Resident Evil 4 Remake Review - Stranga, Stranga, Now That's A Remake

  • First Released Mar 24, 2023
  • PS5

Capcom raises the bar for what a good remake is and simultaneously preserves Resident Evil 4's legacy as a genre-defining experience and one of the greatest games of all time.

How do you remake Resident Evil 4, an experience that changed the way action games are made today? It is, at best, an unfair challenge and, at worst, an impossible task. So, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel a second time, developer Capcom has doubled down on the brilliance of the original's design--elaborated on it, and finely tuned the experience. The result is a stunning remake that reminds longtime fans like me of its brilliance, while also introducing an all-new generation to a modern classic and one of the most important games of all time.

If you're not familiar, the premise of Resident Evil 4 is straightforward: Leon S. Kennedy, the cool and handsome rookie-cop-turned-government-agent who you may remember from his escapades in Resident Evil 2's Raccoon City, has been sent to rural Spain to track down Ashley Graham, the US President's missing daughter. Yes, it's a "save the princess" trope but, even 18 years later, its juxtaposition against the survival-horror genre serves as an immaculate setup for the game's over-the-top set pieces. In this case, the princess is in another castle, but it's a castle besieged by parasitic infections and mind-controlled cultists, so you'll have to blast your way from a rundown village to a military island to get her back. While the core pillars of tense, up-close-and-personal action and careful resource management remain welcomingly unchanged, improvements to character development elevate the story as a whole. Now more than ever, Capcom is aware of the tone and humor of the game after it felt accidental in the original. This time, it feels like Capcom is leaning into it, striking a considered balance between heart-pounding horror and laugh-out-loud cheese.

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This time, Leon isn't just a cool-looking dude with swoopy hair and a sweet jacket, who says sometimes cool, sometimes corny things, and does super-cool stuff. He's more than that: Now he's a cool dude with cool hair doing cool stuff who also acts like a human being. This is a Leon who carries the trauma of the Raccoon City incident from Resident Evil 2 remake, which gives more weight to his character and serves as compelling context for his motivation to save Ashley Graham. This time around, it's not just another assignment for Leon--it's a chance at redemption for the lives he couldn't save in Raccoon City. This narrative continuity is a strong thread that ties the remakes together with emotional heft, making this new era of the franchise feel stronger and more unified than the originals.

Those concerned this added layer of humanity has changed Leon's iconic action hero cheesiness shouldn't worry, as Leon is still an absolute one-liner cornball. In fact, this aspect of his character has been turned up a notch. Through the chaos of blood-soaked battles where he faces down crowds of the parasite-infected Ganados, Leon still takes the time to toss out memorable one-liners. And it's not just for banter, as these moments are used to ease the nerve-wracking tension of fighting off villagers by cutting through it with some much-needed levity. Narrowly surviving each encounter feels like a relief, but when Leon throws in a casual "bill me for the repairs later" quip after shooting a lantern that erupts into flames, it almost feels defiantly triumphant. The world of Resident Evil 4 is grimy, filth-covered, and horrific, but it's also one where a government agent trying to save the President's daughter says, "Not bad, right?" to himself after suplexing a Ganado so hard its head pops like a water balloon. Capcom managed to take me to the edge of my seat in a desperate fight for survival, only to catch me off-guard and make me laugh with some comical quip. Its ability to repeatedly do this without disrupting the overall tone of the game is one of Resident Evil 4 Remake's crowning achievements.

Facing off against the Ganado is more stress-inducing and terrifying than ever before. Their frenetic movements, unexpected lurches, and vicious attacks have all been intensified, making each encounter a panicked waltz of crowd management while fighting for breathing room and hoping you've got enough ammo and health to get you through the skirmish. You'll often be outnumbered on all sides as they juke and duck out of the way of your aim, fumble over each other to grab you, and push you toward the pitchforks, sickles, and knives wielded by other members of the horde. While the Ganados were similarly tricky in the original game, this time around their movements feel more tangible and weighted, which also makes the potential consequences of being backed into a corner or overwhelmed even more terrifying. Seeing Dr. Salvador, the chainsaw-wielding potato sack-wearing maniac, stomp through the crowd to try and tear Leon apart, resurfacing a fear that repeated playthroughs of Resident Evil 4 had long since dulled.

These scenarios are absolutely heart-pounding and, despite the hair-raising tension, I couldn't get enough of it because combat just feels so damn good. From blasting a wall of enemies with a shotgun, to a quick parry of a stampeding pitchfork-wielding Ganado, to delivering a sweeping roundhouse kick that pushes back a crowd, the Resident Evil 4 remake's action has a kinetic brutality that feels like controlling chaos in the most satisfying way.

