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Resident Evil 4 Remake review: A bolder, Leon-hearted version of a classic, refined in every way

“This time, it can be different.” And that’s okay. In fact, it's more than OK.

Resident Evil 4 Remake has finally caught up with Leon. Just as the Resi 4 protagonist is all grown up when we first see him in the 2005 original, Capcom has finally made a game that reflects how much he's matured – but that doesn’t mean the camp nature of the original cult classic is lost; it’s merely evolved to be more in line with the series’ tone.

The original Resident Evil 4 nudged the series down a more action-oriented path, and after teasing the less horror-driven route for a while, it was with the original game that Capcom got the blend between action and survival horror just right.

But Resident Evil, at its core, is a terrifying horror series. The best out there, even. Resident Evil 4 strayed from the path ever so slightly, and despite being fantastic for it, Resident Evil 4 Remake shows us that this entry in the series can be just as gritty and tense and frightening as the rest – without compromising on fun.

If you're intrigued, you can try the Resident Evil 4 4 Remake demo for yourself now.

I’ll state what you’re no doubt wanting (or, perhaps, not wanting) to hear; yes, there have been plenty of changes in the Resident Evil 4 Remake. The majority are for the better, though — without delving into details I am not yet allowed to — I did find myself disappointed from time to time.

The original game was a cult classic in and of itself as a result of its moments of camp; they're what the community know, love, and often bond over. To see some of Leon's most iconic moments get the cut was definitely disheartening, but I can't say it wasn't expected. Resident Evil 4 Remake clearly needed the room to grow into what it is – a great game – but it misses out on some of the original's best moments .

However, what has been added in place of these iconic moments feels sophisticated, modern, and relevant. If you want the old game, the narrative is similar enough to cater to you. The story, combat, and characters in Resident Evil 4 Remake have been cultivated and cropped to their prime, and what we’re left with is one hell of an adventure, albeit a less facetious one.

The series' combat has always been fun, but long gone are the days of standing rigidly still to shoot, wrestling with tank controls to pilot your character through a door. Sure, you’ll no doubt get caught on the scenery or cornered from time to time, but a more interactive environment (where combat feels more impactful) makes up for that. As do the expanded boss fights. With an intuitive crafting menu and more functional inventory to boot, putting grenades, ammo, and medicine together in a pinch feels more immediate, and more involved.

Nothing scarier than books.

Beyond how it feels in your hands, the most impressive about the Resident Evil 4 Remake is its story-telling. For those unfamiliar with the game, the original game sees Leon shipped off to a Spanish village to rescue the US President's daughter, Ashley. The original felt a little lacking in colour, with underdeveloped characters and out-of-context bytes of narrative. Remake addresses this, and leans into the stories and personalities of each character more than ever.

The result? Ashley looks, sounds, and functions so much better as a companion. She has the personality of an actual daughter of the elite; fully fleshed-out, no longer accompanying us to simply scream, belligerently, at Leon. She’s even quite badass this time around, with witty quips and a personality that makes her character feel more human – more than just another NPC. We can tell her to keep close, or steer clear, and she’ll even warn us when a Ganado is approaching us from behind. And it never feels overbearing.

Quite mouthy.

I couldn’t stand the segments with Ashley in the original. How many nights have I fallen asleep with “Leon, help!” still ringing in my ears? In the Remake, Ashley is actually humanised, no longer destined to be a piece of eye-candy for players (we have Ada for that, right?) Ashley is the privileged daughter of someone important, sure, but this isn’t her entire personality any more. She is no longer completely inept, or destined to hide in dumpsters. She can even climb down ladders all by herself now! Imagine that.

Let’s not forget about Luis and Ada, either. Who, without spoiling too much, we’ll be seeing a little more of throughout the Remake (in a pattern well-established by Resident Evil Remakes 2 and 3). And they're not the only folk we'll come face to face with more than once. You best believe Resident Evil 4 Remake is packed with surprises.

Hammer it home: this is a good game.

I can't stop playing. So much so that my plans for New Game Plus (yes, there’s New Game Plus!) are to do the stealthiest run possible using only Leon’s knife. I probably won’t get that far before needing to repair it, but I look forward to seeing Resident Evil content creators doing what they do best with this evolved version of Resident Evil 4: madcap runs of the game that this Remake has been so consciously shaped to accommodate.

I can’t express enough how excited I am to see the community’s reactions to these changes, and to see others experience the story of Resident Evil 4 on such a grand scale for the first time. Sure, there’ll be some disappointed to see their favourite moment has been lost to time, but I am confident the Remake will pleasantly surprise even the most nostalgia-addled of players.

The continuing string of successful Resident Evil Remakes makes me hopeful for the future, too. I’ve made it very clear over time that I am not the biggest fan of Resident Evil 5 or 6, however, this Remake – and seeing all the intricate detail entwined into the remake of this timeless classic without losing its magic – has me more open-minded for what’s coming next.

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