Capcom’s Resident Evil 4 remake arrives on Xbox Series X|S on March 24th, and we’ve already blasted through the reworked campaign to see how Leon’s little European excursion has changed. Here’s how we got on…
“Gun rhymes with fun for a reason, stranger,” a mysterious masked merchant cackles as rookie-cop-turned-international-super-agent Leon S. Kennedy — on a mission to rescue the US President’s daughter, naturally — pawns a couple of dead snakes and some grass to earn enough Pesetas to pay for a knife repair, before stopping off at a nearby typewriter to adorn his standard-issue attache case with a little toy chicken which magically makes him better at eating eggs. If you were under any illusions that Resident Evil 4 wasn’t an utterly absurd game, that fever dream of a mega-sentence must surely have shattered them, but this is honestly nothing new. Even back in 2005 when Resi 4 first came out, Capcom knew all too well that it couldn’t possibly play this cheesy 80s action movie ‘save the President’s daughter’ bit straight without getting laughed out of the village, leading to a playfulness and sense of humour in the original game that brilliantly offset the pressure of this being a game where you could get carved up with a chainsaw within minutes of starting. Capcom’s Resi remake train has now reached its fourth station, and that juxtaposition of extreme violence and lighthearted silliness is even more pronounced than ever, with brutal 4K eviscerations one moment and cheeky wisecracks the next. But you know what? It works just as well today as it did almost 20 years ago.
Resident Evil 4: Another remake done right
I wasn’t originally of the opinion that Resident Evil 4 necessarily needed a full remake, but after blasting through it, I can safely say that I’ve changed my mind. Capcom’s new version does what all of the best remakes do — looks, feels, and plays like the original does or did in your memory of it, as even as recently as 2005, our brains were still left to fill in the gaps in what current gaming tech could deliver to a certain extent. The original hasn’t aged badly at all considering it’s close to 20 years old at this point, but when the remake still managed to stress me out in that early village mob encounter, despite me having a pretty solid idea of what is going on behind the curtain after playing that section dozens of times over the years, it quickly became clear that even the minor improvements and embelishments of the remake combine to be way more potent than they might individually be.
The most obvious of these upgrades is the audiovisual overhaul, and Capcom rarely misses on this front so it’s not exactly a surprise that Resident Evil 4 looks and sounds amazing — rare that you get to say that about a game on two separate occasions several decades apart, yet here we are. RE Engine shows just how scalable and versatile it still is here, with some fantastic detail in both locations and lighting (the underlit Krauser fight in the trailer above being a notable highlight there), as well as loads of smaller details that all add up, and that all plays back into making you feel part of — and afraid of — the nightmarish world that Resi 4 depicts. Just jump into the model viewer and check out some of the frankly needless amount of detail in things like material texture on some supporting characters that barely get any screen time and you’ll get an idea of how all these seemingly small things come together to make this way more impressive than a remake of a GameCube game has any right to be.
One of the biggest changes in terms of combat comes in the form of the reworked knife, which mimics previous Resi remakes as a way of escaping from perilous situations and now comes with a parry that lets you deflect many attacks. The downside here is that knives still have limited durability which depletes slowly through regular stabs and slashes but takes a big hit should you, say, elect to skip a button-mash grab escape (which slowly deplete your health) via a cheeky shiv. Outside of the harder difficulties, the parry is as easy as holding LB to knock aside projectiles, slashes, and even grab attempts, but some attacks also have their own prompts to parry, as you may have seen if you played the demo and managed to somehow prevent a chainsaw attack with a tiny blade. Once you’re out of the butter knives you find on the floor, your main blade is only good for maybe a few escapes, parries, and stabs before it breaks (until you start to upgrade it, at least), leaving you with no safety net. This is not Revengeance — you’re not supposed to parry everything and the knife is basically a last resort, but it’s a neat option to have all the same.
Some of this does fly in the face of Capcom’s claim that QTEs had been removed, mind, as there are still plenty of moments where contextual button prompts are the only way to avoid damage. That’s perhaps to be expected in a game where limited mobility options don’t exactly let you roll around like a juiced-up Dark Souls player, but even though you will still get a few such emergency evasion options, it’s fair to say that side of the game has been downplayed considerably, with events and encounters that previously hinged on timely button presses mostly reworked or even removed. On top of that, the expanded kit that Leon has this time out lets you replicate some of those evasive manoeuvres naturally, whether that be hitting the crouch button to low-profile an incoming projectile or a cheeky deke to send a melee enemy the wrong way. In either case, it certainly feels more natural than such prompts did in the original, where many would just be unusual combinations of buttons purely as a ‘gotcha’ so it’s a marked improvement.
