This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game’s publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.
There are few games that have aged as well as Resident Evil 4. While Capcom’s survival horror juggernaut features several standout entries, none are as revered as the fourth. Leon’s sophomore outing marked a dramatic turn for the series (so much so that it led to the creation of Devil May Cry), steering Resident Evil more toward boisterous action instead of slow fixed-camera crawls through cramped hallways. Still, Resident Evil 4 kept the horror in survival horror through masterful balancing, enemy placement, and resource management. If you’ve ever touched a video game, then you know how good Resident Evil 4 is.
Remaking Resident Evil 4 is an incredibly daunting task that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It appears on every best game of all time list, even the ones with poor taste. However, when Capcom released the remake of Resident Evil 2 in 2019, we all knew we’d reach this point eventually. A new version of Resident Evil 4 is here. So, how does Capcom’s remake of this legendary survival horror title fare?
Remaking Resident Evil 4
As a gamer (embarrassing, I know), it pains me to admit that I don’t have much history with the original version of Resident Evil 4 aside from a few hours here and there. I knew Resident Evil 4 was good, and one playthrough of the opening village encounter is enough for anyone with common sense to realize that it’s one of the all-time greats. Going into this remake mostly blind was both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, it was a phenomenal, masterfully-paced thrill ride that kept me on the edge of my seat for a dozen hours. On the other hand, it was so good that I’m sad I’ll never get to experience it for the first time again.
Remaking Resident Evil 4 is a gargantuan undertaking where even one small change can completely ruin the original’s balance and atmosphere. Things could’ve gone drastically wrong here, especially since the slower, more methodical direction taken in the remakes of Resident Evil 2 and 3 doesn’t fit too well with Resident Evil 4’s focus on action. Thankfully, Resident Evil 4 remake owns its identity. Capcom fully embraces the stupidity of the original while amping up some of the parts that haven’t aged as well. Everything flows together so well that it’s hard to believe the game wasn’t exactly like this in the first place.
Where’s Everyone Going? Bingo?
Tone is a hard thing to manage in video games, especially when your game’s protagonist is the wise-cracking Leon S. Kennedy. Somehow, Resident Evil 4 remake manages to pull off a completely self-serious tone while still having Leon calling out one-liners like they’re balls in a bingo hall. There’s something surreal about witnessing Leon pull off a backflip to evade two chainsaw-wielding enemies — a scene that might as well come from a lost cheesy mid-2000s direct-to-video film — while the game is rendered at a native 4K resolution with ray tracing and individually rendered strands of hair.
In that regard, this version of Resident Evil 4 is a strange beast. It’s the equivalent of a person whose voice doesn’t match their face. It wears a leather jacket, leaning against a street lamp and lighting a cigarette, but when you approach, the tough guy facade is dropped and it asks who your Smash main is and excitedly explains that the 3DS is actually really easy to mod. It has visuals that would put The Last of Us to shame, but it wants nothing to do with ruminations about fatherhood, family, and hope. It just wants you to parry a chainsaw with your knife.
Modernizing a Classic
Still, Capcom has touched up some aspects of the story in an attempt to strengthen the game’s admittedly paper-thin narrative. Leon’s first encounter with a ganado is an excellent example of this. For starters, the house itself is much scarier and Leon actually attempts to speak Spanish before drawing his gun. There are plenty of these minor tweaks throughout the game, and they help it feel like a more modern title than a game that’s nearly 20 years old at this point. Looking up the original scenes and playing some of the original game for myself only made me appreciate the changes even more.
Capcom has also tweaked the gameplay to bring the game more in line with its survival horror predecessors. Leon will still shoot, stab, and suplex his way through hordes of infected foes, but there are some new additions like stealth takedowns, knife durability, and ammo crafting that make the delicate dance of resource management that much tenser. This is still an action game at its core, but these changes add a new layer of strategy to the game and they synergize exceptionally well with the existing systems at play.
For example, the ammo crafting mechanic allows you to focus your playstyle around the weapons you actually enjoy using — within reason of course. If you don’t want to use the knife that much, then don’t spend the Pesetas to repair it. You can scrounge temporary knives anyway! Love the shotgun? Spend your gunpowder to craft shells and neglect the rifle! Plus, Resident Evil 4 allows you to customize your attache case with charms that provide bonus ammunition when crafting certain bullet types, increase the drop rate of certain items, and more. These additions are so well integrated into the experience that it was surprising to learn that the original game did not have them.
Shooting, Stabbing, and Suplexing
If there’s one thing about Resident Evil 4 that should absolutely not be changed under any circumstances, it’s the core combat loop. Fortunately, it’s as good as ever in Resident Evil 4 remake. Weapons feel super punchy thanks to excellent audio design, which works equally well to add to both the spooky atmosphere of quiet areas and the pulse-pounding action of crowded combat sequences. There are multiple weapons on offer for each archetype, so there’s bound to be a pistol, shotgun, rifle, or submachine gun that suits your playstyle well.
