Resident Evil 4 review: the biggest game in the series for years
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Featured Image Credit: Capcom
I’m surrounded. A chainsaw whirs ominously behind me. The rabid horde of locals brandish crude weapons, but many are simply trying to grab me by the throat. No matter how many I put down, they don’t stop coming. My shotgun runs out of ammo. My pistol does the same. My knife breaks. No matter how much I run, it feels like nothing will save me. A bell rings. My assailants cease. They leave me alone, just like they did in 2005, only this time I genuinely felt like I wouldn’t make it. Resident Evil 4 has never felt like this.
See our video review of Resident Evil 4 here
Capcom’s modern remake series started with a masterpiece in 2019’s Resident Evil 2. The reimagined title ditched the fixed camera angles and eased up on the B-movie schlock for a third-person viewpoint and heartfelt tragedy, resulting in a must-play horror game that still holds up now, even more so following the new-gen update.
While 2020’s Resident Evil 3 was not quite so well received, it’s clear both original games were dated to the point that new versions were worthwhile. Resident Evil 4, however, is a different case. The original game still plays well in the modern day thanks, primarily, to its more fluid gameplay style. This is why I, for one, called out for a remake of Code: Veronica instead.
Well, after a 16-hour initial playthrough on Standard difficulty, and a New Game+ run on Hardcore, I can happily say that Resident Evil 4 has benefited hugely from the remake treatment. The visuals are superb. The sound design is exquisite. The character redesigns are fresh yet retain the charms of the classic models. Most impressively, though, the 2023 game plays on your knowledge of the previous iteration, punishing and pleasing you in equal measure.
Just like in the original game, Leon S. Kennedy ventures to rural Spain in search of Ashley Graham, the daughter of the President of the United States. However, our hero is not the cop he used to be, something that’s evident both from his words and his actions. He’s more authoritative, violent and lethal, and looks particularly menacing when using the Center Axis Relock stance like a youthful John Wick.
Just as Mr Kennedy is more dangerous, so too are the ganados, the zombie-esque enemies that plague (get it?) Leon’s mission. As I previously mentioned, they’re a handsy bunch that can quickly close the distance between them and you, resulting in plenty of instances where you’ll need to break out of their grip, either by mashing X (on PlayStation 5) or by using R2 to strike with a knife. Resident Evil 4 also features a parry system - using L1 - which can be used to deflect projectiles and killing blows, with the latter including an on-screen prompt, although you can’t hesitate as the window isn’t too generous.
In fact, every enemy is tougher this time around than in the original game, with the exception of some bosses. Resident Evil 4 is more of an action game than a survival horror, even if elements from the latter genre are present, and the result is a more intense combat experience. Enemies have no chill, and will surround you at a moment’s notice. They strike head-on and from blindspots alike, routinely exhausting your ammo.
While you can stealth your way through some sections if you’re patient enough, conserving rounds thanks to the ability to perform knife executions on unwitting baddies, there are plenty of times when your only choice is to fight your way out, with Hardcore mode draining me of resources faster than RE2 ever has, which is saying something given the relative abundance of bullets in this title.
Although the hybrid action/survival horror gameplay is fun, it isn’t flawless. The movement of Leon and the camera are both very similar to the previous Resi remakes. While this gameplay style suited the more compact environments of RE2 and RE3 - with the latter including a much-needed dodge ability - the more open Resident Evil 4 struggles due to stiff, uncompromising mechanics. Enemies can slip into the gaps left by rigid camera motions, and you’ll often hear an attack but be powerless to respond. This isn’t necessarily bad given the horror aspect here, but the shift to a more bombastic sense of gunplay and its accompanying melee combat means the notion of being a sitting duck at times doesn’t sit well with the action hero vibe the game appears to be going for. Add to this a paltry amount of I-frames and Leon’s hit box being so big enemies can strike him through a wall, and you soon learn to never squander a healing item.
That’s not to say the game is without classic horror moments. There are creepy hallways, dark corners, pressure-filled challenges, and other segments that feel at home in previous Resident Evil titles, all of which work beautifully. I dare say the presence of these scarier moments actually adds to the satisfaction of blasting your way through the heavy hostilities, but the gameplay mechanics feel better suited to scares than skirmishes. Clearly Capcom noticed this in development because some attacks cause an additional visual prompt to appear telling you to press circle to evade.
