It’s been a long old while now since Shinji Mikami’s final Resident Evil foray was first unleashed upon the world, and what a parting contribution to the series it was. Here was an entry in an already iconic survival horror franchise that shifted away from slow-burn resource management towards full-on Hollywood levels of bombastic action which focused on frantically sharp-shooting your way through huge mobs of mind-controlled Ganados with an arsenal of punchy weapons at your disposal.
2005’s Resident Evil 4 cemented the zoomed in, over-the-shoulder viewpoint that’s still so widely used today as the de-facto camera angle for multiple generations of third-person action titles. It introduced a new level of physicality and connection between player and protagonist, drawing us further into the experience, grounding us in the mayhem, and its influence can still be widely felt in terms of both shooter mechanics and in how action games in general are designed.
How many times have you blasted your way this one already? How many re-releases, official HD revamps and exhaustive community remasters have seen you click the safety off that Silver Ghost and jump back into action against Osmund Saddler’s minions? We’ve personally lost count in all honesty and, after experiencing it in glorious VR recently (easily our favourite way to play the original cut) we thought we’d most likely seen it at its very best already.
Approaching Resident Evil Remake, then, this ground-up reimagining that seeks to work a similar level of magic as 2019’s glorious Resident Evil 2 revamp, the main problem, the biggest worry we’ve had, is how on earth is Capcom going to take something so beloved, so influential, so widely regarded as pretty much perfect, and improve it in any particularly meaningful way? Modern graphics are great, of course they are, fresher controls are always welcome, but what are you going to do to the rhythm and flow of something that already feels so finely-tuned in order to improve or even match it? We were genuinely a little nervous booting this one up for the very first time, knowing how it kicks off, that classic village assault that in 2005 so violently announced the game’s new direction and flat-out action intentions. What if this opening sequence didn’t play out in a satisfying manner, if it didn’t sit quite right, if they’d ruined the flow or it didn’t feel like it should?
Thankfully we needn’t have worried in the slightest. There’s no point beating around the bush here, really, Resident Evil 4 Remake is an absolute banger, as perfect a reworking as we could have ever hoped for, and a game that sees the king of action games retake its throne. There’s lots of stuff we’re not allowed to talk about in detail, loads of things we wouldn’t want to spoil anyway – go into this one as unsullied as possible for maximum effect, kids – but the revamping of the core combat, reshuffling of aspects of the narrative, retooling of boss encounters, and some meaningful expansions to level design make for an experience that’s managed to capture the magic of the original whilst bringing it all bang up to date. This is Resident Evil 4 feeling and looking every bit the thoroughly modern action masterpiece without losing the essence of what made it so very special in the first place. Capcom has nailed it.
The changes don’t take long to kick in either, you’ll immediately find yourself in new territory as soon as the story starts off with an extended opening sequence that signals things are at once very much the same, but different. Arrival at the famous rural village shootout introduces a bevvy of changes to the core combat through an intense action sequence that’s more thrilling than ever. Leon can parry with his now degradable knife, deflecting attacks and projectiles, knocking enemy knives and axes out of the air, performing ground finishers, pushing assaults out of the way and opening Ganados up to counters. Stealth has been seamlessly woven into the fabric of the game too, allowing you to sneak up on a foe and take them out with a sneaky kill, and these changes to the rhythm of the combat are combined with movement and controls that fall in line with the recent Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 remakes. It’s modern, no longer tanky, no longer rooting you to the spot to aim, but also carefully balanced to retain a certain heft, a weightiness that feels like good old Resi, forcing you to consider your positioning and spacing at all times, to utilise quick-turns and constant movement so as not to become overwhelmed.
Leon can still pull off his signature melee attacks, aiming a powerful kick at staggered enemies or grabbing them from behind for a super-satisfying suplex smash into the ground, and the introduction of stealth gives you the opportunity across the entire length and breadth of the adventure to soften up groups of foes before unleashing the guns and grenades. The biggest compliment we can pay to these changes is that they feel like mechanics that have always been there, and returning to the original for a quick comparison you just immediately miss this stuff, not being able to sneak about or crouch just feels wrong. Stealth and the ability to deflect and parry with your knife changes the nature of certain big fights along the way too. We no longer need to rely on QTEs when we face off against Krauser, for example, we can go toe to toe with him in real-time, and the Garrador sequence now allows you to utilise sneaking around and stealth attacks to take down those great big blind behemoths, rather than doing so through manipulation of your environment – although this is also still an option.
Alongside the many changes and surprises that come in the form of reworked and expanded environs, repositioned enemies, bigger and more bombastic takes on bosses and so on, the combat changes here make for an experience that – even for players who’ve been through it all countless times – feels like rediscovering the joy of this game for the first time. It feels fresh and new and exciting all over again. It’s also an experience that’s sure to please newcomers, this is as modern and thrilling as action games get, a wonderfully well-paced adventure full of twisted foes, incredible locations, fantastic boss battles, top-notch gunplay and plenty of proper Resi cheese on the dialogue front. What more could you ask for?
