REVIEW – Resident Evil 4 (2023)

More action-oriented than survival horror, Resident Evil 4 Remake is a thrilling and often times challenging adventure that satisfies in so many ways even for this newer fan of the franchise.

Every time I talk about Resident Evil I always feel the need to put in a disclaimer for context: I’m a relatively new fan to the games despite knowing of them for decades and having seen many of those awful movies. I’m not normally a fan of the survival horror genre, let alone horror in general, but it was only when I saw 2019’s RE2 Remake being played by a mate that I decided to finally take the plunge and it’s pretty much gotten its claws into me ever since. With how great the RE2 and 3 remakes turned out (some were disappointed with RE3 but I enjoyed it immensely) a remake of RE4 was all but inevitable.

What I know of the original Resident Evil 4, released in 2005, is pretty much through internet osmosis. Its change in focus from pure survival horror to action shooter, as well as the presentation and mechanics, not only gave the franchise the shake up it needed but also revitalised the genre as a whole. Its influence can also be seen in the recent remakes where the presentation has been changed from the awkward “tank controls” of the originals to over-the-shoulder third-person.

In a similar way the original RE4 set a new standard for survival horror, many are touting that the RE4 Remake may have set a new standard in how remakes are done!

Here’s the other disclaimer for context when it comes to games: I’m much more casual about my gaming these days and I have a much more narrow selection of titles I enjoy than was once the case. Also with my current time constraints and energy levels at my age, I only get to play a little at a time. So it took me a couple of weeks to get through a single playthrough of this, playing about an hour and a half each night, almost savouring the experience.

But I think it may be more to do with how much this game kicked my arse even on ‘Standard’ setting.

The level of challenge and skill is certainly a “me” thing and while it may have frustrated me in some parts it certainly made it all the more enjoyable. Much of it is how overwhelming the hoards of enemies and bosses can be compared to the more puzzle-based previous entries, which is what originally revitalised the series and is kind of the overall point.

My own very average skills aside, Resident Evil 4 Remake is an amazing game. The graphics are gorgeous, the story is fun and compelling, the gameplay is mostly intuitive, and the overall experience is cathartic and satisfying. There have been remasters of this game in previous years but this overhaul from the ground up is quite the leap forward.

Like the previous remakes and more recent sequels, this game utilises Capcom’s “RE Engine” (which was first utilised in 2017’s Resident Evil 7: Biohazard) and of course it looks fantastic. The 18 year gap between original and remake makes for obvious upgrades to the visuals but it more importantly makes the series more inline with the more recent releases in detail, quality, and fidelity. You see the dirt and water on characters when appropriate instead of just a clean model. The secluded Spanish village doesn’t just look lived in but you can feel the death in it also, and of course the monsters are amazingly scary and disgusting on all their HD glory (I can only assume seeing all this in 4K would be mind-blowing but alas I am yet to have a 4K TV).

The original RE4 is known as being a much more bombastic game not only in the way it plays but also in tone, leaning into the corny action-adventure one-liners and such. There is an apparent minor tone down in that regard, which is more about bringing it closer in line with the other games in the current series. However, it doesn’t lose its charm and is still rather batshit crazy in many of its elements.

I’m very much a story and narrative guy when it comes to games and I really enjoyed this one. Along with adjusting the bombastic tone, from what I gather there has also been a few adjustments in the lore that makes the current series more connected going forward. As someone who has jumped into the series with the remakes, I really appreciate these connections that feel much more like an ongoing cohesive story.

The performances were a lot of fun to watch, whether it be the brooding hero, Leon S Kennedy (Nick Apostolides – reprising his role from RE2 Remake) who is still processing what happened to him in Raccoon City 6 years ago, the cheeky yet lovable rogue Luis Sera (André Peña in his first major role apparently), to the evil leader of Los Illuminados cult, Osmund Saddler (terrifyingly played by Christopher Jane) you give a damn about what happens to these characters.

Some long-time fans were disappointed in the minor use of Ada Wong (Lily Gao) this time around, some even criticising the performance. Gao took over the role from a non-Asian actor and it needs to be pointed out that most of the criticism and backlash is steeped in racism to the point of bullying the actor off social media. This is happening way too much for women and POC performers that it really makes you question whether you want to be part of any of these supposed “fandoms”. Her performance was good and what little we see of her is appropriate for this story.