There’s only so much we can say about such changes specifically without Capcom sending a chainsaw-wielding maniac our way, and while that was initially frustrating in discussing a game that is almost 20 years old, I’ve made my peace with it. New players don’t want things ruined for them, after all, while returning Ganado slayers will likely get a decent kick out of the differences in the new game beyond it being a shinier version of something they already love, so I get it. Suffice to say that RE4 feels like a surprisingly faithful retelling (for the most part) and despite having run the original game countless times over the years, there were still moments when I wasn’t sure whether the game and its path had changed or if my memory had failed me. Again, I’d argue that’s the sign of a good remake — if you can change things up without folks even really noticing, you’re probably doing it right. Some tweaks were quite hard to not notice, sure, but in terms of retelling a well-known story with a mix of reprised elements and new ones, Resident Evil 4 seems to strike a great balance.
That story spans no less than 16 individual chapters across the same village, castle, and island biomes of the original, and seeing as the speedrun achievement clocks in at eight hours and top-rank times are still at least half that, Resi 4 is much chunkier than previous remakes, which could be blitzed in under two hours. My first run, with a fair bit of sightseeing, came in at around 15 hours. Ashley shouldn’t slow you down too much either, as you now have a little more control over the escort side of things — there seem to be fewer opportunities to have her hide and avoid combat entirely (apparently exclusively in lockers, so pour one out for the ‘get in the bin’ button), but a click of the right stick now tells her to alternate between sticking close to Leon, which is great for trying to leg it past enemies without worrying about her falling behind, and hanging back, better when you’re about to throw yourself into the fray and probably shouldn’t take the President’s daughter with you. She holds her own elsewhere too, with more moments where she’s an essential part of the team (her playable section is way more interesting this time, too) and her growing confidence over the course of the mission offsetting the inherent frustrations of escort mission-style gameplay, just as the frequent quips and weirdness do the game’s otherwise dark and brutal notes.
As a big fan of the Merchant (no prizes for guessing who was behind this month’s “What’re ya buyin’?” Target), I love that Capcom decided to flesh out our strange ally in the remake. He’s more than just a teleporting meme this time around, and while some of his new dialogue might go a bit Billy Butcher, he remains as essential and entertaining as ever, even if he still doesn’t sell actual ammo despite his coat being packed full of the stuff. You shouldn’t need those extra shots too much though, with a new crafting system letting you turn gathered resources into pretty much whatever kind of ammo you need. Even with this, though, the game manages to maintain a wonderful knife-edge balance in terms of feeling like you might not have quite enough to deal with whatever lies in store, and you’ll likely emerge from a good few encounters bloodied, short on supplies, and feeling that much more vulnerable.
The Resident Evil 4 achievements still haven’t gone live at the time of writing, but what I can say is that most of the ones I’ve unlocked so far tally up with the partial leaked list we’ve seen so it seems like this will be a tough completion. The achievements themselves are tied to some of the 101 in-game Challenges, and while some of the tasks that would appear to have made it onto the achievement list seem quite daunting (S+ rankings cannot be earned in New Game+ so require speedy clears on a fresh file, and with limited saves on Professional), some of the more seemingly inoccuous ones could actually be much worse. Damageless mine cart and escape sequences won’t be easy, and even just unlocking all weapons means meeting the conditions to grab all of the bonus ones, some of which are pretty steep. Still, you’re looking at a bare minimum of three playthroughs based on what we’ve seen so far, and juggling the various rank and conditional requirements could well mean more runs are needed to realistically get the job done. So long as you’re down with a list that demands mastery of a game, I think you’ll have a pretty darn good time here.
“Resident Evil 4 is brilliant” is a statement that rings as true today as it did almost 20 years ago, with Capcom turning in yet another fantastic remake that revives and, to a degree, reinvents a classic for a new generation. Fans familiar with the original will likely appreciate a lot of the tweaks and improvements (even if they may lament a few of the changes, based on personal preference), while newcomers get to experience a stunning modern version of an all-time classic. What are you waiting for? It’s game time!
* Luke spent around 25 hours suplexing cultists and guiding the President’s daughter to safety, unlocking around 20 achievements on his ridiculous adventure. A review copy was provided by Capcom, and played on Xbox Series X.