Platforms: PC, PS5 (reviewed), PS4 Xbox Series X
Release Date: March 24, 2023
Resident Evil 4 is one of the most influential and beloved games of all time. And it’s also a very different beast compared to its predecessors. While 1998’s Resident Evil 2 and 1999’s Resident Evil 3 were games in desperate need of full-scale remakes, Resident Evil 4 is a title that still holds up remarkably well to this day — and it’s currently playable in its original form on everything from the PS5 to the Nintendo Switch.
It would be easy to dismiss remaking Resident Evil 4 as unnecessary, and maybe even somewhat sacrilege if you hold the original in great esteem. Yet within minutes, this from-the-ground-up remake of Resident Evil 4 makes a strong case for its own existence. It’s the familiar classic you know, but with a much-appreciated graphical facelift.
However, this remake is more than just skin-deep. Several sections of the game have been reworked, and one iconic boss encounter has even been removed entirely. However, a few frustratingly dated elements are still present. The changes are mostly for the better, and in a lot of ways it now looks and plays how you remember.
Overall, Resident Evil 4 is a carefully considered remake with great respect for its source material. Whether this is your first Resident Evil 4 experience or your thirtieth, it’s an easy recommendation. Read on for our full Resident Evil 4 review.
Resident Evil 4 review: Story
Resident Evil 4 takes place several years after the events of Resident Evil 2, and sees returning protagonist Leon S. Kennedy venture to an isolated Spanish village on a mission to rescue the President's daughter, Ashley Graham, who has been abducted by a sinister cult.
It’s an initially intriguing yarn and gives you solid motivation to push forward. But the events become increasingly ridiculous across the 15-hour main campaign. Plus, if you’re new to the franchise expect to be a little lost as returning side character Ada Wong features prominently, and the exact reason for her involvement is poorly explained until near the end.
The original Resident Evil 4 skirted the line between horror and comedy, and this remake strikes the same tone. There certainly are moments that will make your skin crawl, but there are just as many bizarrely humorous cutscenes as well. Leon especially is a fountain of cheesy one-liners and dry comedic quips — and yes his iconic “bingo” line has made the cut.
In fact, the most engaging morsels of story don’t come via the slickly-animated cinematics, but rather from the collectible notes that are scattered throughout levels. These offer interesting insight into the game’s main villains and also explain how this Spanish village descended into a living nightmare; make sure you take the time to find and read them.
Resident Evil 4 review: Gameplay
Back in the mid-2000s Resident Evil 4 pioneered the over-the-shoulder third-person perspective that has become a staple of action games. Its DNA can be felt in everything from Dead Space to The Last of Us, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this remake doesn’t dramatically switch up those fundamentals.
Instead of overhauling the foundations of its source material, Resident Evil 4 makes the smart decision to refine them. In the original game, aiming your weapon would lock Leon in place, but now you can slowly move while pointing your gun at enemies. This seemingly small addition dramatical changes the flow of combat; it does reduce the overall difficulty, but it’s a worthwhile trade-off.
Maneuvering Leon around the game’s claustrophobic combat arenas is much smoother in general. With his newfound mobility, you can quickly sprint out of the way when a pitchfork-wielding enemy charges or a chainsaw-carrying foe takes a swipe. But don’t mistakenly believe this means that combat has lost its edge.
Resident Evil 4 is still a very tense game, especially in its final third. Enemies are aggressive and will swarm you in great numbers. Carefully aiming shots to maximize the impact of your limited ammo and resources is required if you want to emerge from battle victorious. This is doubly true in the half-a-dozen fearsome boss battles. Although these fights mostly rely on outdated mechanics that boil down to little more than shooting glowing weak points.
These aren’t the only reminders that you’re playing a remake of a game that turned 18 years old back in January. Several sequences task you with escorting a computer-controlled Ashley through hordes of enemies and these can be seriously frustrating. Ashley has a bad habit of wandering straight into a cluster of mutated foes and meeting a sticky end. Facing a “Game Over” screen because of something the AI did without your input always feels cheap. These segments weren’t especially fun in 2005, and they’re no more enjoyable in 2023.
Players craving a true survival horror experience might want to consider the recently-released Dead Space remake because Resident Evil 4 frequently strays into pulp action territory. And it’s not shy about that fact either.
The game throws dozens of enemies at you from the get-go, and by the time the credits roll you’ll have racked up a kill count in the hundreds. Leon’s ability to literally roundhouse kick stunned enemies is another clear indicator that Resident Evil 4 is not seeking to disempower the player in order to ratchet up the fear factor.
But this is still a Resident Evil game at its core, and that means scouring the environment for loot is essential. In Resident Evil 4 your most precious resource is Pesetas, a collectible currency. This can be offered to a mysterious merchant in exchange for items, crafting recipes, upgrades and new weapons. It’s highly satisfying to amass a huge pile of gold coins and gleefully unlock multiple upgrades at once. Or you can swap it all for a single-use Rocket Launcher that can reduce even the strongest enemies to a puddle of red goop.
New to the remake are merchant requests which effectively work as optional side missions. These range from the mundane (destroy five hidden pendants in an area) to more engaging ones that I won’t spoil here. The incentives for completing these requests are useful items, but you may begin skipping them after turning in a few as they become very repetitive.
Resident Evil 4 review: Visuals and sound
Resident Evil 4 launched on the Nintendo Gamecube in 2005 and has subsequently been ported to just about every system capable of playing video games. Naturally, its visuals have aged, but the Resident Evil 4 remake brings the game’s imposing setting and memorable characters into the modern era.
The RE Engine is used once again to great effect. Environments are dense with detail and character models look great. The Napoelon-like nobleman Ramón Salazar you encounter in the game’s second act in particular benefits from a full redesign. While he was extremely goofy in the original game, in this remake he gives off an uncomfortably psychotic vibe that makes him feel like a genuine threat — even if much of his dialogue remains pretty comical.
While the game looks and runs great on a technical level, its visual design does start to get rather stale. Resi 4 is neatly split into three portions set within the aforementioned village, a spooky castle and an industrial island, but these environments are not particularly distinct. You’ll quickly feel like you’re traversing the same levels over and over again.
An early section takes place during a rainstorm, and the rain effect used is seriously disorienting. The attempts to simulate a raging storm actually make it very hard to see what’s happening. Capcom has promised a patch is coming in time for launch, which will resolve this issue, but it was unavailable during the review process.
Resident Evil 4: Verdict
As a remake, Resident Evil 4 is a seriously impressive conversion of a classic. It packs just about everything that made the original great while sanding down many, but not quite all, of the rough edges. The improvements to the shooting make a massive difference and are why I’m very excited for the promised DLC that will add the series’ popular Mercenaries horde mode.
If you view Resident Evil 4 as a near-flawless classic — and many people do — then you might have minor gripes with some of the changes. But this remake deserves great plaudits for revamping such an iconic release for a modern audience while also managing to retain the core spirit of the original game.
There is a legitimate argument to be made that this remake is now the definitive way to experience Resident Evil 4. Considering the pedigree of its progenitor that’s a very impressive achievement.