Speaking of scary, the new enemy designs bring a lot of fear to Resident Evil 4. Ganados in all their forms are one thing, but the reimagined parasites are another. As well as being visually more horrifying than in the previous game, they also feel deadlier most of the time. Then there are the Gigantes, Novistadors and, of course, regenerators. The latter feel almost like mini Tyrants at times.
Going back to the gunplay for a moment, I can’t praise the sound design enough here. Every shotgun blast is a symphony of chaos, while each pistol has its own audio charm. The pull of the DualSense’s R2 feels weighty and satisfying, adding to the joy of putting a bullet right into an enemy skull. The sound of enemies being splattered by powerful firearms is as gross as it is engrossing. There have been times where I stood still, admiring the mess made from a shotgun blast cutting a ganado in half.
The game also utilises the DualSense speaker, with character voices coming through it when speaking to Leon over radio, walkie talkie and so on. At first, this broke my sense of immersion, but eventually felt organic. It’s testament to Resident Evil 4’s brilliance that something at first so jarring became natural, and even pleasing.
In terms of options and accessibility, Resident Evil 4 initially offers Assisted, Standard and Hardcore modes, with the latter being recommended by Capcom for those of us who played the original 2005 game. Despite this message, I played the game on Standard first and was still satisfied overall, with plenty of changes and twists to keep me guessing. In fact, my experience made me question if I was even ready for Hardcore mode.
RE4 offers three presets: Visual Accessibility; Auditory Accessibility and Motion Sickness. These settings change multiple factors, from HUD opacity and subtitle colour, to field of view and individual volumes. As well, each element can be changed on its own, letting players tweak and test until the balance is just right. While not every need is catered for here, the game offers a decent array of settings and deserves praise for that.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Resident Evil game without post-game content, and Resident Evil 4 offers plenty. In addition to New Game+, there’s also the Extra Content Shop, accessible from the main menu, which offers a variety of content that can be claimed by using CP - the currency earned for beating in-game challenges. While I won’t spoil any of it, I’ll just say there’s plenty to enjoy here, making every challenge worth doing if you’re a big Resi fan.
Sadly, some post-game content from the original Resident Evil 4 hasn’t made the cut this time. Again, I won’t say what any of this is here because the game isn’t even out yet, but I was very disappointed after beating the game to find several memorable pieces of content had been cut this time around. I know it’s a remake so it’s going to be different, but not like this, Capcom. Not like this.
On the positive side, there are plenty of changes that benefit the game. Characters like Leon, Ashley, Luis and Ada are more grounded and dynamic, bringing a believability to the outlandish events of the game and creating some stirring moments. The in-game world features more open areas, with backtracking rewarded by additional loot and challenges. There are effectively side quests to complete, yielding handy rewards. In this respect, it’s clear Resident Evil Village has inspired RE4’s design, going further into the open-zone format of Ethan Winters’ final journey.
Let’s not forget about the length either. To repeat myself, it took me 16 hours to beat Resident Evil 4 on my first playthrough, and that’s without doing everything. To put that into perspective, that’s three times longer than my first Village playthrough. That’s how huge this new game is by comparison, so it’ll be interesting to see what the Resi speedrunning community will make of it.
From my time with Resident Evil 4, it’s clear to me that this game is a worthy remake. The gameplay is better than in the original title - even with its limitations - while the changes and new additions bring a new lease of life of their own. The redesigned characters are striking, with some excellent voice acting to sell the dialogue, although there are moments where Leon bears more than a passing resemblance to Gary from Team America: World Police.
I can’t deny that I’m sore about some of the cut content, and the gameplay mechanics aren’t always smooth, but, overall, Resident Evil 4 is a brilliant action-horror game and I’ll no doubt play through it multiple times over the coming months. Based on how well this game plays, it feels like Capcom could apply their knowledge to a remake of Resident Evil 5, but that’s a conversation for another time.
Pros: Visually gorgeous, engaging gameplay, excellent sound design, huge campaign
Cons: Some stiff gameplay mechanics, cut content, Leon’s hit box is a bit too generous
For fans of: Resident Evil 2 (2019), Resident Evil 4 (2005), action-horror games
Resident Evil 4 will release 24 March, 2023, for Playstation 4, PlayStation 5 (version tested), Xbox consoles and PC. Code provided by Capcom. Read a guide to our review scores here.
Topics: Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil, Capcom, PlayStation 5