Although flawed, fans of the Resident Evil franchise should find a lot to love in the recently released “Resident Evil Village” (RE8).
Ahhhhhh, Resident Evil, arguably one of gaming’s most bizarre and baffling series.
Emerging in the mid-’90s as the reigning king of the survival horror genre, the Resident Evil franchise has spawned eight mainline titles, numerous spinoffs and remakes across nearly every single gaming console, as well as live-action blockbusters, animated offerings, and novelizations. 25 years is a long time, and while the gameplay perspective has shifted from isometric to third-person, and then from third-person to first-person, the basic core gameplay elements remain largely unchanged.
The main games of the Resident Evil series have always been about surviving a creepy location, populated by horrific monsters and strange puzzles, while carefully managing dwindling resources contained in a small inventory. And Resident Evil Village, aka Resident Evil 8 (RE8 from here on out), is no different.
Players who have been with this franchise for a while know what to expect; freaky and inventive body horror monsters, ridiculously convoluted plots and subplots, magic herbs that heal nearly any injury, all inventory items being stored in a briefcase of all things, puzzles that make no sense when genuinely thought about, and enough melodrama to make a soap opera green with envy.
Though the series’ popularity dipped a little after RE4 (one of the most successful entries to date), with the series focusing more on the action and far less on the signature frights that were the initial hallmarks, RE7 was a grand return to the original gameplay formula. Despite the switch to a first-person perspective, RE7 put the survival back in “survival horror”, and the fans we largely appeased.
Indeed, RE7 was a legitimately scary game. Action was ancillary. Players had to think their way out of a situation, not shoot their way out. With RE7 being both a critical and commercial success, the series had regained some of its hallowed status.
So how would Capcom maintain that renewed momentum? By delving into the past, naturally!
With both RE4 and RE7 being some of the most well-received games in the series, it only made sense to combine them. And thus RE8 was born.
Featuring the same protagonist and perspective from RE7, while borrowing the gunplay and basic story progression from RE4, Capcom has channeled their modern-day digital Dr. Frankenstein, stitching together the perfect creation from a host of disparate elements.
And it works. Oh my, but how it works.
I feel it only prudent to state that I am an unabashed fanboy when it comes to RE4. While I was largely indifferent to the fixed backgrounds of the previous games, the introduction of a third-person perspective (and the 3D environments that came with it) along with extensive modifications of the large list of weapons had me hooked. Survive, upgrade, conquer. It’s a gameplay loop that hooks me nearly every single time.
I have played (and beaten) RE4 more times than I can count, and count it among my top five games of all time. Is it cheesy? Absolutely. Do I care? Not in the slightest.
By proxy, much of that love gets transferred to RE8.
In fact, it’s not quite a stretch to think of RE8 as a remake of RE4, just with a different plot.
Creepy merchant who can upgrade your gear for a fee? Check. Hidden targets to shoot for completion bonuses? Check. Dilapidated village in a foreign setting? Check. Funky water level featuring a nasty fish monster that wants to knock you into the water for an instant game over? Check. Revolvers that do exponentially more damage than heavy explosive ordinance? Most definitely a check.
But instead of feeling derivative, Capcom has managed to keep the formula fresh. Maybe that’s because the game that they are cribbing from the most (their own game at that) came out in 2005. That’s a pretty decent gap in time. Long enough that what was old feels somewhat new again.No, Resident Evil 8 will never win points for originality. We’ve played this game before, after all. But the game more than makes up for that by being a genuinely enjoyable experience. Click To Tweet
RE8 is a direct continuation of the story that began in RE7.
Though the series as a whole has primarily focused on zombies, RE7 featured monsters of a different sort. RE8 continues on that deviation, leaning heavily into werewolf territory, while also keeping the mold mutations from the previous game.
While it is not necessary to have played RE7 to enjoy its sequel, returning gamers will get much more impact out of the story than someone new to the experience. The plot even ties into the original games and how their creatures came to be. There were more than a few “aha!” moments that filled out the overarching Resident Evil lore quite nicely.
The protagonist, Ethan Winters, is a little less of an everyman this time around. Having received some combat training from series mainstay Chris Redfield, Ethan is better equipped at dealing with the frequent horrors thrown his way. Which dovetails nicely into why guns are much more prevalent in this release. Where RE7 had Ethan heading to the Baker house in Louisiana to rescue his wife, RE8 ups the stakes by having his infant daughter kidnapped, while his wife is seemingly killed by Chris Redfield’s spec ops team.
What follows is essentially the most gruesome and bizarre of father/daughter rescue missions. The plot is honestly as bonkers as any Resident Evil title before it, but adding an imperiled baby into the mix does make the rescue seem all the more urgent.
Though one of the game’s villains has been featured prominently in the media since the playable demo was released, I will avoid talking about the rest of the cast, in an effort to minimize spoilers.
Sadly, that one fan-favorite villain is also the best that the game has to offer, with the remaining primary foes paling in comparison.
There are a few encounters that are nearly as enjoyable, but it’s an awful shame that the most memorable antagonist is also the one you face first. The rest of the enemies are a varied bunch, but they can all be deadly when not taken seriously. Even the stock enemies have their moments of unpredictability. Underestimating them can be very hazardous.
Gameplay elements are all over the map, which is par for the course.
Most combat encounters have a set number of enemies that need to be defeated before the map is considered “safe”, while a few areas will feature endless spawns until a certain location is reached. Puzzles are still a mainstay, though they are not quite as difficult as in previous entries. In fact, most of the puzzles devolve into “find this item in order to unlock a previously inaccessible area”.