Rather than delivering its scares through dark hallways and slow-moving zombies, Resident Evil 4 serves up scares through scarcity. Ganados and other foes are seemingly endless, even in early-game encounters. You never feel like you have a surplus of ammunition, but you also never feel helpless either. Movement and positioning are key. You’ll have to slam through doors, clamber over walls and windows, and barricade entrances to give yourself some breathing room.
If there’s one thing Resident Evil 4 excels at, it’s the art of the chase. Every fight feels like a scramble to safety. The remake’s new movement — removing tank controls and allowing Leon to move while aiming and firing — also helps in this regard. Leon still feels tanky and slow, but you never feel like you’re not in control. All of this comes together to create an experience where you constantly feel like you’re treading water, and these sink-or-swim skirmishes keep Resident Evil 4 sailing full speed ahead throughout the entirety of its dozen-hour runtime.
Every encounter is masterfully designed too, forcing you to use everything at your disposal to scrape by. Like any good shooter, Resident Evil 4 is more than just clicking heads. To survive with any resources left, you’ll have to use your environment to your advantage and think on your feet.
Early on, for example, you’ll learn that you can shoot enemies in the legs to force them into position for a roundhouse kick that can clear crowds. You’ll also learn neat tricks like shooting the dynamite out of an enemy’s hand before they throw it or disarming a charging foe by shooting their arm. Before long, however, the game essentially requires you to mix these into your combat routine if you want to have any ammo left for future encounters.
There’s never an explicit tutorial for this stuff though, so it really feels like you’re discovering these tricks yourself and developing your own helpful habits. A stray bullet that kneecaps an enemy in Chapter 2 can transform into an essential strategy that saves resources and prevents your progress from being kneecapped in Chapter 10. Environments feel impressively dynamic because of this as well, with bullets always causing some sort of mayhem no matter where they land.
You’ll need to put these strategies to the test in Resident Evil 4’s many boss fights and unique encounters with tougher-than-average creatures. The game knows exactly when to slow things down and shove you into a claustrophobic maze with a seemingly immortal monster or pick up the pace with a pulse-pounding action setpiece. Resident Evil 4’s special enemies — like the grotesque regenerators — genuinely incite fear because of their tanky builds and relentless aggression, placing heavy stress on your resource pool.
Each boss battle is a spectacle as well, ranging from frenetic firefights with armored giants to tense one-on-one knife duels. Some boss fights have been entirely redesigned from scratch, while others have received minor tweaks to their mechanics and arenas while still remaining thematically consistent with their original appearances. The original Resident Evil 4 was home to some of the best boss encounters in the series, and the remake enhances them in especially efficient ways.
What’re Ya Buyin’?
The economy is the glue that holds Resident Evil 4 together. While the original game was already carefully balanced to ensure you were never too understocked or overstocked on supplies, Resident Evil 4 remake adds new ways for you to maintain your ammo reserves like crafting, leaving you with plenty of Pesetas saved for weapon upgrades and attachments. The merchant’s metagame of deciding what supplies are worth buying and what is worth sacrificing in favor of essential supplies is a constant source of tension throughout the game.
Resident Evil 4 remake has improved the shopping experience in a number of ways, providing a new level of depth to the mysterious merchant. Optional side quests obtained from blue flyers posted throughout the game task you with collecting various items, defeating optional bosses, or destroying blue medallions scattered throughout certain areas in exchange for Spinel, a unique currency that can be traded to the merchant for exclusive rewards. These rewards cannot be purchased with standard Pesetas, so you really need to think hard about what’s necessary.
Gemstones found throughout the world can also be slotted into certain treasures to increase their overall value as well, creating yet another decision in the checkout aisle. Do you sell your red ruby now for a quick buck, or do you save it so it can be attached to a chalice with other gems down the line for a larger payday? In this way, gems and other treasures become another resource that must be juggled along with your ammunition, knives, and medical supplies.
Because unique attachments like stocks and scopes can be obtained via Spinel exchanges rather than cold hard cash and there are plenty of new ways to get paid, Resident Evil 4 remake lets you put your money where it matters: into your weapons. The game even encourages you to offload weapons that you don’t use, refunding you the full value of that weapon and its upgrades, so you can further fine-tune your play style.
The Striker shotgun may be more powerful than the Riot Gun, for example, but it doesn’t have the range of the latter. When you pair this with the new charm system for the attache case and the new ammo crafting system that lets you prioritize the weapons that you enjoy using, Resident Evil 4 offers one of the most flexible combat systems in the entire series. It takes all the right notes from later games in the series, particularly Resident Evil Village, while still keeping sight of its original identity.
If Capcom’s fantastic track record with Resident Evil remakes somehow wasn’t enough to convince you that Resident Evil 4 would turn out great, then just a few minutes in control of Leon will be all it takes for you to realize that the original masterpiece has been done justice. Capcom’s reimagining of the 2005 classic isn’t afraid to be itself, but it also takes an introspective look within to hone what few dull edges the original had. This version of Resident Evil 4 is not only a survival horror masterpiece, but also one of the finest video games ever created.