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'Resident Evil 4' review: A half-step backward for Capcom remakes

When the 'best Resident Evil game' isn't.

Capcom

The Resident Evil 4 remake starts out strong. Updated aiming mechanics and a fresh infusion of processing power make this the most exciting version of RE4 Capcom has ever delivered, and Leon Kennedy looks better than ever, even with his new chin implant. The remake performs well for the first few hours, as Leon shoots and stabs his way through the misty Spanish village where las plagas has transformed the locals into murderous tentacle monsters. These early scenes, set among crooked wooden buildings and the shores of a twisting cave system, establish the game’s blood-soaked tone and provide a satisfying balance of asset management, puzzle solving and modern third-person shooting.

As the game grows in complexity, it becomes clumsy. Capcom’s approach to modernizing RE4 is to add more enemies, cramped environments and fewer ammo drops – all of which could result in a high-tension action experience, if its controls were consistent. As it stands, the RE4 remake is plagued by sluggish animations and frustrating combat sequences. Leon constantly feels underpowered, unable to evade basic attacks or reliably land a shot.

Resident Evil 4 set the standard for action-horror games when it came out in 2005, and the remake shines when it embraces the innovations of the original: over-the-shoulder precision shooting and an atmosphere blending combat and terror. However, the remake loses focus quickly, and it feels like much of Capcom’s effort was poured into upgrading enemies and environments, leaving Leon in the GameCube-era dust.

The RE4 remake introduces new boss fights and head-bursting enemies, and it also allows Leon to parry powerful attacks. Sometimes. The parry ability is only available if Leon has a knife on standby, and when the prompt does pop up, it’s easily interrupted by environmental nudges, the actions of other enemies, and Leon’s own animations. Like most of Leon’s movements, the parry ability is simply too inconsistent to be satisfying, and it generally does nothing to heighten the tension of combat scenes.

The remake often places Leon at the center of a swarm of enemies, without the option to quickly dodge incoming attacks. He has to shoot or press his way through the horde – but he runs as if he’s knee-deep in sludge, and even a bullet to the head doesn’t always stop a rushing cultist. Meanwhile, enemy attacks always interrupt Leon. Sluggish movement is authentic to the experience of the original four Resident Evil games, and it’s something that the RE2 and RE3 remakes specifically address, offering updated controls and environments that feel at home on modern hardware. In comparison to those games, RE4 feels unfinished, or at least un-finessed.

Ashley and Leon flee an explosion on the turret of a castle in Resident Evil 4.
Capcom

One boss fight that Capcom reimagined for the remake is against Méndez, the mutant priest with the extra long spine. In the original, Méndez slings a repetitive series of attacks from the rafters of a burning slaughterhouse. In the remake, Méndez drops back to hurl flaming logs and explosive oil drums at Leon, before rushing forward for close-quarters fighting and alternating these positions a few times. Even though the environment in the remake is larger, it’s cramped with flames that interrupt Leon’s actions any time he touches them. Méndez moves quickly and so do the objects he throws, while Leon has a sluggish run ability, no way to quickly dodge, and lethargic animations for reloading, retrieving items, touching fire and knifing enemies. Méndez seems like a fully remade character here; Leon, not so much. This results in a frustrating boss fight.

I died a few times while trying to defeat Méndez – and that’s when Capcom pranked me. I was playing on Standard, and during my Méndez death screens, the game started prompting me to turn on Assisted mode, the lowest difficulty setting. I generally don’t do this during reviews, but a dozen infuriating attempts later and I relented, pressing OK without reading the fine print. Assisted mode makes the game incredibly forgiving, and I easily defeated Méndez in the following run.

And then I was unable to change my difficulty settings at all. Keep this in mind: Assisted mode is permanent in RE4.

I played a few more minutes on the lowest difficulty setting, but it truly felt like a different game than the Standard version, devoid of tension or risk. Luckily, I was on PlayStation 5, which only syncs cloud saves when you exit a game. I turned off the console’s internet connection, closed the game and then downloaded the old save file from before I switched settings. Then I defeated Méndez the old-fashioned way, on Standard difficulty, and carried on with a newfound fear of accidentally switching to Assisted mode in my soul.

Permanent downward mode-switching is a standard feature in Resident Evil games, but I find it to be baffling. It’s especially confusing as RE4 actively encourages Standard players to try Assisted mode in loading screens and death menus. I asked Capcom why the team designed RE4 this way, and a spokesperson said, “The difficulty mode a player completes the game on has ramifications for in-game achievements and trophies.” This doesn’t fully answer the question for me: Plenty of action games have dynamic difficulty settings without disrupting achievements, and this response doesn’t address my perception that Capcom is prioritizing trophy integrity over accessibility.

Resident Evil 4 remake
Capcom

While we’re in the complaints department, I also want to encourage all PS5 players to turn off controller sounds in the audio settings. This goes for RE4 and literally every other game with this feature. Why is the volume on the DualSense so loud, all the time? Please, someone, make it stop.

This is what the RE4 remake has reduced me to: a pleading mess of unfulfilled nostalgia and frustration. It’s not a terrible game, but it isn’t seamless, either. It adds enemy variety and fresh environments, but Leon’s bullets routinely hit their targets without dealing damage, his movements are clumsy and his new parry ability is only semi-functional. The game clearly establishes combat strategies for each scene, but then its mechanics get in the way, punishing the player in the process. Overall, the word for the RE4 remake is inconsistent.