In light of the high-quality remakes of Resident Evil 2 and 3 released in 2019 and 2020, it felt like a safe bet that Capcom would do an equally admirable job of rebuilding Resident Evil 4. Even so, when I hit the start button on this 2023 remake of the legendary 2005 action-horror game I wasn’t prepared for how forcefully it would knock my knees out from under me and suplex me headfirst into 16 hours of sustained tension and exhilaration. This fully revitalised campaign dramatically one-ups the original in almost every conceivable way. Its Spanish countryside setting is substantially more sinister, its pacing has been tightened to the point where hardly a single minute is wasted, and its controls have been modernised in order to allow its signature dynamic shooting mechanics to really shine. I’ve been waiting 18 years for a game to thrill me in the same way as Resident Evil 4; as it turns out, this whole time I’ve just been waiting for another Resident Evil 4.
The original Resident Evil 4 is a landmark installment in Capcom’s seminal survival-horror series that, for many, would need no introduction. However, considering it came out back when we assumed that Episode III would be the last Star Wars film and iPhones didn’t even exist yet, I should probably give it some context. At the time it was a big deal for Resident Evil to switch from the series’ traditional fixed-camera perspectives to a then radical over-the-shoulder viewpoint that brought us uncomfortably close to the gore and put the emphasis on reflexes and precision targeting, and as a result Resident Evil 4 was an action-horror epic without peer. Its influence has subsequently been felt in countless other third-person classics like Gears of War, Dead Space, and The Last of Us, and now its original DNA has been extracted, synthesised, and injected into a state-of-the-art host game, mutating it into a menacing new monster that’s breathtaking to behold and immensely intimidating to encounter.
In preparation for this review I returned to the original game for the first time in years and was shocked at how badly this remake was needed. The movement of main star Leon Kennedy felt ridiculously restricted; he struggles to get around as though he’s wearing an old pair of skinny jeans that haven’t fit him since his police academy days, and is immobilised anytime he gets his gun out as though he’s incapable of independent control over his hands and feet at the same time. By modern standards it’s absurd, and would absolutely put off a lot of newcomers before they could begin to understand why this game is so highly regarded.
Sight for Saw Guys
Thankfully, those days are gone. Not unlike the recent Metroid Prime Remastered, this Resident Evil 4 remake plays like a 2023 game. Luxuries like simultaneous twin-stick movement and targeting mean that you can cautiously back away while still keeping your gun trained on the advancing hordes, or side-step out of the way of an incoming crossbow bolt without having to remove your eye from the scope of your rifle. This newfound freedom of movement makes you better equipped to really make the most of the immensely satisfying area-specific damage effects; blowing kneecaps out to expose an enemy to a melee finisher, blasting sticks of dynamite held in the hands of attackers before they have a chance to throw them, or simply reveling in some of the grisliest headshots in the history of video game shotguns.
None of this will shock you if you never played the original, but trust me, it’s a big deal to those of us who are back for round two: the rough edges of a number of other interactions have been filed down, like how crates and barrels can be quickly smashed at the tap of a button rather than having to clumsily line up a knife swing, making it much faster to scramble for ammo and health pickups in the heat of a battle. Weapon switching is now performed instantly with a tap of the D-pad rather than having to pause to hop in and out of the inventory screen, and Leon’s combat knife can also be used to parry enemy attacks or bring a swift finish to staggered foes, or to take enemies out silently after he’s crept up on them with his new ability to crouch. (It must be those looser fitting jeans).
Crucially, though, this overhauled control setup makes combat more enjoyably fluid without compromising any of the challenge when played on the Hardcore setting recommended for returning players. (‘Standard’ and ‘Assisted’ modes are included if you want an easier time of it.) The added benefits of the knife are balanced by the fact that it takes damage with each use, so you can only rely on it sparingly – otherwise it will break like a tiny Master Sword and must be repaired at a merchant before you can resume stabbing.
