Lycans and Vampires and Guns, Oh My!
The Resident Evil franchise is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and what better way to do that than with the release of its 8th instalment. The last 3 games have been very well received, after Resident Evil 6 was panned by critics and fans alike. The overall franchise also has 2 movies in the works (one live action and one CGI) that should also release this year, along with the upcoming Netflix series at some point in the future. So, no pressure to continue the winning streak Resident Evil has been enjoying.
Set 3 years after the events at the Baker residence in Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Ethan and Mia have been relocated to Europe with Chris Redfield’s help. This is also the first time since Resident Evil 4 that the mainline series has been set in Europe. Before even reaching the start menu, the game provides you with an overview of the events of 7. But if possible, I would recommend playing that game before starting this one, as 8 is a continuation of Ethan’s story. During those 3 years, Ethan has received military training, which sets us up nicely for an action-packed experience we expect from the franchise. Ethan and Mia have also welcomed their baby daughter Rose, who we’re introduced to through Ethan’s eyes as he carries her up to her crib. This is all suspiciously wholesome, we’re even treated to a somewhat grim fairy tale that Mia reads to Rose, that is beautifully brought to life in a Tim Burton style animation. This happy family scene doesn’t last long though, as Chris Redfield bursts in and takes baby Rose. Next thing we know, Ethan is waking up in wintery woodlands in almost pitch-black darkness, and Rose is nowhere to be found.
Exploring through the woods at night during the opening segment builds a sense of dread and foreboding that sets the tone for a more horror-orientated game. Ethan’s field of view isn’t exactly great and with a headset on, you can hear movement all around you. Once reaching the village, Ethan begins his mission to find and rescue his daughter.
The castle and the village that we’re introduced to during the demos are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, I cannot emphasise enough just how much more Village has to offer. Without going into plot details, there are additional areas to explore including a swamp and a more industrial setting. While Resident Evil 7 is mostly contained within the Baker’s residence, Village offers a much wider world to explore, which I loved. Each area of the game is distinct in its style both with regards to the foes you encounter, and the overall aesthetic. You can see this contrast even in the demos. The village almost has an American Gothic feel, with the castle looming in the distance and the cold and muted colour palette. In contrast to this the castle interior is filled with warm, rich colours and the shadows show off the excellent use of ray tracing to enhance the lighting. Don’t spend too long mesmerised by the home of Lady Dimitrescu though. In this action-orientated section you’ll bump into her occasionally, which I’m sure nobody will particularly mind.
Village also builds upon some of the flaws present within the previous game. While the Baker’s themselves proved challenging and varied, the common enemies had no real variety at all. Each area surrounding the village has its own unique foes, as we’ve seen already with both vampires and werewolves now apparently being part of the franchise. These are just a taster of what is to come throughout the game. Upon initial impressions it might seem that the game is jumping the shark a bit here, but it’s worth sticking with. As a direct sequel to Biohazard, the plotlines introduced there are expanded upon here. Unlike Biohazard, Village also ties in closer to the lore of Resident Evil. Despite its initial differences, I do believe that long standing fans of the franchise will enjoy this game.
So, is this a survival horror game or an action game? The answer is a bit of both. There are prolonged periods of pure horror that terrified even this seasoned horror gamer, and there are also the big boss battles that are challenging and lengthy, but achievable. This accurately captures the true essence of the Resident Evil franchise and in my opinion, ensures the game remains faithful to its roots. Speaking of combat, you’re thrown right into the thick of it, as soon as you arrive in the village. This was actually a welcome break after a period of being suitably spooked and having my nerves shredded as I made my way through the woods.
With regards to weapons the same formula is followed as with previous instalments, whereby you’ll unlock more weapons and find more upgrades as you progress through the story. The selection of weapons is impressive, and I had an interesting time basically playing Tetris, trying to fit everything into my inventory. Solving puzzles and unlocking rooms isn’t the only way to obtain weapons and upgrades though, we’re reintroduced to a merchant for the purchasing of weapons, upgrades and ammo, as last seen in Resident Evil 4. Although he seems to have piled on a few pounds since then. Items found within the game can be traded for currency, which can then be used to purchase items. Some items can also be combined to create more valuable items, which can then be traded for a higher price. Although currency is plentiful throughout the game, upgrades become progressively more expensive. So, you do need to think carefully about what to purchase. Also available are upgrades to Ethan himself such as increasing maximum health. Simply supply the ingredients and ask the merchant to cook you a delicious local dish.
As with previous instalments, the level design in each area is ingenious, particularly the interiors. The game does not let you into certain parts before you’re ready, and there’s puzzles to solve and keys to find. The puzzles for me are also a signature part of the franchise, and as always, Capcom really delivered here. Despite maps like the castle being huge, it’s designed so well that it’s still easy to navigate. I really enjoyed how you would start out in just a small part of the map and unlock more and more as you progress through the story. Particularly when a path or corridor leads you right back to where you started out. Also present are the various collectibles scattered throughout the map, which will keep any completionists out there busy for at least an extra hour or so.
The adaptive triggers take a little bit of getting used to, but it is used extremely well and gives the gameplay an instant edge over PC in terms of immersion. Different tension is used when using different items and it isn’t constant either. For example, if you’re firing the shotgun, the trigger feels stiff until you fire it. But if you pull the trigger again whilst reloading, it feels totally loose with no resistance. I found this to be an excellent, yet subtle use of adaptive triggers, especially when you’re frantically trying to shoot in a panic. You also have the option to use auto aim, which works well most of the time. But unfortunately, I did find it had a habit of snapping to the knees of enemies. While this is always a valid tactic in Resident Evil games, it just felt a little aggressive at times. Auto aim can be turned off in the menus though.
With the cost of video games being so high nowadays, replayability is always something I look for now. As well as the main story, Capcom have reintroduced an additional game mode called The Mercenaries, which was present in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, 4, 5 and 6. It mostly involves getting a high score by killing as many enemies as possible within a time limit. Between rounds you can buy or upgrade weapons and equipment. During the rounds you can get ‘Perks’ by searching for the blue orbs. For me, this was a welcome addition as it is challenging but addictive, so I’m glad they brought it back.
The gameplay on the PS5 is flawlessly smooth and Capcom have produced an extremely polished game. I played this on an LG CX Series at 4K with HDR enabled. It ran smoothly with only very minor stutters, which happened so rarely it was barely noticeable, and didn’t negatively impact the gaming experience in any way. If possible, I would highly recommend playing this with a HDR enabled TV, as this is the best way to appreciate the deep colour palette and engulfing darkness. If you don’t have an HDR enabled TV though, I have no doubt that it will still look amazing