There are few games that are as legendary as Resident Evil 4. First released in 2005 on
the Gamecube, it has gone on to be ported to almost every console imaginable. The game
singlehandedly revolutionized the long-running franchise and gaming as a whole thanks to
its smooth over-the-shoulder shooting, nail-biting action, and horror-heavy campaign. It is
the type of game that is so beloved, so well-known, and so often re-released, that creating a remake would seem superfluous.
Publisher Capcom does not think so. After all, Resident Evil is arguably their most popular
brand and the commercial and critical success of both remakes for Resident Evil 2 and 3
made it a given that they would continue revisiting the older entries in the series. While the
merits of remaking perfectly functional and enjoyable games can be debated in different
ways, thankfully fans do not have to worry this time, as not only is the remake of Resident
Evil 4 a faithful reimagining of the action-horror classic, but it is also a great game in its own right.
Gone are the tank controls and stiff movements that were a staple of every mainline
Resident Evil game until the sixth one. Now, Special Agent Leon S. Kennedy can aim and
shoot at the same time, increasing mobility and also reshaping how the game as a whole
plays. If the original version was balanced to give players enough time to aim and shoot at
the Ganados (villagers infected by a mind-altering virus), now the enemies are faster, more
aggressive, and just… more. The opening set-piece in the unnamed village, in which Leon
fights for his life against endless hordes of these humanoid creatures, is as tense an opening as they come, and the best possible tutorial for veterans and newcomers alike.
The main addition in gameplay is the use of knives. Previously, Leon had only one that he
could use endlessly to open crates and finish off downed baddies. Now, the knife is at the
core of the revamped melee system. These sharp blades can be used for well-placed parries against almost every attack, stunning enemies and giving Leon a chance to kick or suplex them. This comes at the cost of limited weapon durability. If Leon parries a chainsaw attack or axe throws, his knife will break. This is where the fan-favourite Merchant comes in. Outside of the usual new weapons, equipment, and treasure maps that can be bought, players can also repair their knives and upgrade them to make them more powerful and durable.
The Merchant also comes with new nifty additions to increase game time. One of these is
the Merchant Requests. Throughout the game, players can complete odd jobs that range
from hunting animals and destroying blue medallions to fighting tougher enemies. Outside of receiving spinels to unlock exclusive upgrades and weapon attachments, this is a good
excuse to fully explore every inch of the map and revisit certain locations, making the gothic castle, rundown villages, and nefariously industrial island feel very much alive and larger than they actually are.
Another system that has been reworked is the shooting gallery. No longer just one
mini-game inside Salazar’s castle, it is now present multiple times throughout the game,
featuring a pirate theme both in visuals and music, with Leon using multiple weapons to
destroy cardboard cutouts. The reward for such a silly yet addicting test of accuracy?
Charms that can be attached to Leon’s attache case, granting him various useful perks. The case itself can be customized, changing the frequency of enemy pickups like more red herbs or more pistol ammo.
Running around as Leon and shooting anything that moves would not be nearly as fun if the story did not support this level of absurdity, and thankfully most of the original’s B-movie camp is left intact. While a few classic lines have been kept in (“Where is everyone going? Bingo?” asks Leon as the Ganados leave their village mid-fight after hearing a bell ring), others have rightfully been changed for updated one-liners that walk the fine line between knowing silliness and just plain dumb (“Nighty night, knights!” instantly stands out after Leon destroys possessed knight armours). The level of writing is definitely improved, making Leon’s quest to save Ashley Graham (daughter of the United States President) from the villainous cult of Los Illuminados more fitting to the current landscape of video games.
The wonderfully optimized RE Engine brings the world and characters to life in stunning
detail, especially enhancing the performances of the voice actors. Nick Apostolides comes
back as Leon Kennedy, more confident and battle-hardened after the traumatic events of
Resident Evil 2. He rides the perfect balance of the slightly nerdy character from the
previous game and the trained special agent he is now. André Peña as Luis Serra Navarro is
perfectly cast, a morally dubious character who has more depth and likability now, often
quoting Don Quixote and having a terrific back-and-forth with Leon. The roster of villains is
really fun and more menacing, with Marcio Moreno especially making the tiny and slimy
Ramón Salazar much less cartoonish than the previous Napoleon-esque iteration. Lily Gao
as Ada Wong, who previously played the character in the 2021 live-action film Welcome to
Raccoon City, is easily the cast’s low point, with no enthusiasm or energy in her line delivery, while Genevieve Buechner as Ashley is a highlight, adding genuine charm, poise and maturity to someone who was previously whiny and infantile.
The Resident Evil games are famed for their replayability, and this remake does not
disappoint. Whether players want to master the shooting gallery, finish all of the requests, collect every treasure, or replay the story on higher difficulties with bonus weapons, it will take a while for players to get tired of the addicting gameplay loop and the detailed and responsive animations. New content is scheduled to come out in the coming months, starting with the beloved Mercenaries mode, a time-attack mini-game that showcases the full range of combat mechanics. It is likely that more playable characters and skins will be added over time, and the Ada side missions of Separate Ways and Assignment Ada will be announced sooner rather than later. The remake of Resident Evil 4 is a lovingly crafted game, as full of surprises and small changes for long-time fans as it is exciting and refreshing for newcomers. Did this have to be made? No, but it sure is great that it came out as good as it did.