All of the convoluted backtracking in the Resident Evil titles makes me wonder how anyone in this game universe gets anywhere. In order to get into area C, you first have to acquire a random object from area B, which can only be accessed by flipping a switch in area A. Guess the everyday residents are screwed if they really need to hit the bathroom in a hurry.
There are other instances of gameplay mechanics that are very “video-gamey”.
Ethan gets captured and imprisoned several times throughout the story. But for some reason, the villains always let him keep all of his weapons and restoratives. Then they act surprised and annoyed when he miraculously escapes and mows down all of their minions. Also, while literally on the run from a hulking undead menace wielding an ax the size of a Volkswagen, the player can hop into the inventory screen to craft additional bullets in order to defeat said creature. All it takes is a little scrap metal and gunpowder. No tools, no primers, and no wasted components.
To be fair, RE8 is far from the only title that allows this. Most video games allow for some sort of spamming, whether it be potions or power-ups or some similar saving grace. It’s just one of those things that every gamer takes for granted. But it does feel a little wonky in a game that’s all about survival and carefully measured scares.
Here’s the thing that really gets me…bullets, healing liquids, and explosives can all be crafted anywhere, no skill or tools required. But manual game saves can only happen at a specialized device in a fixed location? There’s a strange irony there that I think most people tend to miss.
Yes, the typewriter is back, for better or for worse.
Save points were the only way to fly back in the golden days of gaming, and nearly every PS1 and PS2 game had them (computer gamers just laughed as they saved whenever and wherever they liked). But the industry has moved on. Yet, as a series, Resident Evil still likes to cling to the old ways. After all, gamers are by nature a finicky and vocal lot, so traditions must be upheld.
RE8 has made a few concessions, however; the game will autosave at certain intervals, and a quick death can revert you to the last autosave point. But manual saves are still done at typewriters, which are placed sporadically around each level (and conveniently right before large encounters). Starting the game up after a hiatus will only return you to the last manual save, not the last autosave.
Indeed, RE8 remains a delightful oddity; a bizarre mashup of current-gen beauty and decades-old anachronisms.
In a time when player agency is more sought after than ever, Capcom continues to play Scrooge with this particular game series.
This is encapsulated most glaringly in the actual gameplay itself.
Considering that RE8 strongly encourages exploration and backtracking, there is still no jump button, and climbing sequences are reduced to a handful of predefined areas. Movement speed is ridiculously slow. Ethan’s sprint is barely faster than a brisk walk. In fact, his entire move set is decidedly sluggish (except swapping weapons, where he seems to grow a third hand for a moment), especially compared to nearly any other first-person title out on the market.
In any other AAA title, that sort of intentional hamstringing of the player would be unforgivable. But I get it. The developers are trying to provide a highly curated experience, at a very set pace, and the minimal methods of traversal and plodding movement are byproducts of that effort.
Honestly, it’s just par for the course with this series. Like my son and I say, “That’s Resident Evil, baby!”
As such, there are only a few “set” ways to play RE8.
This is no open-world adventure.
Resourceful players will have an easier time of things, however, as was evidenced by my playthrough versus my son’s playthrough. When most combat encounters would begin, he would plant himself in place and just start blasting away, taking unnecessary damage as enemies would come at him from all sides. My method was to seek out a nook or hallway, where enemies had to funnel to me single file, and take them all out in groups without getting flanked.
Both methods worked, as we each beat the game without too many deaths. He was continually running low on restoratives and ammo, however, so he had a much trickier time than I did. But that’s about the extent of the different ways the game can be played. There is no “stealth” option. And until you beat the game a few times and unlock infinite ammo for some of your weapons, there is no “full-frontal assault” option either.
The devs want you to play it a certain way for at least the first playthrough. Again, this is just how Resident Evil is.
On the graphics front, the game does rather well.
Animations are smooth, textures are solid, and most of the environments look good.
Sadly, this is a very closed world game, filled with snow and dead trees, so there’s not a lot of room for truly stunning environments. If you want to show off how much of a graphical powerhouse the PS5 can be, this is not the game for that. All of the weapons look nice though, so there’s that. On the flipside, load times were virtually nonexistent, which is always a plus.
The sound effects are very well done, including some atmospheric use of surround speakers to keep the players on edge. Firing a weapon is appropriately punchy, and each one has its own distinct sound. I can always appreciate a game that understands that guns are LOUD. The music is serviceable, though none of the tracks really stood out to me. It fit the mood, didn’t seem out of place and wasn’t obtrusive. That’s about all I can really say about it.
The voice acting, however, needs to be addressed.
In keeping with the cheesier aspects of the Resident Evil series, characters’ voices are a completely mixed bag. Some of the voice actors, like those for the first and last main villains, are totally on point. They nail it, hitting a wonderful balance between serious and slightly over-the-top. A few of the other characters, especially the second to last main boss, are simply awful. And I mean cringey enough that I just turned the volume down and opted for subtitles. I don’t know what the devs were going for there, but they missed the mark by a mile.
Is there a lot to nitpick about the game? Absolutely.
I could fill this entire review with all the little funky things that don’t quite gel. But all of the positives far outweigh the negatives.
I have beaten the title three times now, and will undoubtedly go back for more. As long as you can get into the groove of what the game is all about, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Sure, the game is a little short, but I can’t think of another recent title that gives the player so much incentive for additional playthroughs. And with games getting more and more expensive, it’s nice when one makes you feel like you got your money’s worth out of it.
Longtime fans will undoubtedly find something to love about RE8.
That said, if you did not like the previous games in the series, this one is unlikely to make you change your tune. Still, if you’re in the mood for some freaky werewolf blasting, and appreciate a few scares with your exploration, I’d recommend picking RE8 up.