Few games are as revolutionary as Resident Evil 4, which not only revamped its own series into a more action-heavy formula that would last for a decade, but also revolutionised the way third-person shooters looked and behaved ever since. As Capcom has been re-making the Resident Evil series, slowly advancing towards RE4, it was always going to be interesting what they would do with this entry, given it ostensibly needed the least done to it to bring it up to modern standards. No pre-rendered backdrops, no tank controls, no cheesy FMV (although there’s plenty of cheese elsewhere). Instead, this Resident Evil 4 feels less like a total remake than the RE2/3 remakes and more like a modern update to the original, which still has the bones of the classic you remember, while still managing to look like a next-gen game.
The story remains relatively unchanged from the original RE4, although with some small differences at various points along the way. Leon S. Kennedy from RE2 returns, after years of training as a super-badass government agent, sent to Spain to retrieve the president’s kidnapped daughter. Being a Resident Evil game, it isn’t long before he finds that the populace of the village he investigates are under the influence of a new biological agent, and there’s a whole lot of monsters, creepies and crawlies between him and his objective. The infection this time around is the ‘Plaga’, a breed of worm-like parasites who have a tendency to violently sprout from the necks of the afflicted, making for some bizarrely warped and spectacularly misshapen baddies.
Unlike the horror-heavy previous entries, Resident Evil 4 switches up the tone into more of an action blockbuster with horror elements. Rather than a single central location that is steadily explored and unlocked as you play like RE2, RE4 takes place over three sprawling maps that act as more of an adventure. There are areas where infected villagers will be thrown at you non-stop, forcing you to constantly deal with them as you cut a swathe to your objective. At another point, Leon is sent helter-skelter down a rollercoaster of a mine cart chase, firing at dynamite-wielding maniacs as the car fights to stay on the rails. RE4 isn’t afraid to throw Leon into insane situations and not really worry about the sense it makes, as long as he can come away from the situation with a cheeky one-liner. Personally, outside of a couple of short sequences, that always made Resident Evil 4 less interesting to me than the more horror-heavy games in the series, as it’s rare outside of an infinitely-spawning enemy situation that you ever feel out of control or truly scared.
As an action game, Resident Evil 4 plays like butter, and feels particularly improved in this update. Leon handles quickly, able to turn-on-a-dime, and swap between weapons immediately, handling like a modern day shooter with twin-stick controls. There’s a large range of weapons at your disposal, including various types of pistol, shotguns etc, and even room for some of the sillier stuff you may remember from the original. Quicktime events, which were in vogue at the time, are absent, but their spectre somewhat remains in the form of prompts on-screen to parry attacks, which when timed right can make you feel pretty unstoppable. Those giant text prompts that used to fill the screen are a thing of the past, as fairly often the screen is almost entirely void of UI elements at all, with a stripped-back interface to return the focus to the visuals. Leon’s videophone conversations have also shifted from the Metal Gear inspired full-screen cutscenes, to less intrusive overlays that allow you to still move around and explore as they go on.
While you can just play through the adventure following the main objective, Resident Evil 4‘s remake fleshes out the game, not only with treasures hidden around the map which encourage backtracking and careful combing over every area, but additional request missions beyond the original blue marker-hunt from the original game. These requests are made at the behest of the iconic merchant, returning with a new range of quotes and quips, and not only provide extra incentive to stay in various areas, but encourage backtracking every now and then. You’ll find yourself wanting to make sure you spend treasure and request hunting to maximise your trades with the merchant, expanding Leon’s arsenal and preparing for the next area ahead. It’s quite addictive, and in a way almost as satisfying as clearing the mansion or police station of the original RE games room by room.
The visual upgrade of Resident Evil 4 is substantial as well, although it keeps the same aesthetic of the original, with the muted muddy browns and overcast skies in the village. Character models are all pretty spectacular, particularly some of the side characters like Luis, and the Plaga monsters are even more distressingly creepy than they’ve ever been. The detail is fantastic, especially in closed areas like the castle, but it does make some of the weaker areas stick out more, especially some muddy textures in the village areas and some very strange looking water (even with ray tracing turned on). The performances all do well, especially Leon’s actor handling the pure cheese that comes out of Leon’s mouth with aplomb, although other characters are given equally (and knowingly) wacky lines.
Resident Evil 4 may not be my personal favourite Resident Evil – there’s just something I prefer about the methodical nature of Resident Evil 2 and the lurking menace and scares from Mr. X. However, it’s impossible not to respect RE4 for what it did for third-person shooters as a genre, and this remake not only improves the controls, UI, visuals and general gameplay, it makes an 18-year old game stand toe-to-toe with modern action games. Resident Evil 4 is an excellent remake of one of the most important action games ever, and it not only provides a polished version of a classic, but it stands up as a fantastic game for today’s audiences who never had a chance to try the original – cheesy bingo night one-liners intact.
– It's still the action game that revolutionised a genre, now upgraded to modern standards with smooth controls and addictive gameplay. – Visual upgrade that still retains the aesthetic and feel of the original, now with more detail. – Expanded content adds a few new surprises for old fans that flesh out the adventure.
– It's also still a wild, silly rollercoaster ride that outside of a couple of sequences, skimps on the scares. – While some visual improvements are stunning, others stand out as a little muddy.