Resident Evil 4 was a revolutionary title that changed the course of the franchise, third-person shooters, and horror gaming forever. It was also an excellent action game, albeit one with some flaws. The 2023 RE4 remake fixes pretty much all of them.
The Resident Evil 4 remake is a tighter, more engaging version of the 2005 original. On the surface, the game still resembles its original form much more than something like Final Fantasy 7 Remake or even 2019’s re-imagination of Resident Evil 2. But what we’ve got with Resident Evil 4 is a kind of remake we haven’t seen from Capcom in quite some time.
The Resident Evil 4 remake has many of the positive qualities of the Resident Evil Gamecube remake and its subsequent HD remasters. For one, it tones down the camp in the writing department, bringing Resident Evil 4 more tonally in line with the other modern remakes. Mostly though, both games function as an updated version of the original’s spaces and perspectives through which you experience them.
The controls are updated and feel fantastic — this is the best a Resident Evil game has felt to date — and many of the areas are expanded upon and improved. It’s a faithful remake, but one that completely understands what does and doesn’t work about the source material.
The new visuals and controls are apparent from the moment you gain control of Leon in the Village’s opening forest. But from the get-go, it’s clear we’re dealing with a different, more scarred Leon. He’s traumatized by Raccoon City and the remake gives this detail space to breathe in the opening.
It doesn’t change what choices Leon ends up making, but it gives him a new texture. This is indicative of the approach the game took to retelling Resident Evil 4’s story of a man sent on a rescue mission, only to discover a brand new horror.
Supporting characters have more backstory, and Ashley, above all, has changed significantly. She’s more capable and has agency. Even while still often screaming her head off, she’s a grounded, less hysterical character. In short, she feels more like a real person and not a female video game character circa 2005.
Defending and directing Ashley emphasizes her freedom as well. She no longer has a health bar you have to maintain with precious herbs. Instead, it’s a more seamless system where you can’t let her get grabbed by cultists too many times in an encounter.
It makes the sections with Ashley feel less like escort missions and more like just organic experiences. And while the infamous water room makes a return, it’s genuinely accomplishing the intended balance of tension it failed to in the original.
Indeed, a vast majority of the rough edges in the 2005 game have been fixed or omitted and replaced. If there was a puzzle you found annoying in the original, or a room you died in repeatedly, I can assure you Resident Evil 4 Remake has made it more manageable in one fashion or another — largely because the game makes you faster and gives you more combat options than before.
Every weapon, enemy, and melee animation you’d want to see return to RE4 is here in glorious 4K. Old tricks are all still on the table, but the game is also full of changes big and small that modernize the gameplay and keep things fresh for the old heads.
Yes, ammo crafting has been brought over and yes, it rules. Being able to craft whichever specific ammunition type you need on the fly fits naturally into the frenetic encounters of Resident Evil 4 Remake.
The ironic part is the majority of encounters are more overwhelming and deadly than those in the original game. But advancements in Leon’s mobility and arsenal actually make for an easier time — at least on Normal mode. You have more advantages than ever before, so naturally, the spaces and body counts are updated to accommodate.
Through this lens, it starts to make sense why — despite being so obviously different in much of its area and encounter design — the Resident Evil 4 Remake gets the feel of the thing right.
You’re more mobile and resourceful than ever, epitomized by the knife and stealth. Leon’s combat knife was the only weapon I fully upgraded by the game’s end. It’s your life-line. No longer just a simple melee weapon, you can now swing, stab, and parry with Resident Evil 4’s knives. The last provides a crucial difference that completely changes the rhythm of combat.
Parrying will deplete your knife’s durability, while attacking regularly won’t. The knife’s best move is a limited resource just like the ammo and herbs that also keep you alive. A successful stealth kill will also deplete the knife’s durability, meaning that stealth is important.
Some of the biggest and most welcome changes tie back to the Merchant and Resident Evil 4’s economy. Remake rewards you (much more) for poking around. There are many more treasures to find as opposed to the original, and gem slotting has been expanded into an explicit system that gives you set bonuses. This adds a risk-reward element when it comes to deciding which valuables to hold on to and which to sell.
The Blue Medallion shooting section, too, has been expanded into a series of side quests instead of just one. Each of these will reward you with Spinels, which are now a currency that can only be traded with the Merchant for exclusive goods.
Spinels can drop from certain enemies, but you’ll get most of them from completing these requests. Each of these elements adds a reason to revisit areas and hunt for treasure, offering a reprieve from the relentless action inspired by forward motion.
While inventory management sparks the same Tetris joy, this too is expanded upon. You can also now find customizable skins for your attache case that give different passive buffs. The attache case can also now house three dangling charms, all of which give different buffs as well. These let you customize your “loadout” in a very modern-game type of way.
The one wrench in the proverbial chain during my review was a system involving the Merchant and side missions, where there’s a nice dietetic element meant to remind you of incomplete activities. It didn’t quite work right, and hopefully, it will be patched before release day.
Resident Evil 4 Remake isn’t above including elements from the modern RE titles, such as the yellow tape or paint marking boxes and ammo crafting. The map, too, takes after the Resident Evil 2 Remake and RE3 Remake in that it’s comprehensive and readable. And since you’re doing more treasure hunting, you’ll want to check the map more frequently than before. For what it’s worth, this is probably the best map in the series to date and a massive step up from the original.
Changes to combat encounters, the order of events, boss fights, and, of course, quick-time events are all in service of making a more dynamic experience.
There are indeed some moments from the back half of the original that you won’t be seeing in this Remake. Some of the more iconic cheesy lines and over-the-top moments don’t make an appearance. Overall, there are a few omissions that are going to disappoint fans. A near-complete rewrite of the script means that the game’s sense of humor has shifted. Thankfully, it still has one.
The most disappointing part of Resident Evil 4 Remake is the lack of post-game content. We know that Mercenaries is coming in a future DLC pack, but Assignment Ada and Separate Ways are nowhere to be found after completing the game once. These would make great DLC, no doubt, but their absence is disappointing nonetheless.
There is, however, New Game Plus, which is nice.
Image via Capcom
Resident Evil 4 — The Bottom Line
- A pitch-perfect action-horror rollercoaster ride that sustains excitement and tension from start to finish.
- An engaging and welcomed emphasis on treasure hunting and exploration.
- Full of fun, clever upgrades and adjustments to Leon’s arsenal and abilities.
- Smart content changes make the game tighter and simultaneously keep old fans on their toes.
- The supporting cast gets more fleshed out, even if they aren’t fully three-dimensional.
- The Merchant’s reminder system seems busted.
- Wish it shipped with the Mercenaries or any form of post-game content, but we’ll gladly settle for New Game Plus.
It’s been hard to write this and not repeatedly come back to all the unmentioned thoughts that boil down to re-hashing what makes RE4 a classic in the first place. All of it: the tension of resource management, the weapon variety and balance, the complete tonal cohesion of cinematic action and the series’ scariest enemies. They’re all still present.
The development team at Capcom deserves to be recognized for not just recreating this iconic game but making it better in countless ways — and for having the courage to leave behind the things that didn’t fit that vision. RE Remake was well worth the wait and a survival-horror masterpiece.
[Note: Capcom provided the copy of Resident Evil 4 Remake used for this review. Featured image via Capcom.]