Other notable differences (that we can talk about) come in the form of reworked collectibles and customisation options. You’ll now find documents nailed to walls during chapters, requests from the good old merchant himself, that charge you with finding particular items, such as a golden egg, or taking out a set number of blue medallions in a specific area in return for rewards that allow you to purchase special goods. Your attaché case is now customisable with all-new charms and via various different types of purchasable cases that afford you boons and boosts. Charms can be attached to your case three at a time and give you specific advantages, such as the chicken charm which increases the amount of health you’ll get when you tuck into a delicious egg. There are a ton of these charms to get your hands on throughout the game, with a wide-ranging bunch of effects to play around with. Of course, all of this stuff then feeds directly into the all-important replayability aspect of any self-respecting Resident Evil game. In this regard, and without spoiling anything, there’s plenty to look forward to in terms of multiple runs through the campaign, with lots of fun to be had once you’ve completed your initial playthrough in the form of a new game plus mode that switches things up and tons of silly unlockables, customisable bits and bobs, ranks, times and targets to chase.
In terms of new weapons, the bolt thrower is a brand-new addition to your arsenal which allows for both quiet attacks from range and the attachment of mines for explosive assaults on enemy encampments, and it fits in perfectly with an expansive range of boomsticks that feel delightfully punchy to unload into the faces and exploding tentacle heads of your infected opponents. Enemy animations and attacks have been tweaked and souped up here too, ensuring that they aren’t in any way left defenceless against your new range of assault options. Indeed, the Ganados and various other foes you fight feel as clever as ever, super-satisfying opponents who can always surprise you with a deft sidestep or quick charge in your direction. It also helps that they react to targeted limb shots so you can knock them down or stagger them and come apart in spectacular fashion when you get your hands on more powerful gear, enabling you to blow off limbs and heads or cut them entirely in two with a round from a super-charged shotgun. It’s visceral, addictive and highly satisfying fun. Gritty, dirty, gory and supremely well-designed.
Your interactions with Ashley have also been fine-tuned somewhat. You’ll still need to keep her close and protect her at all times, or even have her hide during some sequences, but you no longer need to constantly feed her herbs or laboriously monitor her health. This has all been streamlined into having her simply incapacitated by enemy assaults, leaving her on the floor until you can get back to her, and it relieves that burden of fiddling around in your inventory and micro-managing. You’ll need to watch your fire, a misplaced shot will see her killed instantly, and there are times when you’ll need to take out enemies as they attempt to carry her away, but the shepherding of your all-important objective through this revamped Ganado gauntlet is a much less painful affair than it once was.
You’ll also find that expanded areas afford you much more in the way of exploration opportunities between action-packed encounters, with lots of new real estate to wander through and investigate. You’ll no doubt have already seen how the lake area has been rejigged, allowing you to freely roam around in your motorboat – once you’ve taken care of its monstrous inhabitant – and this is something that you’ll see across many areas of the game. It still shuttles you forward and keeps things tight and taut – there’s no midsection narrative bloat here – but there’s more room to take a breather and enjoy the views this time around.
And what views they are. Away from the superb gameplay, this Resident Evil 4 Remake is a proper jaw-dropper, with a darker, more violent and moodier atmosphere that really does add to the overall tension. Characters, locations and action sequences are dripping in little details, there’s some stellar weather and lighting effects and, as a result, the game’s various iconic locations have never looked or felt better to blaze a trail through. We played around with both graphical modes as we made our way through on Series X and, happily, at both quality and performance settings, we didn’t notice any significant issues whatsoever. This is a stunning-looking game that plays silky smooth, a now rare example of a big AAA banger releasing in a pretty much perfect state. Yes, if we’re being super picky, you’ll see the odd texture load in here and there during a cutscene, but beyond this we didn’t notice any noteworthy performance issues.
As we mentioned earlier, the narrative has seen some tweaks too, some events transpire differently, things have been shuffled about just enough to keep it interesting and both Leon and Ashley have lots of sparky new dialogue that brings them up to date whilst also paying plenty of homage to some of the premium cheese of old. Again, we won’t spoil a second of any of this but all the protagonists here, alongside the cast of iconic baddies and some slick new cutscenes, have never looked or sounded better. Oh, and the merchant, is it possible he’s even better than ever? We reckon so.
We could go on and on really, it’s been a while since we’ve been so thoroughly impressed by an action game, but it’s very important not to spoil anything. You want to come to this knowing as little as possible. Yes, it’s the same general game as you’ll have played back in the day, but there’s enough new here to warrant playing through it all without having the impact blunted by knowing too much. We were concerned that returning to Resident Evil 4 could prove to be a mistake for Capcom, that somehow so completely and thoroughly modernising a bonafide classic in this way could somehow tear the soul out of it. But this is very much still the same special game it’s always been. It’s the Resident Evil 4 you know and love, now bigger and genuinely, actually, better than ever, and there’s only one score you can realistically stick on the end of that sentence.