I think we’re all in agreeance that Resident Evil 4 is one of the most anticipated games to launch in 2023. It is of course an iconic and memorable entry in the Resident Evil series and when it originally launched back in 2003, I know I loved how different it was from previous entries and that it walked a fine line between action and horror.
Not only that, but the combat was genuinely fun, and it felt like there was depth to the mechanics for the first time. Games that came after felt inspired by what Capcom did with Resident Evil 4 and much of the DNA still exists in some of your favourite games to this day. So how do you revisit such an iconic video game in today’s climate? Well, by leaving mostof the core intact and iterating new ways to enhance the experience, Capcom has provided an elevated and impressive masterpiece.
A Cigarette? Nah, those things will kill you
Much like the original, Resident Evil 4 picks up after the events of Resident Evil 2, with Leon S. Kennedy being recruited by the government and tasked with rescuing the President’s daughter, Ashley Graham, after being kidnapped. With reports indicating her presence in a rural Spanish village, Leon heads out to return Ashley to her family.
Set in the pastoral Spanish countryside, Leon is attending to a report in which the US President’s daughter has been sighted so off goes the former RCPD officer into the field and one of the most nightmarish experiences yet. Within minutes, Leon’s escorts are left brutally devastated leaving the hero of the story to fend for himself. It isn’t long after the opening moments that Leon encounters the first Ganado, which startles Leon as he is attacked by an axe-wielding maniac in the small village.
Much of what I found to be incredible years ago remains intact but now has the benefit of almost 20 years of game development can bring to a reimagining. In short, the breath of life the RE Engine continues to deliver with each new game that launches is indelible. You see it in the world as you dreadfully press forward with each begrudging step through bushes and push past branches into the opening segment that essentially sets the tone for the rest of this brutal rescue mission.
I have distinct memories of Resident Evil 4 being an extremely gory entry with many of the Ganados popping off like a pimple ready to burst. Whether or not the remake would buckle the trend was something I was curious about going in and thankfully, Capcom stepped up provided. The earlier hours might not match the second half in terms of frightening moments, but it is the crowds of enemies that make things feel far more devastating. Thankfully between Leon’s training and battle prowess, you’ll be able to take down the possessed villagers in a variety of brutal ways.
Popping half a dozen ammo rounds normally will do the trick at taking Ganados off the board but in the instances where the parasite becomes exposed and revive the host body will you notice limbs popping off like bottle rockets. The further Leon heads into the countryside where he discovers caves and castles the true Ganado form begins to surface frequently. The Ganado can easily overpower you at a moment’s notice from the sheer number who will hunt you throughout the environment. Some will try to break your neck while others may utilize pitchforks and run you through. Regardless though, the enemies are challenging and can change your fortunes in an instant if you get close enough for their tentacles to finish you off.
Where’s Everyone Going? Bingo?
The developers have added new weapons to diversify how you approach combat throughout the campaign. The Bolt Thrower is a perfect example of adding something new that feels like a natural extension of the existing gameplay. A weapon made to serve dual roles with crowd control by attaching explosives to the end of the bolt or by serving as a ranged weapon that stealthily deals with enemies from afar.
Keeping the notion that the core of Resident Evil 4 remains intact, there is no room to add necessary extensions to the loop which in turn allows players to diversify how they approach any situation in-game. That’s why seeing the developers add stealth to get past enemies is not only a welcome change but a necessary one in my opinion. Leon can now crouch opening up a new world of options to engage with the environment and enemies, leading to some vastly satisfying ways to move through a crowd.
A major change to the gameplay is how Leon’s knife operates which now adds a level of durability to it. Not only that but Leon can now parry incoming attacks with a press of a button but at the cost of some durability. And since you now must worry about your knife’s durability, it must be used sparingly to make the player use all the tools at their disposal. Thankfully, you’ll scavenge one-off kitchen knives which work in a pinch. Durability ties into not only countering but stealth sections when Leon is attempting to move unseen and unheard through some particularly tough sections. You can sneak up on a Ganado and press R2 to neutralize them on the spot but risk a chunk of your durability meter.
Resident Evil 4 nailed the action sections with gravitas by respecting the original’s contributions to video games while updating the mechanics with modern sensibilities. However, that’s not all you’re going to be doing while you claw your way to Ashley and back. Spread out across the countryside are Blue Request Notes that serve as side quests for you to complete and earn Spindels, gems that offer exclusive items like treasure maps or additional health. Some might task you with eradicating Blue Medallions from the village or finding a Golden Egg and submitting it to The Merchant.
What’re ya buyin’?
Speaking of The Merchant, the fan-favourite character returns at intervals across each chapter to offer Leon the latest and greatest wares ranging from weapons to upgrades for his guns and knife. Upon the first couple of interactions with the mysterious merchant, you’ll see why so many fans adore this character, and while he no longer hides in the shadows to sell his goods to you, his shop is an adequate upgrade that allows you to also customize your inventory. Our pal The Merchant is also where you’ll go to upgrade your attaché case’s size, so you fit in more green herbs, first aid sprays, assortments of grenades, and of course, your weapons.
