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Resident Evil 4 review: all-time horror classic gets the bold remake it deserves

Leon parries a chainsaw villager in Resident Evil 4.
Resident Evil 4
MSRP $59.99
“Resident Evil 4 finally gets the remake it deserves: a total reimagining that's every bit as bold and unpredictable as the original.”
Pros
  • A boldly reimagined story
  • A more modernized feel
  • Reworked locations are a step up
  • Drastically improved combat
  • Fantastic visual overhaul
Cons
  • Escorting Ashley is still a pain

Resident Evil 4 understands exactly what I want from a video game remake. When Dead Space got a redo earlier this year, I was left both impressed and underwhelmed in the same breath. It was an incredible technical feat that gave me a good excuse to replay a horror classic, but it didn’t deepen my relationship with the original in any way. Its 1:1 approach was faithful to a fault, as it mostly duplicated everything about the 2008 version, including my emotional connections to it. I can’t say the same for the 2023 version of Resident Evil 4 — this remake is its own beast.

That’s an impressive feat considering how high the stakes were for Capcom. Remaking something that’s widely hailed as one of the greatest games of all time comes with a lot of pressure. It would be tempting to just take a Dead Space approach, modernizing its general feel while leaving its exact sequence of events entirely intact, but what would be the point in that? I could just fire up my GameCube and play the original or, better yet, jump into its excellent Wii port. For Resident Evil 4 to feel truly as special as it did in 2005, Capcom would need to go all out — and that’s exactly what it did.

This version of Resident Evil 4 isn’t just another indulgent double-dip for an enduring classic. It’s a truly transformative remake that isn’t afraid to throw out what didn’t work and put its own creative spin on everything from story to level design to its wildly improved combat. That makes for a refreshingly confident project that excels both as a look back to the past and a bold step forward for the series’ future.

Changes for the better

What immediately stands out when playing the remake is how much it emphasizes Resident Evil 4’s influence on the industry over the past two decades. While the 2023 version makes some significant changes, its primary goal is re-establishing the 2005 version as an important classic. As such, the general story and act structure remain intact. Government agent and Resident Evil 2 star Leon S. Kennedy gets called on a mission to extract the president’s daughter, Ashley Graham, from an isolated town in Spain. Rather than finding traditional zombies, he butts up against a religious cult that’s infected the locals with a mind-controlling virus called Las Plagas.

The more I played, the more I came to realize how modern games would not be where they are today without the original. In 2005, the action-heavy gameplay was a massive departure from the slow-paced survival horror of the Resident Evil series. Now, it’s almost become a template for what an action-adventure game looks and feels like. That’s made even clearer by a modernized remake that feels more like the games it would eventually inspire. With smoother gameplay and its early 2000s quirks ironed out, it feels like I’m playing a campier version of The Last of Us.

Saddler looms in front of amber in the Resident Evil 4 remake.
Capcom

Every upgrade or change that’s been made here feels like it’s acting in service of that idea. Take its story, for instance. While I won’t go into specifics (most of the remake’s fun comes from discovering its new twists for yourself), there are some important tweaks that add much more detail to what’s a somewhat basic damsel-in-distress story by today’s standards. Characters have been more properly fleshed out to give the saga more emotional pull. Leon is more sincerely lovable this time around, shedding some dated writing and acting that made him more of an ironic himbo icon. Ashley benefits from that the most, as she’s no longer just a helpless buffoon who runs into obvious traps like a teen slasher victim. With more depth, it’s a lot easier to see how Leon and Ashley ran so Joel and Ellie from The Last of Us could … also run.

Several locations have been significantly redesigned too, replacing some of the original’s more generic corridors with detailed spaces that feel more like modern game set pieces. When I break into Los Iluminados’ castle in the remake, it feels more like I’m storming the gates of Elden Ring’s Stormveil Castle. It’s a more intense sequence with swaths of cultists, fireballs smashing through the scenery, and a controllable cannon that I can use to blast enemies. It’s the series’ most thrilling moment to date. Other scenes have been reworked from the ground up entirely to make certain enemy introductions, like the infamous Garrador, much more dramatic. Whenever I review a remake, I always keep a YouTube video of the original up to compare them side by side. By the second half, they differed so much that it was almost like I was playing an entirely new game.

