It’s no exaggeration to say that Resident Evil 4 was one of the most influential games of the early 2000s. Its popularity served to standardise the over-the-shoulder third-person camera and precision aim feature that became ubiquitous in almost every action game that followed for decades to come. It also marked a turning point for one of the most popular horror franchises in gaming, as it leaned into fast-paced action and interactive cinematics to create a truly unique and exciting experience as it assuredly danced players from one dazzling set piece to another. There are moments from that game permanently etched in my memory. A corpse dangling silently from a pitchfork inside an abandoned shed. A dog that knows how to repay a debt. “There’s no time for resting.” The bitch in the red dress. Bingo?
All that to say, there’s a lot riding on the Remake of what is widely considered one of the best games of all time. After two and three, we more or less know what to expect from Capcom’s Remakes – rebuilt from scratch to a high standard, they’ve generally excelled at capturing the spirit and style of the original games, keeping what works and modernising what doesn’t while utilising the RE engine to make gore glisten and chiaroscuro of piles of trash pop. Resident Evil 4 Remake follows this formula and builds on it, displaying a confidence in both the original game’s strengths and its own innovations to deliver something that feels at once intimately familiar to old fans and excitingly fresh for newcomers.
In the Resident Evil 2 Remake, large sections of the RPD, as well as other memorable locations, were redesigned and reshuffled to work cohesively with the updated gameplay and to make sense in a more photoreal world. In Resident Evil 4 Remake, large sections of the game – particularly in the earlier chapters – are essentially completely unchanged from the original, so much so that, scene to scene, I knew exactly which part of the 2005 game we were up to. It’s that funny thing about remakes and remasters; done right, the new and improved version tends to look exactly like the original does – in your head. But having gone back to the 2005 iteration since completing the RE4 Remake, I can decisively say it has aged far more than you probably realise, and the Remake does an incredible job of capturing all of the details, moments and mechanics that matter, while bringing everything else up to a standard modern players will enjoy.
The bulk of the action in RE4 Remake falls into the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ category, but there are still a few modernisations that players will have come to expect from this genre – ever since the original set the tone for that same genre 18 years ago. The ability to crouch and stealth past certain enemies is a tiny, welcome lean back towards survival horror territory, for example, with the idea behind it being the developers’ desire to give players as much freedom and variation in how they approached the game’s combat as possible. So as well as stealth kills, Leon also now adds the silent bolt thrower weapon and knife-based ground finishers to his repertoire, letting you pass by some encounters without so much as making a peep. Plenty of players will pass this up in favour of the loud and extremely in your face approach that Leon S Kennedy excels at, as well they should, but more player choice here is no bad thing.
While the original is roundly praised for popularising the third person over the shoulder perspective, it should also be held somewhat accountable for the proliferation of Quick Time Events in the many games that followed seeking to emulate its success. The ‘action button system’ was implemented to ensure players didn’t get bored during cutscenes, and though praised at release, is very much a product of its time. The development team for RE4 Remake are aware of this, which led to one of the biggest mechanical changes in the game – the knife parry system. This was born from the desire to make the infamous knife fight with Jack Krauser more directly controlled by the player as opposed to a series of button prompts, after which the dev team apparently realised there was no reason not to implement a parry mechanic throughout the entire game. So, now, most enemy attacks can be defended against and even deflected with the knife if your timing is up to scratch. It’s an addition that makes total sense in the context of the game and adds a pleasing risk/reward system to every hatchet and kitchen knife thrown Leon’s way – do you play safe and simply dodge out of the way, or do you take a swipe and feel invincible if you time it just right?
Your knife then becomes even more of a vital tool – particularly when ammo is running low – but it isn’t 100 percent failsafe. Your knife now has a durability metre and will break with repeated use if it isn’t repaired by the merchant. Different uses of the knife cost more or less in terms of its durability – stealth kills on unsuspecting enemies cost next to nothing, while using it to stave off an otherwise deadly grab attack by pressing R2 at the right moment will deplete its usage by almost half. You can repeatedly press X to struggle free instead and keep your knife sharp, but this will drain some of your health in the trade-off.
