Calling the original Resident Evil 4 one of the most influential games of all time is selling it short. Not only was there nothing else like it back when it released in 2005, a horror game with a greater focus on action to the point where it redefined action games as a whole going forward, but it’s also almost-unanimously cited as the game that invented the concept of over-the-shoulder aiming.
Whether or not you agree with what I’ve said above, the fact is that a remake of Resident Evil 4 was always going to have a lot to live up to. In my view, the original was one of those games that doesn’t really need a remake just based on how well it continues to hold up. On top of that, though, given its less-than-steady development, I was always convinced that Resident Evil 4 was a case of Capcom managing to put lightning in a bottle; its tone so frequently borders on over the top action, but displays just the right amount of restraint that I was worried that it was something that couldn’t be pulled off more than once.
All this is to say I had a lot of expectations about what a Resident Evil 4 “remake” should be before I had even touched the game, and from the outset, Resident Evil 4 (2023) takes on a very different tone to the original: where the original had Leon breaking the fourth wall, giving players their mission briefing in a very tongue-in-cheek manner, he now laments on the horrors of Raccoon City in a very appropriately “emo” way given that the game is set in 2004.
The original Resident Evil 4 was notable in that it marked a departure from a lot of series conventions in order to pursue a new kind of horror, and fortunately much of that remains the same here in the 2023 remake. In fact, it doubles down on its occult aesthetic, with Los Illuminados seeming like a much bigger threat than they were: you’ll stumble across blood-smeared insignia, abandoned sacrificial altars, and — much like in the original — you’ll watch the villagers deal with local law enforcement in some truly gruesome ways.
In general, Resident Evil 4 (2023) appears to more aggressively concentrate on scaring the player than the original, a direction facilitated by their new platforms’ obviously-significant jump in graphical capability. While I still think Resident Evil Village got more opportunities to show off its visuals, Resident Evil 4 obviously doesn’t look bad by any means; and it’s got a brooding, tense atmosphere that works well with its “one-versus-many” approach to horror.
Now working directly for the President of the United States, Leon finds himself much more capable in a fight than when we last saw him in Resident Evil 2. Melee attacks like the iconic roundhouse kick and suplex return from the original, along with new mechanics such as stealth kills, a parry system — which lets you parry a literal chainsaw, by the way — and knife durability all coalesce to create a surprising robust combat system for a Resident Evil game.
Where the original Resident Evil 4’s engine was very much designed with its specific needs in mind, Resident Evil 4 (2023) uses the RE Engine that Capcom first used in Resident Evil 7, and unfortunately it leaves something lost in translation. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but the movement can feel a little slippery as it tries to marry Leon’s motion with the photorealistic design. It’s nothing major, and I noticed it more when trying out the Chainsaw Demo than I did in the full release.
Don’t get cocky with Leon’s new skills though, because the enemies throughout the game have seemingly been training a bit too. While faithfully recreated from their original designs, the villagers — or ganados, as they’re known — are much more of a force to be reckoned with. They’re not quite dead enough to be considered zombies, but their horror originally stemmed from their ability to coordinate, communicate amongst themselves and use weapons.
That threat is still present in Resident Evil 4 (2023), but Capcom managed to dial it even further up. Not only are the ganados more aggressive in general, but unarmed villagers can now drag you towards more heavily-armed threats while Leon struggles to break free. There’s also an excellent focus on sound design, as you can hear the parasitic Plagas writhe, squirm and shriek from inside the enemies’ bodies. It’s a small detail, but one that I adored.
Combat generally feels more aggressive and frenetic, and although this does draw very much from the original Resident Evil 4’s design, I did somewhat miss its more methodical design. Resident Evil 4 (2023) proves itself in the areas where it goes above and beyond the original — sections like the greatly revamped mine cart ride and having Luis accompany you through the castle dungeons standing chief among them.
