Since its first entry in 1996, Capcom's Resident Evil series is heralded as one of the most important horror franchises across media of the last 30 years. Its core survival horror elements not only launched an entire revolution of games, films and stories inspired by it, but it was also responsible for supplanting zombies back into mainstream popular culture for the first time since George Romero's Living Dead series.
Alongside its long-running canon that most recently continued with 2021's Resident Evil: Village, Capcom has joined in on the recent trend of remastering their older games to kindle new interest in the series. Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 were both remastered for PS4, Xbox One and PC in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Despite their success, many fans were most excited for what comes next: a long-anticipated remaster of Resident Evil 4 (2005).
As I recently discussed in my Dead Space remake review, there are many games that have redefined what horror looks like in the context of different mediums, and Resident Evil is undoubtedly one. From zombies returning to the forefront of mainstream horror to new means of experiencing the game onscreen, Resident Evil has routinely been on the cutting edge of this conversation, largely because of games like the 2005 classic Resident Evil 4.
Resident Evil 4 was among the first horror games to utilize a unique third-person shooter perspective with a controllable player. Typically a game style reserved for more fast-paced games like Mafia (2002) and the Grand Theft Auto series at the time, the series used this perspective and new elements to transition into a more dynamic experience, featuring more action and survival focus while retaining its immersive horror. Resident Evil 4 also kicked off a new balance of stronger, wider and deeper storytelling in the franchise with its strongest characters and writing to date. Combine those elements with more varied gameplay, better combat and better graphics, and as a whole, Resident Evil 4 became a massive critical and audience success, winning multiple Game of the Year awards and becoming one of the best-selling horror games ever.
Knowing this and seeing the massive hype for its remake arriving 17 years later on PS5, Xbox Series X/S and PC, it's fair to ask: can Resident Evil 4 (2023) live up to the absurdly high expectations? Can a game with a legitimate case as one of the best video games ever made deliver on its revolutionary experience again?
For many, the answer was an almost immediate yes, with the recently released Chainsaw Demo opening to rave reviews from fans and massive critical acclaim from IGN, NME and plenty of other major reviewers.
For me, I'm very happy to say that there's a new gold standard not only for remasters, but a new one set for horror all the same. Resident Evil 4's remake utterly recaptures the same incredible experience that it delivered the first time around while expanding on it in the absolute best ways possible. I don't think a single Resident Evil or horror fan should miss this whatsoever.
The first and most obvious improvement and point of praise comes from what you might expect: the graphics. As with any of the Resident Evil remakes, one would expect modern technology and game design to improve over the course of 17 years given the standards set by modern PCs and consoles. However, even for today's standards, Resident Evil 4 looks unbelievably sharp and gorgeous. All its characters and zombies alike look wildly realistic, and they blend in perfectly with the sinister and thoroughly meticulous settings in the Spanish countrysides and castles. There is a very strong, dark tone throughout the game that feels much more natural from this level of immersion from its details and stronger use of visuality in both lighting and design. I can't emphasize just how stunning the game is enough, both as a general player and a fan of the original. It's truly a game worthy of saying it's a "next-gen experience" that wholly feels and looks like one.
I was quite pleased to see how well-designed movement is this time around. Even for its revolutionary design and perspective for the time in 2005, there were a fair few limitations of the original Resident Evil 4 as there were for many mid-2000s games, such as how main character Leon Kennedy's movement could be a bit lacking and restricted both in and out of combat. However, all of these problems are completely washed away with this remake. Movement in the remake is very fluid, almost to an absurd degree. All of its walking and running speeds make the game easy to navigate at any speed in or out of combat.
There's a wide ability of movement freedom that allows players to dodge attacks and use your weapons to the best of your ability, or just to run around and use your knife when the going gets tough. One small change I was pleased to see was the ability to freely move in any direction when aiming your guns, something missing from the original. What's interesting, though, is that this slight change really makes the game all the more exciting and tense. It's refreshing to operate in a run-and-gun style that allows you to keep moving to avoid hordes of enemies, pick off a few, and keep going without any stagnancy or hiccups in its action, pace or horror elements. This remake also makes its quick time events much better paced and not clunky. It's far more fun and tense to be grabbed and quickly press a button to pull out your knife this time around and helps the pace mentioned above, and just as easy to use it when you run out of ammo and a hoard rolls up. What's even more fun is being able to straight up suplex enemies at your own leisure, giving you plenty of free reign with your play style.
