Capcom has dialed in hard on the survival element of the Resident Evil 4 horror experience. Within minutes I found myself scrambling to get through seemingly endless attacks by axe wielding hordes, and the Remake rarely lets up from there. There's a desperate, backed into a corner feel here that channels a far more visceral sense of fear than basic reflex jump scares and insides-on-the-outside monster ick. I've emerged almost drained, exhausted and elated in equal measures, from flailing, skin of my teeth tussles with armies of pitchfork wielding villagers.
Release date: March 24, 2023
Platform(s): PS5, PS4, PC, Xbox Series X
It's exhilarating, for the most part. The previous Resident Evil remakes have, let's be honest, really been about ammo management, as you essentially countdown to trouble with each bullet fired - every shot taking you closer to an empty mag and the problems that ultimately brings. Here, it's more about dealing with the constant, ratcheting pressure of an enemy mob that's always shuffling closer. They encroach, they edge around the sides; step into the vague corners of your eye, or lurch suddenly and drunkenly right up to your face. And they just keep coming. The result, particularly in the opening hours, is a procession of fingertip grasping, running on instinct and fumes fights to buy just a few feet of space to think.
The village area which opens Resident Evil 4 Remake is fairly relentless. Playing as Leon S. Kennedy, the European backwater you're scoping out in search of the President's kidnapped daughter is about five parts angry murder villager to one part rotten wooden shack. But while most of my immediate memories of playing are of panic and things grabbing my face, overall one of the Remake's best strengths is knowing when to leave you alone. There's plenty of space to explore, to backtrack, and to absorb the atmosphere of it all between all the screaming and running away.
Resident Evil 4 Remake is a spectacularly pretty game, so having the time and space to soak it all in is welcome. Capcom's RE engine continues to deliver incredible amounts of detail, and I've easily lost hours just looking at things - from animal jaw bones dangling from strings to dusty, moonbeam riddled castles and lab benches scattered with equipment - it's always a beautiful thing to look at, and Capcom uses these impressive visuals well to craft and develop a series of creepy, unsettling atmospheres as you gradually progress.
In the beginning, the village is full of wrongness; a dark and dank murder town full of leering locals long since separated from their sanity. Everything reeks of that 'you shouldn't have come here' energy you usually get in slasher movies, where high school teens break down in the middle of nowhere. That gives way to a castle full of a more silver screen horror vibe, with heavy robed, mindlessly chanting monks; its decaying extravagance countered by dimly lit, grimy dungeons. Then there are monster-filled mines that go full creature-feature, abandoned labs full of science gone wrong (including one of Resi's best/worst monsters), and plenty more.
The variety and breadth of tones keep things incredibly fresh, interesting and (remake aside) unpredictable throughout its 20 or so hours. It almost feels like several different, smaller games expertly dovetailed together at times. There are sections, beats, and creatures that could carry entire games under different circumstances, appearing almost as cameos in Resident Evil 4's grand scheme.
When Remake does deviate from the original framework, it does so in a way that makes sense, or at least makes things more interesting. Resident Evil 4 is largely a faithful remake overall, rather than an interpretation, with modern sensibilities applied to elements like controls, checkpoints, and so on. The original game literally set the template for modern third-person shooters, and there's less that actually needs changing compared to the static cameras and pre-rendered backgrounds that Resident Evil 2 Remake and Resident Evil 3 Remake had to do away with.
While most of the characters, bosses, and locations are largely the same there are some changes. The biggest probably being a new degrading knife system where your blade takes damage and can eventually break. Parrying blows and attacking stunned enemies has the least impact, while using it to get out of being grabbed can see chunks drop off the durability. Once it's gone you lose those abilities until you can get it repaired or find a new one. It's an interesting idea but negated somewhat by the ease with which you can repair it every time you visit the merchant. It's a panic, initially, to see your knife slowly falling apart or to lose it completely, but once you realize you can just keep fixing it, that soon passes.
There are a few aspects of Resident Evil 4 Remake that I'm not entirely sold on. The inventory management has a range of little wrinkles – like how weapon attachments still take up space even when they're affixed to a gun. I know it makes real world sense but somehow it feels wrong, for me, to combine a rifle and a scope and not get any space back. Especially when you can spend hours jigsawing all your earthly possessions into a strictly limited grid. Only being able to put guns into storage is another odd choice when most supplies can only be found or crafted. Not being able to store ammo (or buy it) pushes you to pick weapons and stick with them. I bought a classic Resi gun, thinking it would be great to pull out of storage for boss fights, but ended up never using it after repeatedly discarding or selling its scarce bullets to clawback vital Inventory space for other items.
The combat, while generally excellent, does also have some occasional irritations too. Wherever space is intentionally limited, that exhilarating and fraught dance to survive can quickly become a mess as you're passed from one mauling monster to the next without any useful ability to deal with the situation. Leon's stodgy sprint is a clumsy way to relocate under such pressure, and the times where you have to fight in small, crowded areas are often the most frustrating experiences in Resident Evil 4 Remake. In contrast, I found all the boss fights surprisingly easy due to having a single threat to avoid and plenty of space to do it in.
There's a slight aiming wobble too which, combined with enemies ducking and diving, can be exasperating early on. I've endured absolute scenes where the randomness has left a cartoon-like halo of bullet holes around an opponent's head despite having the barrel on their nose when pulling the trigger. I get the idea of panic affecting your aim, countered by taking time to steady and calm it – but when the entire combat model is largely 'six people in a shed hitting you' it can be hard to line up those shots with care. It gets better over time, with upgraded equipment and skill, but be prepared for some real 'oh come on' moments in the opening hours.
I am largely pulling at blood crusted straws here though, as I loved pretty much all of Resident Evil 4 Remake. It's a tightly focused, exciting action game, with some genuinely exhilarating fights to survive - not to mention plenty of great locations, enemies, and set pieces. It knows where to apply pressure, when to let you breath, and balances fear, excitement, and exhilaration almost perfectly throughout. The fact Resident Evil 4 Remake works so well, largely channeling exactly the same spirit as the original, only goes to show why it was a classic in the first place. The only question now is this: What's next on Capcom's remake list, and when is it Dino Crisis?
Resident Evil 4 Remake was reviewed on PS5, with code provided by the publisher