With Resident Evil 4’s massive reputation, the prospect of rebuilding the game from the ground up appears overwhelming. The original game is considered not just a masterpiece – a literal game-changing edition in the long-running horror series – but also one of the most influential games of the previous two decades. It effectively redesigned and enhanced third-person shooter design, as well as reinterpreted what a survival horror game might be, combining confident and precise gameplay with a persistent sense of dread and high-stakes suspense.
Prior to release, it was difficult to ignore the outpouring of fear and concern from the Resident Evil fanbase regarding whether the RE4 remake could ever live up to the heritage. Yet, it rises to the challenge, retaining not just the bones and spirit of the original, but also demonstrating a more confident stride forward in Capcom’s efforts to recreate its legendary titles. The remake retains what made the original Resident Evil 4 such an essential game, and it also allows for a more dramatic and rewarding slide into survival horror by updating and reimagining the game’s general tone and structure.
The Resident Evil 4 remake, set in 2004, follows a cynical Leon S. Kennedy, now a government agent, on assignment in Western Europe to recover the US President’s missing daughter. After a terrifying encounter with villagers corrupted by a mysterious affliction that imbues them with heightened aggression and flesh-warping parasites, Leon descends further into the village and its outskirts to discover where the affliction originates and how the President’s daughter fits into the mastermind’s plans.
Resident Evil 4 is often considered as a corny and wildly over-the-top action-horror adventure through rural backwoods and scary castles. It has a tone comparable to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead or John Carpenter’s The Thing, with lots of blood and gore and strange visual jokes and funny one-liners. While the remake makes greater attempt to anchor its plot, providing more important character interactions and setting circumstances, it keeps the primary premise of RE4 being a horror thrill trip.
If anything, the remake builds on the original’s merits, sharpening the writing and adding contextual narration to give the tale more weight. Over the 15 hours it took me to complete the main tale on my first run, I came to enjoy the amount of extra information and context I noticed when exploring the various areas of the town and beyond. The remake’s misty, gloomy atmosphere is more detailed, but still highly frightening. Even when I wasn’t completing riddles or searching around for materials in the absence of adversaries, I felt uneasy. In general, the remake of Resident Evil 4 has a fantastic balance of peaceful periods that lead to some very harrowing encounters with the infected.
Its redesign also provides a more integrated and tonally consistent experience across its primary plot and core gameplay, which is especially evident in the people you’ll get to know: Leon, Ashley, Luis, and many others. Ashley, the President’s daughter, has more agency and is a stronger character in the adaptation, elevating her above her conventional “damsel in distress” status. Luis is another character who has benefited from the addition of pathos. Along with providing further history, he also interacts nicely with other characters in the main narrative.
Of course, significant features and sequences from the original were left out for the remake, but I wasn’t as troubled by their absence as I expected. The interpretation presented by the RE4 remake is an overall superior experience than the original, owing to the significantly tighter pacing and plot.
Resident Evil 4 is not just a more concentrated game, but it also manages to seem wider in scale thanks to additional elements and events, some of which connect more directly into the series’ greater narrative. There’s also greater incentive to return to previous regions to find new happenings and even reveal certain narrative aspects that would have gone unnoticed without more investigation.
The original Resident Evil 4 truly set a new standard in third-person action gameplay with cinematic flair. However, the reboot shines at presenting dramatic battle situations that offer you entire agency while also instilling a genuine feeling of fear at how chaotic and ruthless your adversaries are. Unlike previous Resident Evil games’ zombies, the Ganados and other creatures in RE4 use more logical strategies and applied violence to batter Leon.
The remake adds a survivalist element to RE4’s gameplay, combining the resource management of classic Resident Evil games with the action turn that the original RE4 took. With the remake, enemies often drop less bullets, and I found myself running out of ammo more frequently than I expected, adding to the intensity during battles.
The remake also includes a new fighting weapon that allows Leon to execute new tactics such as stealth kills, as well as parries and blocks, at the expense of the knife’s durability. The knives in the RE4 remake are the most helpful in the series, allowing you to whittle down adversaries or open their defences – an adversary might swipe at you, but you can cut their arm by parrying their strike. Yet, because to their limited longevity, you must use them with extreme caution.
The many additional flourishes and nuances introduced in the RE4 remake are a lot of fun. When I wasn’t freaked out by dealing with chainsaw-wielding lunatics and a swarm of axe-throwing peasants, I found the quantity of fighting options accessible to me to be quite encouraging. The original game depended on a slew of quick-time button prompts to keep you on your toes, but the RE4 version dramatically reduces this to keep you in the present.
This is a wise decision one I grew to appreciate during the game, particularly during up-close-and-personal encounters with mutant beasts and other baddies that want to bite Leon’s head off. Whether it was as basic as utilising Leon’s weaponry to disable adversaries or open them up to melee counterattacks, or as sophisticated as exploiting contextual items to trap enemies, the amount of ways I could deal out damage and escape a scrape gave me a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I felt very trendy, dare I say, after pulling off some slick talents and approaches. The game, on the other hand, backed me into a corner at times.
Resident Evil 4 remake stumbles occasionally during some of the more heightened combat scenarios. In other circumstances, the game may be so overwhelming that Leon’s purposefully limited agility and continual resource management become too much to handle. Furthermore, there were instances when I felt as though the deck was stacked against me. Several of these circumstances resulted in lengthy conflicts that I found difficult to deal with – situations where one false move might result in death and a complete re-enactment of the encounter. In general, I was able to overcome these obstacles by reconsidering my strategies and ensuring that I was using all of the resources at my disposal, but it’s still an unpleasant situation to be in.
Apart from a higher difficulty setting and a bonus store for purchasing various cosmetic pieces for Leon and Ashley, I found the post-story stuff to be fairly sparse. Regrettably, the legendary The Mercenaries mode from the original game is still missing, however it is intended as a free download shortly after the game’s release. Yet, as a fan of the original, I was disappointed by the disappearance of The Mercenaries.
It feels a little strange to keep the plot elements on a remake of a nearly 18-year-old game minimal throughout this review. To summarise, there are several fascinating twists and diversions from the experience that I believe are better served if you go in unspoiled – even if you’re a long-time lover of the original. Knowing the original game well, watching both tiny and more blatant changes at work gave me a lot of fun. The remake deliberately shatters the assumptions of people who know the game inside and out.
This all adds up to a really gratifying reworking of the old game. The Resident Evil 4 remake makes some wise decisions that help it seem authentic to the original while also shaping the journey into something that feels more coherent, contemporary, and exhilarating than ever before. It’s a fantastic example of how to breathe new life into a classic.