By: Patrick Morris
Most people enjoy spicy food to some degree. I like my food to be hot but personally Carolina reaper peppers are so hot that they're just painful, and I don’t like painful. Everyone draws the line somewhere different when it comes to spicy food and in a very similar manner that same line is drawn when it comes to entertainment explicitly meant to scare. Resident Evil Village is a good game that feels distinctly different from the more recent Resident Evil 2, 3, and 7. Throughout the runtime of Village it becomes increasingly clear that the horror aspect of Village has been toned down significantly from what we experienced in Resident Evil 7. At it's core Resident Evil Village is an excellent continuation of the newly refocused direction for the franchise, but unfortunately the further it strays from the zombie plotlines and survival horror gameplay the less appealing Village feels making for a good game but one that is obviously the weakest of the modern era of Resident Evil.
Welcome, welcome, welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the game's I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. I'm still a fairly new Resident Evil fan having dabbled in the series from time to time since the original PlayStation but not really diving in until Resident Evil 7 in 2017. But since then I've played through 7, 2 remake, and 3 remake multiple times each and even gone back to play through 1, and 4. So despite my being a new fan I think I'm at least somewhat well credentialed to speak on Resident Evil 8, so let's talk about Village.
Quick spoiler warning: I am definitely going to be discussing some Village spoilers in this video so consider the entire game fair play and if you don’t want any spoilers then you should probably not watch this video or read any further.
From a story perspective Village is pretty interesting in that it is a direct continuation of the story of Resident Evil 7 following the same characters but also this works somewhat to the game's detriment as it further distance's itself from the pre RE7 era. Once again cast in the role of the playable character is Ethan Winters and driving the story forward is his wife Mia and their new baby girl Rosemary. In the opening minutes of the game Mia appears to die at the hand of Christ Redfield who then has Ethan knocked out and kidnaps the pair of them. After a short journey Ethan wakes up in the wreckage of a car accident just outside the titular village and begins his search for Rose. Along the way Ethan encounters residents of the Village who offer bits of exposition detailing residents who have come down with lycanthropy and reference a "mother Miranda" deity like figure to whom they all pray.
After a brief visit with some residents of the village ending in a house fire and several deaths Ethan is captured by Heisenberg and introduced to Mother Miranda and her "children." The cast of villains in the game is comprised of Lady Dimitrescu, whom moving forward will be referred to as Lady D, Donna Beneviento, Salvatore Moreau, Karl Heisenberg, and Mother Miranda herself. Creating such a large cast of very visually distinct villains is clearly Capcom's attempt at establishing several more iconic RE villains on par with the likes of Mr. X, Mr. Birkin, Nemesis, Wesker, and Mr. Baker. Unfortunately cramming so many antagonists into a game with what seems to be a shorter than normal runtime even for a Resident Evil game leads to there not really being any stand out. The cast feels bloated and while each villain is distinct in their appearance that’s where that easy distinction stops. Abilities, motives, and personalities are all lost in the shuffle as the specific area for each villain consists of maximum two hours of gameplay just a few minutes of which is spent with the actual villains. So while I listed the villains just a minute ago I honestly don’t think I could do it again from memory and if I was asked to name any of Lady D's three daughters that play a prominent role in her level I can guarantee you that I wouldn’t be able to. Despite looking fantastic the antagonist roles suffer from a lack of focus and prominence turning what could have been excellent into something that is somewhat forgettable.
As absurd as this may sound Resident Evil is a story that has always been grounded in at least some semblance of reality. What I mean by that is that while yes there are mutated zombies and super human abilities they are all grounded in a fictious science. Throughout the series there has never been any magic or hint at the supernatural, everything can be connected back to some sort of scientific experimentation gone wrong. So when encountering Lycan's aka werewolves just minutes into the game with zero indication that these creatures are anything but supernatural I was a bit put off. And that's how I felt for so much of my first playthrough of Village, I was constantly encountering creatures and people with what appeared to be supernatural or magical abilities with no connection to the science of Umbrella. Obviously there was the Umbrella logo placed in prominent spots throughout the game but it wasn’t until the very end when in Mother Miranda's chambers reading notes that are extremely easy to walk past it's revealed that she discovered the mold hundreds of years ago and the creatures encountered are all failed test subjects as she was experimenting with the mold that would later go on the be genetically engineered into the serum's that resulted in the T-virus and the G-virus.