Although I have been referring to the game as a “remake”, perhaps “reimagining” is a more apt phrase. I’m not looking to get into a discussion on what constitutes a remake (or any of those other “re-words”), but Resident Evil 4 (2023) quite obviously takes the original as a piece of inspiration rather than as gospel. It starts out with a faithful recreation of the iconic village square, so much so that I found myself cleverly rewarded by tracking down treasures I knew were hiding from my many playthroughs of the original.
The rest of the village frequently oscillates between 1:1 recreation and new, reimagined locales. I could comment on whether or not these redesigned areas succeed or fall short of their original counterparts, but it’s not something that feels relevant to my overall experience with the game.
Unfortunately, the village did feel like the most intact section of the game, with the castle and military island feeling much more watered down. Now, in some ways, the island being pared down might have been the right choice — given that the original essentially abandoned all horror for a full Rambo-style sprint towards the end — but it really comes down to personal preference, with myself generally feeling apathetic to the change.
On the contrary, the opening section really does benefit from some of the new changes. Taking notes from Resident Evil: Village’s titular town, the village in Resident Evil 4 (2023) changes throughout the game as you revisit and wind your way back towards it.
Another central aspect of Resident Evil 4 that has been considerably overhauled is Leon’s escort partner Ashley, the reason he’s forced to go through the whole ordeal. While a lot of the game has been dialled up, Ashley’s mechanics have been dialled down: in the original, she had her own health metre that you had to keep track of, this time around she’ll just enter an incapacitated stance that you’ll have to help her out of.
One the one hand, that means that you don’t have to ration healing items between both yourself and Ashley, but on the other hand… One attack is all it takes to put her out of commission, whereas in the original she could at least shrug a couple of them off if she started the encounter at full health. It’s not a major complaint as it’s usually not too difficult to keep Ashley out of harm’s way, but it does feel like Capcom was a little overeager to correct that aspect of the original.
One thing that I’m not afraid to call absolutely definitive this time around is the newly-updated shooting range. It’s not much more than a side attraction in the original game, and while the same is more or less true in Resident Evil 4 (2023), it has been drastically overhauled. With a new pirate-themed aesthetic and flamenco-infused soundtrack, its new look is just insanely fun… especially when you consider that it’s part of a horror game.
The addition of secret conditions to trigger bonus rounds, as well as targets that are extra difficult to snipe, bring a number of goals for you to pursue in each course. While in the original, Leon would win little character figurines throughout the game, this time around you can score little keychain-esque charms using funfair tokens that you earn. These aren’t just cosmetic, though, as you can equip three of them to Leon’s attaché case at a time, offering a slew of buffs and perks during gameplay.
Speaking of the attaché case, the original inventory management system returns and it’s as satisfying as it always was, and it now comes with an auto-sort button for when you just want to get back to shooting ganados. There’s also a new side-quest system that lets you claim useful items from the merchant, and although the rewards are pretty cool, the actual quests aren’t anything to write home about — they mainly just have you take out a powerful variant of a normal enemy or find and shoot a series of medallions strewn about the game’s different locales.
The 2023 version of Resident Evil 4 is genuinely a great game, but I did feel a little hesitant with it given the monumental task it had to accomplish. It’s insanely tightly designed, and easily the most ambitious of the modern RE Engine Resident Evil titles to date. It’s a blast to play through the first time, and there’s a bunch of weapons and content to try out in subsequent New Game+ runs, even if I wasn’t absolutely dying to jump back in after the credits rolled.
Did a remake of Resident Evil 4 necessarily need to exist? No. Did it deserve the remake treatment over more-often forgotten games like Resident Evil: Code Veronica? Once again I’d argue no, but that really shouldn’t take away from what Capcom has been able to pull off with Resident Evil 4. Any major complaints I did feel I had with the game felt like they derived from the expectations I had given the gargantuan shadow the original title cast over it, and I’d say that’s a compliment in and of itself.
Ethan reviewed Resident Evil 4 using a PlayStation 5 copy purchased at retail.
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