Review: Resident Evil 4 (2023)

Break's over, then.

The RE Engine, while clearly a slick, functional and versatile foundation for a number of excellent games, is beginning to seem a little long in the tooth. Powering Resident Evil 7 and 8 as well as the well-received remakes of 2 and 3, its use here - for the fifth time in this franchise, unless you count multiplayer-exclusive shooters that nobody plays - gives this long-feared remake of the iconic Resident Evil 4 (2005) a pronounced cosiness in familiarity; not just in the sense that you're effectively playing a recreation of a game you've probably played many, many times over, but in its feel, in your character's capabilities. Is it necessarily a good thing that these games are, in terms of their raw mechanics, more or less entirely interchangeable. Outside of the third-person view, Resident Evil 4 (2023) plays much like the last two remakes. Useful for picking up and playing, but... remember what a revolution the original game was? It changed the way Resident Evil worked, it changed the way third-person shooters worked; it changed games. Its remake, however, is something of a perversion of the original's spirit, simply by existing. The total one-off stands alone in its field no longer. It's a shame, but let's not get bogged down in cynicism.

Did I enjoy Resident Evil 4 (2023) as much as I did the original? Oh, good Christ, no. How could I? How could anyone? You can't recapture the impact that game had on me. I played it late, very late, probably four or five years after its initial release. I ignored it because I didn't like Resident Evil. I didn't like the tank controls, I didn't like the fixed camera. I found 4 in the Sally Army shop on Mill Road for £1.00 sterling, and I bought it. And I put it in my PlayStation 2. And I played through it in about three or four sittings, enraptured the entire time. Then I finished it, set it aside and never played it again. Well, not all the way through, anyway. I've purchased essentially every subsequent release, got through the village section then saved and reasoned I'd come back to this masterpiece when the time was right. But here's the thing about time; it is never right.

I come, then, to this do-over some eighteen years later. Despite having finished the original only once, I remember almost every detail - the fact that every single section of the game is an intense, intricate masterclass in encounter design helps jog the memory. So Resi 4 (2023) is, initially, something of a nostalgia parade. The initial village siege feels bascally identical; like I said, cosy. A horror game should not be comfortable, should not ease you in.The Resi 2 Remake didn't do anything of the sort. Why does the most revolutionary game in the series now feel so easygoing?

Booting the game, you're encouraged to play the game in Hardcore mode if you've played Resident Evil 4 (2005) before. This may be a mistake, because there are sections in the mid-game where ammo becomes so scarce that it can begin to feel as though you are at the mercy of RNG; item drops and stuff you find in barrels. Weapons, though, resell very high to the returning (and still delightful) Merchant, so it's possible to mix up your arsenal for each new encounter rather easily. It's still tough as nails in places, though, with enemies seeming to be that much more resilient, and certainly far more aggressive. It's a good thing you have your combat knife, which behaves quite differently in a very enjoyable new variable. Each knife you hold has a limited durability, which can be partially "spent" to escape enemy grapples, countering with a usually-fatal stab. It's also possible to use the knife to insta-kill downed enemies, but you may want to save your blade for a later, more dangerous situation.

There are compromises here. It's possible to auto-sort your inventory, which is usually so barren anyway that I never felt much like I needed to expand its size with the paid upgrades. The shooting gallery mini-game has also been expanded, but the rewards have been made into random attachments for your suitcase that bestow buffs such as an increased chance of crafting bonus ammo. Oh yeah, there's crafting now too, in an effort to make the contents of breakable crates and barrels that little bit less interesting. Wow, resources! Said literally no living human being in the history of civilisation. It's also not scary. Even once. For a single second.

And here's the weird thing. Despite all its problems, it's brilliant. I mean it is obviously brilliant, isn't it? It's far more interesting and entertaining than any Resident Evil since the hugely underappreciated Revelations 2, and it's by virtue of the fact that its source material is so ruddy difficult to screw up. There are improvements, too, like the section in which you play as Ashley - now a genuinely thrilling and atmospheric thrill-ride of a segment. The bosses, which were never the best part of the 2005 game, remain similarly somewhat toss here, though the new Parry mechanic changes up the way you fight almost all of them. And it all looks spectacular, of course.

The essential problem with the Resident Evil 4 remake is that it's asking you to directly compare it to one of the avowed best games ever made. The fact it even comes close is - if you'll excuse the langage - fucking remarkable. Because there's so much here to see and do, and the value proposition with the downloaded Mercenaries mode as well as the secret-packed main campaign is so brilliant, that it feels like no game has put in this much effort in so, so long. It's triple-A done right, and all it had to do was parrot a game from back when the hobby wasn't fatally poisoned by post-truth verbal diarrhoea on Twitter. But I digress. Resident Evil 4 (2023) is a reasonable simulacrum of a masterpiece. Buy it right now.