Resident Evil 4 Remake Review
Competence can cost you, it seems. Raccoon City cop and boyband wannabe Leon Kennedy did such a good job saving the world in Resident Evil 2 that when the president’s daughter Ashley is kidnapped, Leon is persuaded to go into a remote Spanish village to rescue her. Power has its privileges, after all, and who wouldn’t jump at the chance to go and risk their life to save the offspring of the highest office?
So begins the remake of what was arguably the best third-person game in the Resident Evil franchise. Its over-the-shoulder viewpoint revolutionised gaming and the template was copied by the likes of The Last of Us and Gears of War. While there’s nothing that ground-breaking in Resident Evil 4 Remake, Capcom has still shown that it can bring a classic title fully into the modern era, adding improvements at every step and turning out a game that looks, feels and plays spectacularly well without sacrificing its roots.
Transferring the action from urban to jungle was a wise move for the series. The Spanish setting affords a lot of variety in its locations, from the initial village housing a swarm of plaga-infected “ganados” through to a fully decked out fortress-castle populated by a batshit-crazy dandy, and a full on stronghold. Oh, and a clock tower, obviously. No expense has been spared in recreating the original game’s locations, and the village you start in sets the scene brilliantly. Trying to survive proves just as tense as it did eighteen years ago and the variety of enemies means that there are plenty of ways for Leon to die. I was killed by arrow and axe, had my head crushed, was impaled by a parasite’s tendrils, got burned to death, decapitated, and much more, all depicted in gruesome detail.
Thankfully, Leon can mete out as much as he takes, so you can expect to splatter the infected all over the place in glorious fashion. Unlike the slightly disappointing gameplay loop in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis where you were basically swimming in resources, this remake balances out the weapons, ammo and health in a near-perfect fashion. I found most large-scale fights offered enough options for me to carry on even as my rifle bullets ran out and my shotgun clicked empty. There is usually enough gunpowder to craft ammo on the fly and bigger areas have plenty of explosive red barrels or flaming lanterns lying around to make soup or BBQ out of the horde. Enemies often drop ammo and crafting resources when they die — and if all else fails, a well-placed grenade can do wonders.
The guns all feel very different as well. The riot gun (a fancy word for shotgun) was my go-to for groups and flying critters, though the handgun was surprisingly useful and ammunition for it is plentiful. The bolt gun, while ostensibly letting you take enemies out in stealth, doesn’t really stop you from being seen unless there’s only a single enemy, and at that point you might as well do a stealth kill with a knife. That said, it has reusable ammo and the ability to attach mines to the bolts which came in very handy for one particular encounter. Other gear includes the rocket launcher, semi-automatic rifle and assault rifle; some of the guns can have scopes and other extras attached to improve recoil and zoom, but ultimately how you prefer to play (and how much space is in your inventory) will dictate your choice of weapon.
Combat in general feels tight and brilliant, even more so than the previous two remakes. Dodge has been replaced with a melee attack which lets Leon roundhouse kick a wounded enemy to knock them to the ground. You can block with a well-timed button press, and there’s also the option to stick a knife into a downed foe before its head explodes into a plaga-ridden monstrosity that wouldn’t look out of place in London Fashion Week. Aiming feels more considered and accurate in RE4 which meant that almost every battle felt fair. Even the bosses offered interesting patterns and attacks to learn, but none of them proved frustrating. Knives now have degrading properties rather than being an indestructible one-stop shop for melee and barrel smashing, but both they and (the very handy) body armour can be repaired at the merchant. Meanwhile, checkpoints have been added so a surprising death will not mean you being carted off to your last proper save point. It’s quality of life tweaks like this that really add to the overall experience — especially for those who loved the original.
Inventory management is usually a bugbear of RE games, but the autosorting and merging of the storage case into the typewriter save points makes it a bit more bearable. That said, I have no idea why only certain items could be stored. It would have been far more helpful to stash ammo for guns you aren’t using, chuck herbs in there for a later time, and so on. Yet the only items you can actually store are weapons, gun modifications, and first aid sprays. It’s a bizarre design choice.
Overall though, the new changes are welcome. While the story is probably the weakest element here, if you take it at face value you’ll have a blast. It’s a schlocky, camp homage to 80s action films with a horror bent — you’ll appreciate the shit one-liners and aphorisms being delivered with deadly seriousness (aside from the merchant who sounds like a reject from a Guy Ritchie project). Ashley is slightly less irritating than in the original game, but the need to protect her still remains eye-rolling as she inevitably gets herself carried off by goons time and time again, hauled over their shoulder like a sack of potatoes. A level where you play as her aims to highlight her resourcefulness trumping her weakness but ends up being one of the more irritating chapters to play. Other side characters, including some familiar faces from the series, pop up too, and the voice actors are clearly having a lovely time in the recording booth. Cut scenes are beautifully rendered and the motion capture elements, particularly for a brutal knife fight, are simply divine. Even a character toying with a lighter is mesmerising to watch thanks to the RE Engine.
My biggest criticism of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis — its meagre length — is fully addressed here. You can expect each of the sixteen chapters to take between one and three hours depending on whether you’re looking to complete all of the optional side missions. Granted, some of these are dull as hell (how many times do we need to go and clear out rats from an area?) but some, such as shooting blue medallions, add a light puzzle element to the game. There’s also a fun shooting range for you to get to grips with the weapons; high scores there result in tokens for spending on random charms that can be added to your attaché case for bonuses to healing, crafting, discounted merchant prices, and more. There are very few fetch quest puzzles, and thanks to a reasonably linear map, there was never a moment I felt stuck. It’s the most accessible and fun RE remake to date, and when you throw into the mix levels that include boat rides and a Temple of Doom-style minecart chase, the entire package ends up being a delight.
Is it scary? Resident Evil is a horror series, after all, so you’d expect...well, to be scared. And unfortunately for fans of jump scares, they are all but absent here, replaced instead by tense sequences where you’re fighting to survive against monstrosities rather than being terrified of them. It means that it’s a different type of horror game. There’s no equivalent of the iconic “dog jumping through a window” moment from the first game, but there are flashes of that in a maze sequence. The remake of Resident Evil 2 is still the most disturbing for chills, but the regenerating mutants that stalk you in this title are relentless and more nerve-wracking than the antagonist of the third game. If you consider it an action horror which is heavy on the gore, rather than an out-and-out frightfest like Dead Space, you’ll be along the right lines. It’s a joyous, cheesy, over-the-top romp which does absolute justice to the source material.
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