experience working in specialist print and online journalism, Joe has written for a number of gaming, sport and entertainment publications including PC Gamer, Edge, Play and FourFourTwo. He is well-versed in all things Grand Theft Auto and spends much of his spare time swapping real-world Glasgow for GTA Online’s Los Santos. Joe is also a mental health advocate and has written a book about video games, mental health and their complex intersections. He is a regular expert contributor on both subjects for BBC radio. Many moons ago, he was a fully-qualified plumber which basically makes him Super Mario.