This version does what any truly good remake should do: It reinvents the source material and allows us to understand it in a new way.

As with any game that has so many strong feelings attached to it, I imagine that the remake’s sometimes drastic changes will be a point of debate. Some may feel a little disappointed that it trades in a bit of its cartoon charm for more modern AAA sensibilities. It’s still delightfully weird, but it’s less Scooby-Doo and more Hollywood blockbuster this time around. Having played it all the way through, that instinct seems perfectly reasonable to me. The goal is to reexamine the original through a modern lens, better connecting it to a series that has changed significantly since 2005. A perfect recreation simply wouldn’t have made sense post-Resident Evil 2 remake or even 2009’s Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles. Every story beat and design tweak gives the 2023 version its own distinct identity, connecting the original to the games it would inspire.

You want the goofier version of Resident Evil 4? There’s no shortage of ways to play it, and it’s still a perfectly enjoyable experience. But this version does what any truly good remake should do: It reinvents the source material and allows us to understand it in a new way.

Knife fight

What I appreciate most here is that I never get the feeling Capcom is being too precious with the project. That confident approach allows it to step around all the dated pitfalls of the original and deliver new ideas that help the remake stand on its own apart from nostalgia. The best example of that comes in its combat system, which has been entirely revamped for the better.

In the original version, Leon would need to plant himself and stand still before shooting. It was a remnant of old Resident Evil games that seeped into the sequel’s DNA. That’s no longer the case here, as Leon can freely run and shoot now. That change alone makes gunplay much more exciting. The opening village shootout, for instance, is a more tense experience that had me trying to pick off waves of villagers while moving backward, hoping that I could clear them out before helplessly squeezing myself into a corner. Weapons can be switched very quickly too, which makes it easy to adapt to the changing power dynamics on the fly. If I ever backed into a wall, I could swap to my shotgun in an instant and deliver a desperation blast to cut my way back out.

Just as the original did in 2005, the new version of Resident Evil 4 once again delivers top-of-the-line action relative to its era.

The most impactful change, though, is an increased emphasis on melee combat. Leon can once again spin-kick stunned enemies, but knives are his most important weapon this time around. It’s a multipurpose tool that can be used to finish off downed enemies, save him when he’s grabbed, or parry attacks. In a smart modern flourish, Leon can even silently backstab unalerted enemies. It’s a surprisingly natural fit considering his new knife skills, one that feels like it was there all along. An added stealth element allows Leon to get the jump on an enemy or two, thinning out some thicker herds of enemies. And if you’re worried that might make the game easier, don’t fret. The remake throws significantly more enemies at Leon during encounters, creating some truly challenging fights.

When I really locked into the combat flow, I was astounded by how fluid it felt — especially since Resident Evil Village really struggled at a similar pace. In one encounter, I found myself walking down a narrow path while fending off an approaching army of villagers. Rather than planting myself and picking them off, the sequence was incredibly varied. I moved ahead while shooting at two enemies, stunning one with a shot to the head. I ran ahead and kicked that villager, knocking both down in one hit and following up with knife kills while they were down. As I moved forward, I hit a wall of enemies blocking a bridge. One threw an ax at m, and I deflected it in midair. The cart they were standing around exploded and I was unsure if that was a scripted event or if I had accidentally caused it with my parry. The fact that I’m not sure speaks volumes to how dynamic it all is.

Leon S. Kennedy shoots villagers in the Resident Evil 4 remake.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

In general, Resident Evil 4 does a much better job of allowing players to execute cinematic moments like that. This might be the only video game that ditches quick-time events instead of adding them, working the original’s massive button prompt sequences in more naturally. Anything that Leon could only do in interactive cutscenes can mostly be replicated in-game with a deeper combat system and more nuanced controls.

