Much like Leon S. Kennedy, Capcom was not in for an easy ride with this one. There are great games and then there are the classics, games so forward-thinking and complete that they shape entire corners of our industry. In Resident Evil 4's case, every third-person game since has worn its love for Capcom's masterpiece on their over-the-shoulder sleeves: Everything from Gears of War to Dead Space to The Last of Us runs because Capcom showed them all how to walk. Remaking a game that remade its own genre is nothing less than trying to catch lightning in a bottle one more time.
What is it? A remake of one of the best action games ever made.
Expect to pay $60/£50
Release date March 24, 2023
Reviewed on Windows 10, i5-12400F, 16GB DDR4 Ram, RTX 2060
Steam Deck TBA
Link Official site (opens in new tab)
Capcom almost managed it and, for the longest time, you'll think it did. The opening of the Resident Evil 4 remake is outstanding, slightly streamlining the original route into the village in order to get you into the first big set-piece: A knock-down drag-out village brawl that, almost immediately, takes place with the constant sound of a chainsaw revving as its owner chases Leon everywhere.
I played on Hardcore difficulty, which is recommended for those who've completed the original game, and the name fits. I must have died in this encounter six times before re-adjusting and beginning to figure out the endless little tricks baked into Leon's moveset and the enemy behaviour. One difference you'll notice almost immediately on this difficulty is that running away is not quite the god-tier strategy it once was: These ganados don't just run after you, but will catch you and inflict grievous damage. If there's one thing you'll realise quickly in this game it's that, after the rather flavourless Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, Capcom has rediscovered the joy of killing players brutally.
And it will do it to you again, and again. The original's death animations for Leon were another standout feature (Dead Space in particular strove to recreate this) and you can sense the animation team here wanted to out-do daddy, and has produced some of the grisliest, grimmest and sometimes amusing deaths you'll ever watch. I've seen Leon lifted into the air on a chainsaw, I've seen a giant bite his head off, cultists poke his eyes out, dogs ripping his throat to shreds, clawlike fingers poked through his brain, huge pulsating worms nom his face, razor-sharp tendrils slice through his tender bits… honestly I could write five paragraphs on the ways I've seen Leon die, and I'd probably still miss some.
This is the Resident Evil 4 remake's great strength. Where the original came up with a new threat, the more human-seeming ganados and their swarming tactics, the remake doubles down on the idea, making enemies tougher and more persistent while subtly altering Leon's toolkit to deal with it. This has always been a game about crowd control: Keeping things off your back, whittling down a seemingly unbeatable mob to its last member, gritting your teeth and blasting through a sea of bodies and tentacles. The remake throws everything at you and then, while you're gasping on the ground, the kitchen sink sails through the air right at your head.
This can be utterly exhilarating. Resident Evil 4's greatest fights are all here, bigger than ever, and feel better than ever to wade through. The core of combat remains location damage, shooting enemies in the legs or head in order to stagger them then following up with melee attacks—a brilliant push-pull dynamic that sees you staying on the edge of mobs until you need to dash in and unleash a roundhouse or suplex. A superb new addition is the ability to parry with your knife (though of course not all attacks can be parried), leading to these extended sequences of utter chaos where, through some combination of instinct and extreme firepower, Leon somehow walks away from an army with nary a scratch.
One particularly well-done element of this is, if you'll do a mental drum roll, reticule wavering. I know, I know, doesn't seem like much, but the original game incorporated the idea that Leon's aim would always be slightly wobbly, and the remake takes this and runs with it. Hold out your pistol and, over a few seconds, the reticule will wobble vaguely around the point you're aiming at before settling and tightening up to a smaller area. Enemies won't wait around to give you time to line up your shot, so you'll need ice-cold nerves if you want to be an accurate gunslinger.
The moment-to-moment combat is as good as Resident Evil has ever been, and that's saying something: That shout of "Un forastero!" still sends chills down my spine every time. The remake also initially stays relatively true to the original game's outstanding structure and pacing, but once you're out of the village things change and not for the better.
The Resident Evil 4 remake makes some bold decisions about elements of the original and, in many cases, that decision is simply to remove them. Capcom has been upfront about the game removing the QTE elements (though these are still a part of combat in dodges and arguably even the parry) but it doesn't have any ideas about what to replace them with and so moments of great drama and peril—little sequences that I find memorable—just aren't here. The review embargo prevents me saying exactly what is here and what isn't but, if you have any familiarity with the game, you'll notice the absence of one, then another, then by the time you're near the end sadly conclude this isn't going to deliver much of what it should.
