Resident Evil 4 remake is the definitive version of a survival horror masterpiece

The anticipation for the reshaped Resident Evil 4 is higher than ever — even moreso than the Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 remakes released over the past several years. Since changing modern gaming with its original Nintendo Gamecube release in 2005, Capcom’s fourth entry in the groundbreaking survival horror franchise has seen ports ranging from newer consoles to mobile and even virtual reality. It doesn’t hurt that many popular contemporary third-person shooters including Gears of War, The Last of Us and Dead Space all found clear inspiration from the classic entry.

Despite some small changes, the story of Leon Kennedy infiltrating a rural village in Spain to save the President’s daughter from a terrorist cult looking to infect the world with a mind-controlling parasite is exactly how players of the original will remember it. Resident Evil 4 maintains a tightrope narrative balance of horror and pure camp with a unique cast of characters that newer players won’t forget.

However, how can Capcom improve on an action shooter many considered perfect without losing the white-knuckled action experience of the original? The answer is by offering refinements brought by the last few remakes while introducing some clever gameplay tweaks, all backed by the RE Engine that allows for new audio and visual peaks that up the tension in satisfying ways.

Resident Evil 4 is out on March 24 for PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X|S and PC, and we completed a playthrough on the PS5 version. For those interested in diving back into Mr. Kennedy’s standout adventure, here are our thoughts after a 15-hour playthrough.

When Resident Evil 4 was released nearly two decades ago, it was seen as a technical marvel in addition to its fantastic art design. The entry left the destroyed remains of fictional midwest town Raccoon City behind, introducing a completely new setting in the form of an unnamed Spanish village. The game’s early portions shifted the action to the daytime for the first time in the series, while still managing to be scary. And once nighttime comes into play, things manage to get even more horrifying.

All of that is enhanced significantly in the remake thanks to the capabilities of current hardware. The opening set piece against the horde of infected villagers and a chainsaw-wielding maniac is as terrifying as ever with the updated visuals. Character models and animations are wonderful in gameplay and cutscenes alike. Many of the characters get visual redesigns as well, such as supporting characters like Ada Wong and villains such as Ramon Salazar. The updated lighting effects are the biggest highlight, from the rusty browns of the rural village to the nighttime portions hitting all the right moods. That’s also enhanced through some clever usage of ray tracing that improves reflections.

Even the sound gets notable updates with redone voice-overs, sound effects and spatial audio support. The game’s signature campy dialogue returns, but feels more believable this time. Having spatial audio goes a long way in adding immersion to the terror outside of the fantastic sound mixing. There’s just something about hearing Ganados speak in their native tongue outside as the rain pours or inside a quiet building that just feels uncomfortable. When the action ramps up, guns sound powerful and the audio of sharp objects hitting Leon sounds legitimately painful.

Capcom does a good job of modernizing enemy types both small and large. The biggest update to the Ganados is that they can mutate into a more powerful version during the early daytime section. Thankfully, they can be killed beforehand with the trusty combat knife. There are also some new enemy types, including one that wields a large hammer that’s just as frightening as the chainsaw enemies. Beyond that, most of the classic types from the Colmillos to Novistadors and Regenerators all make a return with different takes. The Los Illuminados priests get an interesting refinement that plays into the story once Leon gets infected with the Los Plagas parasite that makes them even more dangerous this time around.

Even the game’s most memorable set pieces are enhanced, including the house defense and minecart moments with charismatic side character Luis Sera. There’s also a new segment where Leon has to protect Ashley while she operates a wrecking ball that’s pretty fun.

In the original, the first knife fight against Krauser was a long quicktime event that would end with one false button press. Quicktime events are kept to an absolute minimum this time around. Now, the updated knife mechanics have players reenact the battle in real time. There’s also a clear inspiration from The Last of Us’ sniper segment before the final confrontation. That’s not the only inspiration from Sony’s ultra-popular first-party franchise-turned-hit-HBO-show, but more on that later.

One of the strangest additions to Resident Evil 4’s modernized reintroduction is the inclusion of a crouch button for getting under obstacles and stealth purposes. Outside of a short earlier moment where Leon loses all of his equipment and has to silently kill a handful of foes, it’s fairly useless for several reasons. The most obvious is that the enemy AI isn’t that dynamic enough outside of flanking tactics.

Considering how much care went into updating the core combat of Resident Evil 4, it’s a shame the stealth options are so limited. Thankfully, it doesn’t break the game or take away from the exciting action.

Out of all the Resident Evil remakes Capcom has done, the updated take on Resident Evil 4 matters the most due to how groundbreaking the original was when it released nearly two decades ago. The sheer spectacle of the combat, horror-leaning moments, boss battles and set pieces are enhanced remarkably this time around on top of a gorgeous audio/visual presentation.

Despite some issues with the added stealth elements and annoying segments with Ashley, the same over-the-shoulder combat gets some sensible modernized updates that introduce one of the greatest action-horror games ever to a newer generation.

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