The original Resident Evil 4 needs no introduction. Anyone who has even a passing interest in video games as a medium already knows about its unshakable legacy. Not only is it one of the greatest games ever made and one of the best instalments in a series that’s full of certified masterpieces, it’s also fair to say that without RE4, third person shooters simply wouldn’t exist as we know them today. And with its remake, history has surely repeated itself- by virtue of being a remake, the new Resident Evil 4 is obviously not going to have anywhere close to the sort of impact that the original did, but in terms of pure quality, this may very well be one of the best games Capcom has ever made in its sparkling history.
What’s most impressive about this remake is how successfully it manages to capture all of the biggest strengths of the original while still carving out its own identity. It strikes the balance between staying faithful and deviating from the path better than any of its predecessors did. On one hand, in the current crop of Resident Evil remakes, Resident Evil 4 is surely the most faithful one we’ve seen from Capcom. There are very few meaningful cuts to speak of, several memorable sequences and encounters have been brought over almost exactly as they were in the original, and the general tone and flow of Leon’s nightmare of a rescue mission sticks very closely to how it went in the 2005 game. While purists bemoaned the lack of the zapping system in 2019’s Resident Evil 2 and the clock tower section in 2020’s Resident Evil 3, here, Capcom has hit almost all of the major beats you’d expect.
"By virtue of being a remake, the new Resident Evil 4 is obviously not going to have anywhere close to the sort of impact that the original did, but in terms of pure quality, this may very well be one of the best games Capcom has ever made in its sparkling history."
At the same time, it never feels like the only reason Capcom decided to remake Resident Evil 4 was simply because it was next in line. In more ways than one, it feels like a meaningful improvement over its source material, like it exists not so it can just check a box, but because it has notable enhancements and changes to make in order to improve upon a game that’s already considered an unabashed masterpiece. While Leon still visits a lot of the same locations that he did in the original RE4, many of them have been significantly redesigned, almost always for the better. Some areas have been expanded, exploration is more greatly emphasized, a lot of fat has been trimmed, and even the sequence of certain key events has been remixed, so even from a narrative perspective, the remake manages to keep surprising you while still sticking to the same general path the original game took.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the tone of the storytelling and the experience as a whole. The original Resident Evil 4 has become very closely associated with its intentional B-movie charm and how hilariously cartoonish and over-the-top it was. The remake doesn’t try to clean that up- it doesn’t shy away from Leon rattling off quips and one liners, or the Merchant being an ever-present enigma, or enemy designs and set pieces charging headlong into the realm of the bizarre and outlandish, or the story constantly escalating in over-the-top ways.
And yet, thankfully, it never feels as overly cartoony as the original Resident Evil 4 did. From the way dialogue is written to how it is delivered to how cutscenes are directed, it takes the over-the-top tone of the original RE4 and tempers it with the relatively more grounded style that the series has become known for since 2017’s Resident Evil 7. In that sense, it very much has its cake and eats it too, striking a balance between the corniness of the original Resident Evil 4 and the more slick aesthetic of the series’ current era in a way that, personally, I had thought would be impossible.
"From the way dialogue is written to how it is delivered to how cutscenes are directed, it takes the over-the-top tone of the original RE4 and tempers it with the relatively more grounded style that the series has become known for since 2017’s Resident Evil 7. In that sense, it very much has its cake and eats it too, striking a balance between the corniness of the original Resident Evil 4 and the more slick aesthetic of the series’ current era in a way that, personally, I had thought would be impossible."
What really seals that victory is how it manages to imbue the RE4 experience with a more emphasized horror vibe. Don’t get me wrong, this is still very much an action game rather than a horror experience, just as the original was, but through various audio visual touches – like volumetric fog effects, weather effects, stellar lighting, excellent use of darkness, and incredible audio design – the atmosphere in the remake feels much closer to the series’ horror roots than it ever did in the original game.
