Over the past decade or so, Resident Evil has slowly become one of my favorite game series. Whether it’s trying to legitimately scare you or make you destroy supposedly scary things like a cinematic action hero, Resident Evil finds a way to satisfy me in multiple ways, even in manners that some fans would consider sacrilegious.
Take for example, that on this blog site I have an article dedicated to my apologetics over Resident Evil 6, the least horrifying and most action oriented main entry, often despised for that reason and that yes, there are some gameplay mechanics that aren’t as fully thought out or polished as they should be. I classified RE6 as a mastermess, not a masterpiece. But, my God, what a continuously fun and even more often than not mechanically intelligent mess it is.
I bring up Resident Evil 6, the fandom’s punching bag as the newest entry in the series, in truth the thirteenth not eighth installment in the pioneering franchise, has many echoes to the most divisive or hated period so far in the run. Resident Evils 4-6 is that contested or dismissed middle period though 4 continues to be unabashedly beloved for being, you know, one of the most influential and best video games ever made.
The “action” trilogy as I would call it saw a rising emphasis on players fighting and defeating the terrors that lied in their wake rather than thoughtfully avoiding and outlasting them. By RE6, clearing the area of enemies was the norm, which flies in the face of Resident Evil’s roots that barring some special unlockables that are earned through blood, sweat and tears on the player’s part, you will never kill every enemy in this kind of game. That was the original point. You’re doomed if you try.
More than any other game in the series except for 4, in which this entry deliberately echoes, Resident Evil 8: Village is the best game in regards to mixing a genuine horror atmosphere and the action packed feel discussed. RE8 contains one of, if not the scariest sequence I’ve ever experienced in the series while also having moments that would be right at home with RE5 and 6’s sensibilities, though the absurdity of those same games remains toned down.
A direct follow-up to Resident Evil 7: biohazard, the 2017 entry that brought the series back to its horror roots as well as for the first time into first person view, you continue the story of Ethan Winters as he tries to get over the grindhouse terror of that one insane night in the Louisiana bayou. RE8 cements Ethan’s status as the RE protagonist whose role above all is to suffer. Most will feel very sorry for Ethan’s life story by the time the credits roll.
Conceived as the “everyman” character who is thrust into events that would break almost anyone else, Ethan perseveres through pain, fear, fatigue and psychological trauma all because at the end of the day, he is a really good person. He just wants to have a quiet life with his wife Mia, a fellow survivor of RE7, and their infant daughter Rose.
He’s unlike most other survivor protagonists from REs past like Chris Redfield, his sister Claire, Jill and Leon, who in one form or another dedicate their lives to fighting the pharmaceutical monsters that plague their world. Once Ethan survived the first time, he was perfectly happy wanting to never bother with any of the frightful intrigue that has built up over the course of a series that just celebrated its 25th anniversary.
Ethan is often framed as being the most “relatable” of the protagonists of the series through a number of ways. Aside from his young everyman getup who initially had no combat experience, he often simply yet bluntly sums ups his experiences much the way the player would say it. Being a first person protagonist, his face is deliberately kept from view, often to hysterical measures. Ignoring that Ethan’s facial appearance was already datamined from RE7 so we already know what he looks like to begin with….
Well, in RE8’s case, the game goes out of its way to hide a face that is already known. In the opening section taking place in Ethan and Mia’s new home curiously located in Romania, all the mirrors in the house that should show his mug are covered up, for no explainable reason.
The game has cinematic cutscenes, so when Ethan appears in the third person, his face is kept offscreen in a way that is as technically impressive as it is humorously distracting. This becomes funnier considering how emotionally heavy the conclusion of Resident Evil 8 is otherwise. Even the character model viewer that is unlocked upon beating the game insists on covering the poor guy’s kisser in shadow.
I get it on some level: Capcom wants to make Ethan an avatar for the average player, making you and me feel as if we are Ethan Winters. The same reason is given for Gordon Freeman, the beloved mute protagonist of the Half-Life series. Of course, fans of the series now overwhelmingly associate Gordon’s appearence off the promotional material as a brown haired and goateed bespectacled man with an appropriately determined expression.