Controls also make a big leap in the remake. Much like some of its dated lack of movement in the original, it also staggered a bit from inventory design and weapon switching that could be tedious to balance. None of that is an issue this time around, as controls are much smoother in lockstep with the fluid movement in the remake. Switching weapons can be as easy as pushing a key or button as opposed to having to manually open your inventory in the main menu with your D-pad or mapped keys. Opening your inventory into Leon's briefcase can be as simple as pressing a button and is as easy as ever to organize. Fans who have played the more recent Resident Evil games can vouch for how simple it is to organize inventories and find space, and it can make for a unique challenge when you have to begin leaving things behind for lack of room.
One of the joys of revisiting an older game is seeing the new ways they try to challenge players, and this one is chock-full of them. Despite how easy it might be to adapt to the slower walking zombies, there's a great amount of variety in enemies that will adapt to you. There's a great amount of fun in trying to figure out your next move and beating tougher enemies while also conserving ammo and resources. Enemies also have new, more fluid movements that can make both individuals and hordes dangerous, with the difficulty to kill really playing up the "survival" part of what survival horror entails. Believe me, you'll be happy about the checkpoints and finding the typewriters to save your progress.
Through and through, the story is truly fantastic. What begins as a presumably simple mission where Leon Kennedy has been sent to rescue the U.S. President's daughter after she is taken by a strange cult goes absolutely off the rails into many different directions and crazy locations. Without delving into spoiler territory, players are in for quite a ride through this very exciting, twisting and turning trek through Spain. None of the story beats from the original game were changed or altered in any way, and its fresh graphics, design and overall immersion with the universe do a great job of selling the story much more. Despite the series' horror elements, there has always been bits of campiness and absurdity throughout Resident Evil that require suspension of disbelief to some degree, and the remake is able to retain so much of that and make it work just as well 17 years after the original.
As I've been grinding through the game, I've already been thinking about its replay value and the oodles of fun to be had even after the main story is done. What's really worth noting is that there's so much content to work with that makes the game worth revisiting, main story notwithstanding. There's plenty of the same plethora of gun, modifications and items to try out and upgrade that are new and from the original, and there's a lot of space to often explore and see what you can find around the map. New Game Plus is also a welcome addition that allows players to go back and keep some of their levels and weapons, and I'm already looking forward to replaying it a second time soon with more to it. There are also some added side missions that require completing other tasks to unlock more purchasable items from merchants that makes earning new items rewarding. Though they are newly added for the remake but were one of my least favorite parts of the game, they are still a helpful part for getting new items and fun enough for the completionists who will be playing.
I also love the different difficulty levels that really cater to all players: Assisted (for players unfamiliar with action games), Standard (for players who are unfamiliar with the original Resident Evil 4), Hardcore (for players who are familiar with the original Resident Evil 4) and Professional (for steadfast fans of survival horror; unlockable after beating the game). In my first playthrough, I've tried all three of Assisted, Standard and Hardcore to get a feel for each level, and I feel the descriptions certainly fit. My first playthrough is on Standard for a baseline feel jumping back into Resident Evil while trying both Assisted and Hardcore out (to find out I'm rustier than anticipated), but I plan to try Professional upon completing the game. Each difficulty gives a reasonable, yet fun challenge to players that fits for their comfort level.
Ultimately, I think it's very clear that Resident Evil 4 not only recaptures the glory of a game that has a legitimate case for being one of the greatest games of all time, but it absolutely smashes any expectation one might have about it beforehand. Capcom delivers on this perhaps more than any other studio has ever done on any remake, and considering Dead Space was released just 2 months ago, this speaks volumes to the amazing work the horror genre has been doing. This wholly great experience is as sharp as ever backed by great components and it's an absolute must for any horror or Resident Evil fan. This is my current pick for the best game of 2023 so far, hands down.