Viva Las Plagas

HIGH Leon’s new defensive knife skills are an inspired addition.

LOW Some of the craziest moments of the original campaign are no more.

WTF Leon evading a dual chainsaw attack in the most bizarre and dangerous way possible.

When Ashley Graham, the daughter of the President of the United States of all people, is kidnapped by a weird group of deranged cultists with a penchant for murder in a backwater European village, the USA responds in the only way it knows how — by sending a single floppy-haired agent to get her back, uncover the despicable plan behind her disappearance, and save the world in the process.

Fortunately, the agent in the awesome bomber jacket is no ordinary man — he’s Leon S. Kennedy, one of the few survivors of the devastating Raccoon City zombie outbreak six years earlier, and he’s not taking any nonsense from these villagers. When one of them tries to axe him in the face after he asks a few polite questions… well, from that point it’s freaking on and he’s bringing Ashley back, even if he has to depopulate all Europe in order to do so.

Despite all of this preamble, Resident Evil 4 doesn’t really need much of an introduction given that it’s popularly considered one of the best games of all time. However, almost twenty years after its original release, Capcom clearly felt it was time to spruce it up with modern graphics and an updated control scheme utilizing twin analog sticks in a sensible manner, and they’ve done a fantastic job of doing so.

The feel of Resident Evil 4 has changed quite a bit since the 2005 edition, with more of an emphasis on moment-to-moment atmosphere. Whether breaking out a torch in dark areas littered with the corpses of victims or slowly creeping through a forest full of slavering lunatics, it’s more of a traditional survival horror experience this time.  Thankfully, though, when the action breaks out, it’s a hell of a lot more chaotic, violent and downright awesome than the term “survival horror” might suggest and there’s a blessed lack of loathsome puzzles stinking things up. Puzzles still exist, of course, but they’re generally simple and don’t clutter Leon’s inventory with useless garbage.

Whether being swarmed by parasite-infested villagers with bladed tentacle heads or being accosted by a boggle-eyed madman wielding a chainsaw, Leon’s more than capable of holding his own in a fight thanks to an appropriate amount of guns, ammunition and assorted variables like hand grenades and healing items.

Speaking of, the guns in RE4 are an absolute joy to use, delivering destruction and bloodshed with incredibly punchy sound effects. A shotgun blast into a crowd will not only blow these ne’er-do-wells off their feet, but also shear huge chunks of their body off in the process. Even comparatively low-powered pistols sound like the crack of doom and pop heads like pumpkins, especially as Leon progresses through the story and tunes up or replaces his guns with ever-more-lethal instruments of carnage.

One new and highly appreciated addition to the formula is the ability to parry enemy attacks using Leon’s trusty knife. Traditionally little more than a last resort, the knife is now an invaluable defensive tool capable of parrying anything from pitchforks to chainsaws, breaking free of enemy holds, and of course, the more traditional use of repeatedly stabbing bad guys in the face when the chips are down.

This level of knife-based punishment doesn’t come without cost, however. Leon’s knife will degrade over time and eventually break, requiring periodic repairs from merchants dotted around the map. Parrying most attacks or using a new stealth kill mechanic doesn’t cost much durability, though blocking a whirring chainsaw with the knife edge is going to destroy it in short order. It’s therefore important to balance using it for general convenience against saving it for a desperate last resort as it nears its breaking point.

Leon himself seems much weightier than he did in the past, leading to a more grounded and slightly less nimble control scheme. The tradeoff is that enemies also have more heft to them, so roundhouse kicking them into a wall feels incredibly crunchy and satisfying. New animations sell the sensation of combat beautifully, resulting in deliciously insane encounters against all sorts of twisted grotesques throughout the fifteen- to twenty-hour runtime.

After retrieving Ashley and having to work together to escape from the village, other design changes make themselves known. She’s less useless now thanks to a couple of selectable behavior modes that will see her staying close to the action or keeping her distance, and she’s now also able to perform basic functions like descending ladders or helping players out in unexpected ways.

