Resident Evil 4 remake review: A horror classic revitalised

Capcom's remake of Resident Evil 4 highlights what made the original special, but shapes it into something more thrilling and cohesive.
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Given the immense legacy of Resident Evil 4, the idea of remaking the game from the ground up feels like a daunting proposition. The original game is not only regarded as a classic – a literal game-changing entry in the long-running horror series – but it’s simply one of the most influential games of the last two decades. It successfully reimagined and elevated third-person shooter design, and rethought what a survival horror game could be, blending confident and tight action with a constant sense of dread and high-stakes tension.

Prior to release, it’s been difficult to ignore the swell of apprehension and worry from the enthusiastic Resident Evil community about whether the RE4 remake can ever live up to the legacy. Yet, it steps up to the occasion to not only retain the bones and spirit of the original, but also display a more confident stride forward in Capcom’s efforts to reimagine its classic games. The remake reinforces what made the original Resident Evil 4 such an essential game, and in modernizing and rethinking the game’s overall tone and structure, it also makes for a more intense and satisfying descent into survival horror.

Leon S. Kennedy in Resident Evil 4. Image: Capcom
Leon S. Kennedy. Image: Capcom

[Note: At the request of Capcom, this review will refrain from discussing the plot details and some gameplay elements for the Resident Evil 4 remake.]

With a story set in 2004, the Resident Evil 4 remake sees a jaded Leon S. Kennedy, now a government agent, on assignment in Western Europe to find the U.S. President’s missing daughter. After a horrific encounter with villagers corrupted by a mysterious affliction – imbuing them with heightened aggression and flesh-warping parasites – Leon descends further into the village and its outskirts to uncover where the affliction comes from, and how the President’s daughter fits into the plans of the mastermind behind it all.

The original Resident Evil 4 is passionately regarded as a cheesy and violently over-the-top action-horror romp through rural backwoods and into creepy castles. It strikes a tone similar to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead or John Carpenter’s The Thing, where the blood and gore flow, and the odd visual gags and witty one-liners cut deep. While the remake puts more effort into grounding its story, adding more meaningful character moments and contexts for the setting, it retains that core idea of RE4 being a horror thrill ride.

Image: Capcom

If anything, the remake doubles down on the original’s strengths, bolstering it with sharper writing and added contextual storytelling to give its plot added weight. Throughout the 15 hours it took me to finish the main story on my first run, I got to appreciate the number of additional details and context I saw when exploring the different locations of the village and beyond. The hazy, eerie atmosphere of the remake is richer with detail, but still very sinister. Even when solving puzzles or just poking around to find resources when enemies weren’t about, I felt a sense of unease. Generally, the remake of Resident Evil 4 features a great balance of those quiet moments, which readily give way to some seriously intense encounters with the infected.

This reimagining also offers a more connected and tonally consistent experience between its main story and core gameplay, which particularly comes out in the characters: Leon, Ashley, Luis, and many others whom you’ll come to know. Ashley, the President’s daughter, has more agency and is a stronger character in the remake, which elevates her above her traditional ‘damsel’ role. Luis is another character that’s been given more pathos, and he’s all the better for it. Along with added backstory, he also plays well with other characters in the main plot.

Of course, there are some details and sequences from the original that didn’t make the cut for the remake, but I wasn’t as bothered by their absence as I thought I would be. The interpretation the RE4 remake presents is an overall better experience than the original, and this is all due to how much tighter the pacing and storytelling is. 

Resident Evil 4 is not only a more focused game, but it also manages to feel larger in scope with new details and events – some of which tie more directly into the larger timeline of the series. There’s also more incentive to revisit past areas to discover new events, and even uncover some additional plot details that would have remained unseen without further exploration.

Where the original Resident Evil 4 really set a new standard was in its approach to third-person action gameplay with cinematic flourishes. Thankfully, the remake also excels at delivering tense combat sequences that give you a sense of complete agency, while also invoking a palpable sense of dread at just how chaotic and unrelenting your enemies are. Unlike the zombies from other Resident Evil games, the Ganados and other monsters in RE4 utilise more coherent tactics and applied aggression to pummel Leon.

