Resident Evil 4 Remake review: Action horror, redefined
Playing the Resident Evil 4 Remake is like putting on a pair of old jeans. The familiar sense of comfort and a reunion of sorts with some of the franchise's most beloved and familiar characters, with a complete facelift. And yet, at its core, it feels like the same game we all know and loved.
Remaking the original Resident Evil 4 was always going to be a risky endeavour for Capcom. The game has a hardcore fanbase, and for good reason. The original was a trendsetter of its time and uniquely popularised over-the-shoulder combat, making it highly esteemed within the genre, and even outside of it.
Although the Resident Evil 4 Remake does make some changes, we are proud to report that it is for the better and the remake does more than revive the original - it's a celebration of it, too.
Coming home to El Pueblo
Get yourself comfortable and slip on your mid-2000s brown leather jacket as we step into the role of Leon. S. Kennedy once again.
The rookie is back and not as inexperienced as the last time we saw him. With a helpful flashback of previous events from Racoon City in Resident Evil 2, we start our journey in the back of that iconic cop car alongside two local police officers who we're sure will be okay. They're definitely going to be fine. Right?
Leon has since become a federal agent and has been enlisted to help find the President's daughter Ashley Graham who a sinister cult has abducted in the middle of rural Spain.
Of course, for returning Resident Evil veterans, this is nothing new, but the exposition is friendly for newcomers who may be delving into the franchise for the first time.
Leon epitomises the angsty hero role, with his stiff upper lip and general 'I'm just here doing my job attitude', but we're very pleased to report the campy one-liners return. That means yes, he's going to talk about bingo, and yes, we're going to laugh a little bit every time he does.
Say goodbye to the sepia filter
The original game dealt with an extremely limited colour palette, especially in the earlier chapters which was more than a little surprising given that the game was meant to be set in a once-thriving Spanish village. Thankfully, the graphics have been re-made in the RE Engine, and it continues to be one of the best-looking showcases around.
As the original showed us, you can have a spooky horror game without making everything dark and miserable, and Resident Evil 4 Remake shines in its middle sections where it introduces gothic architecture and stately furniture as a contrast to the early village scenes. It's not tough to spot the inspiration for Lady D's castle in Resident Evil Village, and with the remake, the two almost feel entwined -- like bookends of a section of the franchise.
The enemies are equally as impressive and have also been remade in 4K gory glory. Textures pop and monsters are terrifying in close quarters. As back in the original, Resident Evil 4 loves to throw insurmountable enemies at Leon before reviving them later on as standard fodder.
Not only does this add to the sense of accomplishment when you upgrade Leon's equipment enough to kill enemies that once took you forever to beat, but it also treats iconic villains with a respectable approach. Enemy designs are updated but not rewritten, losing none of their earlier menace but gaining all sorts of animations.
I'll have extra cheese with my gore, please.
Graphics are one thing, but without that secret special Resident Evil 4 ingredient, the game would be doomed to fail. We're talking, of course, about the over-the-top combat moves and cheesy one-liners.
This is the bleeding heart of Resident Evil 4, the thing that makes the game iconic and several people's favourite of the franchise.
Sadly, Paul Mercier does not reprise his role of Leon or the enigma that is the Merchant. Although his inclusion, even in a smaller role, would have been a beautiful easter egg for fans, it doesn't diminish the overall product at all.
Shigeru Chiba is slightly less gravelly than the original Merchant, but his drawl of 'Whattya Buying?' and 'Welcome Stranger' whilst you're taking time out for a breather is undeniably nostalgic and a comforting piece of light-heartedness.
Meanwhile, Nick Apostolides reprises his role of Leon after the Resident Evil 2 Remake and delivers a solid performance of the stoic and unenthused hero.
We could write a whole review based solely on Leon's "so bad they're good" (but still charming) one-liners. Combined with Leon's dedication to sending all infected Ganados to Suplex City, the game reads like a creepy 90s action flick – which we love.
Leon performs the same super kicks, Suplexs, Kip-ups and crash landings through windows that we know and love, and there's a weird satisfaction about it, like the man just really loves his job.
A significant improvement is the ability to continue walking whilst aiming/shooting, albeit very slowly, but the absence of "stop and pop" controls will be jarring to those that have visited this little corner of Spain before.
The game also features a detailed photo mode if you want to capture your finishing moves up close and personal.
Addressing the Ashley in the room
The Resident Evil 4 Remake has made noticeable tweaks to character appearances, particularly that of the costumes of the women in the game. Ada and Ashley now have more appropriate clothing for scaling castle defences and riding off on rope casters which still feel true to their original styles.
Ada is as sleek as ever and Ashley is preppy without needing to go as cliché as a sweater wrapped around her shoulders.
The original game was somewhat uncomfortable in its depiction of the 20-year-old Ashley, with the character sounding and looking a lot younger, and the resulting over-sexualisation is something we're very pleased to see Capcom kick to the kerb here.
With the fantastic work of voice actor Nicole Tompkins (who previously played Jill Valentine in Resident Evil 3 Remake), Ashley has more mature dialogue in situations and comes across as a frightened young woman rather than a total damsel in distress.
Ashley doesn’t exactly hold her own, but she does help Leon more and plays a more pivotal role during stressful encounters at multiple points in the game. This is a huge relief as the outdated stereotypes from the original have aged terribly and the fanbase generally agrees that Ashley was the most annoying character in the series.
Her cries of 'Leon' are present but less numerous and she doesn’t seem to make herself as much of a nuisance in combat as the original.
The Attaché Case is the only friend you need.
Resident Evil 4 Remake takes around 20 hours to complete, perhaps longer if you play on the hardest difficulty and stop for all side missions.
In this, it paces itself very well. Boss fights are mostly met with downtime for exploration afterwards and there's a real incentive to explore every region. Not only because they are diverse to look at, but treasures and puzzles litter the maps. Earning treasure means you can buy upgrades from the Merchant and improve your standing in the next boss fight. Curiosity is almost always rewarded.
Likewise, completing side missions will reward you with Spinel, a rare material you can trade with the Merchant for exclusive rewards. Bravery and exploration can net some fine rewards indeed.
Combat is extremely satisfying and trying out different weapons is part of the fun, particularly, as the game progresses and the Merchant upgrades his stock.
Some chapters can feel relentless as you fight against the tide of enemies, and as with the original, Resident Evil 4 Remake leans into horror action as a genre. That makes it a big shift from Resident Evil 7, and much closer to Village, and it'll be fascinating to see how newcomers that came in via the swampy, first-person instalment will react to such a tonal shift.
Thankfully, it doesn't subtract from the horror setting, with plenty of tense moments where you'll be doing plenty of running and panicking – or maybe that’s just me.
The Resident Evil 4 Remake, not unlike an overzealous kid with too much time on their hands, loves showing you more and more gross stuff and challenges you to deal with it with dwindling resources.
Thankfully, the iconic Attaché Case is back, and making the most of your space with its Tetris-like inventory system is a key part of getting through. Perhaps inventory space was the true enemy all along.
Simply put, the Resident Evil 4 Remake is as action-packed as the original and keeps to the same sincere vision whilst updating on graphics, controls and all the other modern comforts of gaming that we come to expect.
If you're a franchise fan that's been there from the start, come for the excellent reanimation of one of gaming's finest. If you're a newcomer, come for campy atmosphere and superlative visuals. Whatever you come for, be sure to stay for bingo.
Review code provided by the publisher. Reviewed on PS5.