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Resident Evil 4 isn't just a remake, it's a visceral reimagining

We've played it, and it's shaping up to be something very special indeed

About three years after I graduated, I returned to the city where I went to University. Immediately after arriving, I embarked on an early-evening pilgrimage of sorts, my only goal to wander once familiar paths in an attempt to capture a spark of the life I no longer lived. As I ambled past houses that used to be homes, local haunts and darkened lecture halls, it was the differences that stood out the most. Pubs with names I didn’t recognise. Shops in locations that were more convenient than the ones I used to rely upon. Huge buildings that had seemingly sprung out of deserted scrubland. The city felt intimate yet alien. I was both a stranger and a local, a foreigner in a place I’d once adored.

I was thinking about this experience a lot when I was invited to play a short hands-on demo of Capcom’s upcoming Resident Evil 4 remake. Here is a remake of my favourite game ever made, a title I have replayed countless times in the 17 years since its original debut, and all I can do is think about the little things. Tiny alterations that feel much larger when surrounded by something so immediately recognisable. This was the same Resident Evil 4 I’ve always known, but one that feels bigger, better and more dynamic. I left my session excited to play more, cautiously optimistic that Capcom may be in the process of crafting their best remake to date.

Fancy seeing the game in action? Check out the video above.

The limited amount of Resident Evil 4 I was privy to felt split into two distinct sections. The first focused on the game’s intro, in which Resident Evil 2 protagonist Leon. S Kennedy is attacked by a dishevelled local with an axe after the floppy-haired government agent barges into their home. Structurally, the scene played out as you’d expect it to (with the poor farmer succumbing to a fatal case of bullet-in-head-itus) but the set dressing was vastly unfamiliar. The crumbling cottage was larger, with multiple rooms to creep around in. After exploring the basement, and discovering one of our Police escorts dead in a corner, our original assailant stumbled down the stairs. Mouth agape, his neck twisted to reveal thin parasitic tendrils stretching curiously out of the wound I had just inflicted moments earlier, he lunged towards me as I desperately reached for my handgun. It felt refreshing to be shocked so soon, to have my expectations shattered during an encounter that has become mundane when replaying the original game.

For a brief second, I wondered if Capcom was pushing Resident Evil 4 back towards its survival horror roots. I mean, the signs were all here. The approach to the house now takes place at night. The infected villager soaked up bullets without flinching. The game was keen to demonstrate Leon’s newfound ability to crouch, suggesting tense set pieces that force you to sneak past unknowable horrors may lie on the horizon. A few moments later, after a group of Ganados burst into an upstairs bedroom, Leon made a casual quip before throwing himself through a closed window and onto the dirt path below. Perhaps elements of this remake will focus on frights, but it was obvious from this moment on that Resident Evil 4 has lost none of its 80s action movie charm.

Leon approaches a dark, dilapidated cottage in the Resident Evil 4 remake
Leon is still the same quippy himbo he was in the original, but there's an implication he's slightly more traumatised from the events in Racoon City than he was the first time around.

As I progressed into the village proper, approaching the all-too-familiar sight of its iconic square, it became clear that Capcom aren’t looking to rock the boat too much with this retread. This space, one I have spent countless hours fighting within over the years, looked absolutely phenomenal. Whereas the opening section differed from the original game, the village is instead a 1-1 recreation. Everything is exactly where it should be. The tower. The locked barn. The charred corpse of the police officer. Villagers pushing wheelbarrows and clearing hay as a cow watches lazily from its shed. Chickens pecking curiously next to ladders that rest unevenly against ramshackle buildings. Didn’t Resident Evil 4 always look this good? Back when you played it on the GameCube, the village fuzzy on your second-hand CRT? Squint, and you can sort of convince yourself it looks the same (or, at least, how you’ve always remembered it) but open your eyes again and the whole thing comes roaring into focus.

The detail! The tower’s roof has collapsed. Houses are dilapidated and unmaintained. Decay covers every surface. Villagers, their hair mattered and their skin pale, stumble around with a systematic sense of aimlessness. It’s surreal, to see something I know so well rendered in such vivid detail. Whereas previous Resident Evil remakes were based on PlayStation 1 titles, their lo-fi pre-rendered visuals open to more interpretation, Resident Evil 4 is sort of the opposite. We know what Resident Evil 4 looks like when seen from this perspective. We are aware of these spaces, their shortcuts and their secrets. What more is there to do, spare a total overhaul, than to polish them and make them shine once again?

Leon fights off two villagers in the Resident Evil 4 remake
This is still, at its heart, an action game. However, combat retains tension by keeping the pace slower than other contemporary titles like The Last Of Us. Leon can move while shooting now, but he dawdles while doing so.

