Initial release date: March 24, 2023
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows
Publishers: Capcom, Capcom U.S.A., Inc.
Nominations: The Game Award for Most Anticipated Game
Series: Resident Evil
Mode: Single-player video game
"Review Copy Provided By Capcom"
Prior to its initial release in 2005, Capcom was transparent and public about their intentions for Resident Evil 4. Recognizing that the top-down formula that had propelled the series during the 90s had become monotonous, they sought to reinvent survival horror entirely. They aimed to create something that was fresh, dynamic, and stimulating. Starting with a blank slate, they managed to craft something exceptional, a game that revolutionized not only the franchise but also the entire third-person action game genre. Despite being almost two decades old, Resident Evil 4 still outperforms most of its competition. As such, this remake is a thoughtful reimagining that preserves the original's core while thoughtfully improving it. The game's action-focused combat, photo-realistic environments, terrifying monsters, charismatic characters, and action-packed storylines all blend seamlessly to create an unforgettable experience.
The story takes place six years after the events of Racoon City, where government agent Leon S. Kennedy, known for his fondness of nice jackets, is dispatched to the Spanish countryside to investigate the disappearance of the President's daughter, Ashley Graham. Leon soon realizes that the local population has been infected with a parasite administered by a sinister cult that makes their guts all wiggly. His mission becomes a race against time to fight through hordes of violent locals to ensure Ashley's safe return home. The remake retains the camp of the original game, as Capcom makes no attempt to ground Leon's Spanish adventure in realism, instead reveling in its nonsense with a reverence that comes only from revisiting something this beloved.
Ashley Graham is portrayed differently than in the original game, as many modern gamers and outlets have come to view her as problematic in her previous incarnation, Capcom have decided to up remake her character in a more modern way. The new Ashley is worlds away from her interpretation in the original game for better or for worse. Personally, I prefer the original take on Ashley. The tone of the game is decidedly more serious than the original and Leon himself isn't the calm, cool, and collected secret agent that he was in the original game but this portrayal is more in line with his RE2 Remake version.
The combat is firmly grounded. Resident Evil 4's combat is one of its more persistent legacies, and the remake effectively showcases the type of smart changes Capcom has made. The game revolutionized the series' horror style by injecting more adrenaline into the mix, maintaining the signature amount of tension while dialing up the action and pacing. Enemy and resource management are still crucial, but players must make decisions even faster and with more skill to overcome the stronger and greater hordes of foes. The sense of weight to shooting in Resident Evil 4 is a welcome change. Leon moves like a man capable of causing damage, hitting hard and viscously, with his aim dragging slightly as the player positions their weapon. A slight sway to his stance can cause a precious bullet to skim past the head of an approaching villager.
Enemies in RE4 are swift, fierce, and will charge at you the moment you enter their territory, their eyes bulging and arms outstretched, unleashing a flurry of attacks such as axe swings, pitchfork jabs, and bare fists. Combat is frenzied and tense, requiring players to prioritize targets in order to survive. These Ganado enemies are more lucid and cunning than the undead foes of previous Resident Evil titles, capable of cutting you off and dodging your attacks. The game presents an exciting challenge even on its standard difficulty setting.
To add a layer of strategy, players can parry attacks with their knife, leaving enemies open to a follow-up melee attack. However, players must use this technique judiciously, as overuse or using it to finish off downed enemies will cause the knife to break, leaving the player vulnerable to close-quarters attacks. Combat has an exhilarating flow to it, with each shot, kick, and weapon switch contributing to a rhythm of blood, metal, skin, and bone.
The quick-select feature from previous Resident Evil titles returns, allowing for faster weapon switching without the need for a clunky menu. Players can also move and shoot simultaneously, adding to the game's fluidity and intensity. The game has adjusted sections that involve escorting Ashley, such as removing her separate health bar and allowing players to pull her up with a button press. Players can also request that she moves out of their way to safety, preventing her from getting captured by enemies.
Despite the RE Engine's already established reputation for delivering stunning visuals, Resident Evil 4 manages to surpass expectations with its exceptional graphics. Capcom has become the industry leader in creating vividly rendered, decrepit rural villages and extravagant European castles. It's almost as if the developers have been preparing for this precise use case all along. The game's environment is exquisitely designed with details like sodden dirt stains, cave systems oozing with moisture, and castle halls that feel tangibly cold. The lighting system used to render the game casts a softness over everything, adding warmth to a world that doesn't necessarily deserve it.
Capcom enhances the game's horror elements by crafting intricate scenarios that test the player's ability to act under pressure in a shroud of darkness. Regeneradores, for instance, are encountered in an island lab bathed in faint, flickering lights, and players must snipe tiny Las Plagas parasites on a moving target with such narrow room for error that adds to the intensity of the gameplay. Their creepy elongated arms, red eyes, and ominous asthmatic wheezes were already unsettling in the original game, but the remake better highlights these frightening features and makes them downright terrifying.
For returning players, the most important question is about similarities to the original game. As a remake, Resident Evil 4 strikes a balance between old and new in a way that Capcom has consistently demonstrated its mastery of. Every major set piece from the original is here, either polished to a sheen or recreated exactly as it was before. However, the excitement lies in the bits in between. The designers seem to have taken great pleasure in mixing up the order of moments from the original and filling in the gaps with a fresh sense of excitement, resulting in a more cohesive and less linear adventure with a stronger sense of place than expected.
I ran the game on my Desktop that has an RTX 3070 rocking a i7 10700K with 32GB of DDR4 3200MHz on Ultra settings – 4K 60FPS. On my gaming laptop which is an ASUS ROG M16 with a RTX 3060 rocking an i9 11900H 16GB of DDR4 3200MHz, I was able to run the game on High settings – 1440P 60FPS.
On the Steam Deck the game runs fine overall, there are some graphical issues here and there and there are some instances of stuttering and framerate drops here and there albeit it isn’t unplayable by any means. While this game wasn’t initially built with the Steam Deck in mind, it can,will, and has been patched for a more optimized experience. On Deck, I was able to get about an hour and a half of battery life from a full charge but you will hear those fans kicking in heavily.
When evaluating the positives and negatives of the Resident Evil 4 remake, it's worth noting that the story has been significantly improved with added context and connective tissue that links it together more effectively. Notably, Ashley and Luis have undergone significant improvements, becoming more capable characters with actual arcs and greater agency. Leon also benefits from increased emotional range, treating Ashley with greater respect without losing his signature one-liners and acrobatic skills. The only real disappointment is Ada's lifeless performance, which seems like a missed opportunity given her strong portrayal in the Resident Evil 2 remake.
Despite this minor flaw, the Resident Evil 4 remake is an impressive achievement, with numerous adjustments that make one of the best games of all time even better.
Capcom has masterfully balanced the horror and action elements of the game, creating a more action-packed version that still retains the puzzle-oriented gameplay of earlier Resident Evil games. Resident Evil 4 remake is a masterpiece, the ultimate Resident Evil game, and a top-tier remake that stands on its own merits without rendering the original obsolete. In essence, the Resident Evil 4 remake occupies a similar space to its exceptional VR version. It's a retelling of a classic crafted on its own terms, a brilliant action shooter that's big, daft, and brilliant. In my opinion, it's still my favorite game of all time, only richer and more complex thanks to this excellent remake. And regardless of whatever interpretation they come up with next, Resident Evil 4 will always be an entirely correct answer.