The Resident Evil franchise has undergone as many transformations over the years as a multi-tiered boss fight. What began in earnest as a zombie horror franchise back in the mid nineties has gone through a fascinating metamorphosis to try and keep the formula fresh for followers of the series. We’ve seen Resident Evil as an action shooter, a VR scare-fest, an online co-op squad based game and just about everything in between. Each of these iterations and interpretations of the long standing series have seen varied successes and failures and it’s because of this that when a new Resident Evil is announced the only thing you can be sure of is that you can’t be sure of what to expect.
Following on the heels of Resident Evil 7 which was the biggest deviation from franchise norms and also an incredible success both critically and sales wise, many players like myself assumed that the next numbered sequel would similarly take Resident Evil down uncharted paths. Resident Evil 7 while thematically similar to previous installments had an entirely new cast with a new lead, brand new threats and a completely original gameplay perspective which gave RE7 the scariest campaign perhaps of any entry before it. So when Village was announced all eyes were on the strange new environment and it’s enticing new menaces to see what flavor of Resident Evil was awaiting us.
It doesn’t take long into the campaign of Village to realize that the taste is strangely familiar and not in the way you might expect. While you still take control of Ethan Winters as he stumbles from one horrifying occurrence to the next in the first person perspective much like Resident Evil 7, this game shares more in common with fan favorite Resident Evil 4 than anything else. There is more of a focus on action this time around with plenty of ammunition that keeps the bullets flying. Dispatching enemies rewards Ethan by dropping money and artifacts which he can trade with a wandering merchant for various weapon upgrades and supplies.
The emphasis on action, additional resources and rewards keep the fear factor surprisingly low in this installment and gives the player more motivation than usual to put the enemies in their sights rather than running from encounters to stay alive. There were more than a few times when I found myself exploring the Village just to find new areas or more enemies to take down so that I had more loot to bring to the merchant. Capcom’s flagship series is widely known for its suffocating suspense due to the player always having to keep an eye on their inventory in order to preserve health and dwindling munitions. But Resident Evil 8 largely sidesteps this by stocking the player with plenty of goods to keep the monsters at bay.
Speaking of monsters, Village does a fantastic job of introducing a host of new evils for you to deal with. While there is a familiarity in the origins of these creatures that come about later in the narrative, there is something refreshing about battling the likes of Werewolves and Vampires in a Resident Evil game. Village also has a cast of boss villains that are a logical next step from the Baker family of Resident Evil 7. Ethan will not only do battle with fascinating monsters with unique and grotesque traits, but they are equally interesting characters with rich backstories that are there to find if you go looking for them. While many players already know Lady Dimitrescu from the viral marketing, there are many more well designed bosses each with their own controlled territory around the village just waiting to put Ethan through hell.
The story of Resident Evil 8 is an unravelling mystery with plenty of twists and surprises that I thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end. Capcom cleverly weaves familiar themes and characters into Ethan’s corner of the lore which allows this to be both a beginning and an end to this chapter of the series. If you are a longtime fan of Resident Evil you will be rewarded for your knowledge of the history and world that this series has unwound over the years and you will be left at the end wondering just where do we go from here.
Capcom has done the right thing with Resident Evil by injecting new life into this 25 year old property. Village plays with both the old and the new in masterful ways. This game hits at the right time as Resident Evil celebrates its 25th Anniversary. It reminds us of what we loved about the series while shedding some of its more tired tropes that no longer work in todays modern gaming landscape. It does all of this while introducing us to new experiences and ideas that promise a bright and terrifying future ahead.