One of the pleasant and positive changes are with the surprisingly capable President’s daughter, Ashley Graham (Genevieve Buechner). For all intents and purposes she’s still a “damsel-in-distress” that needs rescuing and the often-loathed escort missions are still in a large portion of this game but somehow they’ve balanced it out to be challenging instead of overly frustrating. Ashley also had a reputation of being annoying but for me the more important character change is that she’s not infantilised in that manner a lot of Japanese media portray young women (she’s meant to be 20 years old). She’s even a lot more useful and capable when it comes to accessing areas or evading enemies.

Aside from inverting the y-axis for the camera, I pretty much leave the controls to default and I would say that 90% of the time I was fine with that. Perhaps I should have fiddled with some of the settings but certain occasions felt sluggish in the way Leon would run or respond and perform melee attacks but side from that, the controls felt quite intuitive. My aim may be lacking but my timing with the “parry” is one of the more satisfying mechanics.

While the escort missions may be challenging without the usual frustrations, the “computer AI” that makes Ashley less “useless” also helps to make the team up portions with Luis really enjoyable. He too is very capable when it comes to taking on enemies and is not faked, he even has your back when you get swarmed and throws you ammo when you’re running low. The levels he features in even amp up the thrill with a Temple of Doom style mine cart chase.

It wouldn’t be a Resident Evil game without a lot of back-tracking and looping around but whether it be the earthy browns of the quaint village out of time, the ostentatious Medieval Spanish castles, or the drab underground laboratories, traversing these areas never feels confusing. There’s enough detail to different one hallway from the other so as to never lose your direction and maintain your bearings. Or at least I found that to be the case, I know a lot of people get easily lost in these sorts of games.

A lot of the horror in RE2 and RE3 remakes rely on the claustrophobia of the setting. RE4 is much more open but it’s no less anxiety-inducing with the scares coming from the variety and design of the enemies being introduced throughout and just how they can swarm and overwhelm you (that is actually my biggest challenge and frustration, I have a lot more fun and ease when it comes to the puzzles).

I play few games that require the purchase or upgrading of weapons. Normally, I’m used to simply acquiring a weapon to suit my needs (or being level-specific) and hunting the ammo for it. Even the ones I play that have in-game stores I tend to use at a minimum, so the Merchant was quite the novelty for me and a slight learning curve. But I soon got the hang of it, earning more than enough pesetas and finding sellable treasures along the way to be able to buy and modify gear to how I need it. If I were more accustomed to such a system I may have kitted myself out a bit better and maybe struggled less during those previously mentioned swarms but oh well.

Sadly, microtransactions were added in an update weeks after the game’s release, which dampens my enthusiasm somewhat. One might argue that it’s only for the single player campaign but that ignores how these predatory practices target those with addictive tendencies. It’s not just about the unfairness of levelling up because you have more real-world money to spend, it’s about preying on players who lack impulse control and that needs to be stamped out.

The game played smoothly on my Xbox Series X but it did glitch out twice during my playthrough (one was a glitch and the other may have been poorly executed). I died in a boss fight just as it was progressing to the next stage of the fight and instead of dying the enemies all disappeared and I was stuck walking around bleeding out with no way to continue, which required rebooting my console. The other comes up when the Merchant reminds you to take care of any errands and loose threads before proceeding because you won’t be able to return past that point. The specific one I’m talking about here unfortunately happens AFTER the point-of-no-return (after ascending the clock tower) instead of the Merchant stop before that (the gondola on the way to the clock tower). So that was particularly annoying.

The two previous remakes were immensely replayable for me as they were very much my speed in this type of genre (I completed all the RE3 challenges just so I could get the “infinite rockets”). I’m not sure if I can do that as yet with this game and it may be a one and done but that doesn’t lessen anything about it as far as I’m concerned.

I realise a lot more proficient players may have been able to complete this game in a couple or even a single sitting but I was able to get a good two weeks of casual entertainment out of this and I enjoyed every moment. I can see how the original 2005 release shook up the franchise and this remake lives up to that reputation and it fits right in with the new updated Resident Evil canon and feels much more cohesive and compelling.

Resident Evil 4 Remake is a thrilling and cathartic gore-fest that satisfies the corny action movie fan in me.

Currently available on Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

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