The Resident Evil series seems set on continuing its hot streak in 2023. Starting with the complete revitalisation of the franchise that was Resident Evil VII (2017), Capcom has been pumping out ground-up remakes of the classics alongside all-new entries at a blistering pace.
Returning to Resident Evil 2 (2019) and 3 (2020) made sense as the original games first launched on PlayStation way back in the late nineties. Resident Evil 4 (2023) however had a little more apprehension surrounding its announcement. Not only did the original game release a little later (2005) than the other remade titles, but it also just happens to be widely regarded as one of the best games of all time.
Part of this apprehension seemed to amount to “it’s perfect, don’t touch it”. Over time, as Capcom showed off more of the game, these initial concerns became more specific. It looks good, but there’s no way they’ll pull off that section, will they? There’s no way Leon still says that line, right?
As it turns out, Capcom has not only successfully and respectfully remade one of the best games of all time, but they’ve simultaneously managed to make it feel like its own thing. This remake of Resident Evil 4 is the result of a team firing on all cylinders and is the perfect balance of tried and tested, cozy and familiar, with the utterly cutting edge.
Resident Evil 4 follows Leon Kennedy on a mission to the backwaters of Spain to locate the US President’s kidnapped daughter, Ashley. Surviving the events that devastated Racoon City has changed Leon. The rookie cop is gone, replaced with a grizzled, hard-edged government agent complete with entirely straight-faced one-liners.
The cheesiness of the original ended up becoming an endearing part of its legacy. In 2023, hearing Leon mutter “Where’s everyone going, bingo?” right before the title card shows up felt like being welcomed home by an old friend.
Over the course of Leon’s rescue mission, you will visit a ramshackle village, a sprawling castle, a dank lake, infested mines, and more. One of the most praised elements of the original is its pitch-perfect pacing and the remake is no different. Exploration, enemy variety, story beats, every element is finely tuned to always keep you engaged and excited to see what’s next.
For the most part, the overarching structure of the remake stays very true to the original. There are a number of noteworthy changes, some of which would be significant spoilers, so I’ll avoid describing them. Rest assured that the brand-new sequences fit in wonderfully, justify their existence and altogether avoid feeling like a disruption, or padding.
The graphics are impressive, which will come as no surprise to those who have played the other remakes or Resident Evil: Village. The extremely foreboding opening level: a dark forest full of violent effigies, crows picking at dead farm animals, and the volumetric mist amongst spindly trees, capped off by the iconic village survival sequence, remains as impactful and intense as ever.
Character models, in particular, are gorgeous, with clothing, hair, and metallic surfaces, as well as the blood and gore on the enemies, all having a stunning level of detail. The game really shines during the night sequences, where the dynamic lighting, muzzle flashes, and glowing eyes of the Ganados get a chance to stand out.
Beyond just the visual fidelity are some extremely polished animations. Occasionally when switching between weapons, Leon will do a quick check of his ammo, pulling back the slide of his handgun. He will also hold different weapons in unique ways when wielding a torch. These small touches make Resident Evil 4 feel special.
The audio is of similarly high quality. The sound of various weapons being fired is deliciously punchy, and empty shells will even make different noises depending on the type of surface they fall onto. Then there are the many horrible screams and shouts of the various victims of Las Plagas. Immersion is key in horror games, and Resident Evil 4’s sound design does a fantastic job of placing you in the moment.
The combat has also seen some refinements. Leon can now parry with his knife, which adds a strategic element to every fight and allows players to defend themselves more effectively. Defense is more important than ever too, playing on hardcore mode, which the game itself recommends for those familiar with the original, is a real challenge. Enemies are more aggressive and their numbers have increased, making encounters even more intense.
There is an added level of dynamism within combat arenas too. For example, Leon can shoot down a lantern in a small stable, sending a cow charging into a crowd of zombies. This environmental interaction can be used against him, however, with certain areas that were safe zones in the original now able to be destroyed entirely by the likes of the chainsaw-wielding Ganado.
Despite all the frantic action, Resident Evil 4 is not afraid to let you enjoy some downtime every now and then. There are certain sequences with expanded exploration complete with new side quests, for example, you can now fully explore the lake in a little boat. These quests amount to pretty simple tasks like killing rats, shooting trinkets, or finding a golden egg, but they’re fun distractions and provide you with a special currency to spend at the store.
The shooting gallery from the original makes a return, inexplicably pirate-themed this time around. Again it’s a simple but very fun way of breaking up the intensity of the main story. You win little keyrings of various figures (friends and foes) from the game, which can be equipped to give small bonuses like “more likely to find handgun ammo” etc. Nothing too game-changing and you can only equip three at a time.
I did encounter some frustrations playing on PC, most prominently in boss fights. The readability of some bosses’ attacks made taking damage feel inevitable. Sometimes their attacks would hit me by clipping through a wall, other times the context-sensitive prompt for Leon to evade wouldn’t work, making it difficult to learn when it was safe to attack.
Another PC-specific issue related to navigating menus. Right-click is how you back out of a menu, but it’s also how you raise your weapon to aim. So what would happen is after I was done using my inventory or reading a lore entry, Leon would twitch suddenly as if I’d half-pressed the aim button. I acknowledge this is a tiny thing, but in a game like this where you’re constantly going in and out of various menus, it quickly became annoying.
Just like this year’s remake of Dead Space, Resident Evil 4 doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Instead, it takes what made the original game great and enhances it, making it feel fresh and surprising once again. Alongside the faithful and heartfelt recreation of the original, Capcom has delicately added new quests, items, enemies, set pieces, and more, pleasing new fans as well as those who have played through it on ten different platforms since 2005.
Ultimately, the real lasting achievement of this remake lies in how well it offers something so familiar and altogether new at the same time. Capcom so clearly understands Resident Evil 4’s legacy; a legacy that will now carry on for a whole new generation of players.
Resident Evil 4 was reviewed on PC with a Steam code provided by the distributor.