Resident Evil 4 is a masterpiece in need of a generous remake

Resident Evil 4 Remake
(Image credit: Capcom)

Resident Evil 4 was revolutionary when it released in 2005. It's still considered by many to be the pinnacle of the franchise, and remains legendary for its transformative impact on both the action and survival-horror genres. Resident Evil 4 is arguably as important for molding the shape of modern gaming as DOOM, Grand Theft Auto 3, and Super Mario 64 before it. Perhaps that's why corners of social media are now debating whether there's value in the Resident Evil 4 Remake. Here's my take: Resident Evil 4 is undoubtedly a masterpiece, but it still deserves a generous reimagining for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X.

It's easy to overlook just how far the video games industry has come in 17 years. If you were to view it purely through a prism of nostalgia, it's even easier to believe that the action, horror, and shooter genres have failed to make any significant strides beyond the achievements of Resident Evil 4. 

I could, after all, make the argument that Resident Evil 4's claustrophobic action is the best interpretation of survival horror since we were first able to stalk the corridors of The Spencer Mansion. That Resident Evil 4's scenario design established a framework most third-person shooters continue to follow, the camera clinging tightly to the shoulder of Leon S. Kennedy in an effort to both obscure your field of vision and lend you precision when you need it the most. That Resident Evil 4's unrelenting push to never let you settle into anything resembling a coherent rhythm or routine is the best reflection of an era where developers could be less frugal with their resources and more ambitious with their constructs. 

Strip nostalgia away from the discussion, and the truth is a little harder to swallow. If you return to Resident Evil 4 now, it won't take long to recognise that it is still a peerless action experience, although its rough edges cut a little deeper than you might expect them to. 

Returning to Resi 4

Resident Evil 4

(Image credit: Capcom)

Sitting down with Resident Evil 4 now, it's a strange experience – but no less essential. That opening section, set across a secluded European village, is every bit as electrifying as I remember it being in 2005. It isn't long before you find yourself frantically navigating narrow pathways, avoiding pursuing locals wielding sickles, pitchforks, and artificial intelligence routines that are still astoundingly aggressive. What's funny is that Leon – still reeling from the biological disaster in Raccoon City six years earlier, charged now with rescuing the kidnapped daughter of the president of the United States – is woefully underprepared for this assignment. 

Handgun ammunition is diminished by the time the third body hits the floor, and your options are reduced to barricading windows, blocking doorways, and desperately rooting through decay to find anything that can help turn the tide. By the time you come across a shotgun and a few loose shells to feed into it, you've already heard the first rev of certain death. What follows is a desperate struggle for survival; you're forced to prioritize shots between enemies stumbling over one another up a staircase, those that are crashing ladders through windows, and the bodies amassing on adjacent rooftops – all of it soundtracked to the low-roar of an approaching chainsaw. Just as all hope seems lost, the bell tolls. The villagers disperse. You allow a deep breath to enter your lungs. And then Leon says it, the line that better make it into the 2023 remake: "Where's everyone going, Bingo?"

As legendary as this opening section is, coming into Resident Evil 4 in the aftermath of the phenomenal Resident Evil 2 Remake reveals how much has changed in 17 years. The further you push beyond the boundaries of the village, the further Resident Evil 4 dates itself. That's especially apparent in the absurdity of its stereotyping, its characters, and its dialogue… and the less said about escorting Ashley and the litany of Quick-Time Events the better. While there is certainly depth to Resident Evil 4's encounters – a variety in its scenario design and breadth to its assets that's effectively unprecedented in the modern era of action games – that can only offset some of the frustration born out of navigating the latter-game spaces and engaging with RE4's combat systems over the longhaul of the 20-hour adventure.

There's a part of me that loves tank controls – coming to this realization is a rite of passage for any aging Resident Evil purist – but I can't say that I'm not excited to experience Resident Evil 4's encounters by way of a Resident Evil 2-style revision. I'll advocate for the need to plant your feet and stand your ground when firing to be represented in some capacity in the Resident Evil 4 Remake, but there's no escaping the fact that what was once a revolutionary combination of limited FOV and purposefully stilted movement can now feel like an exercise in frustration mitigation. 

