The Resident Evil 4 remake remains a legendary experience
The DF tech review, covering PS5, Series X and Series S.
Resident Evil 4 is one of the most influential video games in the history of the medium, a game that perfectly balances tense third-person gunplay, varied set pieces and impeccable pacing to deliver something truly unique at the time of its release. That made me regard the prospect of the 2023 remake with equal parts anticipation and apprehension. Could Capcom really do it justice? After all, as impressive as their most recent efforts had been, recreating a game like RE4 is a far more daunting task.
Now that it's here, it's clear this is a complete reimagining of the original game using Capcom's in-house RE engine. It fails to revolutionise the genre, but the way the game has been updated for a new audience is still remarkably engaging - and a fantastic reimaging of the original. Alas, the final game suffers from minor technical hiccups that surprised all of us.
In this article, we'll share the current status of the primary console versions of the game as of launch day, including advice on how each version performs, then compare the new version to the original in terms of both visuals and gameplay. Looking to the game's core design though, Capcom opted to not just to recreate the original experience, but expand it - and that deserves both celebration and scrutiny.
With the release of Resident Evil 7, Capcom introduced the world to the RE Engine which has gone on to power a wide range of games - including this new iteration of Resident Evil 4. Having shipped so many titles across current and last generation machines, however, you'd expect a certain level of polish with their latest offering, especially given the sublime Resident Evil Village. That polish is evident to an extent, but the game also launches with a handful of issues which detract from the otherwise gorgeous presentation.
In our coverage of the Chainsaw Demo we noted several key issues on each platform we tested. Starting with PS5, we noticed problems with the game's checkerboard rendering which made it look noticeably less sharp than the Xbox Series X version, especially when using the chromatic aberration and lens distortion features, alongside missing RT reflections. Meanwhile on Xbox Series X/S, the controls felt noticeably less reponsive, with a large dead zone and poorly configured acceleration. All platforms also suffered from unstable performance, with enabling the various graphical options often contributing to this, including the strand hair feature that additionally caused lighting issues.
These problems knocked off the lustre of what was otherwise a compelling demo, but as of launch day, only one of these issues has been corrected: RT on PS5. This now behaves like the Xbox version, but all of the other major issues we noted remain. That means choosing between a softer-looking game on PS5 with aliasing and shimmering or a frustratingly worse-controlling game on Xbox Series X/S... plus frame-rate inconsistency and visual bugs on all current-gen versions to a certain extent.
We'll have a second piece of content that goes into more detail regarding platform comparisons, but for now know that the PS5 version offers a slightly higher average frame-rate with more responsive controls but reduced image quality, while the Xbox offers a cleaner image with a wider VRR window to enjoy more demanding settings - but the deadzone issues with the right analogue stick are problematic.
Once you've settled on a platform, one thing is for sure - the visual quality is generally excellent, though perhaps not as stunning as the original GameCube release was for its time. By 2005, we had seen most of what the current generation of consoles had to offer but GameCube's poor market performance ultimately resulted in few games that could truly take advantage of the hardware's potential - until RE4. The fourth numbered entry in the series had been years in the making and was designed to take full advantage of the GameCube's hardware. Large, detailed environments were pared with impressively sculpted character models, superb lighting and effects taking full advantage of the GameCube's Texture Environment Unit (TEV).
There's still something special about the presentation in Resident Evil 4 but technology has continued to advance since its release and, nearly 20 years later, expectations have increased. Capcom's artists have done a good job of capturing the look and feel of the original game on new hardware, with absurdly detailed character models, realistic skin shading, richly textured hair and remarkably dense shell texture fur.
The evolution of the game's environments is perhaps even more interesting. Prior remakes in this series were based on games that used prerendered backgrounds, but RE4 was always fully 3D. Thus, the development team needed to balance familiar scenes and building something entirely new.
I'd say they succeeded in that aim - the environments still manage to channel the original game but the actual level layouts and world structure have changed significantly. Essentially, Resident Evil 4 is now a seamless hub-based game. The initial village area, including the lake, are fully explorable on foot or by boat without loading screens. The entire area has been expanded and refined - it still feels true to the original vision, but introduces so many new areas to explore, often with larger and more detailed interior layouts, beautifully natural indirect lighting and a tense, spooky ambiance.
Overhauling the game's mechanics to suit more modern sensibilities without losing their essence is another crucical test for the remake, given how much RE4 innovated in this space. In the original, the mechanics initially feel similar to any classic RE game - Leon controls like a tank, planting his feet while aiming and restricting movement. However, the move to a full 3D world allowed the designers to introduce tons of options for interaction. You can climb over any fence, smash through almost any window, climb or knock down ladders, walk around, inside and on top of most buildings, and dispatch your enemies with a wide variety of weapons and tactics. There was simply no other third-person shooter that offered this level of freedom to the player, and the opening village with its barrage of enemies is a perfect demonstration of this.
Crucially, the remake gets it right - all the same options are still available to the player, but they are slightly expanded. For example, you can now move and shoot - a touchy subject, given how critical not moving and shooting is to the pacing of the original - but the balance has been shifted to support this, making enemies even more aggressive. You'll quickly find yourself jumping in and out of structures, kicking over ladders and taking out enemies. The beautifully lit environment, now packed with detail, adds to the immersion and showcases the power of the engine. You also have access to some new tricks - Leon can now crouch, allowing you to sneak up behind unsuspecting enemies and take them out. It's basically another tool in the combat toolbox.
You can switch weapons on the fly with the d-pad too. The original RE4 still holds up brilliantly as a whole, but its weapon switching is the one archaic mechanic I'm glad has been overhauled. The only criticism I would make - and something that has been bothering me for a while - is the lack of an aiming sight. The switch to a reticle-based aiming system from the integrated dot sight of the original RE4 is just disappointing. It just never looks as good in action, and I would love to have an option to re-enable it.
Of course, if you still want to enjoy the original game, the HD version available for modern platforms is a perfect choice as a conversion of the GameCube version with just a few minor caveats. There's also the Resident Evil 4 HD Project - a stunning achievement that goes over the entire original game with a fine-toothed comb. Either way, RE4 remains a legendary experience both in its original form and in its remake.
Yet, judging this remake has proven rather difficult - I think Capcom has done just about all they could to recreate this game but there's no way it could have ever left the same impact as the original. The remake basically brings the game up to modern standards - at least in terms of mechanics - but it doesn't redefine the genre either. I'm not sure it needed to, really. What's most important is that it doesn't sully its legacy - this is a very good remake and one that they could have easily botched. That's not the case at all.
My only real nitpicks stem from technical hiccups such as those I mentioned earlier. The performance and image quality just isn't on the level of other recent RE Engine games, while the visuals themselves do not push any new boundaries. It's gorgeous, but not a significant leap beyond Resident Evil Village. The fact that this is still a cross-gen game yet exhibits noticeable performance hiccups across all consoles is disappointing. This shouldn't be happening and it feels less optimised than other recent Capcom releases. Despite this, it's still very much worth playing - I just hope Capcom can patch the last remaining issues.