Resident Evil 4 review: this time, it can be different
A remake wrestling to step out of the shadow of a masterpiece
The original Resident Evil 4 didn’t just completely subvert the series’ survival horror roots; it laid the foundations for all over-the-shoulder third person action games that followed. It’s an all-time classic. Capcom also went on to port it to every conceivable platform, so we’ve had no trouble revisiting it over the years. With creative variety and pacing that puts most modern blockbusters to shame, it still holds up brilliantly.
That begs the question: did it really need a remake like its predecessors, and if so, just how faithful would it be? Is it possible to re-bottle that lightning or will something be inevitably lost? Grab your jacket, organise your briefcase, and make sure you’ve mixed your herbs: it’s game time.
Compared to the 18-year old original, the visuals have come a long way. Resi 4 is arguably the best looking of the series remakes so far, and all the more so because of how meaty the campaign is compared to Resident Evil 2 and 3’s more constrained settings. Here you’re transported to so many different locations and constantly surprised by the enemy variety on a level that hadn’t been repeated until Resident Evil Village. This remake has a layer of uncanniness to it, though.
It’s still the story of former rookie cop turned government agent Leon S. Kennedy, who’s sent on a mission to rescue the president’s daughter Ashley. What begins in an isolated village in rural Europe quickly takes you to completely unexpected places. The growing sense of panic as you’re gradually overwhelmed by a mob of not-zombies is still nailed perfectly here, but this isn’t a shot-for-shot recreation.
Think of it more like a remix, where story beats you remember happen in a slightly different way, or sometimes in a different order, so even longtime fans get to experience something fresh. Rest assured it’s not quite the meta subversion of Final Fantasy VII Remake, but when it works well, we find ourselves genuinely falling for a few new jump scares.
Fans more conflicted over the series’ pivot to action will however be pleased that there’s a stronger survival horror vibe this time around. Not just in the visual tone, where you’re illuminating darker environments with your torch while also aiming your weapon, but also with new elements that have a focus on puzzle solving instead of just glorified key collecting.
We appreciate the modern quality of life touches, like how picking up items or switching weapons doesn’t bring up the inventory screen every time – although using your attache case to play inventory Tetris is very much still there. You can now move while aiming, a given for any modern third-person shooter, but we’d say keeping your feet planted while aiming was fundamental to the underlying tension of the original’s combat. It’s also a little ironic that Leon actually controls a bit more sluggishly in this version.
The threat of the mob still has us on edge as we prioritise whose head to pop off first. While Leon can still run in for a roundhouse kick against staggered enemies, we also appreciate a bit more reactive mayhem in how the bigger threats can sometimes unwittingly batter other members of the crowd.
Yet as a remake, it’s also become more susceptible to a grab bag of other modern game design trends. There’s crouched stealth, the ability to parry, and crafting. Not that these elements are bad per se (if there’s a way to save us from getting decapitated by a chainsaw at the last second, we’ll take it) but not all of these necessarily add to the overall experience for the better. Having to spend money to repair your knife used for parries? No thanks, bro!
Story of my life
While Resi 4 was practically unrecognisable from its forebears, this remake has a greater continuity between the reimagined second and third games. It aims for something more grounded, with improved characterisation: Ashley is more than just a stock damsel in distress now, and makes herself useful in the moments she’s accompanying Leon.
Yet that approach also sands down some of the more out-there moments. We’re not surprised by some of these, given how wildly camp and excessive the original game was (in the best way), but longtime fans will be conscious of some notable omissions. The new additions don’t quite compensate for it, and some personality is lost as a result. We’ve still got the Merchant – thank goodness there’s no attempt to try and explain his existence and how he keeps turning up everywhere you go to hawk more powerful wares – and there are still cheesy moments, but they don’t always stick the landing.
That said, this remake still packs in replay value by way of collectibles and numerous challenges, which also reward you with points that can be used to unlock other extra content. The arcadey Mercenaries mode is sadly missing at launch but will come later as free DLC, although for PS5 owners, it’s the promised PSVR2 update that will be most fascinating. Still, it says a lot that after we’ve finished our playthrough, our instinct is to go straight back to the original, which isn’t about to be replaced anytime soon.
Resident Evil 4 verdict
As modern remakes go, this is a polished accomplishment which largely stays faithful to the original, but also finds ways to mess with your expectations to surprising effect. It also does an admirable job of better aligning the game with its survival horror roots, while also expanding on the action elements with new combat additions.
Yet for every similarity or change, it’s hard not to compare with where it’s not necessarily an improvement. Like comparing Zack Synder’s modern Hollywood reimagining of George Romero’s low-budget classic Dawn of the Dead – it’s perfectly entertaining in its own right, but lacking the same spirit.
But of course, it’s still Resident Evil 4, one of the absolute all-timers, so on those solid foundations you’re still going to have one hell of a ride. It’s just that the original is like a part of us we can’t let go.
The best of the modern Resident Evil remakes, even if it can’t hit all the highs and excesses of the 2005 masterpiece.
The best looking Resident Evil remake yet
Some smooth quality of life improvements
Mobs of enemies still terrifying
Loses some of the original’s unique weirdness
Do we really need crafting, knife durability and stealth?