I felt a bit funny, as I peered through binoculars at the village in front of me. After such a strong, unexpected opening, was it all to be business as usual from this point on? Fighting off a slight feeling of disappointment, I let muscle memory take hold and banked a left behind the barn. There was the herb, the breakable box and the unassuming Ganado. Just as I thought. Instead of diving into the action straight away, I decided to duck and approach the enemy from behind. A button prompt informed me I could attack, and with a swift swing of the knife, I had dispatched the villager silently without being noticed. Excited by this fresh mechanic, I dashed out into the open, quickly realising that this remake is offering substantially more than a simple visual glow-up.

In a stroke of absolute design genius, you can now counter Dr Salvador’s iconic chainsaw, temporarily incapacitating him by jamming up his tree surgery tool with your dinky little blade.

Combat in Resident Evil 4 follows largely the same rhythm as it did in the original game. You’ll spend the majority of your time shooting enemies with firearms, targeting their weak spots to make them stumble before exploiting this opening to perform a devastating melee counter-attack. New additions are relatively subtle. Leon can now move while shooting, a welcome carry-over from the Resident Evil 2 remake, as well as crouch to perform those aforementioned stealth takedowns. Brilliantly, quickly drawing your knife will allow you to parry incoming attacks, deflecting axes out of the air before they have a chance to slice your flesh. In a stroke of absolute design genius, you can now counter Dr Salvador’s iconic chainsaw, temporarily incapacitating him by jamming up his tree surgery tool with your dinky little blade. Your knife will shatter instantly, however, leaving you more vunerable than before.

To balance Leon’s improved move set, the Ganados have also been taught a fresh lesson or two. They’re faster, for a start, far more than Leon. They screech towards you, arms outstretched, bloodshot eyes bulging in their impeccably rendered heads. The bastards will even grab you from behind now, twisting Leon’s struggling body towards the slashing fangs of Salvador’s chainsaw. Leon stumbles more, too, with attacks causing him to lose his footing. Yes, you’re more capable here, but at no point did it ever feel like I was more powerful as a result.

A Ganado attacks grapples Leon in the Resident Evil 4 remake
Thankfully, there's more variety here when it comes to villager models. It was fun to see remakes of some of my favourites, however, such as "Spaniard with a short beard" and "old man with a flat cap who looks a lot like my Uncle".

It didn’t help that the villagers are also smarter than they ever were before. As their numbers increased, I made a beeline behind a house, ready to kite them into a more manageable position. Within seconds they had cut me off, predicting my behaviours and catching me off guard. As I attempted to escape, they pushed a cart in front of a shortcut I have relied on for 17 years. Before I even had a chance to react, they smashed a flaming lantern that caused the village’s poor, innocent cow to be set ablaze. In awe, I watched as this hollering beef fireball flailed out into the open, sending Ganado flying as it barreled towards me.

It was a beautiful spectacle of uncontrolled chaos, an additional layer of responsiveness that makes combat sing. Punching downed villagers frequently flings them into destructible objects, their flailing limbs shattering tables or crunching against stonework with a satisfying thud. Dr. Salvador will slice his chainsaw through the foundations of nearby buildings, blocking your only remaining escape options. Villagers who step onto bear traps can be punched, severing their legs from the rest of their bodies. Headshots still have a chance of causing craniums to erupt in an explosion of red-hot goo. It’s astoundingly visceral.

Leon uses a shotgun to blast a villager away in the Resident Evil 4 remake
A lot of care has gone into making sure your attacks have a tangible sense of weight to them. Punching a villager square in the jaw looks like it hurts. Doubly so when they crumple against the nearest brick wall.

I’ve fought this fight a thousand times before. On the GameCube. On the Wii. In virtual reality, as recently as this January. I am familiar with this encounter to the point of tedium. Outlasting waves of angry locals feels less like a battle for survival and more like filling in a spreadsheet to me now. Yet here I was again, darting among the same cluster of buildings I’ve sprinted past for the best part of two decades, retreading old ground with fresh eyes. I was exhilarated. My pulse was pounding. This space felt new once again, in a way that was properly exciting.

My demo ended with the villagers dropping their weapons and sleepwalking towards the church as a distant bell rang. Leon raised his arms. “Where’s everyone going, bingo?”. The Resident Evil 4 remake is exactly the same as you remember it. Yet subtly, tantalisingly, brand new once again.

About the Author
Liam Richardson avatar

Liam Richardson

Video Producer

Liam is RPS’s vid bud. When he’s not obsessing over the finer details of digital cities and theme parks, he’s probably getting very excited about a colourful indie game that stars a nice frog. A huge fan of everything PC gaming-related, Liam has a particular fondness for classic 90s shooters and Team Fortress 2.

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