Capcom faced a serious challenge remastering a game that still holds up today. They've done what they could, improving visuals and controls, while using a lighter touch on other aspects of Resident Evil 4. The result is a game that will feel familiar but one that plays in a slightly more forgiving manner. Some of the story tension is lost as a result but this is an excellent modern take on a classic.
If you’ve spent any time in the presence of survival horror games, you’ll have encountered Resident Evil, also known as Biohazard in Japan. Of the many, many games in the canon, there’s none quite so admired (and relaunched) as Resident Evil 4. First appearing on the GameCube before making its way to the PlayStation 2, Wii, PS3, Xbox 360, iOS, and even newer platforms, it was and still is an incredible game.
The newly-launched Resident Evil 4 Remake has some deep shoes to fill, is what we’re trying to say. And unlike Resident Evils 2 and 3, both of which saw extensive upgrades for modern sensibilities, there wasn’t much that needed tweaking.
Enter the darkness
That isn’t to say that the originator was perfect but it was pretty damned close. It was a leap forward for the Resident Evil series as a whole, striking a tone that hasn’t quite been equalled since. Resident Evil 7‘s jump to a first-person perspective is as close as we’ve come to a similar shift in modern times. Resident Evil 4 Remake had its work cut out for it. It’s hard to improve on a nearly perfect experience. Capcom… actually hasn’t managed that impossible feat. But it didn’t drop the ball either. At worst, you’ll have a similar feeling to the first time you played Resident Evil 4 way back in 2005.
There are some notable differences. One of the ways the original game stood out was by having so much of its creepiest stuff take place in a sort of grainy overcast daylight. Capcom has gone back to its roots and made some of the familiar territory a shade darker. Your first entry into that iconic village is still brighter than the norm but the journey there and subsequent exploration takes place in gloomier environs than you might remember. If you’re taking the trip through Ganado Central for the very first time, you’re bound to be creeped out. Perpetual twilight, broken by actual dark sections that necessitate a torch along with a gun, is an easy place to be ambushed.
While the ground you cover will feel extremely familiar if you played the original at any point in the last two decades, Resident Evil 4 Remake‘s thrown a few new bits and pieces into the mix. You’re called upon to do more thinking, in the vein of the original trilogy, in order to complete objectives. Puzzles have more depth to them, taxing your cerebral faculties in between trying to scare the ever-loving crap out of you.
The objectives haven’t changed dramatically. You’re still Leon S. Kennedy, traipsing through a vaguely Spanish countryside in search of the American president’s daughter. She’ll still need protecting through a substantial chunk of the game. Those creepy Regenerator buggers will still make your life a living hell until you’ve unlocked the Chicago Typewriter (known as the Chicago Sweeper in 2023) and that spiffy outfit to go with it. But there are also all-new elements and objectives that you’re not expecting and which can be missed if you blunder on through the story.
Fine motor skills
But what has changed is how you’ll control Leon. The differences are minor, as is the case with all of the changes Capcom has made, but significant. The original outing gave players an indestructible knife and froze them in place while aiming at enemies. Many, many deaths were the result of not seeing what was creeping up on Leon until it was too late. Here, players are more mobile, able to strafe and manoeuvre while aiming, but there’s no knife-spam to get you out of close-range trouble. That thing will break. Often. Players will find themselves paying constant visits to the Merchant for repairs and upgrades if they’re overly knife-happy.
There are other new features in Leon’s skill set. Players can parry attacks using the knife. Which, yes, takes damage if you do so, but it could mean the difference between survival and death so… Leon also has the ability to creep around and be stealthy, taking out enemies with a well-placed blade to the jugular. This also damages your combat knife, but far less than if you’ve got to use it in direct combat. It’s not always easy to take the stealth option but you’ll find opportunities here and there. They don’t make too much difference to the scripted swarms of villagers that turn up when you go loud, but every enemy knifed is a bullet saved.
Go big or go home
And you’ll want to save those bullets. Boss enemies are bullet-sponges, particularly if you suck at taking advantage of the environmental hazards that can chip away at their health. At least the Resident Evil 4 Remake has added crafting to its repertoire, letting you manufacture bullets and the all-important Flashbang if you happen to be running low.
The ability to improve the valuable items dropped by enemies, by slotting gems into them, has stuck around. There are a few narrative moments that don’t make the cut, but you’ll find out about those. We’re not fans but some events were canon for almost twenty years. Come on, guys.
But there are some all-new sections that unlock advantages during play. We’re not that fond of the randomised nature of these rewards, but you can’t have everything. As a whole, this is a solid experience that we can’t fault unless we’re being annoyingly pedantic.
Resident Evil 4 Remake verdict
It was an almost impossible task to somehow improve on 2005’s Resident Evil 4. That game redefined gaming, as well as the Resident Evil series. You won’t find anything quite so revolutionary here but as an updated outing that makes a classic as modern as it could possibly get, this remake succeeds. Everything looks better and moves cleaner — if sometimes a little slower. The whole game drips with atmosphere, the different weapons pack measurably different punches, and it’s incredibly easy to get lost in the world Capcom has created. If you’ve walked this path before, you’ll be happy to do so again. And if you’ve never travelled down this dark road before, this one offers a smoother ride into horror.