Resident Evil 4 (2005) reinvented the series at the time, taking a chance to mess with the formula by upping the action quota to match the scares. It paid off supremely well, resulting in a game awash in acclaim and sales and has since been re-released perhaps more than Skyrim and gone on to influence every third-person action game since, from God of War to The Last of Us. Following the success of remakes of Resident Evils 2 and 3, Capcom is now taking a stab at the highlight of the series and what is widely considered one of the best games ever made. The question is, could they possibly touch such a high benchmark? It turns out, in a few ways, they manage to top it.
The story remains largely unchanged. 4 Remake still follows former police officer Leon Kennedy from RE2, who’s now a special forces agent sent to rural Spain to find the U.S. president’s missing daughter. Ashley was last seen getting in with a bad crowd. And by that, I mean she’s been kidnapped by violent cultists who are infected with mutation-causing parasites. Leon’s adventure will take him across the derelict village and beyond as players must find and escort Ashley back to safety.
But while the story remains mostly the same, that doesn’t mean you’re playing the same game as in 2005. This is a complete remake from the ground up in Capcom’s RE Engine, with refinements to both story and gameplay. Leon is no longer stuck in place while shooting but able to move freely, albeit slowly, while aiming. He can also use his trusty knife to counter some attacks. However, your knife can also break and need repair, which adds even more tension to every encounter. This is compounded by the addition of stealth options, allowing you to sneak up and shiv enemies if you prefer to take them out quietly, but the game’s focus still remains on the tight balance of its satisfying shooting and managing the precious ammo and resources you find.
It also wisely knows you’ve probably played the original more than a few times, so it throws a few curveballs here and there for veteran players while also changing things up to appeal to modern newbies, such as Leon’s improved mobility, ability to duck away from some attacks, and an auto-sort for inventory management. And while the original definitely focused on action over horror, here the scarier elements are played up even higher. It’s still a game where you can suplex injured enemies and downed dog monsters will leave precious ammo, so expect to have scary fun.
A bigger change comes in the form of Ashley. She no longer has her own health bar to worry about and instead just gets incapacitated by enemy attacks, and Leon can quickly get her back on her feet with the press of a button. That doesn’t mean she’s still not in any danger. Players will still spend a chunk of the game escorting her and preventing Los Illuminados members from snatching her up, leading to a game over. You can also accidentally blow up Ashley if you’re not careful with your grenades, as certain players who definitely aren’t me found out the hard way.
One of the few ways the game doesn’t live up to the original is in the villains or rather their presentation. In the original, they would often hack into Leon’s communications and taunt him, giving them a lively presence. Here, they appear infrequently, with main baddie Lord Saddler in particular coming off as more of a cypher than the charming cult leader he was in the original.
Also returning is perhaps the game’s most beloved character, the Merchant. A cloaked figure who’s a sort of traveling flea market with a hint of pirate, he still has plenty of guns to sell and upgrade and is more than happy to buy all the treasures you find. This time, however, you can also trade in the small gems you find for special items like long-range scopes and weapon upgrade tickets. He still won’t sell you ammo, though, because that would make the game too easy.
But it’s obvious from the adjustments to gameplay and story that RE4 Remake was honed and refined with much reverence and care for the original. While some levels and bosses are missing, that just helps the game feel leaner and tighter. Returning players and newcomers alike are in for a frightful treat not to be missed.
Resident Evil 4 (2023)
Directed by Yasuhori Anpo and Kazunori Kadoi. Written by Matthew Costello. Starring Nick Apostolides, Genevieve Buechner, André Peña, and Lily Gao. Available for Playstation 4, Playstation 5, PC, and Xbox Series X/S. Rated M for Mature.