In 2001, four years before the original Resident Evil 4 was released, Capcom knew it had a problem. The Resident Evil series was stuck in a cookie cutter shape, producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi said at the time. “The whole concept of RE4 was to reinvent the game,” he said. “We wanted to give the gamers something new.”
The result was a combat-forward reboot of the series that reconsidered its survival-horror pitching roots resident evil 2 co-starred Leon S. Kennedy as an international action hero on a mission to save the US president’s daughter from a cult. resident evil 4 was hailed as a masterpiece and breathed new life into the franchise that would only become even more action-oriented in subsequent sequels – eventually leading to another series reinvention with the back-to-basics horror game Resident Evil 7 Biohazard.
Capcom’s remake of Resident Evil 4 reinterprets the series’ most beloved and highly influential entry with lavish detail, modernizing the game from top to bottom. Developers have reframed Leon’s adventure through the lens of other recent Resident Evil remakes, bringing new levels of beauty and squishy gore to Resident Evil 4 while also updating the controls and story. The result is a clear demonstration that the developers understand their source material and want to make it sing by fleshing out every possible detail.
The game also strongly hints that Resident Evil may need to be reinvented.
Resident Evil 4‘s core elements are present in the remake. Leon S. Kennedy, now a handsome government agent, is dispatched on a secret solo mission to Spain, where he searches for a target codenamed “Baby Eagle” – real name Ashley Graham, the daughter of US President Graham. A group of cult members kidnapped her in a plot to infect her with a parasite and eventually make her their puppet. While searching for Ashley, Leon comes across a remote rural village overrun by the parasite. The angry residents – and an array of ultra-powered men and monsters – stand between Leon and his rescue worker.
Leon is no longer the rookie cop from his previous game, and he no longer faces danger in the form of one or two shuffling zombies at a time. Instead, he is well-armed and battle-ready, facing swarms of armed, infected humans known as Ganados. While resource management and ammo scarcity were at the core of the gameplay of early Resident Evil games, in 4players are more concerned with crowd control and – particularly in the remake – deflecting attacks from all sides. Resident Evil 4 presents a new type of challenge: survival against overwhelming odds.
In the remake, the dance to avoid death can be daunting. Ganados and burly men with chainsaws or giant hammers can quickly surround Leon. But Leon can parry or dodge just about any attack. He can round or suplex bad guys before finishing them off with a knife through the skull. Or he can approach encounters with stealth, creep up behind unsuspecting enemies and send them off with a silent execution. All of these options make every combat encounter exciting and flexible in their requirements; occasionally they can be frustrating, as the game throws waves of enemies at Leon in set pieces that feel more like an exercise in trial and error than coming up with a solution.
As in the original, Leon must also protect Ashley from harm in several albeit short segments where the two team up. Ashley is completely vulnerable in these moments and Leon has to fight not only for his own survival, but for hers as well. This time around, she’s a much less complicated babysitting job; her health system is greatly simplified. Ashley’s presence was a famously divisive element of the original, but she’s less of a nuisance here and can be ordered to stay close to Leon (during chases) or keep her distance (during fights). The two work well together and it’s fun to watch them flirt.
In between RE4‘s action-heavy set pieces is a series of puzzles, many of which are inscrutable and ornate in classic Resident Evil style, along with fetch quests. These lock-and-key tricks still take a backseat to the fray, and after all this time still feel perfunctory in the game’s grand design – even the puzzles specific to the remake feel like an afterthought to the developer side.
Players will likely spend more time figuring out how best to equip Leon, as a mystical, ever-present trader offers a huge array of upgrades, new weapons, armor, repairs, and recipes for Leon to purchase. (The Merchant jokes, as fans would ask him, “What are you buying?”, but only sometimes, in a wonderful and rare display of designer restraint.) Capcom added another layer to Leon’s upgrades in the remake, making him not only can enlarge the attaché case in which to store his belongings, but also the case itself, with variants that offer different benefits, and attachable charms that offer even more buffs. Players can earn these charms in the shooting range minigame, a fun, highly replayable diversion that appears in various locations throughout the game – I lost way too much time trying to find the best charms in that RE4which are based on RNG.
Resident Evil 4 also deviates from previous games in its linearity. There’s very little backtracking here, as the game aggressively pushes Leon into new areas and new scenarios. While the same sequence of events has remained intact from the original, the overall flow and momentum have been both shaken and smoothed out. Where Capcom has cut wisely is in eliminating or reframing the original game’s sillier components. Quicktime events from the original, where Leon would have to outrun boulders or a mechanized giant statue in place, only to potentially fail within milliseconds before doing it all over again, have been recontextualized. The most notable and welcome example is how Capcom recast the central character of Ramón Salazar, who comes across less as a bleached Chucky doll and more as a distinguished but rotting old man.
For all the rough edges it smoothes out, RE4 does the same trick out of that RE2 did in 2019, making a groundbreaking but now dated game feel brand new again. But after four Resident Evil games in as many years, even the franchise’s current incarnations are starting to feel a little familiar – there are hints of the cookie-cutter mold Kobayashi wanted to shake off more than 20 years ago, even in Capcom’s slick and beautifully produced remakes. This latest is no anomaly.
Resident Evil 7 Biohazard And Village shown just like the original RE4, which Capcom can adapt and reinvent. After finishing 4 again, the most obvious question the remake left me with was: Where do they go from here?
Resident Evil 4 will be available on March 24 for Play station 4, PlayStation5, Windows pc, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed using a final “retail” PlayStation 5 download code from Capcom. Additional information on Polygon’s Ethics Policy can be found here.