The Resident Evil 4 Chainsaw Demo is great but also exactly what you’d expect

Will updated mechanics work with classic set-pieces?
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After running through the Resident Evil 4 (2023) “Chainsaw Demo” three times – on PC and Xbox Series consoles – and considering the success of the prior games, I think Capcom has another success story lined up. There’s no denying the RE Engine has demonstrated incredible versatility since the release of 2017’s first-person Resident Evil VII through to last year’s third-person Resident Evil: Village expansion but that shared framework means fans of the resurgent IP will find Resident Evil 4 looks and plays exactly as you’d expect.

Everything Old Is New Again

The Chainsaw Demo is a mostly faithful recreation of the opening sequence from Resident Evil 4 (2005), running from Leon’s first encounter with a Ganado to the village battle against a horde of them and a chainsaw-wielding brute. Although we’re only seeing a fraction of the three-act story, it seems Capcom is sticking to the Resident Evil 2 remake template, a mix of tweaked and faithful encounters, rather than the sweeping changes of the Resident Evil 3 remake.

The fate of one of the Spanish police officers escorting Leon has been tweaked, leading into an expanded sequence in the hunter’s cottage that reveals the nature of the threat, before the fate of the second officer and the village battle plays out exactly like the original (aside from an encounter with a dog you can no longer save). Most cutscenes are slightly tweaked or faithfully reproduced, though new cutscenes are present and replace the Metal Gear-style radio conversions with agent Hunnigan.

As for how it plays? Well, if you’ve played the RE2 remake, you’ll have a good idea of how Leon moves, fights, and interacts with the environment 90% of the time. The question I was left with is whether that approach will work with many classic Resident Evil 4 set-pieces.

Some basics remain the same. RE (2005) introduced several RPG-lite elements: There was a Tetris-style “Attache Case” inventory to manage. There were collectible valuables and currency that could be used to buy new weapons, upgrades, and consumables from a mysterious merchant. There were herb recipes and a few rare consumables that could permanently improve Leon’s maximum health. There were even optional mini-games and simple side quests that rewarded unique gear or upgrades. Seeing as Resident Evil 4 (2023) retains the inventory system and combine mechanic (renamed “crafting”), I’d imagine those other elements will return too.

However, when it comes to minute-to-minute gameplay, things feel significantly different. Leon moves slowly and cautiously, turns around slowly, and takes a second or two to shift between postures like sprinting or aiming. It feels more cinematic and grounds him in the environment, but the result is a game that feels far less responsive than the original. Avoiding enemies in cramped interiors, making space to line up a shot, or snapping off shots at close range all feel less viable.

To offset this, your knife has a quick-slash “parry” ability and Leon can crouch for some basic stealth takedowns in some spots – both of which incur a slight decease in durability.

Talking of shooting, I’ll admit up front I’ve never gelled with the new RE Engine gunplay. Perhaps I’m just showing my age, but to me, a good survival-horror game is about deciding what weapon to use and when to use it not skill-based shooting.

By default, Resident Evil 4 (2023) has that pixel-precise aiming, coupled with tight hitboxes and erratic, sinuous enemy movement. Yes, the Ganados in the original release were not traditional zombies, could wield weapons, and bob and weave to avoid your aiming laser, but landing your shots felt far more reliable. I guess I’m just torn as while I enjoy methodical, bullet-counting gameplay, the updated mechanics make for more desperate and scrappy firefights.

A game-changing mechanic introduced in the RE4 was Leon’s melee follow-up attacks. These return, of course, allowing you to stun a Ganado with a head- or knee-shot, then deliver a powerful punch or kick. If you knock them flat, the remake allows you to follow up with a lethal knife strike. It’s a move you can also pull off when grabbed or if you manage to sneak up behind them while crouched, though knife durability is an issue.

The downside is that the melee follow-up attacks no longer work as well for crowd control, with sweeping kicks and stumbling or falling Ganados demonstrating little impact on the surrounding horde. Maybe it’s a mechanic with its own upgrade path, but multiple attempts to use melee in the village battle simply left me surrounded and quickly cut down.

At least Resident Evil 4 (2023) will include multiple difficulty settings, auto-aim assists for those who want or need them, and optional visual modes for those with colour vision deficiency.

 Resident Evil 4 Visuals

Often the most praise-worthy element of any remake is the overhauled presentation and Resident Evil 4 (2023) looks and sounds great.

Before playing the demo, I fired up the 2016 Xbox One re-release of RE4 and, while I think they did an incredible job with the character models and atmosphere, much of the game has not aged well, and scaling up the resolution only highlights the limitations. The environments and objects within it are crude and angular, 2D sprites are used for most foilage, surfaces have smeared out low-resolution textures, and the lighting often looks flat and washed out by modern standards.

In contrast, Resident Evil 4 (2023) makes extensive use of photogrammetry to provide detailed, high-resolution textures for more intricate and lifelike environments. The same applies to the excellent character models that feature more natural movement – as far as twisted Ganados can – and better interaction with each other and the environment. The mood feels considerably darker and more gruesome, helped no end by gory decals in the environment and on enemies, great lighting, and atmospheric effects; presumably the benefit of having four prior games worth of diverse assets to draw from. The limited voice work in the demo sounds close enough to the original cast, in both accent and delivery. Similarly, while RE4 always had a great soundscape, the remake expands on it and includes immersive directional audio options.

The only downside, at least for now, is console performance. The consoles get ray-tracing, resolution, and performance modes yet again but – assuming this demo is indicative of the launch state – ditching visual features for a more stable 60fps is the most logical approach for those without VRR displays. Once again, there seems to be no 30fps cap for the enhanced visual modes, despite a serviceable 30fps cap available in the PC version – which also seems well-optimised and offers a ton of granular visual settings to get the best performance for your hardware.

 Resident Evil 4 Chainsaw Man

Current Impressions

Although just a snippet of a much larger game, the Resident Evil 4 (2023) Chainsaw Demo gives a good idea of what to expect. A lavishly recreated and sometimes tweaked version of RE4 with updated gameplay mechanics most similar to the RE2 remake. If you’ve never played the original RE4 but enjoyed the prior remakes, or if you enjoyed the original but want a modernised experience, this should be a safe bet.

On the other hand, I doubt Resident Evil 4 (2023) is going to render the original completely redundant (like the excellent Resident Evil (2002) remake did for the very first game). The updated but sluggish movement and combat mechanics don’t always gel with the action-heavy set-pieces that feature hordes of Ganados. Assuming this demo is representative of the whole, I’d still bet on there being a significant number of fans that prefer the less cinematic and more responsive gameplay of the original.

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