Resident Evil 4 (2023) review: Infectious revival of a cult hit

(PS/Xb/PC) ***** Age: 18+

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Ronan Price

The Spanish tourist board probably does not approve of Resident Evil 4, the story of a (fictional) cult hellbent on infecting humanity with a corrupting plague.

Two decades after RE4 terrified us with the murderous ganados (or zombies) of Los Illuminados in rural Spain, they show no sign of dying. After the Gamecube original and ports to myriad other platforms including Quest VR in 2021, here comes the inevitable 4K remake.

Capcom has successfully exhumed RE2 and RE3 from the vaults in recent years but must surely have thought twice about messing with one of the most innovative and revered survival horrors. In 2004, RE4 redefined the third-person shooter, injecting pace, action and spectacle into a series known for its slow-moving terror.

But for this 2023 remake, Capcom has indeed messed with the formula devised by Shinji Mikami all those years ago. It recreates, remixes, enhances and reimagines the scenes, characters and enemies. Nonetheless, some things stay the same – notably the unconvincing story, in which series regular Leon Kennedy seeks to rescue the US president’s kidnapped daughter from the cult.

Early levels closely mirror the source too, as Leon follows his first lead to a remote village, ignorant of the horrors ahead. Indeed, Capcom seems well aware of the original’s power, going almost shot for shot on the initial encounter with the ganados. Wandering into that little cluster of buildings lit by the torches of the natives still feels utterly blood-curdling. First you hear the guttural moaning, then a shout and finally you realise you’re hopelessly outnumbered as the villagers rush at you with axes and pitchforks.

In some ways, that masterful scene is never bettered, even as RE4 twists and turns through a multitude of impressively chilling locations. Tunnels, caverns, dusty houses, ramshackle mines, foreboding castles – all glisten with entrails and bones that speak of the unspeakable deeds they’ve witnessed. The ganados too are never less than fearsome, with some advancing drunkenly while others dash in your direction. And that’s before you meet the monstrous likes of chainsaw man or the guy with blades for arms.

If you’ve played the original (and few long-time gamers probably haven’t), you’ll notice a handful of key differences. There’s a new emphasis on the knife (to save ammo, to parry attacks and deliver final blows). Leon can now move and aim at the same time (albeit sluggishly). The former certainly changes encounters for the better while the latter isn’t quite as significant as first appears.

A new voice actor performs the role of the merchant, the incongruous shady dude who sells you weapons and buys your trinkets. His throaty laugh – evocative of a 60-a-day cigarette habit – and his carefree one-liners provide much-needed light relief amid the carnage.

Unless you’ve a photographic memory, you probably won’t detect many of the other modernising tweaks throughout RE4. Boss battles, dialogue, locations and enemy movement have all undergone subtle streamlining.

Like the recent Metroid Prime remaster, this RE4 do-over is the quintessential remake. It’s different enough from its origins to justify its existence yet retaining the core essence that was so compelling in the first place.