‘Resident Evil 4 Remake review: bingoMarch 17th, 2023
In Capcom’s recent drive to overhaul the original Resident Evil games, remaking Resident Evil 4 is the hardest project to justify. While time has not been kind to the fixed camera angles and awkward controls of Resident Evil 2 and 3, Resident Evil 4 was designed specifically to reinvent the tired conventions of those preceding titles. It was so successful that games from God of War to Fortnite still refer to its design dictionary to articulate their third-person action. Twenty years on, the original Resi 4 remains not merely playable, but utterly exhilarating, a masterclass in action game design.
Hence, the onus for Resident Evil 4 Remake is very much on not screwing things up. Which makes it a huge relief to say that Capcom has applied its screwdrivers with atomic precision. This refit retains the essential qualities that makes Resident Evil 4 one of the greatest games of all time. The intense crowd-control combat, the endlessly inventive action sequences, even the B-movie storytelling, all survive the transition in recognisable and thoroughly entertaining form. Which is not to say that it is a straight retread. Combat has been tweaked, certain sequences have been redesigned, some ideas have been expanded, and a few have even been removed. But the core throughline is distinctly Resi 4, and it’s every bit as fresh and invigorating as it was in 2005.
Like the remake of Resi 2, Capcom’s Resident Evil 4 Remake is a complete rebuild of the game in the company’s RE engine. The challenge the visual overhaul faces is slightly different, however. Rather than recontextualising pre-rendered environments into 3D, Capcom must instead update the original’s presentation without compromising its austere, eerie aesthetic.
In this, Capcom strikes a fine balance. The opening village area remains largely painted in autumnal browns, but everything is much more intricately drawn. You can see the protruding stonework of the opening village’s buildings, the overlapping clay tiles of their sagging roofs. Perhaps the most impressive visual work is on the Ganados, the base-level enemies who harass you incessantly through the game. Capcom utilises the power of modern rendering tech to enhance their expressive nature over the roughly-hewn polygons of the GameCube days. The Ganados have piercing eyes set in deeply lined faces, and rictus grimaces that remain visible even when their faces are splattered with blood.
More broadly, the opening section of the remake provides a handy snapshot of how Capcom balances preservation with alteration. Leon’s initial encounter with the Ganados at the Hunter’s Lodge has been made more elaborate, building the tension more gradually and adding a couple of new shocks to wrong-foot veteran players. By comparison, the following village battle more directly replicates the original’s preindustrial pressure cooker, perfectly capturing the brilliance of this iconic set-piece.
Even here, though, there are subtle changes, mainly revolving around the remake’s adjustments to combat. Leon can now sneak up on enemies and dispatch them quietly with a knife, adding a light sprinkling of stealth into the game’s mechanical loop. Similar to The Last of Us, this is less about ghosting your way through encounters, and more about building tension until you’re inevitably spotted, whereupon all hell breaks loose.
Knives are a focal point in the remake’s changes to combat. As well as letting you score a few silent kills, Leon’s knife also lets him parry enemy attacks, quickly break free of grapples, and eliminate incapacitated foes before they can recover. Indeed, knives are useful tools in the Resi 4 remake, which is why they also come at a cost. Leon’s survival knife degrades with use until it eventually breaks. If this happens, you’ll have to rely on far more brittle kitchen knives and other blades plucked from the environment until you can find a spot to make repairs.
Beyond the more elaborate knifework, Resi 4’s combat is largely true to the original, which is to say, sublime. The ganados are as delightfully relentless as they ever were, lunging at you with everything from bare hands to farm tools to chainsaws. Leon responds to these coordinated attacks with a mix of coolheaded shooting and bursts of martial-arts flair, stunning enemies with headshots before lunging forward for a clearing roundhouse. Alongside Leon’s knife counters, are a couple of other small yet significant changes to his moveset. Leon can now strafe, making it easier to shift position during a fight, while certain attacks can be dodged with a timely response to a button prompt. Combined, these enable Leon to counter pretty much any attack thrown his way, which is incredibly satisfying, if you time everything right.