When I play Half-Life, I don’t think of myself as being Gordon Freeman, I think I’m controlling an individual independent from myself. I am given authorial control over how I think Gordon may be processing the many crazy, bewildering things he encounters on his adventures, but otherwise I don’t think of Half-Life as being my story over Gordon’s in the same way I would imbue Commander Shepard’s. Even then, in Mass Effect’s case, there’s plenty to my Commander Shepard that is and will never be me.
In one department, Ethan is already unlike me: he’s a family man and I, as of now at 28 years old, am not. With the bleak way the world is turning nowadays, I would find it exceptionally cruel and selfish to bring a child of mine into the world. That diatribe aside, Ethan’s commendable fatherly commitment to being the best dad ever is not something I can wholly relate to because I’m not a dad, much like how I’m not nor ever will be a theoretical physicist like Dr. Freeman.
Of course, it doesn’t entirely matter that Capcom’s ham-fisted but conceptually well meaning attempt at player-character synthesis is more awkward than not. What I want in a Resident Evil game and a little bit more is here and that was what I wanted to begin with.
Events transpire to place Ethan back in the world of survival horror no matter how badly he wished he could avoid it. He’s taken measures to protect himself and his family. He volunteered for combat training with none other than series legend Chris Redfield, who escorted him and wife Mia off the plantation setting of RE7 to safety.
He keeps a book around the house about gun and close quarters combat so he can stay honed in case worse comes to pass (which of course it does). He stays in contact with Chris due to him being part of a now seemingly reformed Umbrella Corporation which has become a PMC explicitly to fight bio-organic weapons, a catch-all term for the creatures which are RE’s gallery of enemies. Umbrella was the original antagonist of the Resident Evil series which created the viruses that make the monsters like the iconic zombies.
One night in their new spacious home in Romania, which strangely reminds me of Nathan Drake and Elena’s home from Uncharted 4, gun-shots pierce through the windows during dinner and hit Mia straight on. Ethan can only duck in stunned silence as a new nightmare begins by the very people he thought would protect him, Mia and baby daughter Rose. Chris, now appearing like his normal bulky self again after the despised redesign for RE7, comes in personally and fires several shots right in Mia’s head. Has the hero become the villain, as Aaron Eckhart warned us about all those years ago?
Ethan is dragged out of his house by Chris and his men and little Rose is taken out of her crib as well. Like in the beginning of Ethan’s first journey of survival, he is filled with questions. The one question that is never answered is why Chris would relocate the Winters’ not just to Romania of all places, but within proximity of the titular spooky village, which has managed to avoid outside discovery for a century as we learn. That’s one insane contrivance you are going to learn to accept, as RE8 is generally willing to clear away just about every other question you will have, including some you didn’t even think to ask in the first place.
Ethan eventually ends up separated from Chris and his team and finds himself entering at daybreak the village, with a beautiful Castlevania-like castle in the background. Very soon, like with the Baker plantation from last time, Ethan finds that everything is not fine whatsoever in this hamlet that seems for the most part trapped in the past.
It’s here where the many, many callbacks to one particular entry in the series make their start: for Resident Evil 4. Capcom was transparent about RE8 being inspired by that landmark entry and wanted to not just place players back in an ominous European village trapped in time but to also see it happen in first person and with some changes that are just different enough that it won’t feel like Village is just copying what came before.
It’s allusions to past glories are obvious, but never lazy, feeling like an earned self-congratulation that lands more than not. The opening moment of Ethan exploring the village eventually culminates in confronting one of the two base enemies of RE VIII: Lycans or if you want to be more to the point werewolves.
Fear not, it’s not supernatural, there’s no need when mad Lovecraftian science can take it’s place as explanation anyway. Like with Leon’s iconic arrival in the Spanish village in 4 where once the villagers spot him, all hell breaks loose, soon both the player and Ethan are frantically scrambling to find some modicum of safety as the village’s “residents” start descending upon you.
Leon’s frightening fight against overwhelming numbers in 4 was further punctuated by the arrival of Dr. Salvador, the chainsaw wielding foe that would kill you in one hit if he got close enough to you. The shock of that happening on top of all the other villagers trying to gut you made 4’s opening one of the most remembered opening hours in any game ever made, not to mention one hell of a tone setter.
