Resident Evil 4 remake review - Survival horror perfected

Leon holding a knife in Resident Evil 4 remake.

Leon holding a knife in Resident Evil 4 remake.

A full-fledged remake of Resident Evil 4 has always been something of an inevitability. Ever since Capcom turned its attention to refurbishing legacy Resident Evil titles in between new core entries, the fan clamour for 2005's game to be remade has been the loudest cry of all.

After months of waiting, I went into the game with my expectations already unreasonably high. The Resident Evil 2 remake from 2019 is my favourite horror game of all time, and the Resi series itself is quite comfortably my favourite gaming franchise, which is all without saying just how much I cherish the campiness and action stylings of the fourth entry.

Fortunately, this long-awaited remake more than met my expectations. Resident Evil 4 is one of the most influential and beloved games not only in the series, but the horror genre as a whole, and this remake is the new gold standard for how to play it.

Leon shooting at infected villagers in Resident Evil 4 remake.
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Where's everyone going? Bingo?

Similar to the remakes of Resident Evil 2 and 3, this game doesn't change much from the established formula of the 2005 original. It's still set a few years after Leon S. Kennedy's hectic first day working in Raccoon City, on a James Bond-style mission to rescue the president's daughter (aptly codenamed Baby Eagle). Of course, things aren't as straightforward as they seem, as he enters a village riddled with infected inhabitants and all sorts of grotesque, plagued creatures lurking.

It's not quite as scary as previous entries in the series - least of all the remake of Resident Evil 2 and 2017's nerve-shredding seventh game - but this remake retains the DNA of the original without sacrificing its early 2000s charm. That game was always a purposeful move away from the tension-filled survival horror of the first three entries, opting for more gunplay mixed in.

This remake has one big gameplay change: you can finally move while shooting. When recommending the original RE4, the one sticking point was always the inability to run while aiming your weapon. This may have worked in 2005, but it's felt clunky ever since. Capcom has done a great job adding these small quality of life changes that elevate the gameplay and make everything feel much more fluid. Add in the new parry mechanic - one I admittedly didn't use much but certainly makes for some cinematic moments - and you've got a refined control scheme that never feels like it's working against you.

You'll need all of those new abilities, because Resident Evil 4 really is an action-heavy horror game. While the return to survival horror worked for other entries in the series, this game has always toed the line between scares and all-out gunfights, which the remake nails once more. From the truly legendary battle for survival in the village square to the more controversial island segment, which sees Ganado soldiers fire weapons back at you, it's a far more combat-focused game than other entries.

That's in part due to the extensive range of enemies that branches far out from the zombie-focused combat of the first few games. Resident Evil 4 cleverly subverts your expectations by frontloading Leon's shooting practice with Ganado grunts that go down just like Umbrella's undead test subjects, but soon opens up a Pandora's box of increasingly grotesque enemies. Witnessing a Plaga burst out of a Ganado's head for the first time is one of the most clever tidbits of game design and ramping up the stakes, and it works just as well here.

While this is a more action-focused game, that's not to say there aren't scary moments. The one part of this game I was truly dreading was the return of the Regenerador monsters, faces lined with sharp teeth and nearly impossible to put down. Capcom knows exactly how to make you feel helpless in these moments with scant ammo pickups and hugely tense environmental design, proving it knows exactly how to refresh the source material for modern audiences.

Luis and Leon preparing for battle in Resident Evil 4 remake.
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Close the Umbrella

I won't go much into changes to the game's story, but Capcom has found a few ways to make certain encounters feel more organic and earned. The remakes of 2 and 3 were more sweeping in alterations to the source material, from rejigging the timeline to adding new subplots entirely. This is an overall more faithful remake that only finds very slight narrative alterations to make, but they all work. Fear not, diehard fans: Leon is ever the bombastic action hero, and his endearing charm and snark haven't been touched at all. Instead, these changes are subtle and work to remove some of the noughties cheesiness that would've felt out of place now.

The more things change, the more you end up cherishing the things that stay the same. That's why Capcom has wisely kept most of the original Resident Evil 4's DNA, from the placement of certain jumpscares to the introduction of specific enemies and beloved cameos. I won't spoil a single jot of that here, both to preserve those familiar moments for fans while also keeping it fresh for newcomers. One thing I will say is that I couldn't wipe the smile off my face when I first heard the safe room music, and was joyfully asked "What're ya buyin?"

That said, there are some points where the early 2000s game design feels a little tired. Escorting Ashley is at times still a bugbear, even if the AI is dramatically improved, and the excruciating castle sequences can still be a pain to clear on your first attempt. Sometimes it feels a little too much like an endless shooting gallery, but that's part of the trade-off that comes with so faithfully reworking an 18-year-old game.

The whole thing looks gorgeous as well, and it's no surprise that the game was originally announced for next-gen consoles only. Leon's trademark bangs are as floppy as ever, and while the rain animations have caught some flak online, I never once found them to be distracting. The world design is still stunning, combining rural European architecture with gothic trappings and the overall demeanour of a community ravaged by disease and filth. Even the close-up textures are lovingly reworked to add the definition that an 18-year-old game inevitably lacked.

But most of all, I think the best remakes are the subtle ones: games that evoke the exact same feeling as playing the original, where the changes feel organic and natural. The Resident Evil 4 remake is exactly that: it feels like how you remembered the original, and is testament to how timeless the source material is.

The Resident Evil series holds a very special place in my heart. That's why I can safely say that fans and newcomers alike will adore the polish and clear reverence that's gone into this remake. It's pretty much flawless across the board, elevating the source material that many thought couldn't be improved upon. I still prefer the survival horror scares of the Resident Evil 2 remake, but this is a true feat in how to surpass expectations and breathe new life into one of gaming's most beloved masterpieces.

Resident Evil 4 remake
Resident Evil 4 remake breathes fresh life into the beloved game, delivering a perfect upgrade on the gameplay, story, and aesthetics of a horror classic.
10 out of 10

Reviewed on PlayStation 5. A code was provided by the publisher.

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