Capcom have been on something of a roll in the last six years; starting with the excellent Resident Evil 7, they really found their groove again with the survival horror series, with both incredible remakes and stellar new entries released each year. When it comes to remakes, the gold standard up until now has been Resident Evil 2 – a title that all but cemented Capcom pursuing more remakes such was the incredible reception it received. Fans clamoured for years for that remake, but the moment it was released they moved onto the next big title – Resident Evil 4. Well, we’re finally here – but can this remake improve on what is already considered by many one of the greatest games of all time?
I mean, starting from such a solid base we had little doubt Capcom would knock at least the basics out of the park, and so it has come to pass. This is Resident Evil 4 as we remember it, albeit with some neat modern inclusions and twists. Whereas RE2 played a bit looser with the layout of the RPD and laboratories, RE4 feels far closer to the original design. Again, when the game you’re remaking is so highly regarded anyway, it’s probably best not to mix things up too much. Don’t read this as a negative though, as what we get is a fantastic mix of survival horror and action, where resources are far more likely to be doled out but so too will enemies keen to deplete us of these as fast as we can gather them.
Leon S. Kennedy reprises his role of Presidential aide, here to rescue said President’s daughter Ashley from a cult in middle Europe. Naturally, things take a turn for the worse quickly as Leon’s entourage are separated and gruesomely murdered by the Ganados before turning their eyes to him. What follows is typically camp-but-entertaining Resident Evil story telling, with twists and turns throughout.
While we enjoy the cheesy RE stories, there’s no denying the gameplay is the real star here, although it doesn’t quite have the same wow-factor impact the 2005 original did. Back then, it was revolutionary that we could walk and shoot as opposed to being rooted to the spot as we had been in prior entries. By the time we get to this remake, we’ve been capable of this for nearly two decades. The novelty may have worn off, but the fun factor remains the same.
Leon is a far more capable hero than most other third person shooters, with a simple but perfectly pitched set of abilities that keep us flowing in combat. Obviously we have access to guns (more on those in a bit) but he’s also been doing some CQC training, learning as he has wrestling moves, roundhouse kicks, and even how to block a chainsaw with a knife! While the latter example is so far fetched even the most determined canine wouldn’t bother bringing that back, it never fails to elicit a massive grin as we dodge certain death with just a trusty pocket knife.
Enemies react to being shot in various places, so taking a knee out will see them crumple down, primed for a vicious roundhouse or suplex from Leon. Use of these melee moves is vital to save ammo as while there’s far more of it lying around, it’s still possible to get caught short at just the wrong moment. There were more than a few moments where we’d find ourselves dashing about hoping to find a small box of something to help us finish a fight.
Thinking back on our time with the game, there were very few encounters that we didn’t have a blast playing. Between the weapons we have access to, the abilities of not just Leon but the various Ganados, and the tightly designed areas, each time we get into a fight is a joy to play. There were one or two set piece moments we enjoyed slightly less – one involving an undefeatable threat that we had to avoid for a set time – but even then they didn’t last so long as to be a massive burden.
Speaking of weapons, one thing in particular RE4 does is pace out the reveal of new armaments perfectly. Just as we begin to get used to a weapon and start it’s upgrade path, we’re given the tantalising offer of a newer version that although weaker than our currently upgraded weapon, will end up far more powerful should we stick with it. All of this comes with a currency cost of course, so we must weigh up the benefits of selling our upgraded gun to go with a slightly worse off one for now until we gain more money.
There are also items, ammo, and other upgrades to consider, such as repairing our trusty knife when it inevitably breaks. Even fully upgraded it will still snap after too much use (either blocking chainsaws, melee-countering grabs, or simply stabbing foes), and costs a not-insignificant amount to repair each time – though it’s very worthwhile as the expendable knives we find are all but useless later on.
It pains us to write this though, but Resident Evil 4 isn’t without a few niggles, at least on Xbox. The first thing we noticed was that the camera control felt very heavy, almost as if the dead zone was way too big. It was the same in the pre-release demo, and is something that isn’t present on Playstation (again, from our time with the demo). We eventually got used to it, but there were still moments in fights where it’d we’d notice it and we’d need to readjust for a minute. There’s no real reason it should be an easy fix, so here’s hoping that is the case soon.
Another slight niggle is in the lighting – when moving from light to dark areas the whole scene takes on a strangely blue hue that makes any dark area look blue while other sections look a bit washed out. We’ve not seen other complaints of this from reputable outlets, but much like the camera control is something we grew used to despite it occasionally rearing it’s head.
Outside of these relatively small concerns though, this is Resident Evil 4 as we remember it but improved in almost every other way. Lighting quirk aside, when things are as they should be it looks stunning, the RE Engine putting another tech showcase. The merchant returns (although voiced as if by a poor impressionist rather than a new take on the role), where we can buy, sell, and upgrade weapons, sell treasures, trade in jewels, as well as hand in the new bounties found dotted around the levels. Most of these take the place of simply finding the Blue Medallions in the areas, though there are some new, tougher tasks that are worth hunting out such as killing a super strong dog or knight.
He also offers a new shooting range where we can pit our skills against a carnival-style shoot out, with high scores reward with coins that can be exchanged for random prizes. The shooting gallery is fun (we might have gotten a little too distracted with it to be honest) and the potential rewards can be very helpful. Charms can go on our attaché case and grant us buffs such as more handgun ammo drops, or upping the amount of materials we find.
Part of the charm of Resident Evil 4 is upon completion, when we can go back through with our upgrades and try for faster runs, and this is just as enticing as it ever was. With so many weapons to choose from, and all the extra sides missions to hunt down, we can see this forming a good part of the rest of our year gaming for sure in between other new titles.
The top tier remakes continue to come from Capcom, with Resident Evil 4 taking a beloved classic and modernising it in all the right ways. A couple of small niggles aside, this will go down as one of the greatest games this year, if not this generation.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox S|X review code, using an Xbox S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.