With Ethan, it takes the player either attacking the werewolves prowling around the village or entering a certain house for the gauntlet to be thrown down. While the novelty is clearly not here, being a homage to 4’s beginning, the insane pressure and momentum, now viewed from the character’s eyes rather than over the shoulder, has been maintained. What makes it a still great opening salvo for Ethan’s time in the village is most apparent the first time playing: what to do?
Where does Ethan and the player go? What items can they grab before risking getting mauled, how long can they hold out, where should they hold out? Like the chainsaw enemy of 4, eventually a giant hammer wielding opponent jumps into the arena out of the blue making matters even worse. Unlike the chainsaw man, Urias the hammer wielding giant won’t kill you in one blow, unless you’re on the truly punishing highest difficulty of “Village of Shadows”, but would you be surprised that getting hurt by him is worse than by a Lycan?
Like with RE4, the endless parade of enemies coming at you ends with a cutscene, some force commanding the horde is compelled to leave you alone right at the darkest moment. As Ethan gets his bearings, I couldn’t help but mutter to myself Leon’s corny response to that situation in his game ,”Where’s everyone going, bingo?”
Very soon does RE8 distinguish itself as being more than just RE4 in first person. It maintains most of the elements that are familiar to the classic formula: puzzles to solve, open-ended areas to explore, item management and so forth.
The village is a nexus for four distinct locations with their own regional boss for Ethan to fight and overcome in his efforts to rescue his daughter Rose who he learns is soon in the main villain’s hands, not Chris’. Led by the enigmatic Mother Miranda who takes on the appearance of a witch with raven like features, she has four lords under her thrall and all representing a cornerstone of gothic horror, which is RE8’s visual aesthetic. The most famous, due to her pre-release attention that took on absurd amounts of fandom, is Lady Alcina Dimitrescu, a 9 foot tall monster of a woman who runs the castle overlooking the village.
It’s kind of a shame that the most iconic of the secondary villains in RE8 is the first up to bat for Ethan to confront. While Capcom had its narrative reasons and also knew players would want to experience her and her castle’s intrigue as soon as possible, it also means that you will after a point have to leave behind one of the most thematically and visually striking locations in the game for good. After Lady D is defeated, there is no return for any reason to the macabre yet beautiful castle she walks the halls of. Again, the game is called Resident Evil: Village, not Castle, and there’s much more to see afterwards, but I make my point.
The castle’s internal appearence is meant to both recall the castellan from RE4 as well as the various mansion like locations that have graced the series since the original. It doesn’t take long for Castle Dimitrescu to forge a visual identity that is distinct enough and give off a history that is as grim as it is sad.
One thing to note about all four of the Lords under Miranda’s command is that there are varying degrees of pitiability to all of them, maybe even Miranda as well. Like how RE7 slowly reveals that the grotesque Baker family that hunts you were originally a warm-hearted group of people (save one) that were tragically victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the Lords all have aspects that will make you feel something other than fright or revulsion.
Lady Dimitrescu is the least pitiable as are her three daughters. They are based off the vampire archetype. They drink blood to replenish themselves as well as ensure their practical immortality. Being bit by them does not make you a vampire because in truth they are inspired by vampires but aren’t literally ones. Again, it’s that insane medical science that exists in Resident Evil’s world.
Like vampires, they like big castles to roam around, the daughters dislike direct sunlight and they take on the aristocratic attributes seen in a lot of vampire popular culture. It is that elitist mindset, that they are entitled to prey and feast on poor Ethan that makes them least sympathetic. Instead, when Ethan confronts Lady Dimitrescu and her daughters one by one while searching for his daughter and a way out, I felt sorry that they could not recognize why other people like Ethan wouldn’t like being prey and are increasingly frustrated at his refusal to curl up and accept death.
It’s also clear that for all their mutual depravity, the mistress of the castle dearly loves her daughters and they in turn love her back. This “resident evil” I dare call it are not evil towards each other in the end.
It is also at the castle that we meet the Duke, a clear successor to the mysterious yet popular merchant of Resident Evil 4. The RE4 Merchant is one of the most entertaining mysteries in the franchise, a mystery that no one in particular actually wants to know the truth about. In Leon’s game from years past, the Merchant pops up out of nowhere, all too happy to assist our hunky hero in his quest to rescue the President’s daughter, for a price of course.
