Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers regarding the structure of the original Resident Evil 4, but no specific surprises from the remake are revealed.
The word "remake" has meant many different things over the last couple of decades, from HD collections that enhance resolution and little else, to more robust offerings that tweak dated gameplay mechanics and add quality of life improvements. Ever since the 2002 update to the original Resident Evil, Capcom has been the standard-bearer when it comes to re-examining a classic. It featured more than enough new content for series veterans, but also stood as an excellent modern entry point for newcomers. Almost 20 years later, Capcom would repeat this formula with the stellar Resident Evil 2 remake and the more forgettable remake of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis.
It’s natural to wonder when Capcom would put the brakes on this lucrative remake train. Do they go all the way up to the maligned Resident Evil 6 with its bloated campaigns and uneven action? Or do they even bother with Resident Evil 5, with its heavily criticized setting and somewhat disappointing campaign?
I even wondered if they’d bother to remake Resident Evil 4. After all, it’s already one of the most re-released games this side of Skyrim. I loved my time with the GameCube original at launch, as well as the PS2 version with its added Ada Wong content, the Wii version complete with motion controls, re-releases on Switch and several generations of PlayStation, and even in VR. It’s arguably the entry least in need of an upgrade even in terms of gameplay. The campaign may be loaded with hot-at-the-time QTEs and the visuals are a bit dated, but it’s still a blast to play and was never saddled with the clunky tank controls of old.
If you wondered if Resident Evil 4 could benefit from the big-budget Capcom remake machine, the answer is an emphatic “yes.” Like the remakes of 1 and 2, it is fully in line with the white-knuckled spirit of the original release while brilliantly subverting expectations and tightening up every element of the experience. Some remakes are all about making the visuals of the original look more palatable to modern audiences. In Resident Evil 4, the (admittedly stunning) graphical upgrade is the least interesting part of the package.
Let’s start with what’s the same. Resident Evil 4 was always a three-act story – Leon makes his way through a nightmarish village in rural Spain before exploring a sprawling castle and winding up on an island filled with parasite-controlled, assault rifle-toting soldiers. That has not changed. You’ll still be sprinting away from the chainsaw man in the village, escorting Ashley (the President of the United States’ daughter) through the castle, trading barbs with everyone’s favorite Little Lord Boy, and getting into a knife fight with a reject from the cast of Apocalypse Now.
Some areas are largely unchanged. The opening village is still a mad scramble through barns and houses until the church bell rings. In the castle’s water room you’ll still feel overwhelmed as monks attempt to drag Ashley to her doom. If you disliked the original’s swing towards action in the latter act on the island, you’ll probably still consider it the weakest part of the campaign.
Most of the frustrating aspects of the original have been shortened, changed, or omitted entirely. Even the action-heavy island is improved with the addition of stealth takedowns, either via sneaking up on enemies and stabbing them in the neck or taking them out from afar with the silent bolt thrower. I have annoying memories of stumbling through dark and flooded sewers, flipping stupid switches during late-game boss fights, and getting run over by a boulder because I didn’t anticipate a QTE prompt. These frustrations were drastically minimized or completely absent this time around.
As much as I appreciate the omission of the negative elements of the original, I had even more appreciation for all of the smart changes and additions this remake introduces. Ashley seems to require far less babysitting and now you don’t even need to manage her health. You’ll never have to decide whether Leon or Ashley gets that coveted yellow herb – Leon can scarf down (or whatever he does) every one of them guilt-free now. When Ashley takes too much damage, she’ll go into a state where you have to help her up before she gets attacked again. That’s it. When I played the original, I was haunted by her screaming out for Leon and me having to repeatedly restart checkpoints. During this playthrough, I think she caused me to restart twice.
That’s not to say this experience is easier. It’s every bit a scramble to survive during sections like the village, the attack at the house, the castle’s water room, and large chunks of the island. My first playthrough saw Leon die 29 times despite my long history with the game. If you think you know the original too well to be surprised or challenged, know that you can look forward to numerous moments that will catch you entirely off guard. I don’t want to spoil any of these in particular, but there were several times where I yelled “OH MY GOD” at my television in the middle of the night. This game is going to fucking kill people when that VR mode gets released.
Capcom took out a bunch of the frustrating elements, added a ton of excellent and surprising new stuff, and I still don’t have enough words to go over all of the little tweaks and additions that I appreciated. Parrying feels incredible every time, whether you’re swatting an axe out of mid-air or stopping a chainsaw blade from lopping your head off. The shooting gallery is expanded upon and offers useful charms for those with good aim. Spinels are no longer random shiny objects in the environment, as they’re now rewards for merchant quests that can be spent on exclusive upgrades and items. Journal entries expand upon memorable boss fights like El Gigante and The Garrador. Even something as simple as slotting gems into treasures has added a fun color-based multiplier system to maximize your sell value.
On top of it all, it manages to maintain the perfect amount of cornball and ridiculous moments. Leon hasn’t grown out of his one-liners and he’s still throwing German suplexes like he’s the Brock Lesnar of rural Spain.
I don’t know what more you could ask for in this stunning remake of Resident Evil 4. It’s obvious to say that a great remake should satisfy both returning fans and total newcomers, but this goes so far beyond that. The original game is one of my favorites of all time and now the only reason I’d recommend anyone play it is purely for historical value. And if you’re a complete newcomer to the series, this is bar none one of the most thrilling games ever. It shines as the ultimate Resident Evil experience and the greatest remake of all time.