Sadly, some of the goofier moments of old got cut from this release, which is unfortunate since those were also some of the most memorable. From flame-spewing dragon statues in the lava caverns to the infamously insane laser-rigged hallway, some of the most unique setpieces of the original are simply gone — yet the catapult section in the castle’s opening sequence not only remains intact, but has been made infinitely more annoying thanks to fewer opportunities to neutralize threats and more chances to get blown up seemingly at random.

Other complaints are few and far between, so it feels like I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel when I say that there’s also a weird moment when the merchant unhelpfully warns Leon how he should attend to any unfinished business towards the end of the castle area before hitting a point of no return after he’s already passed it, so that could be a mildly annoying moment for completionists like myself.

Finally, as of release there’s no combat arena-style Mercenaries mode, nor the additional Separate Ways campaign equivalent featuring Ada Wong in her banging new pair of long boots. That said, Mercenaries is already confirmed to be on its way and even without Separate Ways, there’s more than enough content in Resident Evil 4 to justify the price given that it features a wealth of bonus content such as weapons, costumes and accessories to unlock after the credits roll for the first time.

Resident Evil 4 is a truly fantastic remake of an already-stellar title. Some of the omissions, tweaks and changes do mean that it’s a perfect complement to the original experience rather than a replacement, but this is about as fine an update to a classic as one could possibly hope for.

Roll on Resident Evil 5 — Sheva Alomar’s got some Majini throats that need slitting.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Capcom. It is currently available on XBX/S, PS4/5 and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 17 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence and Strong Language. The official description reads as follows: This is a survival-horror game in which players assume the role of a government agent (Leon Kennedy) sent to rescue a character from a religious cult. From a third-person perspective, players explore a rural environment while searching for clues and fighting zombies and mutated creatures. Players use pistols, machine guns, shotguns, and explosives to kill enemy creatures in frenetic combat. Some weapons/attacks result in decapitation and/or dismemberment of enemies, along with large splatters of blood. Enemy attacks (e.g., chainsaws, tentacles) can also result in Leon being decapitated, blown apart, or impaled. Eviscerated animals and mutilated corpses are depicted in some environments. The words “f**k” and “sh*t” appear in the game.

Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are present.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles can be altered and/or resized. Furthermore, Capcom have gone above and beyond to make this game accessible to as many players as possible, with closed captioning often warning of nearby sounds such as beeping explosives, squeaking collectibles or the demented mutterings of nearby villagers. Excellent job, Capcom.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls. Well, at least on Keyboard and Mouse. Controller support has various presets available.

Darren Forman
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2 months ago

I don’t think anyone wants to see RE5 remade. The core imagery of that game was so deeply insensitive, ignorant and racist (through ignorance of the developers rather than malicious intent), that it would play even worse in a post George Floyd world than it would when it came out

1 month ago
Reply to  Gabe

Isn’t that a good reason for them to remake it, though? I mean, everything you mention is still part of the base game, which is still on sale across every available modern platform in 2023. Releasing an updated version that at least tries to make corrections and improvements would go some way to paving over the stink of the original.

1 month ago
Reply to  hdefined

It’s not worth it. Some bad things are best left buried in the past rather than attempting to fix or resurface. I’d rather not relitigate the whole discussion about RE5 through a remake of it. It would reignite a gamergate type of debate about politics in gaming if they tried to fix it…. But also think about it – what could they even do to fix it? It’s not like the RE4 remake, where it was about dated mechanics and design. With RE5, what was wrong with It was so baked into the core concept and story of the game.… Read more »

1 month ago
Reply to  Gabe

Some bad things are best left buried in the past”

I agree, and they can jettison those bad things in a remake. The game itself isn’t bad. The game itself is really fun. The elements that are bad are not intrinsic to the rest of the game.

1 month ago
Reply to  hdefined

You cherry-picked half a line out of my response, took it out of context, and just responded to that part.

What I already said in that post was that I didn’t believe that the game could be redeemed, that the rotten elements were intrinsic and core to its design. To change those things would mean it’s no longer Resident Evil 5, it’s a wholly different game.

So no, actually, we don’t agree whatsoever.

Last edited 1 month ago by Gabe