The history of the original Resident Evil 4 is a great story in itself. Going through many changes, one so radical that it was turned into Devil May Cry, the path to it was a winding one indeed. But then it did come out, did absolute gangbusters, and cemented a newer style of gameplay that was often replicated.
Ported about as many times as Skyrim (I don’t want to commit as this constantly changes), even its own style was used in the Resident Evil 2 remake back in 2019. But what about itself? Did it really need a remake when it’s so readily available on every format, old and current? Is it just another remake akin to Shadow of the Colossus and The Last of Us Part 1, or is there enough of a change to warrant it?
Well, prepare yourself as yours truly, a Resident Evil fan, puts one of his and just about everyone else’s favourite games through the remake wringer. It’s a trip…
One Hell of a Career Projection
It’s been six years since Resident Evil 2. Leon Kennedy, winner of the Unluckiest First Day on The Job Award, has survived Raccoon City and been “recruited” under President Graham’s special squad. Now a special agent with an array of skills, Leon is sent on a rescue mission.
The target of rescue is the President’s daughter, kidnapped and held somewhere in Europe (yet they all speak Spanish). Aided by the local police, the trio are off the beaten track and entering a rather backwater-style of community. All seems routine, the cops seem nonplussed about it all.
Well, they know the direction they’re going is renowned for being a bit off. Talks of hikers disappearing, that kind of thing. They reach the end of the beaten track, one copper steps out for a relief break.
And it all goes wrong…
“Where Are They All Going, Bingo?”
It does feel odd recapping the story of an eighteen year old game, mind. So rather than do the school report format of “…and then this happened and then Leon did a flip and shot the baddies”, I’m going to give the abridged version and discuss what’s new. Well, without giving too much away.
Leon, foppy-haired secret agent (complete with reworked face from the RE2 remake) discovers a very closed-off community. One that worships their overseeing god-like figure, Lord Saddler. Whilst they seem like a destitute and rural community, there’s something more sinister underneath. This being a Resident Evil, there’s the usual gamut of infectious things and body horror galore.
Specifically, the Las Plagas parasite; one that takes over a host body and exhibits some rather gross mutations over time. Also somewhat parasitically, it allows the strong-minded host a sense of subjugation and control over the lesser-intuned. Leon discovers this the hard way, when just about everyone turns on him with creepy, red-eyed fixation.
Along the way, he meets new allies, untrustworthy types and a former comrade with a penchant for sharp, stabby things. Oh, and a mysterious lady in a red dress. Again, if it sounds like I’m being vague: I am.
I’m trying to skirt the line between not going over the story for those that know it, as well as hook in those that missed it the first time around. Or second, seventh, etc.
Always Looking Over Your Shoulder
For those unaware of how Resident Evil 4 plays, it was one of the games that popularised the over-the-shoulder (OTS) style. It wasn’t the first, as antarctic Resident Evil clone Extermination tried before. But it did offer a tighter, more action-heavy shake up to the genre.
This time around it’s largely unchanged, with the exception of Leon being able to move and aim this time. Whilst some purists would prefer either/or, we know from the likes of Dead Space that it doesn’t detract from gameplay. Besides, enemies don’t line up in a violent conga, so you’ll want to be constantly on the fly.
Knife fighting plays a strong part, with offensive and parrying skills available. A block can do so much, whereas a parry/deflect at the right time can turn a battle. And being a highly trained agent, Leon has some CQC skills too. A few bullets to the face or knees can open up a melee opportunity, allowing Leon to knock a foe back and give some breathing room. Old school fans will be delighted to know that the suplex is still here too.
The other notable difference is that Leon moves in full 360° now, rather than a constant behind view. That, and the camera is panned slightly further away for a better view of what’s ahead. It’s not much of a change, but it’s nice that he has some fluidity to his movements this time around. However, it’s a bit jarring that he grunts every time he readys a weapon and sounds like an asthmatic after the shortest of sprints.
Bringing Logic To A Knife Fight
Now, back in the day (he says, aging himself) Resident Evil was renowned for its logic puzzles. Convoluted key-based shenanigans, ridiculous mechanics about moving statue’s eyes to other rooms and whatnot. Resident Evil 4 again broke the mould by mostly doing away with them. Some cried of dumbing down, others rejoiced and thought it complemented the action. Me, I’m a bit half and half.
Anyway, returning players will be happy to know that most of the game is unchanged in that regard. There’s some new ones, in keeping with the village’s rustic aesthetic. Not “Broken Sword goat puzzle” hard but enough to challenge the brain at times.
At other times, it largely relies on “get key to door”. The main story is pretty linear, but it’s treasure hunting and helping the merchant that take up more logical thinking. Remember the blue medallions dotted around the village in the original? Well, these return, as well as some other tasks that I won’t spoil. Safe to say that yes, it does pad the running time out but these are optional. However, if you want the upper hand, they’re worth seeking out.
