It feels very fitting that the remake of Resident Evil 4, a game that was lauded and praised for the ways in which it departed from the first few games of the series, is now releasing on the heels of Resident Evil Village, the game which many consider to be its clear spiritual successor. The game’s original release introduced revolutionary gameplay mechanics like the over-the-shoulder third person camera view that we’ve all come to know and love, and is well-known for its cheesy dialogue and long sections of escort missions that are more scream-inducing than the game’s horror elements. The bar has been set high for this much-anticipated remake, so does it live up to expectations? The short answer is yes. The long answer is ‘I don’t want to spoil anything, so you’re gonna have to trust me on it, but yes’.
For many, the general plot of this game is already well-known, but for those who are new to the game (or new to the series), a recap video provides you with the required background. Six years after an upsetting (to put it lightly) first night on the job in Raccoon City, the events of which were covered up by the Umbrella Corporation, one-time rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy has now been put in charge of protecting the daughter of the president of the United States – a logical career progression. His charge, Ashley Graham, has been kidnapped and taken to a remote European village, and it’s Leon’s job to save her and bring her home. Of course, when he arrives in said European village, something strange has clearly taken hold of the villagers, and there’s some kind of dark and evil force afoot. Is it magic? Is it science? Is it just a random thirst for murder? At first it’s hard to say, but whatever it is, Leon and Ashley need to book it out of the area – assuming they can find a way to do so. Obviously, that isn’t an easy task.
Anyone who knows anything about the Resident Evil series can probably make a bunch of assumptions about the rest of the plot, even if they haven’t played the original Resident Evil 4, but I’m doing my best to steer clear of any and all possible spoilers. Those who are new to the game entirely will experience the whole story with fresh eyes, but even those who have played it many times before will be surprised by changes that have been made to details of the plot – from the roles some characters play, to the order in which events occur. I won’t say more than that, but I will say that the most impressive thing about this remake is the way it manages to remain an incredibly faithful recreation of the original while also providing a new and exciting experience for returning players.
Gameplay-wise, every change feels like a quality of life improvement rather than a major reworking of the systems. Rather than needing to open the inventory to switch between weapons, you can now do so using the directional buttons, making combat feel much smoother. Save locations also now allow you to access storage for excess items (a staple of the series’ other titles) meaning you don’t have to constantly sell your weapons, and ammo can be crafted using items you’ll find throughout your journey. My one gripe is that the famous combat knife degrades, meaning you can’t just knife your way through every fight with reckless abandon anymore. Or, you can, but you will need the merchant to repair it every time you meet up with him – which, thankfully, does happen often.
There’s no denying that visually, the remake is a huge upgrade on the original. When asked, I have previously described the original Resident Evil 4 as ‘brown’, and that is certainly not the word I’d use to describe the new game. It’s stunning, and has environments that now look visually distinct from one another, even when moving through areas that were previously indistinguishable. Where it was clear that Resident Evil Village had taken some inspiration for its environments from Resident Evil 4, it’s now clear that the RE4 remake has done the same in return. It’s easy to imagine that had this remake not been in the works, the areas in Village could have been indicative of what the original vision for RE4’s village, farm and castle settings could look like – but now we can see them all as they were exactly intended. In many ways, RE4 and Village are clearly partner games, and with the exception of a shift between first person and third person perspectives, those who have played Village will feel very comfortable stepping into the shoes of Leon S. Kennedy in Resident Evil 4.
Many of the gripes players had with the original are still present, but at this point it feels like they’re part of the game’s charm. Ashley is for the most part a frustrating charge, and most of her dialogue still revolves around her yelling “LEON!” in increasingly dramatic ways whenever something happens to or around either of you. If you let her stray too far from you, enemies will try to carry her away, but if you keep her too close, she’ll be injured. In place of the health bar, Ashley now has a sort of two-hit life system, where enemies will incapacitate her, and then if she’s hit again while incapacitated, she dies. I’m not sure that it makes the overall combat much less frustrating than the original given you still have to monitor her location at all times, but it’s a change. The game’s dialogue is also still terrible, but given how ingrained it is in every discussion about this game, I presume most people will see that as a positive.
In almost every way, this version of Resident Evil 4 feels exactly as I would have expected. It’s a modernised version of a much-loved classic that easily fits into the new direction of the series, following on from the earlier remakes and also taking a lot of cues from Village, the game it heavily inspired. It’s a little spookier than the original, and there are some new enemies and puzzles to take on, but it’s still the same game at its core (right down to the satisfying click of the typewriter-inspired menu navigation sounds). Of course there are parts of it that feel dated – if there weren’t, I doubt it would have managed to feel like a faithful recreation. But on the whole, everything feels sharper, and more polished. If you’ve enjoyed Resident Evil games before, you’ll enjoy this. If you’ve sort of enjoyed them but wished there was more combat involved, you’ll enjoy this. If you loved the original, you’ll get to do what many of us dream when playing remakes of our favourite games – you’ll get to experience this story for the first time all over again, due to some interesting changes.
Resident Evil 4 was reviewed on PS5 using a code kindly supplied by the publisher.