That approach can fight against the original game’s ideas just a touch. While escort sections where Leon needs to protect Ashley have been improved thanks to better AI, they can still be a hassle. With faster gameplay, it’s even easier to accidentally shoot her as she gets stuck in the middle of a busy fight. I got a fair amount of Game Overs from a stray bullet grazing her leg or a villager walking off with her because I was too preoccupied with a wave of attacking enemies. Leon’s movement speed feels a little slow for battles at times too, which makes trying to duck around enemies a little difficult (one boss fight had me dying a dozen times due to not being able to sprint away from a one-hit kill fast enough).

Those are nitpicks in the grand scheme of things, though. Just as the original did in 2005, the new version of Resident Evil 4 once again delivers top-of-the-line action relative to its era. I imagine it’s going to become a new standard for the series going forward, and that’s the part of this project that has me truly excited.

Shaping the future

Capcom’s forward-thinking approach here goes a long way. While some remakes simply feel like they bring an old game up to speed and stop there, Resident Evil 4 feels like it’s been made to stand the test of time. That’s most apparent in its phenomenal visual update, which brings new personality to old spaces. More dynamic lighting, starker contrast, and painstakingly detailed environments make classic levels like the castle feel both more ominous and lived-in. They don’t just feel like generic hallways to traverse. It’s one of the best-looking games of this current console cycle and I imagine it’ll remain in that tier for a while.

Not a moment feels wasted and that’s revolutionary in an age of bloated single-player, open-world games.

Several of its other improvements here, even small quality-of-life ones, feel like they’ll become Resident Evil staples for the next 10 years. Take something as simple as its crafting system, for instance. It trades in the old “combine” guessing game for convenient mini-menus that show each possible recipe for every item and let players craft on the fly from there. It’s quick, easy, and likely here to stay.

Other aspects didn’t need much overhauling at all to feel future-ready, just some nudges to reinforce the 2005 version’s timeless strengths. For instance, the original game’s structure is still a work of beauty. It bounces between radically different set pieces — the village, the castle, an underground lab filled with regenerating bio horrors, etc. — without any of those ever feeling out of step with the wider setting and logic of its universe. That still holds true here, as any seams between acts have been smoothed over, and some smart story tweaks and better pacing overall have been added. Not a moment feels wasted, and that’s revolutionary in an age of bloated single-player, open-world games.

Leon fights Jack Krauser in the Resident Evil 4 remake.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

I notice that especially when I compare it to 2021’s Resident Evil Village, a modern series installment that tried to copy 4’s notes with mixed results. While it has a similar structural approach, drawing on a “horror theme park” concept, it’s done without the consistency we see here. Village only nails half of its beats, but this version of 4 excels at everything it sets out to do. A knife fight with Jack Krauser, a harpoon battle with a parasite-ridden whale, or a deadly minecart ride — every left turn reminds me that there’s a good reason the original is still considered one of the best games of all time. It still outdoes games that had almost 20 years to catch up.

I’m thankful for the cosmic coincidence that put a Dead Space and Resident Evil 4 remake just months apart from one another. Both projects show two valid, but completely different paths forward for game remakes. Dead Space just preserves the original, faithfully communicating what it was like playing it in 2008. As a counterpoint, Resident Evil 4 shows the value of careful reimagination. It isn’t just in conversation with the 2005 version, but with the two decades worth of games that sprung from it. It’s the past, present, and future of action-horror rolled up into an instant classic that stands side by side with its predecessor

“Oh, by the way: Hope you like thrill rides,” a much more fleshed-out Luis says before one particularly wild sequence. I certainly do, pal. I certainly do.

Resident Evil 4 was reviewed on a PlayStation 5 hooked up to a TCL 6-Series R635.

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Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
Resident Evil 4 Charms: all Charm effects and where to find them
Leon collecting a teddy bear charm.