Charms can also be attached to a case — up to three at a time — which grants additional bonuses. One charm might grant additional health when eating eggs while another charm grants additional ammo when crafting. Crafting has also been added from the previous Resident Evil remakes giving Leon access to a variety of herbs and ammo recipes to make in a pinch by using Gunpower and Resources found around the map.
Ammo and inventory management continue to be critical keys to surviving the events unfolding in Resident Evil 4. At times, you’ll begin feeling overly confident because you have a ton of ammo stashed in your inventory only for a group of enemies engage then and there. You’re often left running on fumes and learning to manage a crowd coming at you can sometimes lead to mishaps like whittling ammo reserves.
Everything you learn and relearn in earlier chapters comes to fruition in later chapters. Learning to swap between short-range weapons and long-range weapons or when to parry and when to keep a distance, all of these elements come together brilliantly and when executed correctly, make you feel like the special agent Leon has become. And then when finally rescue Ashley and have her follow you or stay at a distance, you can see how much has changed from the original game’s system. While Ashely previous had very little to do before, she had orders to follow from Leon.
The revamped AI feels much better, and Ashley now continually follows Leon but can at a moment’s notice put some distance between her and trouble using the ‘tight’ and ‘loose’ commands. If you find yourself in a sticky situation but feel like you can’t juggle watching out for Ashley, you can now command her to stay at a distance before recalling her once the Ganados have been dealt with. Thankfully, Ashley no longer has a health bar, and instead when she takes damage will move to a downed state instead, you will need to get to her before she takes any more damage or it is game over.
Resident Evil 4 keeps the core experience intact
Boss battles also seen a massive revitalization and Resident Evil 4 is all the better for it. A perfect example is the fight with Jack Krauser, an event previously relegated to being a series of Quick Time Event button presses, now formulated into a fully fleshed-out knife fight. It is because of the knife’s expansion do we get a rather impressive reworking of a fight I couldn’t have cared much about previously, By engaging the player and allowing you to work towards putting a stop to the man who was once thought dead, you feel much of what Leon is feeling in those moments.
Other iconic boss fights like the Garrador or iconic moments like storming Salazar Castle feel far better and are far less infuriating than ever before. The claustrophobic fight against Garrador is now even more tightly wound up by adding an even smaller arena and additional obstacles that make it easier for the enemy to spot you and claw at you with those infamous claws. Then there is the improvement of one of the most pace-breaking sections of the original Resident Evil 4 when Leon and Ashley attempted to infiltrate the castle only to be met by waves of enemies. Not only that but the castle would catapult flaming projectiles at you only to be caught in some awfully slow animation transitions. However, thanks to the improved animations and reaction times, the same section in the remake feels and plays far better than I could have dreamed, and it even keeps an excellent sense of pacing throughout the set piece.
There is an incredible amount of detail in the animations, to the level of detail you’ll find in every section of Resident Evil 4. At first, it’s the small things that stand out like catching an enemy in the bear trap with Leon kicking them down only to watch their leg break away. For those who tend to reload before the clip is empty, Leon will now do a tactical reload which adds a +1 to the chamber and then store his used clip on his belt. Or if you shoot at the Ganado in the daylight and watch as the Plagas tendrils retreat due to the sun exposure. I’m continually finding ways the developers have made the characters react realistically.
With that said, Capcom continues its tradition of reusing the same models for most of its enemy types. By the end of the campaign, you’ll have easily come across the same faces as the ones you saw at the start. For all the attention paid to the world, the environments, and the main characters, it seems like such a shame that the enemies don’t receive the same treatment.
Without a doubt, after being a bit letdown by how exact Resident Evil 3 was a few years ago, Capcom squashed any concerns I had the follow-up early on. In true fashion, I was concerned we’d see the same scenario again but thankfully that isn’t the case at all. So many people resonated with the original years ago and it isn’t just an iconic video game but a genre-defining one at that. So, to deliver the same but prettier wouldn’t cut it when we inevitably got to this point.
Thankfully, the bells and whistles elevate an already great game and much of the humour and horror found in the original returns. Iconic lines from Leon like ‘Where’s Everyone Going? Bingo?’ and ‘I guess this is their idea of a warm welcome,’ bridge the original and remake’s humour well. Moreover, the mechanics are phenomenal and controlling Leon is responsive with the new addition of being able to crouch opening a world of new possibilities. On PlayStation 5, the DualSense implementation is impressive with each footstep Leon takes being felt throughout the controller to the handling of the weapon’s feedback.
Resident Evil 4 continues the trend of elevating an established series by iterating and improving on what made the original games so beloved. The core of Resident Evil 4 is still intact, and it feels like Capcom plays to the strengths at which the franchise excels. From the way Leon moves to the way he handles himself in battle, controls are snappy and responsive, and every encounter is a thrilling engagement.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5