Over here, stranger
The impact that Resident Evil 4 had on the industry can’t be understated. Mechanics that were refined in the title, such as the aiming and over-the-shoulder camera, became widespread in the console generation that followed. QTE events caught on in a big way, and set-piece moments became focal points in many big titles. Some of the best and worst parts of modern game design were first popularized in the 2005 title. As meandering and unfocused as it could be, it’s an important and well-loved title.
When the Resident Evil 4 remake was announced, like many people, I wondered how Capcom would approach the most over-the-top and ridiculous elements that seem so out-of-place in the drab, monotonous high-budget market. Now I know the answer.
Resident Evil 4 (PC, PS4, PS5 [reviewed], Xbox Series X|S)
Release: March 24, 2023
Six years after the worst first day on the job ever, Leon “Sherbert” Kennedy has an awesome jacket. Now working a different job, he has that jacket taken from him, and spends the entirety of the game trying to get it back. Also, the President of the United States’ daughter is missing in the area. Maybe find her and ask if she’s seen his jacket.
Leon’s jacket is lost somewhere in a remote part of Spain. Crawling across the countryside are angry people who have worms.
Resident Evil 4 can be neatly sliced into three parts: the village, the castle, and the island. The first part was a major departure for the series, simply due to it being more rural and not including zombies. Zombies don’t really pop up at all in a direct interpretation of the word; instead, having you fight faster, smarter enemies that come in various flavors. So, while the locations of the latter two parts of the game are more familiar in terms of Resident Evil aesthetics, the enemies and change of control style makes it feel like a largely different game throughout.
In a lot of ways, Resident Evil 4 was a necessary evolution of the series, as things were starting to grow a bit stale. However, this also means that a remake is less impactful than what we saw with the recent refurbishments of Resident Evil 2 and 3. It could be argued that Resident Evil 4 didn’t need a remake, and now that it’s here, that remains absolutely true.
I’ll never get over the loss of that jacket
The most appreciable difference in Resident Evil 4’s refresh is the graphics. It is, to my untrained eye, a top-to-bottom redo. However, beyond that, this will be extremely familiar to anyone who played the 2005 original version. Those three parts I mentioned above are still as starkly partitioned. Leon still loses his jacket and fights Napoleon. You can still take all the villagers and cultists on a scenic vacation to suplex city. If you haven’t played Resident Evil 4 in over 15 years, then you could potentially be tricked into believing this is just a visual upgrade. Even the behavior of the villagers was so familiar to me that I could almost take them down through muscle memory alone.
There is a tremendous list of omissions and additions made here too exhaustive for the contents of this review. However, I feel like I must stress that this is still entirely Resident Evil 4. It may look prettier, and you can move when you shoot, but thematically and mechanically, it’s more similar than dissimilar. It tries to land in a sweet spot of addressing past complaints and modernizing while retaining what people loved about Resident Evil 4. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I feel like they did pretty well on hitting that target.
This also means that certain things that might not be to people’s tastes are also often changed. Dialogue is redone, but Leon “Sicknasty” Kennedy still spouts ridiculous one-liners. The main antagonists have all returned, and they’re all still as shockingly out-of-place as they were before. I know there was some concern that Capcom would play it too straight with Resident Evil 4, but with a few exceptions, it’s just as atonal as it was originally. For better or worse.
The greatest thing about Resident Evil 4 is that it’s fun. Whether you can move while aiming or not, the combat is reactive and enjoyable. Enemies are a nice mixture of varied and dumb, and there’s a bit of randomness that comes in when certain enemies take more shots or sometimes get back up after you kill them. You can shoot their legs to set them up for a suplex or wait for them to get close and parry them. My favorite is to lead them all into a big cluster and drop a grenade by their feet, especially when the president’s daughter is in the mosh-pit with them.
There’s a nice layer of progression spread over top, as well. You gradually get access to buy new weapons, can upgrade your favorites, and customize your kit as you see fit. Leon’s nimble fingers can also craft in the midst of battle, so there are plenty of strategies that come into play.
The biggest issue in all this is that it’s very front-loaded. The best section of the game is when you first enter the village, and it never reaches that height again. That’s not to say it doesn’t remain to be a fun time, but I just can’t believe they didn’t put together more complex set-pieces like that.
Speaking of which, Resident Evil 4 also has a dizzying amount of variety and is constantly throwing new stuff at you. When I say “new,” I mean it was new in 2005. There isn’t a lot here that’s going to surprise you if you’re familiar with its original state. They got rid of the quick-time events, which makes that whole deal with Jack Krauser a bit more tolerable, but there’s something else there in its place. They’ve also dropped in some new varieties of enemies, but they’re not very meaningful additions. On the other hand, they blend in so well with the original cast that you’d be forgiven for not even realizing they’re new.
A lot of people will be happy to hear that Ashley is less annoying. I didn’t find her too awful in the original version, but she was so much easier to ignore this time around.
You wanna get ugly?
One thing to note is that a lot of side content isn’t even implemented yet. I was surprised, upon completing Resident Evil 4, that the Mercenaries mode doesn’t exist. Capcom has said that this will be coming in a post-release patch. What they haven’t clarified is where all the Ada Wong content is. The “Separate Ways” sub-story that was added in the PS2 version isn’t here. I have a creeping suspicion that it will be paid DLC, but since they haven’t said anything, that’s just speculation.
Resident Evil 4 was a groundbreaking title that shifted the direction of big-budget development. The over-the-shoulder camera angle employed was tremendously influential for years to come. It also shifted the Resident Evil series into its worst era, as Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6 both followed its example before Capcom eventually corrected its course.
Back in 2005, I liked Resident Evil 4, but I didn’t love it. The remake hasn’t changed that. Unlike the Resident Evil 2 remake, which was revolutionary, Resident Evil 4’s glow-up is more of a faithful recreation rather than an overhaul. It changes just enough that, if you loved the original, I can’t guarantee this will leave you unperturbed. Meanwhile, if you didn’t like its first iteration, it’s not impossible that this will change your mind. The best I can say is that it is an earnest effort at recapturing the magic, and it’s worth checking out. It remains, as it always was, maddeningly inconsistent.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]