With the RE2 and RE3 remakes in the bag, Capcom is now on to the Resident Evil 4 remake. RE4 was the entry that took the series in an interesting new direction, with an over-the-shoulder camera and heavier focus on the action. It was a bold risk that paid off with a huge boost in mainstream appeal and critical acclaim. However, this evolution cost Resident Evil much of its horror game soul, which was sent further out of balance with RE5 and RE6.
With the best Resident Evil games, the action gameplay is masterfully balanced with horror elements, but it’s a tough feat. This makes the Resident Evil 4 remake all the more impressive, as Capcom has delivered everything that made the original so revolutionary and so much more.
Right from the get-go it’s clear that this is a massively overhauled experience. Even veterans like myself, who have replayed RE4 over and over will be surprised at how different the opening is. More time is spent developing the police escorting Leon and their fates are all the more gruesome, setting the scene for a remake that aims to inject a healthy dose of horror into Leon’s previously campy adventure. Sure, he still spouts one-liners, but these moments of levity are a lot less jarring, often complementing the incredulity felt by the player in moments of absolute chaos and scenes of gratuitous gore.
The expansion of the intro teases the additional content found in the rest of the game, with areas made larger and more complex. There are many additional puzzles and plenty of extra loot to find. This leads to a surprising boost in play time, with my expected 14-hour playthrough turning into 20 hours. What’s more, the grading system, unlockable costumes and weapons, and harder difficulties invite at least one replay.
While the story still hits the same beats, with Leon forcing his way through a secluded Spanish village to rescue the U.S. president’s daughter, Capcom has given the cutscenes, environments, and enemies glow-ups in the most terrifying ways. In the original, it was easy to feel superpowered as Leon blasted his way through slow-moving villagers and cultists. In the remake, more cunning and aggressive enemies quickly swarm you out of the darkness and tougher minibosses appear at the most inconvenient moments, making it easy to feel overwhelmed. I died five times on Normal difficulty and the “You Are Dead” scenes are as brutal as ever, with Leon often losing his head.
Meet the new Leon
Leon is not helpless, however. While he was a newbie in Resident Evil 2, he has spent the last six years training as a specialist agent, skilled with weapons and hand-to-hand combat. This means he can throw a mean punch and land a big roundhouse kick, all the while headshotting enemies with a range of upgradeable weapons. Various difficulty and accessibility options, including a generous aim assist function, are also available to further personalize the level of challenge.
Brand new to the Resident Evil 4 remake are the stealth mechanics. These are fairly basic, as the new crouch button quietens Leon’s movement and the knife attack provides a handy one-hit-kill from behind. I’ll admit that I was worried when the game first kicked me into a stealth tutorial, but it’s a minor element and purely optional. At first I was skeptical, but I became grateful for the ability to take down a couple of enemies before I was inevitably spotted by the remaining horde.
Another new mechanic that initially had me worried is knife degradation. In the original, Leon’s knife did not break and was used to conserve ammo as he slashed open boxes and got in the occasional cheeky hit at close range. In the remake, knives can only last so long. It makes sense given how powerful it is now, with the new ability to parry attacks, one-hit-kill enemies, and deal significantly more damage with pokes and slashes, but I was still very thankful to learn that it is easily repairable. Like with stealth, I grew to ultimately appreciate the new knife functions.
Protect and survive
We need to talk about Ashley, the president’s daughter. Arguably the most polarizing element of the original Resident Evil 4, Ashley requires protecting through the bulk of the game. Just as players are getting used to controlling Leon and mastering his abilities, the game throws in a curveball with the vulnerable Ashley.
On paper, it’s genius, as Ashley adds another layer of difficulty at the very moment when players are just getting comfortable, reintroducing the tension that had slowly been unwinding since the start of the game. However, the way enemies target her and try to either outright kill or carry her away, can make for some frustrating moments that are easy to criticize.
With that said, having now completed the game, I can look back and say Ashley has been massively improved for the remake. Her character goes through some valuable development during the story and it feels like there’s more of a connection between her, Leon, and the other characters.
Ashley is also easier to protect, as she no longer has a health bar to manage and Leon can stop her from being carried away with a quick knife attack.
Sure, the game would be easier with just Leon, but easy is not the goal here. Instead, Capcom uses Ashley to force the player to think on their feet and adapt. She might still be a controversial element, but it would be dull without the extra dimension she brings.
Room to fine-tune
The Resident Evil 4 remake isn’t flawless. On PS5 there are graphics options for fancier hair and ray tracing, but I found that both of these settings caused the frame rate to drop below 60 FPS and introduce a noticeable stutter. With those settings disabled, however, the game remains impressively smooth in frame rate mode, despite the incredible visuals.
I’m also not a fan of the repetitive enemy designs. I killed the same male villager in the exact same clothes a good 30 times. It would have been nice to see more variety there, especially in a “remake” where extreme attention to detail and maximum polish is expected.
Fans of the original will also be sad to learn that there is no “Separate Ways” content, meaning you won’t get to play through key moments of the story as Ada Wong. Perhaps it will roll out as a DLC in the future, like the score attack Mercenaries mode that has been promised for shortly after launch. Without these modes, the remake feels less definitive than I was expecting, though the expanded main game content helps to make up for it.
Finally, while some of the boss fights have been overwhelmingly improved, others pale by comparison and left me asking “Is that it?” For the most part, though, the main bosses and minibosses are great and made to feel a lot more threatening.
The Resident Evil 4 remake keeps what made the original so good while significantly elevating the story with horror elements, the presentation with cutting-edge visuals and performance, and the gameplay with many welcome quality-of-life improvements. While there are some small niggles that I would have loved to see perfected, this remake exceeds expectations, perfectly balancing the action with the horror and cementing Resident Evil 4 as my favorite game in the series.