I know this is a bit nit picky but for whatever reason this move away from closely relating everything happening to being grounded in pseudo science made the game less enjoyable. I had the same complaint of Resident Evil 4. By keeping the player in the dark with respect to the root cause of everything going on around them, the game feels as though it is taking place in a fantasy world that absolutely cannot be the same as the world in which Resident Evil 2 and 3 take place.
One of my biggest complaints of Resident Evil 7 was in just how physically resilient Ethan Winters was. Early in the game Mia literally chainsaws his hand off but after pouring some of that first aid liquid on it and stapling his ENTIRE HAND back onto the stump of his arm everything seems to be back to normal. Village ramps up the grotesque violence even further and yet Ethan was still resilient. From being impaled, to ripping hooks through his hands, and once again having a hand completely severed then just shoving it back on Ethan's body seems to be indestructible. I'm capable of suspension of disbelief but I would be lying if I said that this didn’t feel stupid in 7 and for the majority of Village. But then towards the end after Chris is convinced that Ethan is dead and Mia insists that he's not and even says to Chris that Chris doesn’t know what Ethan is capable of it's all explained by Eveline, the main antagonist of 7, of all people. After "dying" at the hand of Mother Miranda, Ethan finds himself in a dream like state and is told by Eveline that Jack Baker killed him almost as soon as he made his way onto the farm and when Ethan awoke to that iconic scene at the dinner table in the Baker house his body was made entirely of mold that had absorbed and recreated not only his physical body but also his consciousness.
Ignoring the fact that it appears as though the mold that is the catalyst for all the events of Resident Evil is essentially capable of anything, this is actually a really cool development. Not only does it easily explain away how Ethan was able to perform all the physical feats he did in both 7 and Village but it also functions as a revelatory moment for the player. After spending six main line games and several spin offs fighting the resulting products of the mold and the viruses born of it the player realizes that they have now spent a majority of one game and the entirety of another playing as one of those monsters. In a way Ethan is to Mother Miranda as Mr. X, Mr. Birkin, and Nemesis are to Umbrella Corp and the player has been playing this character all along.
Just like the story the gameplay was full of good and bad elements. Village features some really good ideas that make for noticeable improvements over it's predecessor but makes a fatal mistake resulting in a feeling of having taken two steps forward and one step back. Overall a net positive but one that could have been significantly greater had the developers just made one decision differently.
Let's start with the good. The weapon variety is very similar if not a little expanded on what we have all come to expect out of a Resident Evil game. The usual suspects are all here, multiple pistols, shotguns, grenades, and the classic grenade launcher and magnum can all be fairly easily obtained in a casual play through of the game. With the exception of the standard pistol and the sniper rifle all the guns sound great while feeling weighty and offering excellent feedback. Ammo scarcity is nearly perfect making almost every encounter especially in the late game feel like a stressful situation with high stakes making overall combat and gunplay rewarding both in the moment to moment action as well as in the final result of an encounter.
One way that Village stands out from other Resident Evil games however is in an insane level of enemy variety. Not only does it feel as though there are more enemy types than basically any other RE game but also those enemies are clearly subspecies conceived of a shared ancestor and differing in how they’ve developed based on the circumstances of their environments. Grouping enemy types that share a common conceptual ancestor together in specific areas then designing those environments and creatures concurrently leads to a feeling of cohesion that brings the world of Village to life in a way that sets a new standard for the franchise. Enemy types and varity of environments keeps the game feeling fresh from beginning to end never leaving me feeling as though I'm repeating a process that I have done several times before.
