Resident Evil 4 remake: with refined combat, visuals and level design, Capcom’s just made a modern classic even better. Our review…
The old adage goes that “if you come for the king, you better not miss”. It aptly sums up the tall task Capcom faced when remaking Resident Evil 4 – a modern classic whose reputation has only grown in stature in the 18 years since it first released. It’s fondly remembered not only for how it redefined the series, but also the entire survival horror genre – perhaps even third-person action games as a whole. I wasn’t sure if the 2005 original could ever be superseded, yet with a deft hand, Capcom has done so.
The bones of Leon S. Kennedy’s mission to save the president’s daughter from an infected Spanish cult remain the same. The remake, however, smartly remixes and reshapes certain sections and locations to offer a slightly different perspective on the original game’s events. A good example is the village section early on; where the path to the church was once relatively straightforward, there are now plenty of chances to get to grips with the remake’s new mechanics like stealth, item crafting, and Leon’s breakable knife during the beautifully tense lead up.
That last factor is easily the Resident Evil 4 remake’s biggest change over the original. Leon can no longer slash his way through Ganado hordes with infinite knife swings, because using it too much will quickly see it break – at least until you’ve had a chance to upgrade its power and durability at the Merchant’s stall. With greater risk comes greater reward, however, as the knife can now be used for instant kills during certain animations and can even parry attacks from chainsaws, maces, and other melee weapons. More so than any gun, upgrading the knife becomes a priority to give Leon a fighting chance early on.
One thing that has stayed the same – and rightly so – is how pressure constantly builds on you during almost every conflict. Finally being able to shoot and walk at the same time in Resident Evil 4 offers you a lot more options in terms of positioning, which when combined with knife parrying, stealth, limb targeting, and contextual manoeuvres like Leon’s roundhouse kick, fleshes out combat in a way that always requires your concentration. Even though a lot of locations are the same, I quickly found myself using these familiar spaces differently and in a more flexible manner.
The RE engine continues to impress on a technical level, presenting both new and recognisable boss battles in horrifying detail. Though lacking the impact it first had in, say, its presentation of the Resident Evil 2 remake’s slushy zombies, environments and enemies demonstrate a level of colour and detail I could only dream of when first playing the comparatively drab original. From the shiny ornateness of Salazar’s castle, the mountainous region’s cold exterior and everything in between, Resident Evil 4 has never looked better than it does now. But then that was always a given.
It may disappoint some to learn that the remake does away with much of Resident Evil 4’s trademark campiness, and this is especially felt in certain character portrayals like little Salazar himself. He’s still as twisted and maniacal as he ever was, but his speech delivery has been toned down to bring it in line with the remake’s more grounded nature. This is just one example of instances where select characterisations and plot elements have been reined in, but there’s still plenty of goofiness to be found in, say, the minecart sequence and call backs to fan-favourite moments such as Leon’s infamous “bingo” line.
Characters like Luis, Ada and even Ashley have plenty more to do in this reinterpretation, too, even if where they end up is mostly the same. Having Luis stick around for a lot longer is a particularly good move, because it provides the chance to learn more about his reasons for being here in the first place, outside of text-based notes. Ashley and Leon’s central relationship, meanwhile, has a touch more complexity to it, painting Leon as less of an all-American hero and somebody who took a simple job and ended up having a really bad day. It helps that Ashley is less of a pain to escort in this version as well, with a one button click adjusting the distance she keeps from you.
Overall, the Resident Evil 4 remake builds on an existing blueprint known to so many, yet still manages to feel like a unique survival horror experience. It doesn’t outright replace the original, but instead uses it as a template to improve on and stand by itself as my new favourite franchise entry. Most of the scares may remain the same, but through the addition of new combat options, more reasons to revisit well-trodden areas and a significant visual overhaul, this is easily the best way to play what remains the finest Resident Evil entry so far.
More so than just new weapons, upgrades and health, the Merchant has significantly stepped up his offerings since the first time he appeared. Complete mini-objectives, and you’ll gain access to several useful surprises that will help you fight the Ganados. Be smart and upgrade your knife first.
One of the best survival horror games ever gets an even scarier upgrade. Resident Evil 4 is a near perfect modern reinterpretation of a classic.