That might seem entitled. But Resident Evil 4 was always a slightly crazy game. Where the first game's mansion was coherent and semi-believable as a setting, Resident Evil 4 takes place in an unspecified European wonderland of bizarre contraptions, shooting galleries, medieval castles, and an endless menagerie of grotesque and toothy experiments. And a lot of it just hasn't made the cut. One iconic sequence in particular—I'll not say which as we've been asked to avoid revealing certain specific changes—has here been replaced with an utterly anodyne and short section that simply isn't fit to lace the original's boots.
This element of the remake begins to encroach more and more as the game hits its second half stride, and I can only describe it as timidity. Where the original felt like it was constantly over-reaching, always surprising the player with new demands, new environments, and wild one-off challenges, this seems content to settle into more of a standard corridor shooter rhythm. The combat is so good that even when the game's unambitious it is borne aloft on a cloud of shotgun shells, but the further you poke into that soft underbelly the more standard it begins to seem.
Memories are obviously hazy things, but the castle always seemed to me a gigantic playground, filled with back-and-forth warrens and secrets to be uncovered. Here it feels like something designed by Naughty Dog, opulent and gorgeous and fun to walk through, but always with a very obvious big finger pointing out where to go next. I'm not saying the original game was some expansive freeform epic, because it wasn't. It was every bit as linear as this. But it felt a lot bigger, and kept out-doing itself until the very end in a way that this just doesn't.
I suspect that, for those who haven't played Resident Evil 4, the experience of this remake will be to discover a very good third-person shooter, and wonder why everyone made such a fuss about it in the first place. And the sad fact is that, where the original game was pioneering and ended up defining a genre, this remake is trammeled by that legacy and bound by what Resident Evil 4's successors, almost all of which are inferior games, have done to the template.
You'll feel this especially in some of the boss fights and more extreme encounters, where it's almost like Capcom dials back the threat level somewhat so everyone can get through it. There's an infamous room in the castle, where Leon and Ashley gradually have to work their way to the back through hordes of enemies, before Leon guards Ashley as she operates a contraption, and the version of it here feels like such a normal fight that you wonder, in a game that elsewhere is happy to batter you, why they'd soft-soap such an infamously tough challenge. It feels like the balance is wrong in some encounters, and part of the mystique and terror is lost. The less said about the gimmicky versions of certain other classic boss fights the better.
And yet… that core remains so strong, so vital, and the old rhythms beat beneath it. My delight at acquiring the Red9 pistol made me feel 20 years younger, and the upgrade path had that familiar pattern of gradually turning an unwieldy, bucking peashooter into the hand cannon of every secret agent's dreams. The expansive armoury, which really blossoms after a few chapters, soon forces you to choose which weapons to carry around and upgrade and tinker with, and while there are no surprises the distinctions between them and their efficacy in different situations makes Leon, in those hectic gun-switching grenade-tossing moments of chaos, feel like some high-tech Rambo.
Writhe in my cage of torment, my friend
Resident Evil 4 remake undoubtedly improves on the original in some ways. Personally I'll always miss the line "You're [sic] right hand comes off?" but the B-movie script is much-improved, and the way the storyline has been tweaked, in some cases significantly so, is well-handled and retains enough of the schlock factor that the personalities shine through. Ashley, doomed to forever be the damsel in distress, is now a much more forthright and capable companion, while Luis' reinvention retains the rogueish charm and sands off his more leery side.
Perhaps something like that smoothing out is the real problem here, however. Resident Evil 4 may be one of the best games ever made, but it is also wildly uneven in places, and this remake feels like it has been planed to remove those spikes and jutting edges. It feels like a much more straightforward experience, start-to-finish, than the original. It doesn't have these far-off detours and wild one-offs then, with a few notable exceptions, re-does the surprises of the original in new ways without ever quite surprising you enough with how it does so.
If Resident Evil 4 remake was an original, standalone title, it would be a good game indeed, and anyone who plays this will have a fun time (maybe not on Hardcore though: it really is brutal). But this is not a standalone game, it's a remake of one of the greatest games ever made and, when it comes to the crunch, it falls short. Where the original felt expansive, this feels cramped, and where the original went on breathless tangents and threw one idea after another at the player, this feels (in the second half especially) like it settles into a groove and isn't especially interested in breaking free of it.
Much of this is forgotten when, in the utter maelstrom of battle, you're surviving by the skin of your teeth and blasting through a sea of limbs and teeth with knife-edge parries and outrageous firepower. But outside of this exquisite action core, Resident Evil 4 remake feels like a game that runs out of ideas and, most unforgiveably, jettisons many parts that made the original so good without having any idea of what to replace them with.
Resident Evil 4 re-invented thirdperson action, and ever since it came out I've been waiting for another game to blow the bloody doors off in the way it did. But this is not the heir to Resident Evil 4, so much as a tribute. Resident Evil 4 remake is merely a great thirdperson action game that, sadly, takes too much inspiration from what followed: Rather than what started it all in the first place.