Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, PC
The original Resident Evil 4 was a game changer. Released back in 2005 for the GameCube, it not only revolutionised Capcom’s horror franchise thanks to a shift towards action, but in adopting an over-the-shoulder view, it helped set the standard that plenty of other games, especially third person shooters, have followed in the years since.
Still, 18 years is a long time in gaming, and while the original – or even its subsequent remasters for later console generations – didn’t lack for visual impact, it was long overdue for the full remake treatment. With Capcom having already given classics Resident Evil 2 and 3 a modern overhaul in its stunning RE Engine – originally created for Resident Evil 7 and subsequently used for RE Village – it’s finally time to bring Resident Evil 4 into line with its fearsome family. But when the original was so revered and influential, for players and the games industry alike, Capcom risks messing with (arguable) perfection.
Thankfully, 2023’s Resident Evil 4 doesn’t disappoint. Leon S Kennedy’s post-Raccoon City jaunt to Spain in search of the US President’s kidnapped daughter – only to encounter murderous cults and yet more horrifying bioweapons, this time courtesy of the Las Plagas parasite – is every bit as shocking, compelling, and exciting as before, with the requisite amount of terrifying encounters with chainsaw-wielding madmen and parasite-infested villagers intact.
The most striking upgrade is on the visual front, thanks to that powerful RE Engine. Everything looks gorgeous – for a value where “gorgeous” means “absolutely would not want to visit”. RE4’s settings feel more intimidating than ever, whether dilapidated rural shacks or imposing castles, all benefitting significantly from a 4K HDR glow-up. As is near-standard nowadays, players can opt between resolution or performance modes, but even the most frame rate-focused player should at least briefly check out the game in its full ultra high-def glory. Audio also gets a bump, especially for PS5 players (version tested) where ambient or background sound is pushed out through the DualSense controller’s in-built speakers to chilling effect.
One of the biggest and most welcome alterations Capcom has made is also one of the simplest – the ability to crouch. This minor alteration to controls means stealth is a viable tool in Leon’s arsenal, often allowing him to sneak past enemies without wasting precious ammo. It changes the tone and feel of some key scenes, and generally for the better. For instance, the early arrival at the village now feels even tenser as you can choose to skulk through back alleys to avoid detection for as long as possible. Along with some new weapons and attacks that allow Leon to silently dispatch enemies, there’s more flexibility in how to approach risky sections than ever before.
This is as close to a definitive edition of the game as it gets.
Another pleasant update is RE4 Remake’s approach to Quick Time Events. The 2005 version was notable for these, ostensibly to add a bit of cinematic flair during key encounters, but mostly reducing them to twitchy sections where a mis-timed button press meant failure. Now, Leon can parry attacks with an equipped knife, making those pivotal moments more a matter of skill than luck. The downside is that knives have a durability feature – delivering a stealth kill has next to no impact, but deflecting too many attacks or using the blades to counter enemies that have managed to grab Leon will see them deteriorate rapidly.
Other changes serve to refine what already worked. Leon’s briefcase, used to store the growing collection of weapons, herbs, and consumables you’ll scavenge along the way, can now be customised itself. It’s not just an aesthetic swap though, as certain changes can increase drop rates of crucial ammo, or improve health recovery rates. Similarly, the fan-favourite merchant, despite some changes to dialogue, now has a side hustle in spinels – originally gems to be swapped for money, they’re now rewards for completing small side quests. It’s an odd business model, given that the merchant then trades you rare or one-off items for those same spinels, but who are we to question an otherwise successful entrepreneur?
Unfortunately, embargo restrictions – and general spoiler decency – prevent discussion of some of the narrative changes Capcom has made, but for the most part the game is stronger for them. Similarly, the odd retooled boss encounter means returning players won’t find going through the game again to be a total cake walk.
Is 2023’s Resident Evil 4 perfect? No, not quite – mainly because the much-loved The Mercenaries mode is absent at launch (though due to arrive via a free update in future), as are the expansion chapters focused on femme fatale Ada Wong (which were in previous re-releases of the original Resident Evil 4, and we can only assume are either being held for future DLC release, or dropped altogether in light of the rejigged continuity of Capcom’s _Resi_remakes). Still, this is as close to a definitive edition of the game as it gets – a nerve-jangling excursion that remains the high point of the whole franchise.