Not That Kind Of Escort
The other side of logic when it comes to Resident Evil 4 is the rescue of Ashley, the President’s daughter. Initially, after finding her some ways in, it becomes more a case of keeping her alive (more on that in a bit). But as players progress, the American hostage soon comes into her own as part of the bigger picture.
Certain areas require teamwork, often sending the young Graham through areas too tight for Leon. These start off simple enough, but as time goes on the arenas get bigger. The bigger the scene, the higher the threat. Ashley has no self-preservation skills, presumably from that sheltered life of privilege, and can’t fight back if she gets kidnapped.
What this means for the already hard-working Kennedy is having to shoot those that sling her over their shoulder. Again at first, it’s easy enough with a smattering of bad guys. But as things progress, as is the nature, it becomes a cluster-fluff of stopping Ashley getting taken off and defending yourself.
Admittedly in terms of logic it’s not Mensa-level stuff. But the challenge is remembering where your weapons are assigned to, which is best to use and importantly; how many herbs you’ve got to heal with.
Out From Under The Umbrella Of Ports
If you’re a fan of the original, pretty much all of what I’ve covered so far is the same as it was… just jazzier. So, you [might] be thinking, “What is actually new here?” and why should you care? Well, for the pessimists thinking this is yet another port with prettier graphics: stop it.
Yes, the graphics are a big draw here. I’m not going to beat around the bush: they look incredible. The pictures in this review are in-game screenshots taken by me. Everything looks amazing, wherever you may be. The village doesn’t look like a flat brown, Salazar’s castle looks lived in, candlelight flickering off of stonework. Enemies look disgusting, and if it weren’t too gross I’d share how the Las Plagas literally worms its way through foes torn in half.
Considering I’m not one for “tech stuff”, imagine how impressed I have to be with the audio to dedicate a paragraph to it. Through my TV’s stereo sound, it does a good job, but it’s when I put my Nacon RIG on that the game came alive. Besides the usual whizz-bangs of the action, the ambient sound is terrifying. Especially in Salazar’s area, hearing “Lord Saddler” whispered and echoed throughout is genuinely creepy.
Whereas the two games mentioned at the start are remakes with some quality of life improvement, this is different. It’s a remake that… right, bear with me here: it oxymoronically plays the exact same that feels different. I’m constantly enthralled by how amazing it looks, yet it shouldn’t surprise me because it covers the same ground. That may not make sense in words but honestly, trust me.
“What’re You Buyin’?”
Again in the “nothing has changed” vein, the merchant returns! Different voice actor, and more dialogue, but by gosh darn does this odd character (or bunch of, who knows) feel like a massive welcome home. For the record, I haven’t shot him because I don’t want to see what repercussions that’d bring. Let us know if you do, you anarchist.
He (or they, it’s never explained how one gets everywhere) is your friendly weapons dealer, gun tinkerer, treasure map seller and giver of side quests. Whilst the first three are standard fare, you’ll want to keep an eye on his blue-noted quests. This time around they award spinels; gems used as currency for more exotic items. Things like gun stocks, gems and whatnot, but for what it’s worth: buy the treasure maps first and soon. Selling looted… err, loot back to the man/men is what will make the cash flow. The more cash, the quicker the guns can be upgraded. This is good.
You’ll also want that cash to put towards new attaché cases for Leon. Spacious as they initially seem, as soon as players start buying bigger guns and scopes (“Regenerator” ring any bells?), those Tetris-esque blocks will soon fill up. Although, and praise be whoever at Capcom added this, there’s now an ‘Auto Sort’ function for inventory management. My OCD from 2005 would have a heart attack over this.
Oh, How Charm-ing
The other crafty addition to inventory management and thereabouts: case perks and charms. Whilst I’m not at liberty to tell you how to get charms, I can give a brief tantaliser about what they are. But first, case perks.
The default attaché case grants a better rate of handgun ammo pickup, for example. Whilst it might not sound massively rewarding, you’d be surprised how much you rely on your sidearm. Especially if, like me, you get the Punisher early on and utilise its multi-enemy penetrating bonus.
Charms, on the other hand, aren’t easily bought. How they’re earned is a surprise, but what they do mixes gameplay up a treat. Players can equip up to three, with the most common first one being the Chicken. This little dangly fellow that hangs on to the attaché grants players a healing boost from eggs.
Might not sound like much, but having eggs heal 100% instead of a poultry amount (pun intended) is a godsend. It does, however, mean more chicken hunting as you go.
Again, can’t get too in-depth over these new caveats, but safe to say is does an extremely light dusting of RPG customisation. Nothing too extreme, but extra ammo drops and improved healing parameters are nothing to be sniffed at. It’s up to you how you want to mix and match to suit your play style.