Despite his grim, almost enemy like appearence, the Merchant is never a threat to Leon. You can even shoot him dead and he will show up at a later point in the game, no worse for wear and unconcerned you shot him. What the Merchant mechanically brought to RE4 was so excellent and was such a fun fellow to listen to you with his strange Cockney like accent, that no one was bothered by how out of place he narratively was.
The Duke serves the same function but is actually integral to the plot, assisting Ethan in not just procuring items for him to buy but gives information on where to exactly go to save his daughter Rose. He reminds me somewhat of Vergil from Dante’s Inferno, a guide with some enigmatic qualities.
The Duke also makes Ethan food for free to improve his statistics and health, defense and accuracy, so long as Ethan brings the right ingredients through hunting wildlife throughout the game.
The Duke is not just callback to another facet of Resident Evil 4, he is an expansion of the overall idea and one of the best realized ones. I wouldn’t mind if the Duke returned in a future title, whether that be Resident Evil 9 or not.
After the journey up, down and below Castle Dimitrescu and one Bloodborne-looking final battle with the not so fair-Lady, Ethan’s next location to visit is House Beneviento, home to Donna Beneviento and her creepy as hell collection of dolls. In-between the regions Ethan must visit, the Village itself becomes more and more accessible, mostly to explore for treasures which when sold give you much needed Lei (Romanian currency like with RE4’s Spanish setting having pesetas) to upgrade weapons and buy ammo and equipment.
Once Ethan unlocks the gate taking him to House Beneviento, he and the player then enter what is in my opinion one of Resident Evil’s most terrifying sequences.
When most talk about RE8’s highs and lows, many consider House Beneviento or “the Doll House” to be the highlight of the game, wisely undermarketed to make its presence in the game more striking for the unspoiled player. Many lament that nothing before or after this House near a waterfall has anything close to the sheer rising dread and horrifying release of anticipation waiting for you there. I have rarely found any one Resident Evil to have any one moment that scared me like what I saw and heard in that house.
I feel it best that I spoil the least about this section of the game. What I have already said may be too much. To put it another way, the Resident Evil series has finally captured the same fear experienced in the early Silent Hill games, namely Silent Hill 2. It’s a segment that both torments Ethan and the player as well as make them truly vulnerable. I will say nothing more and simply warn that you are making things harder on yourself if you play this section for the first time with headphones on and the light turned off like I did. Or you’re doing yourself one hell of a favor.
As I espoused earlier, there is a sad sympathy to the Four Lords and Donna Beneviento might be the most sympathetic. Due to having considerable mental illness in combination with the powers she is given by Mother Miranda through the “mold” that is the scientific plot device for both RE7 and 8, she is possibly not fully aware of the awful things she does.
It left quite an impression on me that the Lord that spooked me best is also the one that I would feel most sorry for. Supposedly, it should be the other way around. Not here. Before I tempt fate and keep talking about her and her section and really ruin it for you, let’s move on to the third, least frightening Lord: poor Salvatore Moreau.
While Donna is said to be inspired by ghost stories, Moreau based on his name is inspired by the titular antagonist for The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. I don’t know if anyone would call that classic tale “gothic” but like Frankenstein, it’s about scientific pursuit involving life going so wrong.
Moreau isn’t just pitiable, he’s just pathetic. A hunchbacked figure of limited intelligence save for one grotesque specialty, Moreau is disliked by basically everyone. Ethan doesn’t like him, the other Lords don’t care for him and most importantly, Mother Miranda disregards him. Out of all the Lords, Moreau wants most to be loved by her. He is most keen to make her happy in stopping Ethan.
Moreau’s section involving a series of mines followed by a sunken village with windmills is often called the weakest portion of the game. It’s by no means bad and does involve some clever puzzles and a fun callback to RE4’s own lake section involving one giant fish that wants to make you supper.
The mild derision for this sequence likely stems from it coming right after the best moment of the game in the Doll House. Many would hope that what RE8 is serving up for you next would be just as harrowing if not more. It’s not, though if you have a real fear of dangers which lurk under the water, it might be a bit more effective. Here, it’s simply fun and much of the intrigue here comes from Ethan facing a dangerous entity that is so miserable and lonely.