The gameplay of Village is very enjoyable, but the single biggest mistake the game makes is in it's perspective. At E3 2015 after three years of silence since the less than stellar Resident Evil 6 for which Capcom was criticized for making Resident Evil too action focused and losing touch with the roots of what Resident Evil is, Capcom debuted a PSVR demo simply called Kitchen. The demo was said to be a proof of concept for a game that Capcom had in development and was so scary that it became one of the biggest stories of the show. Just one year later at E3 2016 on stage at Sony's press conference Capcom revealed that Kitchen was actually the first demo for the newly revitalized Resident Evil 7 for the first time ever to be played in VR. At the time of this announcement that change in perspective made perfect sense, if the game was going to be played in VR then of course it would need to be played in first person. RE7 was released in January 2017 and when played in VR it was an experience unlike any other I've ever had when playing a video game, firmly cementing it as not only my game of the year in a year in which it was competing against Horizon Zero Dawn and Breath of the Wild but also made it a strong contender for my game of the generation. RE7 and VR were made for each other and that was evident from the moment you put on the headset.
Then at E3 2018 again on Sony's stage Capcom had another surprise for the industry. In an well paced trailer with early teases throughout culminating in the reveal of Leon Kennedy Capcom announced a ground up remake of the fan favorite Resident Evil 2. Unlike the original RE2 the game didn’t feature static cam's and tank controls and unlike RE7 it wasn’t played in a first person perspective. Resident Evil 2 remake was an unapologetic third person survival horror game that immediately felt like what Resident Evil has always been supposed to be. The lack of VR was a bit disappointing after how thrilling 7 was but the third person perspective superb to the point that I found myself never wanting to play a Resident Evil game in any other way.
After demonstrating in just the last four years that Resident Evil can be fantastic in first person in VR or in third person on a TV, Capcom's decision to make Village a first person game without the option for VR is perplexing to me. Of the offerings of modern Resident Evil, Capcom has found two incredible ways of delivering the overall experience neither of which are utilized in Village, making for a good game that could have been great in two radically different ways but wasn’t.
And finally the fear. When evaluating a Resident Evil game one must take into account the fear elicited by the experience. The single best thing RE7 did was that it made Resident Evil truly scary again. By ratcheting up the fear and intensity of RE7 Capcom was able to reclaim Resident Evil's identity in the survival horror genre while implicitly acknowledging the criticisms of RE6 and embracing the fact that not every game needs to imitate Call of Duty. If on a fear scale of 1-10 Alien Isolation is a 10 then I would call RE7 a 9, and sadly on that scale Village is only a 5.5. While the game features an overall somewhat scary atmosphere, and Beneviento's house briefly takes that fear level up to an 8.5 the game never reaches the level of fear that RE7 did and even at it's scariest it abandons that intensity far too quickly. Village features plenty moment's in which I was truly scared but those moments are fleeting and before I knew it I was back to feeling far more confident than I should have when playing a brand new Resident Evil game. The fact that Village is, at times, very scary but the majority of the game feels bland by comparison leads me to believe that the developers at Capcom still have the ability to develop truly terrifying games but most likely have data showing that RE7 was too scary and led to significant portions of their audience never finishing that game resulting in Village being a less scary experience.
Overall Village is a good game that is proficient in all categories. That being said, it also leaves something to be desired in almost all categories. Village tells an interesting story despite it feeling out of place in the larger Resident Evil Universe. Gameplay is dynamic and engaging but would have been better had it been played from a third person perspective. Village strays quite far from the beaten path that is modern Resident Evil but in the end stands as a good an unique addition to the franchise.
Did you play Resident Evil Village? Let me know about your thoughts on the game in the comments down below. Don’t forget you can see everything I do all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. I'll be back next week talking about something else entirely so until then just go play some games.