If the Resident Evil 4 Chainsaw Demo is truly representative of the Remake's overall quality, then we are in for one hell of a good time on March 24. If you have 30 minutes and 10GB of hard-drive space to spare, you'll find an experience that works hard to subtly subvert expectations, and ratchet up the tension beyond anything Resident Evil 4 was capable of in 2005. I had impossibly high expectations coming in (the Resident Evil 2 Remake was astounding,) and a scratching itch of reservation (the Resident Evil 3 Remake was less so), but the Resident Evil 4 Remake playable demo is a truly wondrous thing.
Naturally, there's a lot of video game still to come. Stalking the village at night in the rain, cycling through ammunition in a besieged cabin, frantic firefights through a labyrinthian castle, and plenty of other moments my aging mind can barely grasp at. Resident Evil 4 may be remembered fondly for that first assault in El Pueblo, but it's the chaos that ensues beyond the opening hour which made it iconic. RE4 is one of the most generous and imaginative action games ever made, and Capcom will ultimately be judged on its ability to recapture that spirit of adventure in the Remake.
Everything old is new again
Capcom has a history with using playable demos to send the public into overdrive ahead of new Resident Evil games, although they are typically timed affairs – we are allotted a small window into a created world and then the curtains are drawn before we're able to get a real sense of its scale. Wisely, Capcom has opted to let us run freely through the Resident Evil 4 Remake demo; there's even an exclusive difficulty setting which triggers at random, with Mad Chainsaw Mode stripping you of checkpoints and upping the crazed behavior of Dr. Salvador to a feverish degree.
I spent an hour or two running the demo through, not because there are different paths to take or secrets to uncover – Resident Evil 4 is ostensibly a roller coaster ride on a defined track – but because I just wanted to soak it all in. Funnily enough, I did the same thing in 2005; my friends and I reloaded to the save point between the Hunter's Lodge and Village to take turns at surviving the assault – this time with no shotgun, now with melee only, or only with collected eggs for sustenance. It was a phenomenal section of play back then, and it's lost none of its power in the last 18 years.
That's partially down to the great work Capcom has completed to modernize movement and combat. The camera clings a little tighter to Leon S. Kennedy's shoulder now, which, combined with his slow turning circle when aiming down sights, only helps to heighten a pervading sense of claustrophobia. Enemy AI seems more aggressive, relentless even – clawing at Leon's throat with more ferocity until that fateful bell tolls, releasing the villagers from their homicidal spell. Shooting axes out of the air as they fly towards you is as satisfying a feeling today as it was in 2005, so too is blasting out kneecaps and following with a truly outrageous sweeping roundhouse kick to clear space.
My initial sense of Resident Evil 4 Remake was that aiming-down-sights felt a little finicky, but the more time I sunk into the Chainsaw Demo the more convinced I became that this is merely a function of the Silver Ghost starting Handgun – it's so damn slow, a decision which makes you feel utterly ineffectual against such impossible odds, and only furthered my resolve to get the full game and push into Chapter 2-1 to purchase the Red9 pistol from the Merchant for 14,000 Pesos. That's if Capcom hasn't completely overhauled where the mysterious vendor sets up shop, and what he is selling.
The ultimate guide to Resident Evil: The complete history of the RE series, from the evolution of the mainline games to all the wonderful spin-offs
Something that's clear from even this brief demo is that Capcom is smartly changing understated elements of Resident Evil 4 to keep returning players guessing. When the village battle started to overwhelm I immediately made a run for the small watchtower, where a long ladder climb used to reward you with shotgun ammunition and a brief respite from the carnage; only now the floor collapsed within seconds, bringing me face-to-face with six Ganados and a revving chainsaw. The little house off from the main bonfire which used to contain ammo and enough space to reload and heal-up, now packed with enemies and a backroom window which allows even more villagers to flood through and surround you. Head to the North Gate to try and get some easy shots on Dr. Salvador and the two Los Ganados flanking him? Well now he bursts forth from behind the gate in an impressive little cutscene, chainsaw held high, forcing me into a panicked parry with my hastily degrading combat knife.
Which is all to say: I'm surprised by just how many surprises Capcom was able to pack into such a small section of play. What can you learn from a 20 minute slice of a 20-hour game? Quite a bit, it turns out. It's clear that Capcom has learned some important lessons from Resident Evil 2, licked its wounds from Resident Evil 3, and set out to remake Resident Evil 4 with the best of intentions – not only attempting to modernize the game for an audience who never knew the joy of owning a GameCube, but reengineer the package in such a way that it all feels revolutionary again. Whether the full game can live up to that potential remains to be seen, but thankfully we don't have long to wait to find out.
Resident Evil 4 Remake will launch on March 24 and it's one of our most anticipated new games of 2023. While you wait, why not return to one of the best Resident Evil games.