The Resident Evil 4 remake released with one key feature missing, set to be restored two weeks after launch: The Mercenaries (opens in new tab). If you're unfamiliar, Mercenaries is one of the OGs of shooter horde survival modes, standing tall with the likes of Call of Duty Zombies as the sort of bonus mode you could easily spend as much time in as the full game. My hope was that the extra time Capcom took meant it was cooking up something truly special, but while the fundamentals are absolutely there, RE4's Mercenaries feels anemic, with a sloppy reward system that cheapened the experience for me.
It feels a bit peevish to complain when Capcom really does remain the king of the videogame value proposition: you've got a healthy 12-hour campaign, a bevy of unlockables, ample replay value, and they're throwing in a sick score attack mode? Nevertheless, I compare REM4KE's offering to previous Mercenaries modes and it just doesn't sit right with me.
First, what's missing: MIA character Ada Wong has been replaced with lovable Spanish rogue, Luis Sera, a change that makes sense to me, and my guess is that Ada will return to the mercenaries with the almost-inevitable remake of the Separate Ways gaiden campaign. Wesker, meanwhile, has no such replacement, but datamining cited by the Resident Evil (opens in new tab) wiki suggests both characters were either cut close to launch, or are due for a return.
The bigger omission to my eye is Waterworld. The original '05 Mercenaries had four maps, three repurposed from the main game and one more totally unique to The Mercenaries. This fourth map, Waterworld, was rad as hell, a collection of rickety shacks floating on the open ocean, with tons of verticality and neat touches like a series of zip lines for quick getaways. It was purpose-built for this mode, unlike the other maps, and it shows. In the remake, you only get the three maps that already appeared in the main campaign.
This reduction in scope is compounded by some baffling missteps in how the Mercenaries doles out rewards. You start with one character, Leon, and unlock the rest of the roster by meeting minimum scores on each map. In the original Mercenaries, you had to survive to extraction for your score to count, adding a distinct risk-reward element. Do you collect time pickups to lengthen your stay, killing more ganados and reaching a higher score, or do you cut your losses and get out of there, securing what you have and potentially guaranteeing an unlock?
The RE4 remake bowls over that fine distinction, awarding you a score whether you survive to the end or not. This undercut the tension of the mode for me, and I was able to tear through and unlock everything within an hour or two, where I was kept busy for a whole week the last time I replayed the original game. Further, the mega-secret unlockable magnum, the Handcannon, practically falls into your lap now. Do you acquire it by gutting through RE4 on its hardest difficulty, joining the illustrious ranks of Professional Mode completers, or just tooling around in Mercenaries for a little while?
The mode feels tacked on like an afterthought this time around, an obligation on the part of Capcom, as opposed to the surprising and even generous Mercenaries of yore. I'm glad it's here, but even without additional content, it could have used additional tweaking to make sure it slotted in snugly. My guess is that this isn't the last we've heard of RE4 Remake's Mercenaries, though. Resident Evil 5 saw a free, launch version of the mode followed by a more definitive "Reunion" DLC that added bonus characters and maps, and something like that would be a great fit for the RE4 remake. With RE4 being the series' best combat system to date (opens in new tab), I want to see what Capcom can bring to the mode with more time and space to get it right.