Each combat encounter requires constant adaptation and tactical adjustments on the fly. Sometimes the situation calls for running bravely into a crowd of enemies to thrust a knife into a downed cultist before it stands back up as a much deadlier and more erratic creature. Others require a little creativity, like sticking a well-placed remote mine next to a crowd of enemies before switching to a shotgun to eliminate an enemy's wooden shield and then watching everyone go boom. Either way, there's a playground-like nature to combat in which you can manipulate the enemy's movements to your advantage, such as luring an enemy into their own bear trap or parrying a Molotov cocktail back at someone, engulfing a crowd in flames. It all feels punchy, visceral, and badass to pull off. This was the case with the original, but it is further amplified in the remake thanks to a greater variety of enemies--some of which are entirely new--while other returning ones have been reimagined in terrifying new ways. Without spoiling too much, some enemies now change the dynamic of how crowds act, often pulling the rug out from under my feet just as I had become comfortable in combat, forcing me to contend with a whole new level of stress.

Leon has, of course, been given more versatility to take on the more capable and deadly Ganados. Fundamentally, the absence of tank controls means he's much easier to control in the heat of battle, but now he also has the ability to utilize stealth and his trusty knife-fighting skills. Knives now have durability (a carryover from Resident Evil 2 Remake), with each use slightly damaging it. Knives can now be used to parry nearly every attack by hitting a button just as an enemy strikes, and to instantly break free when being grabbed. These new additions elevate the tango of violence when dealing with a crowd of enemies by creating a sense of momentum. Each fight can quickly become a dance of maneuvering weapons, managing resources, and executing parries. And being able to cycle back and forth between these actions in quick succession makes it feel like you're fighting as hard to survive as the Ganados are to kill you. If your trusty knife breaks, you'll have to scavenge for inferior knives that are considerably less durable until you can repair yours. And even then, you'll need to have the space to store them in your attache case. Naturally, resource management is once again a major pillar of the Resident Evil 4 remake, as is the fiendishly compelling meta-game of organizing the contents of your case to fit together herbs, gunpowder, weapons, and crafting resources like tetrominoes. For those that would rather skip this, you can also hit a button to have everything automatically arrange itself.

[Resident Evil 4] is a stunning remake that reminds longtime fans like me of its brilliance, while also introducing an all-new generation to a modern classic and one of the most important games of all time

Resident Evil 4 Remake is full of smart quality-of-life changes that build on what the original revolutionized, with the strongest example of this being the change in combat capabilities for Ashley Graham. Thankfully, Ashley no longer has a health bar for you to manage with your own resources as you escort her. Instead, when Ashley is injured, she'll become incapacitated, forcing you to juke around enemies in order to get to her and bring her back to her feet. This is much less punishing on the player than outright failure but maintains the tension of the cooperative dynamic by forcing you to suddenly shift priorities to save her, while also ensuring enemies don't carry her away by taking them out. While the original game made it very easy (comically so, at times) to trivialize this aspect of gameplay by ordering Ashley to hide in garbage cans while you dealt with crowds of foes, this time around, hiding spots are few and far between. That's a welcome change, as it makes protecting her much more ingrained into combat, while avoiding the feeling that she's just an object you have to keep safe, which often came off as dehumanizing in the original.

Like Leon, Ashley Graham is more fleshed-out and believable. She retains that 20-year-old sensibility and reacts as such, screaming in horror and shock at the sight of a parasite erupting from a cultist's head, but it's never overstated. Resident Evil 4 has struck a nice balance of allowing Leon and Ashley to communicate from time to time without overstaying its welcome and falling into the protagonist-who-talks-too-much trend that has become prevalent in games in recent years. Instead, they'll check in on one another after fights to ask if they're doing alright. Ashley will compliment Leon with a, "Wow, that was a nice shot" after you pop the head of a cultist with a sniper rifle. There are little extra added conversations that allow the friendship between them to develop, but it never distracts from the core of the gameplay or undermines the tension of the game.

Across the board, characters are no longer the one-note plot devices they were in the original. Luis Serra, for example, is given a little extra screen time that better establishes his stakes in the overarching plot. And don't worry: Like Leon, his suave charm and "hey, gotta smoke" quips remain intact. He's still a leather jacket-wearing lady killer who slings one-liners and wields pistols like he's a cowboy out of a spaghetti western. Even Krauser, the '80s action movie archetypal antagonist who seemed to walk right out of movies like Commando, feels more well-rounded thanks to further context around his stakes and presence in the narrative.

Some characters, however, have been given more flavor than depth--specifically the Merchant. His iconic voice has changed, but this is a new version of the Merchant who is iconic in his own right and stands as one of the most memorable characters in the franchise, despite only being a walking and talking pawn shop. He remains a mysterious figure you'll find throughout the world, but now with a few extra lines in his arsenal that you'll be saying as much as you said, "What're ya buyin'?"--I've been repeating, "Remember, fun rhymes with gun for a reason!" to myself non-stop.