Meanwhile, enemies move in dangerously erratic ways and have a tendency to quickly overwhelm in numbers, so you still have to make snap decisions when it comes to prioritising targets. They’ve also learnt a few cunning new tricks to trip you up with, like the sneaky way the homicidal villagers will lay down bear traps in the middle of a fight to keep you on your toes while you’re busy flexing your trigger finger. Resident Evil 4 may well give you a more expansive toolset to aid Leon’s survival, but you still need to keep your wits and reflexes sharp – because losing your head amidst a crowd crawling with a murderous mind-controlling parasite can swiftly result in Leon literally losing his. Thankfully, a new checkpoint save system minimises any arduous backtracking from your last manual typewriter save should Leon perish – but purists should take note that the unlockable Professional difficulty mode removes that safety net if you prefer a more punishing run the next time through.
Resident Evil 4 (2023) Review Screens
No matter what difficulty you choose, a major strength of Resident Evil 4 is that enemy types are continually shuffled so that you can never really settle into a one-size fits all strategy. Just as you’re comfortably pulling off headshots, they start wearing helmets to force you to target their legs. Then, once you’ve busted more kneecaps than a debt collector, they start coming back to life with deadly whipping tendrils sprouting out of their shoulders. Then, when you’ve figured out how to take out these terrifying mutations efficiently, you come face to face with a seemingly unstoppable waddling tub of nightmare fuel that can regenerate every blown off body part like a T-1000 that was hand-sculpted by Clive Barker. Resident Evil 4 gives you a growing number of guns that all feel great to use, from submachine guns to rocket launchers and the especially powerful magnums, and does its absolute best to ensure you’re leaving very little in the chamber after each frenzied firefight.
I also love how the tactile nature of almost every element in your surroundings can be used as a tactical advantage, provided you can think fast enough on your feet. The chainsaw attacks from the terrifying, sack-hooded Dr. Salvador are just as deadly to Leon as they are to every other enemy in the vicinity, so baiting him into lunging at you and then steering him into a crowd of his own minions is a great way to thin the herd. Meanwhile, dangling oil lanterns can be shot and dropped onto an angry mob to set them all ablaze, but they can also be used to ignite hapless animals like cows who will rage out of control and scorch everyone in their path. When ammunition is always at a premium, it’s both practical and ridiculously entertaining to let a flaming hunk of hamburger do your dirty work.
Spanish Castle Magic
Many of you under 30 might have no clue what Resident Evil 4 is about: it’s perhaps best described as riding a rollercoaster that’s careening off the rails to crash through a row of spectacular haunted houses. What starts as a fairly straightforward rescue mission, with Leon sent into a small Spanish village in search of the US President’s missing daughter Ashley, soon hurtles into a heart-stopping series of battles against giant sea monsters and towering trolls, desperate defenses against crazed hordes in boarded up cabins, outrageous assaults on a heavily fortified castle, skulking sections through shadowy laboratories, explosive minecart chases, and countless run-ins with some truly twisted freaks infected with the mutating Las Plagas parasite, all of which look consistently incredible reimagined on Capcom’s RE Engine (which also powered the last two remakes). The original RE4’s famously flabby final third has been tightened up considerably, and it all builds towards an improved and genuinely imposing final boss fight that took all of my skill and ammo reserves to topple.
Of equal importance to its renovated environments and enemies is the anxiety-inducing audio design. It can’t be overstated how effective the sounds of Resident Evil 4 are when it comes to cultivating a genuine sense of dread. Whether it’s the manic chanting of its parasite-riddled peasant farmers when you enter a new area, the snarl of wolves as they whip through the leaves around you in the castle’s hedge maze, or the throaty rumble of a chainsaw motor idling in the distance, just listening to it all routinely had me inching towards the edge of my seat in anticipation for each enemy encounter, so when the the carnage kicked off and the tension spiked I had hardly any couch left to cling to.