To be clear, Capcom hasn’t changed Resi 4 into a pugilistic rhythm-action game that demands perfection. It’s still fundamentally about judicious use of the resources available to you. Choosing weapons that fit the situation remains a crucial part of combat, as does using the environment to your advantage, barricading yourself inside a building with furniture, or shooting explosive barrels and ceiling lamps to incinerate your enemies. Particularly satisfying is using your enemies’ weapons against them. A stick of dynamite in a ganado’s hand is as dangerous to them as it is to you, and a carefully placed shot can smear a whole group of enemies across the ground, saving you both ammo and health. As in the original, there’s significant room for creative problem-solving and changing tactics on the fly, and what adjustments Capcom have made contribute to that emergent play.
While combat remains pleasingly familiar, more extensive changes have been made to the story. Most of these are more specifically to the storytelling, with a rewritten script that attempts to reduce the overwhelming smell of cheese that emanated from the original. But the core plot has also been altered in places, with certain key events happening either at different times or in different ways.
Do these changes make the story better? Not massively. The plot remains distinctly B-movie, while the writing and characters retain a heady whiff of queso about them. Yet while Resi 4’s narrative will never be as acclaimed as, say, that of The Last of Us, it’s nonetheless enormous fun. And it does make some genuine improvements, like giving Ashley a more rounded character, removing some of the more ballistically terrible lines directed at her.
Either way, the purpose of Resi 4’s story is not to be some great literary work, it’s to facilitate the game’s unparalleled set-piece design. It’s easy to forget just how frequently and cleverly this game escalates and reinvents itself. Almost every area you enter throws some new idea at you, or remixes earlier ideas in a way that subverts your expectations. The remake does a fantastic job of emphasising this creativity. Again, not everything plays out in exactly the same way. Some set-pieces are nigh identical to the original, but others have been refined or adjusted, usually for the better. One of the most improved sections of the game is a brief sequence where you play as Ashley. Once the weakest part of Resident Evil 4, this section has been heavily reworked into a fantastically tense set-piece, stripping out much of what didn’t work and refocussing the action on the original sequence’s best idea.
While pretty much all the major sequences have made it into the remake, not quite everything has. The biggest omission are quick-time events, which have been almost completely expunged. This mostly means you’re less likely to die suddenly when the game does something unexpected, although it does mean some significant changes to how one boss fight in particular works. The net result is definitely an improvement, however, creating a more up-close and personal encounter.
The remake sports a few blemishes. Ashley has clearly been locked up for a long time, because she’s constantly out of breath whenever she’s with you, and her hyperventilating behind your back becomes distracting after a while. The remake also follows that recent trend of NPC companions pointing out puzzle solutions before you’ve had a chance to solve them yourself. Finally, there a lot of new content revolving around the merchant, some of which feels crowbarred in compared to Capcom’s other design changes. It doesn’t always fit with the game’s general flow, and feels unnecessary in a game that is as wide-ranging as this.
But these are minor quibbles. All told, Resident Evil 4 is as good a remake as you could hope for, one that clearly understands what made the original great, makes considered alterations where it deems necessary, improves the parts of the game that didn’t work so well, and of course, makes the whole experience easier on the eye. It may not be as necessary a tune-up as Resident Evil 2, but it’s nonetheless a fantastic excuse to revisit one of the best games ever made.
Resident Evil 4 Remake releases on 24 March. It’s on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X & S and PC. NME reviewed it on PC.
Capcom’s remake of Resident Evil 4 ensures the greatness of the original is maintained, while making careful changes that enhance its best qualities and massage out the kinks.
- Fantastic visual update
- Retains everything that made the original great
- Small mechanical adjustments enhance the core combat
- Story remains disposable
- Companions over keen to point out puzzle solutions
- Some superfluous extra content
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