The Ganados are a lot more organised than your typical Resident Evil zombie. Image: Capcom
The Ganados are a lot more organised than your typical Resident Evil zombie. Image: Capcom

The remake does inject more of a survivalist aspect to RE4’s gameplay – a fusion of the resource management of classic Resident Evil games and the action turn that the original RE4 took. Enemies generally drop fewer bullets in the remake, and I found myself low on ammo more often than I expected, which added greatly to the tension during encounters.

The remake also introduces a revised combat knife, which allows Leon to perform new techniques like stealth kills, as well as parries and blocks, at the cost of a knife’s durability. The knives in the RE4 remake are the most useful they’ve ever been in the series, allowing you to whittle down foes or open their defenses – an enemy can attempt to swing at you, but by parrying their blow, you can sever their arm. However, their limited durability will force you to be as careful as you can with their usage.

The many new flourishes and details added in the RE4 remake are truly enjoyable. When I wasn’t feeling overly stressed at having to deal with chainsaw-wielding madmen and a bunch of axe-throwing villagers, I found the number of options available to me in combat scenarios to be very encouraging. The original game sometimes relied on a bevy of quick-time button prompts to keep you on your toes, but the RE4 remake tones this down significantly to keep you in the moment. 

Resident Evil 4 will always keep you on your toes. Image: Capcom

This is a smart decision that I came to really like throughout the game, especially during too-close-for-comfort encounters with mutated monsters and other villains that try to bite Leon’s head off. Whether it’s a simple case of using Leon’s firearms to disarm foes or open them up to melee counter attacks, or using more complex tactics like taking advantage of environmental objects to trap enemies, the number of ways I could dish out damage and survive a scrape gave me a strong sense of satisfaction. I felt, dare I say, pretty stylish for pulling off some slick skills and tactics. However, there were times I felt backed into a corner by the game.

Where Resident Evil 4 remake makes its rare stumbles are during some of the more heightened combat scenarios. In some cases, the game can be so overwhelming, to the point where Leon’s intentionally limited maneuverability and need for constant resource management can become a bit too much to deal with. In addition, there were times when I felt that the odds were very uncomfortably stacked against me. Some of these situations led to extended fights that I found frustrating to deal with – situations where just one wrong move can result in a death, and a complete repeat of the encounter. Generally, I was able to make it past these hurdles after rethinking tactics and making sure I was using all the tools I had available to me, but it’s still a frustrating situation to find yourself in.

I also found the post-story content to be quite light, aside from a harder difficulty mode and the bonus shop for purchasing alternate cosmetic items for Leon and Ashley. Unfortunately, the original game’s iconic The Mercenaries mode is currently absent, though it is planned as a free download sometime after the game’s launch. But as an admirer of the original, I truly felt the absence of The Mercenaries.

It does feel a bit unusual to keep the story details light on a remake of a nearly 18-year-old game throughout this review. Suffice it to say, there are some intriguing twists and deviations from the experience that I feel are better served when going in unspoiled – even for long-time fans of the original. Knowing the original game well, a good deal of the enjoyment I had was seeing both minor and more obvious deviations at work. The remake purposely messes with the expectations of those who know the game inside and out. 

This contributes to a deeply satisfying reimagining of the classic game. The Resident Evil 4 remake features several smart choices that help it feel true to the original, but also shapes the adventure into something that overall feels more cohesive, modern, and thrilling than ever. It’s a stellar example of how to revitalise a classic.

5 Stars: ★★★★★

Resident Evil 4
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: 24 March 2023

05/15/2024 02:36 pm GMT

The PlayStation 5 version of Resident Evil 4 was provided for the purposes of this review. GamesHub has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content. GamesHub may earn a small percentage of commission for products purchased via affiliate links.

Alessandro Fillari is a writer/editor who has covered the games, tech, and entertainment industries for more than 11 years. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, he previously worked at GameSpot and CNET as an editor specializing in games coverage. You can find him on Twitter at @afillari