Survival is just the beginning. Six years have passed since the biological disaster in Raccoon City. Leon S. Kennedy, one of the survivors, tracks the president’s kidnapped daughter to a secluded European village, where there is something terribly wrong with the locals.
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5
Also available for: PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Cast: Nick Apostolides, Lily Gao, Connor Fogarty, Nicole Tompkins, Cari-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Yu Sugimoto, Salvador Serrano, Shigeru Chiba, Joe Thomas
Director: Yasuhiro Anpo, Kazunori Kadoi
Producer: Yoshiaki Hirabayashi
Resident Evil 4 marked a genuine change in the series when it initially burst onto the Gamecube in 2004, moving away from survival horror and fixed camera positions into a more action-orientated playstyle that made the whole gaming community clamber for their own chainsaw-shaped controllers. Now in 2023, the team at Capcom have established themselves as the masters of remaking their historical catalogue with the recent success of the Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes featuring alongside the new instalments to the franchise. This goodwill has excited many fans to see how this would help the team remake the crown jewel of Resident Evil, but will these improvements take away some of the aspects that fans truly loved in the original 2004 outing?
Those reminiscing about the original 2004 experience will have their memories filled with Quick Time Events, standing still to shoot, the president’s daughter crying “Leon” every five seconds or playing Tetris with bullets and plants. Out of these memories, only one remains in the 2023 release. The moment-to-moment gameplay now flows freely, with Leon able to move while aiming alongside a host of other changes that make the Resident Evil 4 remake feel fresh instead of a rehash.
In a new addition that feels right out of modern gaming, Leon can stealth through areas and complete stealth takedowns, allowing a chance to search areas for ammo and items before kicking the villager-filled hornet’s nest. Once said hornet nest is kicked, though, Leon can now parry melee attacks with his not-so-trusty combat knife, even to the point where he can block the previously instant kill chainsaw attacks. This parry has an incredibly forgiving parry window on the normal difficulty, which makes it a breeze to make use of throughout Leon’s adventure, but Capcom does try to prevent players from relying on this too heavily by introducing degradation on knives that can be repaired at the merchant but leads to Leon carrying a plethora of butter knives for much of his journey.
Resident Evil 4 Remake is a tense experience, which is not something I could say for its original outing. With the new audio design, each area feels eerie — the sound of wind brushing through the bare trees while moving through the Spanish countryside or the wheezing of villagers as Leon tiptoes through the village buildings. I spent much of the 16-hour play-through feeling uneasy and echoing the early hours of Resident Evil Village, which shows the experience that the team at Capcom have gained and put into work. Combined with the reimaged areas, this audio design leads to nostalgic regions filled with a new, more serious tone. It’s this tone that defines the biggest change to Resident Evil 4, along with the horror elements.
The more serious tone is most evident within many of the characters. Leon is far more serious and fits more into the standard action hero role, and the mysterious Luis Sera is now far less of a stereotype with a fulfilled backstory, but we find the most noticeable change with Ashley. No longer the annoying child that seems annoyed with her predicament, Ashley now fittingly plays out more like a character going through a traumatic experience but with this underlying strength that resonates throughout her character and even through the gameplay. Ashley no longer has a health bar for players to manage; if she is hit by something significant, she is knocked down and requires the player to get her back up before she is hit again. Enemies can still attempt to carry her away, but it seems less frequent and only requires one hit to request they put her down politely.
Along with these characters, the story is now more streamlined, with the overstuffed third act being cut down significantly. Several moments have been deleted or changed, including all of the QTE events, the memorable knife fight now being a fully controlled boss fight using the new knife parries at their fullest for a better experience. What has been removed has given way to more chances for players to explore the environment. Locations such as the lake, previously used for a boss fight, is now filled with houses and caves on its banks that can be accessed by boat to explore for more items to help Leon on his mission.
Resident Evil 4 Remake, as a whole, feels like a more immersive experience. Many of the disruptive menus and moments have been replaced. Even Leon’s communication with his handler now happens while Leon is free to move around the environment. One change that does not quite hit the mark is the added side quests that are littered across the areas. Many play out as odd jobs for the village that Leon can carry out to earn gems to trade with the merchant. From killing rats to collecting items around an area, it just felt out of place with Leon’s serious focus on rescuing Ashley. Though their implementation is lacking, the gems received at the merchant come in handy with plenty of items to purchase, including the new bolt thrower, which suits the newly featured stealth combat or even can be used to set up proximity mines to help deal with the hordes of enemies. New cache cases can be purchased to assist with the ongoing game of Tetris for Leon’s inventory, and unique trinkets can be purchased to add additional perks, such as extra ammo or health item drops which add a new level of choice for players.
With all these additions and changes to Resident Evil 4, have we lost something that made the original special? I first thought this was during my initial interaction with the estranged merchant. For anyone who has spoken to me about Resident Evil 4 will know all about my “great” impression of The Merchant, which I am sure will be heard on upcoming podcasts, so I felt almost deflated that the accent of the merchant was a lot less cockney and his lines were a lot more subdued. This deflation continued for much of my time with the Resident Evil 4 remake. Resident Evil 4 is best described as ‘camp,’ the dialogue was often terrible, the moment-to-moment situations of the story were often bizarre, and it never took itself too seriously. This is the opposite of what Resident Evil 4 Remake has become. As much as I miss the campy tone, what’s here is a better game for treating its story and characters more seriously.
Resident Evil 4 Remake continues the trend of fantastic experiences that Capcom are delivering for the franchise. Every element has been looked at with detail and brought forward to become a modern-day classic, just as it was in 2004. I’m sure many fans starting the remake will be flooded with memories of struggling to fight through the castle with their chainsaw-shaped controllers and enjoying every moment of the remake as it comes. Capcom has found a recipe to recreate their stories for a new audience that features plenty of hearty changes but sadly has boiled out some of the original’s campy spice for those who have loved it.