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Resident Evil 4 (remake) review: Evil warmed up
Capcom reforges another Resident Evil game that’s as rewarding for first-timers as it is for series veterans.
Resident Evil 4 review
Resident Evil V was my first crack at the franchise. While I hated the move-like-a-tank controls, I clearly liked enough of what it had to offer to put 20+ hours into the game. Fast-forward to more recent times, and it’s clear I’m something of a series fan, albeit with later entries. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard had a stellar first half, and I was a big fan of Resident Evil Village except for the boss fights.
The latest Resident Evil on the block is the so-called Resident Evil 4, deceptively named because, while new, it’s a remake of a game that’s almost 20 years old. Full disclosure: I gave the Switch port of that original game a spin last year and made it about five minutes in before I rage quit because of the tank controls. Turns out, if you can’t move and shoot at the same time, that’s a deal-breaker for me.
All of that context is to say that I have neither knowledge nor affinity for the game that’s being remade. Unlike The Last of Us Part I, there isn’t any need for debate over whether Resident Evil 4 should be classified as a remake: it adds heaps. Sure, it’s appropriately gorgeous for a 2023 game, but you can now move and shoot, plus I have it on good authority that there’s more content than the original and a bunch of it has been reimagined.
There are even more story beats, but I won’t touch on those because no spoilers here. Speaking of story, the basics are very straightforward: perfect-hair Leon S. Kennedy is on a mission to rescue the US president’s daughter (no, really) from a dangerous cult in rural Spain. Given it’s a Resident Evil game, you can safely expect that it’s not a straightforward extraction process, nor are you fighting against particularly human foes.
The story didn’t particularly grab me, and outside of some truly woeful dialogue, I was impressed by a diverse array of pop-culture references. These range from set pieces inspired by Aliens 3, Temple of Doom and Under Siege to a more recent musical nod to Hans Zimmer and Tina Guo’s Wonder Woman theme. Admittedly, sometimes the inspirations are better than the execution. The Temple of Doom-inspired part requires a hefty suspension of disbelief, even by Resident Evil standards, and the Under Siege nod is one of the worst boss fights in the game.
And that’s saying something. None of the boss fights are particularly memorable, and Capcom has clearly sought to preserve older game-design logic by having them almost exclusively break down to ‘shoot the glowing weak spot’. This adherence to the source material may also explain why it has a contextual dodge button instead of a full-fledged one, which is made all the more frustrating because it only seems to work a fraction of the time.
Stealth is similarly half-baked, wherein Leon is seemingly incapable of aiming while crouched, so even the one whisper-quiet ranged weapon becomes a waste of space to carry. Enemy AI ranges from an eagle-eyed hive mind who feel scripted to alert others to easily exploitable. Ladders and windows, in particular, seem to be their greatest weakness.
Admittedly, this is part of the fun. It’s refreshing to play a Resident Evil game that leans more towards action-horror than survival-horror, and leading mindless foes into the traps they forgot they placed never gets old. What swings things back to the “survival” part, though, is limited resources, complicated by the reality that loot drops are seemingly determined by RNG.
I had more than half a dozen crashes on PC in my 17 hours with Resident Evil 4 which, admittedly, may be because I pushed the graphics a wee bit too far (I was warned about potential stability issues). Still, one crash happened after a particularly fruitful vase looting experience, where I scored pistol and shotgun ammo, plus a grenade. When I reloaded the same and looted the same vase, I was awarded with three lots of in-game currency. Sigh.
The thing is, despite the crashes, cringe-worthy dialogue, frustrating boss fights and an elongated campaign, I was all in on pretty much everything else. Every crash led to me instantly restarting the game to get back close to where I left off. None of my sessions ended after a boss fight. That core gameplay loop—looting, crafting, exploring, eviscerating—kept me coming back for more in minimal-protest hours-long sessions.
I’m happy to report that there’s a tonne of fun to be had with Resident Evil 4 for new fans like me. And by far the biggest praise I can give Resident Evil 4 is, after the credits eventually rolled, I’m left wanting more of that gameplay loop. I doubt I’ll do a New Game Plus run so soon after finishing, but my time with Resident Evil 4 has inspired me to buy and install the first three games to see what I’ve missed out on for all these years.