Resident Evil 4 improves upon its source material on the gameplay front as well, though the jump here feels less radical than it did in the RE2 and RE3 remakes- which makes sense, because while those were remakes of PS1 games with fixed camera angles, this is a remake of an over-the-shoulder third person shooter that, even by today’s standards, feels fairly modern. The most obvious change is, of course, the implementation of modern controls that, unlike the original, allow you to move while aiming and shooting, which improves the flow of combat drastically. Another major addition is the knife parry mechanic, which might seem like a pretty small change on paper, but turns out to be quite significant and ends up adding an extra dimension to the combat. Add to that some more touches of polish and modernization of dated mechanics – like the removal of QTEs – and what you get is one of the best playing Resident Evil games to date. It also helps that Ashley is nowhere close to being as annoying as she was in the original, and this is true from both gameplay and narrative perspectives. In fact, she rarely ever gets in the way of the action, which means the flow of combat doesn’t get interrupted by the constant need to keep pulling her out of sticky situations, which was so often the case in the original Resident Evil 4.
Of course, a lot of the combat’s biggest strengths are also down to the impressive enemy variety, which was very much the case in the original RE4 as well. Just like the original game, Resident Evil 4 builds horror through tension more than actual scares, and it does that through the almost overwhelming mobs of enemies that you’re constantly fighting, who’re overwhelming not just because of their numbers, but also because of how many different kinds of threats they pose. From the first minute to the last, Resident Evil 4 keeps throwing new enemy types at you, with many of them requiring very specific strategies to kill (and some of whom are new introductions in the remake).
"Just like the original game, Resident Evil 4 builds horror through tension more than actual scares, and it does that through the almost overwhelming mobs of enemies that you’re constantly fighting, who’re overwhelming not just because of their numbers, but also because of how many different kinds of threats they pose."
It’s a masterclass in gameplay pacing, and deserves a ton of credit for how it keeps ramping up the tension, how it keeps challenging you with new enemy types and spectacular bosses, and how it keeps encouraging you to use your full arsenal. That, in turn, makes the progression mechanics feel incredibly rewarding, with each new weapon and upgrade feeling truly valuable. Exploration also feels similarly gratifying, and backtracking through environments, exploring optional areas, and thoroughly combing each new room you enter never feels like a waste of time, because from resources and ammo to gems and treasures, every single thing you find feels like a precious reward. All of that, as you might imagine, makes Resident Evil 4’s new side quests feel that much more worthwhile as well.
It also has to be mentioned – even if it sort of goes without saying for this series at this point – that this is an excellent looking game with stellar production values. I’ve already touched on its impressive lighting and visual effects, but that doesn’t seem like enough praise for how visually impressive Resident Evil 4 is. Every single environment is richly detailed and backed by incredible art design, every enemy and boss is wonderfully horrific to behold, and the gore in particular is an absolute treat, for those who’re into that sort of thing (like I am). There’s nothing quite like getting up close to an enemy’s face, blasting them with a shotgun, and seeing them torn apart in a shower of blood and viscera.
At this point, given the excellent job Capcom has done with the Resident Evil franchise and how impressive its track record is with remakes in general, it’s almost easy to take for granted just how good Resident Evil 4 is- but you absolutely shouldn’t. The challenge and complexity of remaking a game is always directly proportional to how beloved and well-regarded the original game is, and there are very few games that are more beloved and well-regarded than the original Resident Evil 4, which means the level of expectation that Capcom had shouldered with this remake was astronomical.
"It’s a masterclass in gameplay pacing, and deserves a ton of credit for how it keeps ramping up the tension, how it keeps challenging you with new enemy types and spectacular bosses, and how it keeps encouraging you to use your full arsenal."
To see this new version of RE4 taking all of that in its stride with such confidence is, frankly, staggering. It never misses a beat, it perfectly captures the spirit of its source material, and all the while, it also makes meaningful, significant improvements and changes that elevate an already masterful experience to even greater heights. As I said at the beginning of this review, history has repeated itself, because once again, Resident Evil 4 is one of best survival horror games I’ve ever played, and one of the greatest games of all time.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Stellar combat; Masterful gameplay pacing; Incredible enemy variety and excellent boss fights; Immensely rewarding progression and exploration; Feels like a faithful remake without sticking to the script too closely; Makes meaningful changes and improvements; Imbues the RE4 experience with more of a horror vibe; Looks stunning, sounds incredible.
If you're looking for a pure horror game, this isn't it.