The camera is pulled too closely to Leon's shoulder, and his turning-circle is too limited – it can often feel as if you're dragging a sled through thick low-poly mud. You have to actively wrestle with the thumbsticks to get Leon to make even the smallest of adjustments – it's frustrating when hunting for twirling Blue Medallions, and headache-inducing when engaging with a mass of tentacle-ridden enemies. Resident Evil 4 is iconic, particularly for those who experienced it at the time of its release, but the truth is that there's been such a quiet refinement of third-person systems and mechanics in the intervening years. I find it difficult to believe younger players would be able to properly appreciate its legacy – let alone understand its appeal – in this era, without the veil of nostalgia to help mask its jagged edges.  

There are generations of players who never owned a GameCube or PlayStation 2. A contingent of that group would likely consider early Xbox 360 games to be retro, and anything released before to be ancient history – much in the same way that I could go back and find some amount of joy in the best NES games, but if you stuck an Atari 2600 in front of me I'd wonder whether it some form of veiled punishment. A Resident Evil 4 Remake won't be able to replicate the impact of the original release, but I do believe all players interested in action games should experience this epic roller coaster ride. And if the game needs to be reinterpreted and overhauled to reflect modern standards of play to bring these players in, what's the harm? 

Resident Evil 4 reimagined for 2023

Resident Evil 2

(Image credit: Capcom)
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A remake of Resident Evil 4 does nothing to diminish the pervasive power of the original for those that were there for it. And if Capcom is able to handle this project appropriately – learning the correct lessons from the somewhat underwhelming Resident Evil 3 Remake, while driving forward the innovations found in the reimagining of Resident Evil 2 – then the existence of RE4 for new-gen platforms will only continue the publisher's resurgent dominance in the survival-horror space. 

Arguably, the Resident Evil 2 Remake set a new standard for third-person shooters in 2019. It's a slick action experience that demonstrates how capable Capcom is of both weaponizing nostalgia and reimagining combat and movement systems to better align with modern expectations. It doesn't hurt that Resident Evil 2 Remake is one of the best looking and feeling games of the last generation either, with the proprietary RE Engine helping to drive new levels of fidelity in everything from its lighting to animation packages. 

But RE2's true strength is in how Capcom took an iconic game that had faded to the annals of history – playable for those with an appreciation for the PS1 era of design, or an affinity for retro gaming – and made it feel relevant again. In the case of Resident Evil 2, reimagining is perhaps even more transformative than the original was when it launched in 1998. It's easy to see how the Resident Evil 2 Remake will not only inform the work that's being done on the Resident Evil 4 Remake, but the impact it's having industry-wide – setting a standard for EA's Dead Space Remake, Striking Distances' The Callisto Protocol, and whatever Konami choses to do with Silent Hill in the future. 

Resident Evil 4 Remake

(Image credit: Capcom)

Capcom's promotion producer Edvin Edso has said that the Resident Evil 4 Remake is "being developed to achieve state-of-the-art quality for a survival horror suitable for 2023, while preserving the essence of the original game". He goes on to explain that this includes reimagining the storyline of the game while keeping the essence of its direction, modernizing the graphics, and updating the controls to a modern standard." Naturally, any change to the underlying camera or controls will mean that Capcom will need to rethink every one of Resident Evil 4's original environments and iconic encounters. Blasphemy? Perhaps. Achievable? Absolutely.

I'm going into this with an open mind. Not only am I excited to see how Capcom will reinterpret Resident Evil 4 after 17 years of near total reverence, but I'm also keen to see how one of the best games of all-time will fare when it is re-engineered for the modern era. I'm eager to see what Capcom prioritizes and what will hit the cutting room floor – an inevitability, given the size and scope of the original game. 

But do us all a favor, Capcom, and keep those audacious reload animations in through the transition; they are as necessary to Resident Evil 4 as Leon S. Kennedy himself.  

Line break

Resident Evil 4 Remake set to launch March 24, 2023 for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X. If you're looking for something to play in the meantime, check out the best Resident Evil games.

Josh West
Editor-in-Chief, GamesRadar+

Josh West is the Editor-in-Chief of GamesRadar+. He has over 15 years experience in online and print journalism, and holds a BA (Hons) in Journalism and Feature Writing. Prior to starting his current position, Josh has served as GR+'s Features Editor and Deputy Editor of games™ magazine, and has freelanced for numerous publications including 3D Artist, Edge magazine, iCreate, Metal Hammer, Play, Retro Gamer, and SFX. Additionally, he has appeared on the BBC and ITV to provide expert comment, written for Scholastic books, edited a book for Hachette, and worked as the Assistant Producer of the Future Games Show. In his spare time, Josh likes to play bass guitar and video games. Years ago, he was in a few movies and TV shows that you've definitely seen but will never be able to spot him in.