After the success of Resident Evil 2 Remake, the filmmakers said that they are not interested in remaking Resident Evil 4 because it is already a masterpiece. As someone who ranks the original among my all-time favorites, I find this absurd. While Resident Evil 4 is an exceptional and important game, it also has many flaws.

RE4 is too long and poorly paced, especially in the last few hours. Because a full escort mission can often be exhausting and annoying. It has some of the worst combat in the series, and most egregiously, its success caused the fast-time events to last decades longer than they should have. Resident Evil 4 was never a perfect game, but Resident Evil 4 Remake has fixed every flaw and improved every aspect of the gameplay.

Structurally, it’s still the same game. Set several years after the Raccoon City incident in a remote village in Spain, Leon’s mission to rescue the president’s daughter from bug-infested cultists. It’s divided into three acts – Village, Castle and Island – and the further you go, the more terrifying and dangerous the enemies become. But while the remake retains the story and most of the encounters with the original, it’s not nearly as feature-packed as you might expect. Capcom knew exactly which parts to leave intact, which parts to rework, and in some cases, scrap altogether.

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It’s interesting to compare this to Resident Evil 2 Remake, which was noted for how it updated and modernized the original without having to fundamentally change the level design and layout. RE4 Remake is more of a reimagining, and as a result, feels like more of an evolution of the series than any remake that came before it. Capcom is less interested in honoring or maintaining the integrity of what came before, which ultimately allows RE4 Remake to be a better game.

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You can see this right from the first chapter. The iconic opening battle, where ganados chase you across the village, remains completely intact. There isn’t a building or bullet case out of place, and it’s masterfully designed to tickle your nostalgia receptors. But as soon as it ends, everything is completely different. The farm has been converted, and unexpected threats await you there. Instead of going straight to the church, you instead take a significant detour to the quarry and enter entirely new territory. It feels like Capcom recreated RE4 from memory. The memorable moments – the initial fight in the village, the barricade in the cabin, the fight with Gigante – they are all exactly as you remember them, but the connective tissue between these scenes is completely different, and everything is much better.

RE4 Remake doesn’t suffer from the pacing issues of the original, as the developers managed to cleverly trim the fat by expanding underused spaces with new ideas that appeal to a more modern sensibility. In the original, after the lake battle with Del Lago, Leon passes out on the other side of the lake, then wakes up and immediately swims back to the church. This time, the lake opens up for exploration after a boss battle, not unlike the Lake of Nine chapter in God of War. There are treasures to find and side quests to complete if you want to spend time exploring, but you don’t have to if you think finding Ashley in the church is a more pressing concern. It’s a cool way that the remake added modern design to RE4, but what makes it so impressive is that a semi-open world like this is never done again. RE4 Remake is constantly being reimagined from chapter to chapter, from one encounter to another.

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One of the original’s greatest strengths is that it feels like it’s made up entirely of exciting set pieces without any filler, and the remake builds on that even more. In a game that’s ostensibly about walking backwards and shooting zombies, RE4 Remake manages to constantly change things up.

Not only are the enemies constantly evolving, but so are the environments and tools at your disposal. It manages to keep the pace perfect, constantly changing the formula and always giving you different ways to tackle each encounter. A seemingly simple path through the corridor actually has a dozen ways to approach it depending on the weapons and ammo you have at your disposal, your ability to stay stealthy, and how good you are at crowd control. There are countless ways to overcome each encounter, and while it’s not as systematic as an immersive simulator, there’s a level of playstyle expression here that we’ve never seen before in Resident Evil.

The bulk of this experience comes from combat upgrades that add stealth kills, parries, and knife strength. As you experiment and learn how it works, the weapon’s complexity shows impressive depth. You can still pull off the old knee deuce to drop an enemy and set them up for a spin kick, but now you can also manipulate how they fall to create an instant kill from behind.

Knife Stamina is essentially melee weapon ammo that you spend every time you parry, parry, parry, or slice someone’s throat, and managing this resource can be just as important as conserving ammo and herbs, depending on your playstyle . Some encounters can change completely depending on how you choose to approach them. This is the most advanced combat system and the best shooting in any Resident Evil. It’s unimaginable that someone could get through almost the entire game using a melee style, using stealth kills, and using a blade to block every attack without firing a single bullet – at least in the parts where Ashley isn’t around.

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The President’s Daughter remains a burden that is constantly present, but I can’t say that she disappointed me as much as in the original. You have a lot more control over her positioning with formation commands, and her damage system has been reworked. Instead of a health bar, Ashley can take an infinite amount of hits as long as you physically raise her each time. She can still be grabbed and taken away, or accidentally shot by you, but whenever things get out of hand, she always manages to find a way to remove herself from the battlefield.

She’s also much more mature and tolerable to be around in the remake, and while the relationship building and character development isn’t explored enough here, she and Leon manage to have adorable interactions. There isn’t much growth between them, especially compared to something like God of War, but I appreciate the effort put into fleshing out some of the characters and giving them better motivations and personalities.

The best example of this is Krauser, Leon’s battle buddy with a dark history that is mysterious and unfathomable in the original. Here, we have a much clearer understanding of Krauser’s backstory and his relationship with Leon, which further enhances the much-improved battle with him. You no longer have to roll Krauser around the makeshift arena waiting for the door to open. Instead, the theme of fighting his boss matches the conflict between the characters. It’s another example of how Capcom put thoughtful design into the remake to better support the themes and smooth out the rough edges of the original.

In fact, almost every boss fight sees significant improvements here. While Gigante’s fights are relatively untouched since they were already perfect, Mendes, Ramon and Krauser have been completely reworked. There is one boss that was removed, but unless you’re an RE4 diehard, I guarantee you won’t miss it. Resident Evil bosses tend to be weak and involve a lot of kiting and targeting weak spots, but each one feels like a unique challenge that often depends on the resources you have available, which should make them interesting to fight each playthrough.

There are a few new gameplay elements that I’m not allowed to detail due to an embargo. I will say that the new equipment-based passive bonus system, while optional, seems oddly appropriate for Resident Evil. It’s a simplistic role-playing system that the genre doesn’t really need, and it doesn’t make much of an impact on the gameplay. I’m very enthusiastic about the new crafting options, which give you more control over your playstyle while also adding some tough inventory management challenges. There are a lot more resources to find this time around, but finding the right item in a dire situation has never been so satisfying.

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Playing on hard mode, which is available from the start, is an incredible test of your skills and ability to use all the tools and combat mechanics at your disposal. Even as a Resident Evil veteran, I found the hardcore to be particularly oppressive at times, which I mean as the highest praise. I constantly found myself in situations that seemed insurmountable, but I still managed to get out of them with just one bullet, a broken knife, and a prayer. Over the years, the Resident Evil series has oscillated between survival horror and B-movie action, and this is the perfect balance of both. Leon is a fun guy who jokes around doing unnecessary backflips, but the horror of shooting a crowd of cultists with pitchforks is very real and incredibly effective.

During the 20 hour game of Hardcore, I had the best time possible and immediately fired up New Game+ in pro mode to see how well I could test all the lessons learned throughout the game. It exceeded my high expectations overall and is Capcom’s best work in the series. I usually still take the time to look at some minor annoyance or baked-in section, but I just don’t think games get much better than this.

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further: Will RE4 End Resident Evil Rebirth?