Resident Evil 4 Review: Improving on Perfection

Resident Evil 4's hero Leon in the opening

Resident Evil 4 Review: Improving on Perfection

Capcom’s remake of one of its most beloved titles is a triumph and a must-play for Resident Evil fans.

When Resident Evil 4 arrived on the Nintendo GameCube in 2005, few could have anticipated how revolutionary it would be. To say it completely transformed the action genre and influenced all third-person titles that came after it wouldn’t be hyperbole. For a brief moment in the mid-2000s, the GameCube was Capcom’s platform of choice for the Resident Evil franchise. After originally being associated with PlayStation, the GameCube was the exclusive home to Resident Evil 4 and other series titles. 

Another Resident Evil title that was exclusive to GameCube for many years was the remake of the first game. Long before remakes were a surefire win for studios, Capcom took a calculated risk and remade the original Resident Evil. The remake established a much darker tone to the narrative while embodying a sense of gothic horror. This shift in tone ratcheted up the tension of the remake over the original’s campy zombie action. 

After the release of the Resident Evil remake, fans waited more than 10 years for a remake of the sequel. In 2019, fans’ patience was rewarded with Resident Evil 2. Resident Evil 2 helped set a precedent for the formula that Capcom would use for other remakes. Resident Evil 4, arguably the most-loved and maybe most important title in the entire franchise, is the latest installment to get the remake treatment. As a result, Capcom has again moved the goalposts for video game remakes while simultaneously somehow improving on the original.

Resident Evil 4 Remake Village Barn
The opening moments of the Resident Evil 4 remake.

Revisiting a Classic or Enjoying it For the First Time

It’s worth noting that the Resident Evil franchise is extremely important in the larger scope of my personal gaming history. I began playing the series with the 1996 original on PlayStation and have kept up with every main entry since. For fans of the original Resident Evil 4, allow me to say that the remake is a must-play.

In terms of the intended audience for this game, there are likely two different groups of players. There are those who played the original and are hoping to see it updated with improved graphical fidelity. Then there are those who never played the original and are more recent converts to the Resident Evil franchise. Regardless of which camp you happen to fall into, the Resident Evil 4 remake is a shining example of how to reimagine a classic title and also a must-play for fans of action titles.

From the Streets of Raccoon City to the Iberian Peninsula

Resident Evil 4 picks up several years after the events of Resident Evil 2 and 3. Following the destruction of Raccoon City, series protagonist Leon S. Kennedy finds himself at the center of a grand conspiracy.

Leon has graduated from Raccoon City Police rookie to US Secret Service Agent thanks to his impressive skills and heroism from the Raccoon City incident. The President’s daughter is kidnapped and presumed to have been spotted somewhere in Europe. Leon is dispatched on a mission to both rescue her and investigate the group responsible for the kidnapping. 

After beginning as a survival-horror series, Resident Evil 4 famously took a more action-oriented approach. RE4 is the perfect mix of James Bond, The Wicker Man, and Night of the Living DeadResident Evil 4 retains the same plot as the original while adopting the darker tone of the series remakes. As a result, Resident Evil 4 is genuinely scary and feels like a summer blockbuster.

Iterating on the Resident Evil Remake Formula

Gameplay in the Resident Evil 4 remake takes the formula established in 2019’s Resident Evil 2 remake. The action takes place from the “over-the-shoulder” camera view that is now an industry standard after its use in the original RE4. Further, the aiming mechanics are almost identical to Capcom’s other recent Resident Evil remakes. Players must line up their shots and be smart about ammo consumption if they hope to survive. Even the game’s baseline difficulty, Resident Evil 4 presents a reasonable challenge. 

After playing the game on Standard, Hardcore, and Professional difficulties, I can say with full confidence that Resident Evil 4 may be the most difficult of the modern series remakes. Resident Evil 4‘s enemy AI and encounter design can quickly lead to a game over screen if you’re careless. Anyone who doesn’t use positioning and situational awareness to their advantage will die, a lot. 

Resident Evil 4 Remake Leon S. Kennedy
Leon S. Kennedy assesses a dangerous situation in Resident Evil 4‘s Village area.

In a brilliant move by Capcom, the Resident Evil 4 remake keeps the basic structure of the original game fully intact while trimming parts that drag on for just slightly too long in the original. Not only does the remake look phenomenal compared to the original, but the improved pacing never loses steam across its 8-12 hour runtime. 

Making Leon More Deadly

The original Resident Evil 4 required players to stop before they could aim their weapons and line up sights with enemy targets. This mechanic helped to increase tension and required players to be constantly aware of their surroundings. The remake adds the ability to move while aiming, which might be a less welcome addition for series purists. Still, the functionality of moving while shooting gives Leon a greater sense of mobility. 

The famous attache case from Resident Evil 4 returns in the remake. The number of upgrades required before it reaches maximum capacity is scaled down, though the ability to auto-sort in the update removes some of the fun and spatial puzzle-solving of the original. Again, depending on how fond players are of the mechanics of the original, your mileage may vary regarding how welcome these subtle quality-of-life changes are to the overall Resident Evil 4 experience.

In addition to the expanded mobility options when firing weapons, Leon’s melee attacks have been given a complete overhaul in the remake alongside a new parry mechanic that adds an extremely satisfying wrinkle to combat encounters. Similar to the original Resident Evil 4, skilled players will need to get in the habit of firing off 1-2 shots at an enemy’s center of mass before rushing in for a powerful melee attack.

As enemies approach the player, the parry mechanic gives Leon some breathing room by allowing him to deflect incoming attacks and then stun enemies, following up with a devastating spin-kick melee. To offset the power and utility of the parry mechanic, players must invest in upgrading and repairing the combat knife regularly to ensure the move’s effectiveness.

Keeping the Spirit of the Original Resident Evil 4 Alive

An area that is slightly disappointing compared to the original is the boss encounters. Many of the game’s big bads are less challenging. In particular, the boss fight against Ramon Salazar is a far cry from the original. With a different arena and frustrating mechanics that make positioning Leon outside of the danger zone harder, there are some moments of tedium in what is otherwise an experience with all of its fat trimmed.

The original Resident Evil 4 was a pinnacle of 6th-generation game design. It still holds up as a title that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other AAA action games made 15 years later. That Capcom crafted a remake that simultaneously improved upon the original while retaining all of the core elements that made it so special is nothing short of miraculous.

With the ability to start a new save file carrying over all of your upgrades and rewards for meeting certain conditions in combat, the Resident Evil 4 remake offers tons of replayability for those who are looking to perfect their clear time and upgrade every weapon. Everything players loved in the original is back and better than ever. And for those looking to see what all the hype was about Resident Evil 4 but never played the original, there’s never been a better time to jump in with the remake. Simply put, this is the best version of one of the best games ever made.

Rating: 9 out of 10

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