The boss fight with Moreau does have a clever twist to it but it’s otherwise straightforward. Ultimately, considering the framing of Moreau being the bad guy who sucks, maybe this section in practice is quite intentional in being a letdown compared to Lady Dimitrescu and Donna Beneviento.
The fourth and final lord is Heisenberg, directly inspired by Frankenstein and with motivations that are not entirely beyond player disagreement. In terms of vocal performance, Heisenberg is probably my favorite character. He takes the series’ penchant for having hammy, self-indulgent villains and almost acts as a self-aware parody of that convention, which in turn might be the slyest callback to RE4 yet.
Resident Evil 4, for all of its genuine and successful attempts at horror, was seen as the first game to have a tongue-in-cheek attitude about itself and the series’ own struggle to maintain tonal consistency. Heisenberg is deadly serious about his intentions, but he tries to make a game of his actions more than anyone else in RE8.
As the page header infers, Heisenberg’s voice and temperament reminds me of Hunter S. Thompson or Thompson’s avatar Raoul Duke from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I’m not the first to make the comparison and it might not have been intentional on Capcom’s part, possibly something that his voice actor Neil Newbon thought would be cool to try out for what on the outside seems to be the most normal of Miranda’s subjects.
Despite me loving Heisenberg, he is still a figure meant to have some amount of player dislike and it comes from how short-sided and egotistical the character is. He and Ethan both have a common goal in truth and had he not been so solipsistic, he might have made RE8 a much less harrowing adventure for both involved.
Heisenberg’s location, a factory, is where Resident Evil Village’s higher emphasis on combat compared to 7 comes into focus. This has left mixed feelings for those in the playerbase not wanting the series to return to an overly action based experience. The escalation from horror to action has been a long-standing issue since jump.
Even in the original glory days for the series on the original PlayStation, there was an escalating focus on action. Though all beloved by fans, the increase in explosive set-pieces overtime made the divisive middle period of 4-6 all but inevitable. After the return to horror with Ethan’s first game with RE7, was it also inevitable that action as a core tenet would return?
RE8, like RE4, does manage to mostly toe the line between the two seemingly at-odds sentiments of the series. There is a section following Heisenberg’s factory which was widely condemned for being a descent into straight up action, a moment of criticism that hopefully has not gone beyond Capcom’s notice in the development of RE9 and anything else on the table.
What makes Heisenberg’s Factory work despite the increased focus on fighting enemies and defeating them is the style of the place. It is a darkly lit, grimy industrial hell where a bunch of modified zombie like enemies attack you with grafted on drills, hammers and knives. I’m not even kidding when I say you are basically playing Resident Evil’s own version of Wolfenstein, namely the modern titles made by MachineGames. That Heisenberg calls his minions “Soldats”, just like the Nazis BJ Blazcowicz lays waste to almost makes me think that unlike the Thompson reference, this might’ve been intentional.
Like RE4, if you’re going to up the action tempo, make it at least awesome, and here it certainly is. There’s even a couple of moments that I did fine genuinely creepy in regards to Ethan’s confrontation with the full metal army.
But once again, perhaps as prelude to the denounced “straight up action” sequence coming right after, the final fight with Heisenberg, while fun and epic, does begin to beggar belief in relation to the relative groundedness of the rest of RE8 up until that point. Perhaps as almost self-confession, there is a cheeky reference to one of the series’ most ludicrous and mocked moments, a certain moment from Resident Evil 5 involving a boulder. The bout with Heisenberg is not nearly as stupid as the moment mentioned, but it’s worth pointing out.
I’ve made a point out of detailing the general progression of RE8 on a structural level. While I’ve tried to omit details for the most part, the section by section breakdown is why I felt the need to mention spoilers in the title at all. That the game has been out since this May and has sold a pretty penny already, I felt comfortable with the format I went with here.
Now for something unrelated to Resident Evil 8. Or maybe not.
There was general confusion that following the underwhelming remake of Resident Evil 3, the next game Capcom would choose to reimagine wouldn’t be the next and possibly last old title in need of some kind of facelift: Code Veronica, originally released as a Sega Dreamcast exclusive in 2000.
