Why It’s Good: Resident Evil 4’s Knife System

Oliver Gallina
5 min readJun 2, 2023
It’s good because you can do this (all screenshots taken by me)

I love Resident Evil 4 (2023), and I think it makes a bunch of wonderful, thoughtful improvements on the original 2005 game. One of my favorite improvements is the knife system, which has been greatly expanded upon compared to the original. Today I’m going to analyze why the new RE4’s Knife System is so good.

For context, in the 2005 game, the knife sufficed as the player’s melee attack, and was useful largely for getting in some extra damage on stunned or downed enemies, and breaking open item containers. In some encounters you could also slash enemy arrows and projectiles out of the air with it via the same melee attack. It was neat, and useful in situations that called for it, though it wasn’t very exciting compared to the rest of the game’s combat and resource systems.

In the original game the knife had, more or less, two uses: damaging / stunning enemies without using ammo, and dealing extra damage while they’re down.

In the new Resident Evil 4, however, the knife has been injected into the game’s core resource management loop, and outfitted with some engaging new combat abilities, including a Parry; it has become a much more integral part of the game, and much more interesting to use as a result. I’ll go over these new design elements one by one.

Durability, Upgrades, and Consumable Knives

One of the first things you’ll notice about the knife in 2023’s Resident Evil 4 is that it’s breakable; using the knife over time will degrade it until it shatters, preventing you from using it until you spend money on repairs. This makes the knife feel like a precious resource you should only use when you need it most, forcing you to carefully consider its use throughout every encounter for the rest of the game.

Once you meet the Merchant and gain access to the shop in Chapter 2, you’re able to spend money to not only repair the knife, but also upgrade its power and durability. This is a great way to keep the knife interesting over the course of the game, offering the player the choice between relying more on their knife or on their guns.

The knife repair / upgrade sub-menu, which I agonized over constantly during my first playthrough

On top of this, consumable knives, which are a lot less powerful and durable, can be picked up in the level, rewarding you for exploration, and serving as backups in case your main knife is broken. They also play into the resource management loop by asking you to consider each knife’s use; should you burn through your kitchen knives to open up inventory space, should you keep your main knife equipped and fall back on kitchen knives when necessary, etc.

Also, knives take up space in your inventory, which makes them just that bit more engaging to deal with

Expanded Moveset

Resident Evil 4’s knife has a greater variety of attacks compared to the original, lending it greater utility in a wider range of cases:

  • Pressing R2 uses its standard wide slash, useful for hitting multiple enemies at once.
  • Holding L1 along with R2 results in a faster forward stab, targeted more at taking down one specific enemy quicker.
1st: R2 wide slash. 2nd: L1 + R2 quick stab
  • You can also sneak up behind enemies and backstab them for an instant kill, stab & break free from enemies who have grabbed you, and execute a downed enemy before they can get back up; these techniques use up a big chunk of durability, which fits considering their high impact.
Powerful, but durability-draining sneak attack, which also allows for a stealthier playstyle if you so choose
1st: Executing downed enemies is especially useful if they’re just about to “enrage,” reviving as a more powerful version of themselves. 2nd: You can sacrifice a chunk of durability to get enemies off of you, saving some health in the process

Due to this expanded moveset, the knife comes in handy a lot more often than in the original game, making it a more attractive strategic choice more often for the player; this improved utility, I believe, is balanced out by its durability limitations.

Parry

You can deflect an enemy’s attack just before it hits you, temporarily stunning the enemy and occasionally prompting you to follow up with a melee attack, which deals damage and knocks any nearby enemies to the ground. This ability is exciting to perform and extremely rewarding to pull off, adding a new dimension of skill and reaction to the game’s combat that wasn’t present at all in the original. It also takes some durability to perform, which again makes you consider when exactly to parry.

The moment an enemy’s attack is parried, followed by their stunned state where you are (sometimes, but not always, interestingly) prompted to melee attack
You can also parry enemies’ projectiles & thrown objects when the L1 prompt flashes, which is a great way to codify your ability to knife-attack projectiles out of the air from the original game.

2023’s Resident Evil 4 essentially looked at the knife in the original game and thought, “What more can we do with this?” It expanded on the system in natural, interesting ways that increased the knife’s usefulness & level of engagement, making it a core part of the remake’s identity in the process. This is just one new system out of the many added to the remake of Resident Evil 4, but I think it exemplifies the game’s philosophy of constantly looking for ways to improve on the 2005 classic.

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