If you haven’t played Resident Evil 4 before, the game follows Raccoon City disaster survivor turned government agent, Leon S. Kennedy, on his mission to [undisclosed Spanish-speaking European country] to rescue Ashley Graham, the daughter of the US President, who has been kidnapped. Leon explores a village, a castle, and a military base, fights strangely hostile not-zombies, decimates an entire religion, and consumes his body weight in raw eggs for some reason. There are the requisite mutants, monsters, and genetic experiments and the respective dangers they pose, on which Leon uses his ever-expanding arsenal to blast various-sized holes.
Related reading: Our review of the most recent Resident Evil, chronologically speaking, Resident Evil Village.
If you’ve played Resident Evil 2 or 3’s remake, or any modern RE Engine Resident Evil, you will find nothing really revelatory here visually. It’s a beautiful game, with great lighting and models. Assets are high quality. Gore is delightfully wet and appropriately squishy and the game isn’t reluctant to show this feature off. It looks exactly like you would expect it to. I played the PS5 version in performance mode with ray tracing on and the visuals looked great and the game ran pretty stable – again, if you’ve played an RE Engine Resident Evil, you will know exactly what to expect. Audio is likewise great, with a reminiscent but slightly more diverse soundtrack than the original and high-quality (if a little conservative) voice acting.
Despite having a more modern control scheme (goodbye tank controls, hello moving and shooting), the remake’s take on over-the-shoulder controls feels clunkier, almost syrupy. Where the original was snappy and responsive, the remake is sluggish and laggy. While I love the plodding heft of Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes, that same slowness feels distinctly uncomfortable here with the faster enemies. Resident Evil 4 was revolutionary for the survival horror genre, and the responsiveness of its controls – even with the tank control movement – was a huge part of that. I can understand the remake team wanting to keep the weight of the modern remake series’ movement, and I can recognise that in some parts the remake’s tension is enhanced by this weight, but I can’t help having the sense that Leon feels… wrong.
Offsetting Leon’s slower movement is the new knife parry mechanic, which allows you to deflect many types of enemy attacks with a QTE-like button press. The timing and positioning of this can be a bit finicky, but the manoeuvre can be a lifesaver. Deflecting a huge pitchfork with a tiny stabby boi always feels good, and getting into a Star Wars-esque blade-lock with a chainsaw is just as ridiculous as you’d expect. If you are grappled by an enemy, you can also use your knife to escape the attack, taking much less damage – for a price.
Preventing parries from becoming too powerful, Capcom has continued with Resident Evil 2 remake’s knife durability. Attacking, parrying, stealth killing, and activating your emergency escape all consume a knife’s durability, and they will eventually break and become useless. Leon’s personal knife can be repaired (and upgraded) at the merchant, and you can also find limited-use knives that will be destroyed permanently on breakage. This effectively limits how many times you can parry, and balances out the power you now have to avoid a whole bunch of damage.
Yes, the merchant is back, again offering you great prices on illegal weapons in his roguish Cockney accent. He’ll sell you new arms, buy treasures, upgrade your weapons, and repair your knife – all for pesetas. He is also where you go to cash in on side quests.
Resident Evil 4’s original incarnation’s scant handful of quests has been much expanded in the remake, with blue notes scattered across the various maps. These optional quests task you with a variety of menial errands, such as destroying a number of blue medallions or finding and selling certain items like golden eggs. They’re never anything truly engaging, but they add some extra content to do if you want extra content to do. Completing a quest rewards you with spinels, which you can give to the merchant in exchange for special items – some more underwhelming than others.
Inventory management is still an issue in the best way possible, with the good old attaché case inventory Tetris returning. There have been entire games made as loving odes to Resident Evil 4’s inventory system, and it is unchanged here. There is a new, barebones but functional crafting system, which lets you craft ammo and other useful items using resources found around the game. If, conversely, you find yourself running out of space in your inventory, there is now a rudimentary item storage system that will let you store guns and first aid sprays (and only guns and first aid sprays) at typewriter save points. You can also upgrade your attaché case’s capacity.
Other customisations can be applied to the attaché case, with different cases giving different buffs to item spawn RNG. Your default case gives you a buff to handgun ammo appearance, and other cases further alter item spawn chances. You can also now add dangly charms to your case, which also have unique effects, such as giving you a chance to create more handgun ammo during crafting or healing more health from green herbs. Your default attaché case will get you through the game just fine, but careful manipulation of your bonuses can make or break an optimised run through.
Another clear-cut improvement is the way the game treats AI companion Ashley. Gone is the health bar of old – instead, Ashley will be downed when hit once, and will die if hit while downed. Enemies only very rarely target Ashley with damaging attacks, so you usually only have to worry about an errant AOE. Ganado will still try to kidnap Ashley, and, if they succeed, it’s game over, but the system is much more forgiving than the original. Ashley also has a lot more personality in the remake. I was always an Ashley apologist, but the improvements in the remake make the game undeniably better.
Related reading: For another horror classic, recently lovingly restored (but a very different kind of horror), check out our review of Project Zero: Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse.
Resident Evil 4’s remake keeps the spirit of the original. It hits all the main beats, remixing the more incidental parts between to keep things fresh. The small twists in narrative and gameplay fit comfortably in this reconstructed framework. New puzzles can be found – some remixes of the original’s ideas, some completely unique to the remake. New set pieces are introduced, and some old ones are changed up or shifted around to throw off expectations. Boss fights are likewise remixed, and generally improved with more variety and some interesting new ideas.
That’s sort of the theme here. You can see the bones of the original, but the flesh is just a bit different, moulded to suit more modern tastes. It’s your local pub’s steak Diane, but with long pork instead of beef.
While Resident Evil 4 remake is polished, it lacks something of the original’s raw uniqueness. Where the original was brand new, the remake comes at the end of a string of remakes that use similar gameplay language. Where the original was a breathtaking reinvention, the remake is, in many ways, formulaic.
Like the modern remakes of Resident Evil 2 and 3, Resident Evil 4 also takes itself altogether too seriously. It loses some of its B-movie cheese, in favour of AAA bombast and refinement. Leon still has some witty one-liners and charismatic repartee, but this is dispensed at the expected time and place, in between his grizzled “s**t”s and “f***ing monsters”s. I can’t help but miss the awkward charm of the original’s corny attempt at 80s PG-rated action movie dialogue – the remake is altogether too straight-laced.
Everything is so serious and, in its perfection of the formula which it itself originally created, it loses some of its charm.
However. Resident Evil 4 remake is still a fantastic remake of a fantastic game. It’s a confident, polished, imaginative, respectful, refreshing, loving ode to the original. The remake is thrilling and chilling; new enough to give veteran players a novel experience while also being reverent enough to bring back the good kind of nostalgia. It is Resident Evil 4 but more and shiny and it is, by default, an excellent game.
I just wish Resident Evil 4 remake could recapture the revolutionary wonder of the original, even though I know it never possibly could. Video games have moved on from the design conventions of the early 2000s – in large part because of the release of the revolutionary original Resident Evil 4 – and so have I. However, despite failing to recapture lightning in a bottle, Resident Evil 4 remake stands on its own merits as a game of impeccable quality.
I know I can never recapture the fresh-faced wonder of my youth, but goddamn does Resident Evil 4 remake make me want to try.