Usually if a remake of a classic game doesn’t modernize its controls and make other improvements or additions, it’s not worth getting. Just compare the faithful but dated-feeling remake of Resident Evil compared to the updated and upgraded Resident Evil 2. But leave it to this new version of Resident Evil 4 (PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, PC) to buck that trend by being a lot like the original that came out for the GameCube in 2005, and yet still be a must-have for fans of this classic horror shooter. And, well, for people who’ve never had the pleasure.
In Resident Evil 4…
Leon S. Kennedy — who was a rookie cop in Resident Evil 2, but is now an agent for the Division of Security Operations — is sent to a rural village in Spain to rescue the daughter of the President of the United States. Except the village isn’t full of nice European people who want to cook you paella and sell you souvenirs. They’re cultists, and under the influence of a mind-altering parasite called Las Plagas. Which is why Leon’s visit is spent shooting people, animals, bugs, and monsters, some of which have mutated; scrounging for supplies; and solving weird puzzles that, for some odd reason, are used to lock the doors and gates that are keeping Leon from finding the President’s kid.
Now, if you played Resident Evil 4 back in the day, you know this third-person survival horror shooter is great. And this version almost perfectly recreates it. For instance, while the graphics and sound have been upgraded, and the animations are improved, it still has the same art style as the original. Same for the controls, which are slightly refined — the button layout has been altered to adhere to modern standards — but are still as intuitive as they were in 2005.
This is not to say they didn’t change some things. Just that instead of being a top-to-bottom remake, it’s more like the original has been freshened up. The puzzles that keep certain lab doors closed, for instance, are more elaborate, and feel more like security protocols than something you’d find in a puzzle game. They’ve also excised most of the quick time events, often in favor of real-time combat.
Resident Evil 4 also…
takes a cue from God Of War, its sequel, Ragnarok, and, most interestingly, Gears 5 (a series that was heavily influenced by the original R.E.4) by expanding the area around the lake to now include more points of interest for you to explore.
They’ve also, thankfully, added the magic storage boxes that are in every Resident Evil game but weren’t in the original version of Resident Evil 4. Though, oddly, unlike the ones in Resident Evil Village, etc., you can’t use them to save ammo, heath-restoring herbs, or test tubes full of herb you’ve combined. Which is odd, but not as inconvenient as it could’ve been since your personal carrying case has a separate area where you can store keys, as well as all the expensive baubles you’ve pilfered just so you can sell them and buy new weapons, weapon upgrades, and (most importantly) bigger pieces of luggage.
But the biggest change in this version of Resident Evil 4 comes when Leon pulls out his knife. Where before it was only really good as a box opener, it’s now a viable weapon. Not only does it come in handy when you knock someone down and want to end their suffering, but you can even parry attacks when someone swings, or even flings, an axe or machete at your head.
You can also,
if they’re not paying attention, sneak attack someone. Which isn’t to say this ever turns into a full Splinter Cell-esque stealth action game — or even one where you can thin out the herd by playing cat and mouse — though being able to come up behind someone and take them out all quiet-like is as satisfying here as it is in sneakier games.
Admittedly, these changes don’t make Resident Evil 4 feel like a new game. Though mostly because — unlike the recently updated versions of Resident Evil 2 or 3 — the original R.E.4 didn’t have much in need of updating. Which is why nothing about this feels dated (well, unless you’ve only played open world games for the last 18 years). Which is why this is much more like the recent (and equally excellent) remake of Dead Space than the new versions of R.E.2 and 3.
So why bother? Well, mostly because — again, like with Dead Space — it’s probably been a while since you’ve played Resident Evil 4 (well, unless you played the previous remake, which came out in 2016). Which means you’ve probably forgotten enough of it that this will actually feel like a new game. A new and really, really good game.
if you’re someone who didn’t play the original, or any of the remakes, then this actually is a whole new game. And to you I say welcome, you’re in for a treat. Because more than any other game in this series, before or since, Resident Evil 4 strikes a near-perfect balance between combat, exploration, and mental challenges. It’s kind of like a Best Of Resident Evil if they incorporated elements from all the games before and since.
For starters, Resident Evil 4 mixes the narrow pathways and small indoor areas of Resident Evil 3 with the open areas of Resident Evil Village. Hence why, when the residents confront you for breaking into their homes and stealing their ammo, health sprays, and necklaces, they come at you from all sides, including above and below.
Good thing Resident Evil 4‘s gunplay is as fluid and intuitive as the best shooters, third- or first-person. Though it more resembles the gunplay of the Gears Of War games (albeit without the cover mechanics) than, say, The Division or Mass Effect.
It’s also nicely varied.
When not fending off attacks from crazy villagers, you get to go fishing, see what would happen if you played Sniper Elite as a Predator, and take on some of the most clever bosses in any game, Resident Evil or otherwise, all of whom require as much thought as they do reflexes and ammo to beat. Like, for instance, a blind Freddy Kruger superfan who has sensitive hearing.
Resident Evil 4 also has a lot of interesting little touches. While some games let you shoot someone holding a grenade, causing it to explode, this also lets you shoot someone holding a torch, causing them to drop it and set themselves on fire. And this game has a lot of people with torches.
You can also shoot enemies in the face, incapacitating them long enough to take them out with roundhouse kick or quick jab of your knife. Which you’ll want to get in the habit of doing since, like in all survival horror games, you may not always have enough ammo, or enough room in your briefcase to carry everything you have. Good thing you can craft your own ammo, and without having to find a work bench.
Of course, being a Resident Evil game, Resident Evil 4 also has its inexplicable puzzles, which are always clever and challenging and never make a damn bit of sense. Why would the key to the church be hidden, let alone far away, and in a place accessible only by boat, and even then, require two statue heads? Oh, and not be a key, but a…is that a plate?
As for the horror of it all,
Resident Evil 4 isn’t as frightening as the earlier games, or either R.E.7 or Village, though it is scarier than R.E.5, R.E.6, and is on par with the Revelations ones. It’s also a different kind of horror than the previous installments, as this is less inspired by George Romero’s Living Dead films, and (like Village) more by such classic Hammer horror films as 1958’s Horror Of Dracula or it’s 1966 sequel, The Brides Of Dracula, as well as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Instead, there are times when this goes full ’80s-style action movie (think Commando or Rambo), while one rather exhilarating part recalls both the movie Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and its iconic arcade game, as well as Donkey Kong Country.
All of which combines seamlessly into a nicely varied, challenging, engaging, and ultimately effortless shooter that ranks among the best games of all time. And no, not just in this series or this genre; across all games.
Resident Evil 4 wasn’t perfect back in the day, and it isn’t perfect now. For starters, I wish this wasn’t broken up into chapters like the original was, since it kills the momentum. Especially given how it otherwise transitions from gameplay to cutscenes and back again almost as seamlessly as God Of War: Ragnarok.
Similarly, I also wish they hadn’t kept the control mechanic that requires you to equip a grenade before throwing it, as opposed to just hitting a button to toss it like in most shooters.
As for new issues, while your knife may be more helpful, it also now suffers from wear and tear, way more than a real knife ever would. Good thing you can repair it, and don’t just have to steal a steak knife from some villager. Even worse, your bullet-proof vest is also poorly made. Though why they added this mechanic is beyond me; it’s never made any game more fun before, and it doesn’t make this one better now.
But these are just minor quibbles,
nothing that should dissuade you from buying this game, be it the first time or the third. Though I think three times is enough for now. As much as I enjoyed playing this version of Resident Evil 4 — and plan to do so at least two more times — that will be enough. Well, for now. In another 18 years, though…