When you're not covering yourself "with the stench of battle," as the Merchant likes to say, you'll have the opportunity to go off the beaten path to track down treasure, as well as complete requests that the Merchant has placed around the environment for you to find. Some are scavenger hunts like finding a gold chicken egg, while others entail hunting down fiercer and more unruly enemies that require a little backtracking to get to. In exchange for completing these requests, you'll receive spinel gems that you can trade for treasure maps, special item upgrades, and more resources.

The requests create more incentive to explore the world but never interrupt the flow and pacing of the game, as they often lead you back down familiar paths with newly gained items like special keys to unlock cabinets and devices that hold treasure. These side missions don't feel like chores or checklists to complete, as the requests are naturally paced along with the game's narrative and given a little story flavor to ground them in the world. I welcomed them, as they only prolonged my chance to wander around in a world I love spending time in, even if that meant trudging through decrepit villages or the fog-covered floors of a gothic horror castle again.

Even as Leon's mission takes him to some of the less visually interesting areas in the latter chapters of the game (a carryover from the original Resident Evil 4), the remake still manages to retain a remarkable balance of bombastic action intensity and nail-biting combat scenarios. Where the original game started to lose its steam, the remake manages to keep the experience on track by considerably changing what I had come to know so well from the original. Some sections of the original game have been honed, trimmed down, and reorganized to fit better into the flow and also within the environment. The first encounter with the blind, giant-blade-wielding Garrador, for example, has been better contextualized to fit in the torturous depths of the castle. As a result, the scene is even scarier and more stressful than before--it all feels turned up to 11.

There are also returning boss fights, some of which are slightly tweaked, while others have received a welcome, more significant overhaul. For nearly all of them, I had a smile plastered across my face despite the dozens of times I've faced them in the past. I applauded when I was caught off-guard by new additions and audibly cheered when I found some of Leon's most iconic lines were still in the game alongside new ones I'll be repeating for years to come. There's a remarkably judicious approach to respecting what Resident Evil 4 was by preserving vital elements of the original, and realizing the potential of what it can be by introducing new ones.

On the other hand, some sections have been cut entirely, but it is evident that this has been done with careful consideration and a deft touch. For everything taken out of the game, something new has been introduced to take its place. Capcom has clearly paid close attention to how these decisions impact Resident Evil 4's masterful pacing, and the delicate balance of combat, exploration, and some additional puzzle-solving that's light and approachable.

Writing this review has involved putting the controller down and stepping away from playing the Resident Evil 4 remake, and as hyperbolic as it sounds, that is much easier said than done. At the time of writing, I have finished the campaign, started a New Game+ on Hardcore, and also begun an additional playthrough on Professional mode, and I know this is only the beginning of many more playthroughs to come.

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Resident Evil 4 remake is the re-envisioning I wanted, but also not the one I expected to get. As a Resident Evil 4 purist, I feared that messing with the magic of an all-time classic would spell disaster. Instead, the Resident Evil 4 remake deviates from the original in many significant ways, but never compromises anything that made it revolutionary. It preserves that, recontextualizes it, and rejuvenates it in a game that is designed to keep veteran players constantly on edge, toying with what they remember to create fear through subversion. Although I have an intimate knowledge of the original game, the slight tweaks and unexpected additions kept me from ever reaching a comfort zone--I was never fully at ease, even with my knowledge of the original game. Capcom's strategy of using my knowledge of the original against me was a huge success. I won't not go into details, and some of these moments are more subtle than others, but every one of them felt clever and considered.

Capcom has masterfully created a new version of a beloved game and continues to blaze a trail with its Resident Evil remakes. Like the Resident Evil 2 remake before it, the studio has used advancements in technology and design to modernize an iconic survival-horror and action game by placing emphasis on capturing the spirit of the original, and respectfully evoking the same sense of atmosphere and tone that the original developers aspired to. At the same time, it empowers the player with thrilling new mechanics and places challenges in their way to test their mastery of them. In that respect, the remake stands as a re-envisioning of its past rather than a replication of it. In doing this, it raises the bar for what a good remake is and at the same time, preserves Resident Evil 4's legacy as a genre-defining experience and one of the greatest games of all time.

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The Good

  • New areas feel substantial and considered without deterring from what made the original great
  • Quality-of-life updates to pacing, fewer QTEs, and Ashley Graham
  • Ashley Graham isn't someone you want to order into a garbage can anymore
  • Story has more welcomed context thanks to its characters, lending a stronger continuity thread to Resident Evil 2 Remake
  • Combat is kinetic, versatile, and satisfying
  • Leon's hair

The Bad

  • Some latter chapters aren't as visually interesting

About the Author

Kurt had to pry himself away from his 32-hour playtime with Resident Evil 4 to write this review, during which he did not stop thinking about Leon’s glistening hair and pecs. Review code was provided by the publisher.