Self-Preservation Isn’t Taught, It Seems
Now, before I get into some of the new additions that I appreciate Capcom adding, we have to do the “negative filling” part of the compliment sandwich. Much as it befalls me to say it, there are still some janky bits from 2005 stuck in here. Again, some might say, “Well that’s intended” but honestly, they shouldn’t.
The most egregious of these is the AI behind Ashley. Escort/partner AI in gaming has always been tricky, with this being no different. The only two commands available are either she sticks close or sticks not-as-close. That’s it. On occasion, she can be prompted to hide in context-sensitive lockers, for example, but otherwise she’s just blonde-haired baggage.
I don’t mean that in a sexist way, more than she’s prone to being downed a lot. She doesn’t have a health bar anymore, rather a two-stage, down-then-dead system. It got frustrating at the castle’s catapult section, where she has zero self-preservation to avoid the raining hellfire without being told to.
The other grievance is how flakey Leon’s context-based evade is. Personally, I loved the Resident Evil 3 remake’s dodge mechanic, even if the free headshot was a bit OTT. This could have been implemented perfectly here, given Leon’s training. But no, it’s often a very quick prompt that can be missed if one is aiming, and even then it’s temperamental if it appears.
Which, tying in nicely, is absolute bullshit when it comes to the one-hit kill Ganados (the infected villagers). There is one variant that will straight up munch Leon’s head off. If that’s out of sight, you get no prompt and it will get you. I’m playing on Standard, which sends you back to the nearest save/autosave. If you’re on Hardcore, this is going to be even worse.
I’m not asking for Wo Long levels of 360° parrying, but to catch you not off guard but literally off screen is more annoyance than acceptance of gameplay.
Feels Like Going On Holiday
Whilst there are a few annoyances, some justified and others not, for the most part Resident Evil 4 is… back. But rather than feel like just another port, it’s done enough modernisation without feeling too diluted.
Combat feels improved, with smoother controls and being able to switch to knives on the fly. Being able to sneak up and stealth kill is a nice feature, as is getting the drop on downed enemies. See a fallen die twitching? Get in there and press R2 (on PlayStation) to stop them mutating. However, knives are finite, so keep an eye on the integrity levels in a style brought over from the RE2 remake.
Quick time events are largely gone, but escaping enemies and some puzzles require a button mash/hold to keep players alert. Fortunately, these can be changed in the options if one isn’t a fan of button mashing.
The new elements of play here don’t detract from the core experience of Resident Evil 4. That it plays largely the same is a blessing, yet it has quality of life improvements that bring it in line with modern gaming traditions. In a time of Dead Space remakes and Callisto Protocol’s (which honestly people should try now it’s cheap), it’s nice to see the granddaddy come back and show them who’s who.
Lead Them To Salvation
In conclusion… come on, let’s be fair, this was always going to get a glowing recommendation. I said at the start I was a Resident Evil fan, and I don’t have a tribute tattoo because I like the movies. Any fan worth his salt is going to be excited over a remake of one of the best ones.
Unlike the remake of RE3, nothing has been drastically changed or removed here. There’s still sixteen chapters, and it’s still a massive game. But the fun doesn’t stop when the game is done though. There’s challenges to mop up, trophies/achievements to unlock and for the enthusiasts: a New Game+ mode.
As I said earlier, everything is the same but different. It is how a remake should be: taking what we, the fans, loved about the original and bringing it up to newer standards now that we’re older. But that doesn’t mean it’s inaccessible to new players either. Yes, the overarching story might not make sense, but one needn’t have played the original series to be brought up to speed. You could start at the Resident Evil 2 remake and go straight to this, for example.
No game is perfect (except Shadow of the Colossus), but this in itself is a perfect remake. It captures what makes the original great, yet shows the likes of The Evil Within and Alan Wake how over-the-shoulder tension should be done.
The new additions to things like inventory management and combat mechanics don’t detract from the original, instead being welcome yet non-intrusive to those that don’t want them. Is the dialogue still corny? Yes, but it’s moved away from some of the more risque, tongue-in-cheek stuff that would have more liberal websites hounding Capcom for nowadays.
I have had the best time with this remake. Does it say much about my gaming sensibilities if I’m more excited about a near-two decade old remake that the last series main outing, Village? I don’t care, because Resident Evil 4 never dies. That it’s been ported is testament to its staying power. Do I know what’s going to happen? Well yes, because I’ve finished it many a time, but I’m also welcoming what new additions are here (and there are, trust me). Don’t be swayed by the concept of “just another cash in”, this is how a remake should be done.
More than just another port or lazy remake, this version of Resident Evil 4 is everything you could ask for. It looks beautiful, but keeps its original feel. It has improvements that modernise yet don’t detract and, most importantly, is just as much fun now as it was back in 2005. A must-have for both series fan and latecomers.
Resident Evil 4 is available from March 24th, on PlayStation 4 & 5 (reviewed on latter, Xbox One and Series S|X, and PC via Steam.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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