It made sense on a number of levels. Due to Resident Evil 2’s wildly successful and excellent remake, players new and old would want to see the next chapter in RE2 protagonist Claire’s story, which is Code Veronica. For some, CV was the actual Resident Evil 3, and narratively it is actually one of the most important in the franchise, for how much that’s worth.
Aside from getting to see a new spanking game with the Claire Redfield brought to life in face and voice by Stephanie Panisello, we would get to have a new Resident Evil game with a younger Chris Redfield, Claire’s brother, who appears in RE8 nearly 50 years old, not that it’s easy to tell.
Due to to its initial exclusivity on the Dreamcast, a well loved console that ultimately died in the console wars facing the PlayStation 2, original Xbox and Nintendo Gamecube, Code Veronica is one of the more underexposed main entries in the franchise. It did receive an HD remaster for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but that was not quite the same as the remake treatment for the first three games.
I recently for the first time played Code Veronica. It’s overall a great entry but with some hurdles that are deserving of being addressed. It is perhaps one of the most punishing titles in difficulty due to there being certain windows of opportunity that if missed, make the third act of the game either extremely hard if not impossible to complete. Only in hindsight or by looking up a guide did I realize I had missed several things that would make the rest of Code Veronica if not easy, much more tolerable an experience.
If that wasn’t enough, a Remake of Code Veronica could involve genuine improvements in narrative ways, such as making side character Steve Burnside, one of the most gratingly annoying figures I’ve ever had to put up with in a video game, into at least someone that I didn’t want to freeze into carbonite like I would Jar-Jar.
There’s also the Ashford twins, the creepy, blond-haired, incestous aristocrats whose family are one of the co-founders of Umbrella. There is something quite disturbing in how the Ashford siblings can be executed in a remake. Their sociopathic indifference to anyone below their station, their obsessive mad love for one another and them being so, so eugenics happy.
How the original game did the Ashford Twins leaves much to be desired, often suggesting the possibility of something better and more frightening than what we get. The awful, shrill performances of the Ashfords in combination with a plot twist involving the brother’s obsession that would 100% not fly if made today means that this is an otherwise respected RE title that could have definite room to be improved.
Why am I putting so much focus on a game not called Resident Evil Village all of a sudden? Because one of the confirmed upcoming titles for the series other than Resident Evil 9 is the remake for Resident Evil 4. After playing through RE8 multiple times and having seen the many, many re-releases for RE4 through the years, including the very attractive VR edition for the Oculus Quest, I don’t think there’s any real need for it.
In comparison to any of the Resident Evils before it, Resident Evil 4 does not need any real update. It is still very playable and for the most part more user-friendly than any of its predecessors. It set a new template for over the shoulder, third person experiences in gaming across the board. The one area where RE4 could receive a meaningful update would be to completely overhaul the look of the game in the RE engine that fuels the contemporary entries starting with 7. There are many who might be curious to see the voice actor for RE2 Remake’s Leon perform the character in this project, but is that really enough to justify?
There is also the curiosity of how RE4 would be reimagined too, but play RE8 and you already get much of that. I’ve made a point to make note of the many callbacks to RE4 in Village and it makes the case that a spiritual successor should instead take the place of that Remake. Instead, Capcom would take its resources and bring back to life an old installment that could stand to have not just a facelift but a proper updating in Code Veronica.
Me calling Resident Evil VIIIage a spiritual successor to Resident Evil 4 sure sounds like a ringing endorsement of the game and that’s only because it is. While I wouldn’t call RE8 as good a game as RE4, you can call it a game that takes tenets of the installment that brought the series down the rabbit hole of action over horror and give it more of the classic Resident Evil formula.
Resident Evil Village delivers more of the potential of what RE7 established in bringing the series into first person, it also suggests real shakeups in the overall narrative that are as intriguing as they are full of mechanical possibility.
It’s a callback to an older glory while suggesting something promising in the present tense, a repackaging that does not give off a feeling of lack of imagination.
Resident Evil 8: Village is a barometer for what exactly is being sought after by the playerbase and the developers of these games. I can’t quite tell you what Resident Evil 9 will be. But I can tell you that it will be something to experience, even if it turns out a failure.