Everyone loved the attaché case from the original game and was very excited to see that it would return in the Resident Evil 4 remake. This case brings back the delicate balance of managing your inventory space between healing items, ammo, weapons, and other items that you want to bring with you. What's new are the little keychains you can attach to your case called Charms. These are more than minor cosmetic flair, though, as each Charm has a unique buff that can help turn the tides in your favor. However, being brand new, even veterans of the survival horror classic won't know how to get or use them immediately. Leon needs every advantage he can get in Resident Evil 4 remake, so help him out by checking out all the Charm effects and where to find them.
How to get Charms

Since Charms are a new addition in the remake of Resident Evil 4, the way to get them is also somewhat new. Those who played the original might recall a small shooting range Leon could mess around in. In the remake, this mini-game has been expanded quite a bit. There are now multiple shooting ranges and within them multiple challenges. The first one you can encounter is when you find the Merchant in Chapter 3 after going through the Quarry. Whichever shooting range you pick, enter the ornate elevator to be transported to the range.

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Resident Evil 4: All Yellow Herb locations
Yellow herb in Resident Evil 4.

Despite being sent all the way to Europe to rescue the president's daughter, Leon arrives vastly underpowered for the job presented to him in the Resident Evil 4 remake. Not only was he sent in alone, but with just a single handgun (with 10 bullets) and a knife. If you want any hope of completing this mission, you will need to get every advantage you can. Aside from expanding and upgrading your arsenal, collecting as many of the game's Yellow Herbs will be your top priority. Of the three types of Herbs -- Green, Red, and Yellow -- these are the rarest of them all. In total, you can only grab 17 of them in a single playthrough. You will want as many of them as possible to give Leon a much-needed buff, so here's what Yellow Herbs do and where you can collect them all in the Resident Evil 4 remake.
What Yellow Herbs do

Each of the three Herb types in Resident Evil 4 serves a different function. Green Herbs are for healing, Red Herbs enhance the effect of whatever Herb they're combined with, and Yellow Herbs actually increase Leon's maximum health. That makes them by far the most valuable of the three since, with enough of them, you can essentially double the amount of damage you can take once you max out his health.

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Resident Evil 4 locked drawers guide: all Small Key locations
Infected villager from Resident Evil 4 remake.

Keys and Resident Evil games are like peanut butter and jelly. If you're not fighting zombies, you're looking for a key to get you to the next room -- where you will fight more zombies. While there are plenty of mandatory keys in the Resident Evil 4 remake, there are also a set of extra keys that you can completely miss. These Small Keys are used to unlock locked drawers you come across, as opposed to doors, and hold some very valuable treasures. Considering how precious money is in this game, the more treasures you can find and sell to your Merchant friend, the better off you'll be. Small keys aren't in your direct path often, and once you leave an area, you can't go back to collect them later in most cases. We'll help you become the master of unlocking by showing you where to snag all the Small Keys in Resident Evil 4, as well as where to use them.
Where to find all Small Keys
Before getting into the locations of Small Keys, note that these keys are not exclusive to a single drawer. Any Small Key can be used to open any drawer, so feel free to spend them as soon as you find a drawer with a key in hand. However, once you leave an area in Resident Evil 4, there's no going back. That means if you left any keys or drawers behind, you won't be able to open them unless you start another playthrough or wait until you begin a new game. There are eight Small Keys to get, and they are all found within the first two zones of the game, but won't show up on your map. Locked drawers won't either by default, but if you buy the Treasure Map from the Merchant, the drawers will be put on your map. Here's how to track all the keys down, and where the nearest locked drawer is in the order you can first encounter them.

The first key you can get is in Chapter 2 in the Valley. After meeting the Merchant, you will be sent into the Valley to find a key to open the gate opposite the Merchant. After clearing out the enemies, drop down to the lowest level on the south end and enter the shack. Inside, take a right and look for a case on the shelf. Loot it, and pick up the first Small Key. The nearest locked drawer is back in the Factory past the Merchant. Go into the room where you retrieved Leon's equipment after it was taken from him and use the key on the desk drawer.

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