Reident Evil 4 feels like the culmination of everything the series has been doing in the past eight years since Resident Evil 7 debuted to both reinvent the franchise and take it back to its roots. Between the mainline entries and the remakes of RE2 & RE3, every release has been building to this moment to create the definitive version of one of the greatest games of all time, and the ultimate realization of Resident Evil. This is the pinnacle, and it’s absolutely glorious.
Resident Evil 4‘s opening moments are not unlike those of the original 2005 release, and yet they’re completely new and fresh, like diving into a whole new game. Leon Kennedy is tired. You can see it in the dark, sunken wells of his eyes as he recounts his time since the events of Resident Evil 2 from the backseat of his police escort en route to his latest assignment. Leon is still haunted by that horrible day, and despite his best efforts to compartmentalize, the toll it has taken is laid bare.
He’s still rippling with confidence, but he is forever changed, his persona and his past now inextricably linked. Resident Evil 4 tells the definitive version of Leon’s story, and it revels in its ability to tell that tale with a level of fidelity never before seen.
Resident Evil 4 looks phenomenal; it sports incredible levels of detail, and where a vaguely wet dirt path flanked in dirt brush may have guided your way in the original game, now you’re trudging through the mud surrounded by densely overgrown vegetation, pushing branches and tendrils out of the way as your ears fill with the sounds of squelching footsteps, trickling water, and the ever-present groans of the townspeople nearby, who are clearly just not having their best day.
If you’ve played Resident Evil 7 or Village in the past few years, you know that CAPCOM has been churning out incredible visuals with the RE Engine, creating environments that heighten the immersion and the sense of dread you experience. That same level of craftsmanship is applied here, so that Resident Evil 4 benefits from all of that time investment. It’s also a stark contrast to the RE2 & RE3 remakes, which are set in urban environments that still offer chances for the engine to shine, but don’t show off all of its capabilities the way the messier, natural environments of later games do.
One has to wonder if some of the work put into the tech for RE8 was done with this remake in mind directly. The game benefits directly from the advancements and high fidelity environment design that has elevated RE7 and RE8 into such a high level of realism, and the leap forward is so great that RE4 is almost unrecognizable if not for the overall design of the locations remaining so faithful to the original. This is not Resident Evil 4 as you remember it; this is Resident Evil 4 as it was always meant to be.
In many ways, Leon is an analog for this remade version of Resident Evil 4 and the series itself. You know him well, but now you can see he has been irreversibly changed by the lessons learned through experience over the intervening years. And while returning fans will know the story beats, locales, colorful cast of characters, and all of the nuances that make up Resident Evil 4, experiencing it this way feels largely like playing the game for the first time. For as much as I remembered about the game while working through it, so much of it felt completely new and foreign, with flashbacks to former experiences popping in at odd times. There was a moment in the Hunter’s Lodge while walking down a hallway that I suddenly felt like I was in the Baker Family’s household, and braced myself for Jack to burst through the wall at any moment. Or when entering the village and being chased by the townspeople, the sight and sound of the Chainsaw Man bursting through the gates and revving the engine of his menacing weapon took me back to the first time I ever saw him, and the moment felt all the more frightening and imposing with the added weight of my past experiences hanging over me.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but there are enough subtle callbacks to previous Resident Evil experiences that these moments feel intentional. Regardless, it adds so much to the experience of playing the game having spent so much time with the series in recent years. Of course, Resident Evil 4 learns a lot from the last several games mechanically as well. The team at CAPCOM has done an incredible job of tuning the experience to feel authentic to the original, but with a whole lot of improvements to aiming and movement so that controlling Leon feels like a game released in 2023 and not one from 2005. Which is important, because while Resident Evil 4 revolutionized the series back when it debuted, its feels noticeably dated.
The inventory briefcase makes its return, but the addition of quick-equip slots for weapons makes the experience of switching gear on the fly significantly easier. Curiously absent is the ability to place healing items on those slots, a nicety afforded by other games, but there are clearly some game play balance decisions at play here and admittedly it is nicer to just “pause” combat to go into the case and select the item you want specifically rather than trying to fumble with the quick select options while you’re being mercilessly pummeled. Most other staples of the game’s mechanics and features make their return here in the remake, but in nearly every case systems have been tweaked or built on to feel more contemporary and ready for modern audiences.
Where RE2 and RE3 laid the groundwork for re-envisioning what classic games in this franchise (or any other) could be, Resident Evil 4 pushes all of that to new heights to create something that is simultaneously incredibly faithful to the original material, but updated in every meaningful way possible. This is the ultimate, hands-down, best version of the game you can possibly play. It’s a phenomenal achievement and it’s truthfully hard to imagine how CAPCOM could top themselves beyond this aside from whatever RE9 ends up being. I cannot recommend this game strongly enough. The hype is real, you should buy into it, and let it get its filthy meat hooks into you. There’s never been a better time to play Resident Evil 4, nor a better way to play.
A PlayStation 5 code was provided in advance by the publisher for review purposes