Need to know
What is it? A remake of one of the best action games ever made.
Expect to pay $60/£50
Release date March 24, 2023
Reviewed on Windows 10, i5-12400F, 16GB DDR4 Ram, RTX 2060
Steam Deck TBA
Link Official site (opens in new tab)
Much like Leon S. Kennedy, Capcom was not in for an easy ride with this one. There are great games and then there are the classics, games so forward-thinking and complete that they shape entire corners of our industry. In Resident Evil 4’s case, every third-person game since has worn its love for Capcom’s masterpiece on their over-the-shoulder sleeves: Everything from Gears of War to Dead Space to The Last of Us runs because Capcom showed them all how to walk. Remaking a game that remade its own genre is nothing less than trying to catch lightning in a bottle one more time.
Capcom almost managed it and, for the longest time, you’ll think it did. The opening of the Resident Evil 4 remake is outstanding, slightly streamlining the original route into the village in order to get you into the first big set-piece: A knock-down drag-out village brawl that, almost immediately, takes place with the constant sound of a chainsaw revving as its owner chases Leon everywhere.
I played on Hardcore difficulty, which is recommended for those who’ve completed the original game, and the name fits. I must have died in this encounter six times before re-adjusting and beginning to figure out the endless little tricks baked into Leon’s moveset and the enemy behaviour. One difference you’ll notice almost immediately on this difficulty is that running away is not quite the god-tier strategy it once was: These ganados don’t just run after you, but will catch you and inflict grievous damage. If there’s one thing you’ll realise very quickly in this game it’s that, after the rather flavourless Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, Capcom has rediscovered the joy of killing players brutally.
And it will do it to you again, and again. The original’s death animations for Leon were another standout feature (Dead Space in particular strove to recreate this) and you can sense the animation team here wanted to out-do daddy, and has produced some of the grisliest, grimmest and sometimes amusing deaths you’ll ever watch. I’ve seen Leon lifted into the air on a chainsaw, I’ve seen a giant bite his head off, cultists poke his eyes out, dogs ripping his throat to shreds, clawlike fingers poked through his brain, huge pulsating worms nom his face, razor-sharp tendrils slice through his tender bits… honestly I could write five paragraphs on the ways I’ve seen Leon die, and I’d probably still miss some.
Capcom has rediscovered the joy of killing players brutally.
This is the Resident Evil 4 remake’s great strength. Where the original came up with a new threat, the more human-seeming ganados and their swarming tactics, the remake doubles down on, making enemies tougher and more persistent while subtly altering Leon’s toolkit to deal with it. This has always been a game about crowd control: Keeping things off your back, whittling down a seemingly unbeatable mob to its last member, gritting your teeth and blasting through a sea of bodies and tentacles. The remake throws everything at you and then, while you’re gasping on the ground, the kitchen sink sails through the air right at your head.
This can be utterly exhilarating. Resident Evil 4’s greatest fights are all here, bigger than ever, and feel better than ever to wade through. The core of combat remains location damage, shooting enemies in the legs or head in order to stagger them then following up with melee attacks—a brilliant push-pull dynamic that sees you staying on the edge of mobs until you need to dash in and unleash a roundhouse or suplex. A brilliant new addition is the ability to parry with your knife (though of course not all attacks can be parried), leading to these extended sequences of utter chaos where, through some combination of instinct and extreme firepower, Leon somehow walks away from an army with nary a scratch.
One particularly well-done element of this is, if you’ll do a mental drum roll, reticule wavering. I know, I know, doesn’t seem like much, but the original game incorporated the idea that Leon’s aim would always be very slightly wobbly, and the remake takes this and runs with it. Hold out your pistol and, over a few seconds, the reticule will wobble vaguely around the point you’re aiming at before settling and tightening up to a smaller area. Enemies won’t wait around to give you time to line up your shot, so you’ll need ice-cold nerves if you want to be an accurate gunslinger.
The moment-to-moment combat is as good as Resident Evil has ever been, and that’s saying something: That shout of “Un forastero!” still sends chills down my spine every time. The remake also initially stays relatively true to the original game’s outstanding structure and pacing, but once you’re out of the village things change and not for the better.
The Resident Evil 4 remake makes some bold decisions about elements of the original and, in many cases, that decision is simply to remove them. Capcom has been upfront about the game removing the QTE elements (though these are still a part of combat in dodges and arguably even the parry) but it doesn’t have any ideas about what to replace them with and so moments of great drama and peril—little sequences that I find memorable—just aren’t here. The review embargo prevents me saying exactly what is here and what isn’t but, if you have any familiarity with the game, you’ll notice the absence of one, then another, then by the time you’re near the end sadly conclude this isn’t going to deliver much of what it should.
(Image credit: Capcom)
Writhe in my cage of torment, my friend
Resident Evil 4 remake jettisons many parts that made the original so good without having any idea of what to replace them with.
Resident Evil 4 remake undoubtedly improves on the original in some ways. Personally I’ll always miss the line “Your right hand comes off?” but the B-movie script is much-improved, and the way the storyline has been tweaked, in some cases significantly so, is well-handled and retains enough of the schlock factor that the personalities shine through. Ashley, doomed to forever be the damsel in distress, is now a much more forthright and capable companion, while Luis’ reinvention retains the rogueish charm and sands off his more leery edges.
Perhaps something like that is the real problem here, however. Resident Evil 4 may be one of the best games ever made, but it is also wildly uneven in places, and this remake feels like it has been sanded-down to remove those spikes and jutting edges. It’s a much smoother experience, start-to-finish, than the original. It doesn’t have these far-off detours and, with a few notable exceptions, re-does the surprises of the original in new ways without ever quite surprising you enough with how it does so.
If Resident Evil 4 remake was an original, standalone title, it would be a very great game indeed, and anyone who plays this will have a good time (maybe not on Hardcore though: it really is brutal). But this is not a standalone game, it’s a remake of one of the greatest games ever made and, when it comes to the crunch, it falls short. Where the original felt expansive, this feels cramped, and where the original went on breathless tangents and threw one idea after another at the player, this feels (in the second half especially) like it settles into a groove and isn’t especially interested in breaking free of it.
Much of this is forgotten when, in the utter maelstrom of battle, you’re surviving by the skin of your teeth and blasting through a sea of limbs and teeth with knife-edge parries and outrageous firepower. But outside of this exquisite action core, Resident Evil 4 remake feels like a game that runs out of ideas and, most unforgiveably, jettisons many parts that made the original so good without having any idea of what to replace them with.
Resident Evil 4 re-invented thirdperson action, and ever since it came out I’ve been waiting for another game to blow the bloody doors off in the way it did. But this is not the heir to Resident Evil 4, so much as a tribute. Resident Evil 4 remake is merely a great thirdperson action game that, sadly, takes too much inspiration from what followed: Rather than what started it all in the first place.