In addition to these last minute saves, there are still other QTEs of sorts where you’ll need to press circle or the equivalent in time to avoid specific enemy or boss attacks, but these are greatly diminished in number from the 2005 release. Crucially, they flow much more comfortably with the gameplay rather than the ‘press x not to die’ moments of the original game. There’s one new mechanic that allows enemies who circle round behind you to grapple Leon and allow other foes to get some hits in; breaking free requires you to mash X. Thankfully this doesn’t feel like a QTE for the hell of it – rather, it adds to the extreme tension and outright panic in those moments where Leon, outnumbered and surrounded, is using every tool in his XL attaché case to survive.
Speaking of that iconic and physics-breaking piece of kit (seriously, where does he store it on his person?) the attaché case returns with all of its original quirks plus a few new enhancements. You can now customise the case at typewriters to grant yourself small gameplay boosts. Changing its look can increase probability drops for certain types of ammo among other enhancements, while you can also attach up to three cute charms that offer other bonuses – a chicken charm will ensure any eggs Leon consumes restore his health 100 percent, for example (just try and suppress the mental image of him cracking a raw egg into his mouth mid-battle, much to Ashley’s horror). How charms are actually acquired is a fun little surprise I don’t want to spoil here, but let us take this opportunity to reassure you that for all its gorgeously spooky new visuals and foreboding atmosphere, Resident Evil 4 retains its campy sense of fun where it matters.
As well as being able to organise Leon’s equipment in the attaché case, you can create ammo and health items in the separate crafting screen. Or, you can quickly craft items by dropping them on top of one another – as with the original game – directly in the case. Also updated is the map screen, which in a similar fashion to the Remakes of Resident Evil 2 and 3, logs useful info as you play, like the locations of items you’ve seen but haven’t picked up, puzzles you’ve yet to solve, and locked and unlocked doors. I personally like the fact that it immediately alerts you to items you missed and gives away the location of some extra curricular quest solutions too, but some may rightfully prefer to ignore these hints in favour of finding things for themselves.
Of course, no Resident Evil 4 Remake would be complete without the merchant, and although some fans of the original game will be unsure of his new voice lines, they’ll be thankful for the new services he offers regardless. You can buy, sell and tune up weapons and equipment at any of the merchant’s numerous pop-up stores throughout the game, but he’s now expanded his business to include trades. In the original game, spinels were small jewels that you could find and sell for quick cash, but here in the Remake they become a currency all their own, given by the merchant in return for doing small requests for him throughout Leon’s adventure. These requests usually tie in nicely with your current activities – so there’s no lengthy backtracking required – and feature a pleasing assortment of tasks for you to do in return for a slack handful of spinels.
The most basic of these include tracking down a gold chicken egg or shooting down some blue medals in and around a rundown farmhouse, but there are some unique little side adventures in there too. The jewels are then rewarded and traded with the merchant for special items, most of which you won’t find elsewhere. And, if you find yourself short of cash for other guns or weapon upgrades, there are lots of treasures to find, stick some other gemstones into, and resell. You’ll find yourself making your way through most of RE4 Remake with the contents of an airport Tiffany’s tinkling in your pocket, as the game helpfully breaks down gemstone value multipliers that award you more cash for certain colour and size variations, meaning you’ll want to keep extra stones on you at all times to make the most of every trinket.
There are several new gameplay sections and story additions in RE4 Remake that we’d love to discuss in more detail but can’t due to fear of spoilers and embargo restrictions, but we will say there has clearly been an immense level of care and attention to detail paid to every facet of Resident Evil 4 Remake’s design. Some boss fights are functionally and stylistically identical to the source material, while others have been completely reworked and reimagined. Some locations are brick for brick lifted from the original, while other areas – particularly later in the game – have been streamlined to better fit the flow and pace of the story. There are other structural shifts within the narrative – some huge, some barely noticeable – but tonally everything meshes to form a pleasingly cohesive whole.
The trouble with Remakes is you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t – change too little and players will ask what the point of it all was. Change too much and you risk upsetting long-time fans while thumbing your nose at what made the original game great in the first place. Remaking one of the most influential games of the last twenty years is no small feat, yet Capcom has pulled it off here. Leon is just as dryly sassy, Ada is a smoke show, Ashley is considerably less annoying than in the original (even if her fashion sense has suffered horribly), and the baddies are all given their time to shine and then erupt in a mass of entrails and extra limbs. Oh and the regenerators? Still utterly terrifying. There are a few sequences that fall flat, particularly late game, but overall this is as good as remakes get. Even if the bingo reference is slightly lost on new generations.