First of all, an admission. I haven’t played Resident Evil 4 since its original release was ported to the PS2 back in 2005. Hell, I’m not even sure I remember finishing it. That said, the game’s cultural importance and position as one of the series’ most beloved entries is ubiquitous and makes it one of those games I’m constantly saying I’ll go back to with every subsequent new “remastered” port that Capcom slings out. To this date though, I’m yet to do it.
After playing roughly half an hour of Resident Evil 4’s upcoming remake behind closed doors at this year’s Tokyo Game Show, I can say without a doubt that this is my opportunity to change that. Even after this small taste of what the team at Capcom is doing to update and reinterpret their survival horror classic, I’m completely sold on the idea of venturing back to Spain as Leon S. Kennedy to shoot some parasitic cultists in the face.
Right from the get-go, Resident Evil 4 looks starkly different here from its source material. My session begins with a completely new save, so I’m taken through the game’s opening cutscenes which mirror that of the original as much as my colander-memory brain will allow me to realise. We see Leon sitting in the car, being driven to the rural Spanish village, his once-impressive but now comparatively crude character model replaced by a highly-detailed and expressive one more befitting of the modern RE Engine. One noticeable change in this opening scene is that Leon’s phone conversations with his field operations support, Ingrid Hunnigan, are now presented in-world rather than static, Metal Gear Solid-style call screens.
A massive increase in detail and technology is to be expected from a ground-up rebuild of such an old title, but once Leon steps out into the village proper it becomes immediately apparent just how far Capcom is taking things when it comes to reimagining what Resident Evil 4’s visual identity is. The strong, sepia filter that permeated the original game is all but missing here, Leon’s first trek through the surrounding woodlands doused in moonlight and dense fog while his trusty torch cuts through the total darkness of that first house. It’s almost jarring to look at the two versions side-by-side, but only in such a sense that this new take feels like the real thing.
It’s not just lighting and effects that give Resident Evil 4 its new and spooky tone either, there’s far, far more environmental and object density this time around and Capcom has taken that opportunity to really fill the world with new details that paint a better picture of the trouble Leon finds himself in. All manner of effigies and viscera littering the village help to truly sell the occult vibe and create an altogether more unsettling atmosphere that’s increasingly become less apparent in the original game as it succumbs to its ageing presentation.
There’s also the matter of the astonishingly-detailed character models that modern Resident Evil games have become known for, the crazed villagers in particular are unhinged and disturbing in glorious fashion with their blood-red and wide-eyed stares and hideously unnatural gait.
It’s an interesting point that we find ourselves in with Capcom having recently remade the previous two series entries in Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3. While the modern remakes of both were triumphant translations of fixed-camera gameplay to a contemporary third-person format, Resident Evil 4 had already taken that leap. That’s not to say there hasn’t been improvement though, Leon controls much more fluidly and convincingly now and, crucially, can move while aiming and shooting (and yes, he can still kick).
This came in especially handy during the big showdown with the villagers and the infamous Chainsaw Man, which also felt entirely more dynamic that its original iteration thanks to a far more traversable environment with plenty of opportunities to vault over obstacles and take quick pot shots with the tightened gunplay. The experience is here is strengthened further by some new villager behaviours and extra moves like a parry with Leon’s knife. I’m unashamed to say that I still managed to kick the bucket a couple of times here, in front of the Capcom Japan representatives who I’m sure were judging me harshly, but it was a ton of fun regardless.
Although my time with the remake of Resident Evil 4 was brief and only gave me a glimpse into how Capcom is modernising its classic survival horror game, I’m confident that the team knows exactly what they’re doing and how to treat this revered title with care while reinterpreting its tone. This version is significantly spookier and more atmospheric, and boasts much better action game chops, but it also strikes that great balance where it comes across as exactly the Resident Evil 4 you remember from 17 years ago.
Resident Evil 4 is coming to PS5, PS4 and Xbox Series X|S on March 24, 2023.