At every step of the journey there are enhancements, both big and small. The original’s gimmicky, quicktime-event-heavy knife battle against Major Krauser has been transformed into a gripping blend of parries and counter-attacks, while the frustration of escorting Ashley through certain sections has been reduced significantly by ditching her health bar so you don’t need to waste valuable green herbs on healing her, and her intelligence has been improved so she’s less prone to foolishly stumble into the hands of a bloodthirsty mob. Elsewhere, there have been considerable structural changes that make the environment feel more cohesive. For instance, in the original game the lake area primarily served as the backdrop to a boss fight, but now you can fully explore the lake and its surroundings by boat, docking at various inlets to scour cabins and caves for additional puzzles, valuable treasures, and hidden horrors lying in wait.
In fact, despite having played the original several times over, there still seemed to be something that surprised me around each and every corner, and the pacing of Leon’s plight never gets bogged down in the sort of storytime stroll that’s become so common in a lot of big-budget single-player adventures. With all due respect to the likes of The Last of Us and God of War Ragnarok – which are both excellent in their own ways – Resident Evil 4 has no time for dialogue-heavy deep and meaningfuls. Leon’s foppish haircut might scream noughties emo but his stoic attitude is all-out ‘80s action hero, and no matter how much I had to Tetris-swap the expanding selection of guns and ammo to fit his inventory case he always seemed to have plenty of room left up his sleeve for a winking one-liner to whip out after a thoroughly insane action sequence before sliding a fresh clip into his submachine gun and running headlong into the next.
When you do need to take a breather, the mysterious merchant returns to keep Leon topped up with a suite of dangerous devices like a quaint form of Q Branch, along with new recipes that allow you to craft the exact ammo types you want when out in the world rather than having to rely on randomised drops. He also pays the bounties on the optional side quests that have been added throughout the campaign, like shooting down hidden blue medallions or tracking down a rare golden chicken egg, which proved to be fun little diversions away from the story’s murderous main path. These bounties are paid in spinel gemstones which can be traded for unique items and upgrades outside of his standard inventory of wares, so although I was initially sad to see the iconic red dot sight removed from Leon’s starting pistol, it only took me a few short quests to be able to buy one and satisfyingly fit it myself.
Every IGN Resident Evil Game Review Ever
One thing in particular that I appreciate about the remake’s merchant is that he’s a lot more generous when it comes to the trade-in value of your weapons. In the original it never really made sense to invest too heavily in upgrading the base pistol and shotgun early on, only for their value to drop dramatically when it came time to trade up for some beefier boomsticks. However, in the remake you’re effectively refunded close to the full value of each weapon along with the cost of any upgrades you’ve added to it, so you can re-spec your favourite guns and boost them towards their optimal forms without copping as big a penalty to your purse of Spanish pesetas.
The merchant also gives you access to the new bolt thrower weapon during your first encounter, and its reusable bolts come in handy in the story’s early hours when you’re still finding your feet as far as managing ammunition reserves and crafting resources goes. Yet despite his generous prices and fabulous wares, I couldn’t help but feel a little shortchanged after each transaction; his re-recorded dialogue isn’t delivered with quite the same kind of goofy charm as that of the grizzled original. However, in the scheme of things it says a lot for the overall quality of this remake when the only minor black mark I can give it is for its slightly blander black market dealer – and if this is your first time playing it won’t bother you in the slightest.
It’s also a shame that The Mercenaries mode isn’t included at launch, although it’s reassuring to know that it will be coming as part of a free update sometime in the future, and I’m extremely keen to tackle its frantic time attack challenges with the benefits of Leon’s more malleable move set. In the meantime there’s a New Game+ mode and a lengthy list of in-game challenges to complete in order to unlock additional weapons, costumes, and concept art, though it seems that bonus modes Assignment Ada and Separate Ways that were present in older versions of Resident Evil 4 have either been scrapped or potentially saved for DLC. Their loss isn’t that big of a deal since they were never as huge a draw as The Mercenaries for me personally, but when a campaign is consistently this amazing, it’s hard not to feel greedy for a little bit more.