Review: “Resident Evil 4” Remake Exceeds Over-the-top Expectations

Courtesy of Capcom

It’s been nearly 20 years since Capcom released the original Resident Evil 4 in 2005. At the time the third-person, over-the-shoulder shooter revolutionized the survival horror genre with innovative gameplay that stood the test of time and influenced the games industry as a whole. 

From Gears of War to Dead Space, the gameplay foundations laid down by the original Resident Evil 4 were truly masterful. So when Capcom decided to remake this classic as part of their reboot of the series expectations were high.

“When I first heard about remaking RE4, my first impression was that since the original is a masterpiece, a remake would be difficult,” said co-director Kazunori Kadoi in an interview with Game Informer. “So I didn’t want to do it.”

“Among the RE series and even games in general, the original RE4 has become a legend,” co-director Yasuhiro Ampo agreed. “I knew that it would be difficult to successfully remake it, and if we made one mistake with any updates we made, we would anger its fans.”

The story follows Leon S. Kennedy, a cop turned special forces member, on a mission to a remote rural village in Spain. Leon is sent by the president to rescue his daughter, Ashley Graham. As Leon infiltrates the village, he comes into contact with the locals, members of the Los Illuminados cult. 

The Los Illuminados are not your average run-of-the-mill death cult. They worship Las Plagas, a deadly parasitic creature that they take into their bodies. Serving as the primary antagonists of the game, the Los Illuminados and their parasites serve the player a variety of goosebump-inducing, body-horror enemies to fight. 

The original 2005 Resident Evil 4 is known for its over-the-top, B-movie-style campy story. The remake manages to walk an extremely fine line between retaining the original’s camp and fun while making the story more serious and mature. Classic lines from the original reappear but the overall story tells a far more engaging and thoughtful narrative. Characters who were once one-note are now fleshed out and sympathetic.

All of the efforts that Capcom went through to upgrade the story also apply to the gameplay and graphics. Technically speaking, Resident Evil 4 (2023) is beautiful. It has near photo realistic visuals, with particular emphasis on the lighting. Horror games can live or die based on the lighting engine a developer uses, and Resident Evil 4 (2023) takes every advantage it can to provide a tense and moody atmosphere. 

Resident Evil 4 (2005), while revolutionary at the time, has aged poorly in terms of controls. In the original, Leon was very clunky to move on screen. It used the series’ infamous “tank controls,” where all movement and aiming functions were done on a single control stick. The remake takes full advantage of modern twin stick controls to provide smooth and seamless gameplay that players have become used to.

Taking advantage of modern hardware, Capcom turned what were individual levels, with loading screens in between each, into larger, more interconnected play spaces. The opening areas in the village, for instance, can now be traversed with more freedom. The new design allows for much more backtracking through previous areas, which Capcom takes advantage of to hide secrets and treasures for the player. 

Resident Evil 4 (2023) is a difficult game. On my initial play through, which took about 20 hours, I died multiple times in the initial village encounter on the game’s “standard” difficulty. True to its roots as a survival horror game, ammo for weapons and storage space is limited. 

It created a tense experience as you cycle through different weapons, managing your ammo economically. The game strikes a good balance of giving you just enough resources to complete encounters, but never enough to feel comfortable.

New to Resident Evil 4 (2023) is a parry mechanic, where Leon uses his knife to deflect incoming enemy attacks. This parry works on almost every attack an enemy uses on Leon, even ranged attacks. This would, intuitively, seem counterproductive to the horror gameplay as Leon can now deflect all damage. But, Leon’s knife has a durability mechanic. The knife will degrade with usage until it breaks, leaving Leon defenseless. It adds another resource that the player has to manage in the heat of combat, adding yet another layer of tension.

Nearly all new aspects Capcom has added to the remake have been successful in making an even better game than the original, save for one big misstep. Fan favorite character Ada Wong, a femme-fatale secret agent and frenemy of protagonist Leon, has seen a noticeable downgrade from her previous iteration. Most of this is due to poor casting of the voice actor. Lily Gao, the voice of Ada, delivers her lines in a monotone and apathetic way that stands out compared to the excellent quality from the rest of the cast. It’s disappointing that Capcom turned one of the most enjoyable characters from the original into the remake’s most glaring flaw.

The game’s structure ends up being a double-edged sword for player enjoyment. It is an excellent single-player, narrative-driven game that is a complete package straight from launch. This is no easy feat in 2023, where free-to-play live service games are the direction the industry is headed toward. 

The remake is a true classic video game. But the reason those other types of games are doing so well is because they keep giving players a reason to return. When you finish Resident Evil 4 (2023), you’re finished with it. 

It took me around 20 hours for my first playthrough of the game, which is always going to be the longest as the player figures out everything the game has to offer. I did two subsequent playthroughs to collect all the bonus items. Each of those playthroughs came in around the five-hour mark as some challenges are time sensitive. But now that I’ve got all the bonus collectibles I have no reason to return and keep playing.

Players nowadays expect a lot from their $60 or $70 (depending on which console you buy it for). Other games, even single-player games, offer 100-plus hours of entertainment. Length is not always, or often, a sign of quality, but it is a big factor that players consider when purchasing a game.

Resident Evil 4 (2023) is a high-quality, tight experience without a lot of unnecessary filler. But I suspect players, even those who are interested at launch, will wait for the remake to go on sale before picking it up. Because there is no time-gated content or special events like a live service game, there is no real downside for players to wait to pick this title up.

Resident Evil 4 (2023) has received critical acclaim from most review outlets. Right now it has a Metacritic score of 93/100 for the PS5 edition of the game. Big games journalism outlets IGN and Gamespot both gave Resident Evil 4 (2023) a perfect 10 out of 10. 

I have rated Resident Evil 4 (2023) 9 out 10. The game has beautiful graphics, a substantially updated story and characters, fun and tense gameplay, and a satisfying, concise experience. One particular misstep in the cast and lack of replayability keeps this from being a perfect score in my eyes. 

But Resident Evil 4 (2023) does so much right that it’s easy for me to recommend this game to anyone, even those who aren’t fans of the genre. This is a return to form for the Resident Evil franchise, and an experience worthy of players’ attention. Whether you pick it up now, or wait for a sale, keep your eyes out for this excellent video game.  

At a Glance

Resident Evil 4 (2023)

Directors: Yasuhiro Ampo, Kazunori Kadoi

Genre: Survival Horror 

Release Date: March 23, 2023

Rated: M

Available on:  PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows

Publisher: Capcom

Rating: 9/10  

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