Resident Evil Village: The Highlights
So I recently got my hands on a copy of Resident Evil Village (RE8). I know, I know, I’m late to the party, but it was a bitch getting my hands on an Xbox Series X, so sue me.
As venerable as the Resident Evil series is, it has certainly had its fair share of duds and misfires over the years. Lucky for us, it’s had a bit of a renaissance with the advent of Resident Evil 7 and its Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe, and its switch to first person gameplay (a welcome addition, in my opinion).
Rather than rest on their laurels and dump a poorly-thought-out sequel on our doorsteps, Capcom decided to switch it up. Gone is the gritty, grainy feel of a low-budget horror flick, replaced with the unapologetically gothic tone of a Bram Stoker novel (unashamedly borrowing from Dracula in some places).
So, rather than spend six-thousand words outlining the plot, I’m going to hit the highlights as I saw them as I played through the game (currently on playthrough 6). So it might go without saying, but: Out of context spoilers ahead.
Music and Sound
The first thing that struck me as the titular village came into view, framed by gray skies and a foreboding castle set into the mountains, was that there was no music. No three-note sting, swell of horns or strings to let the player know that this was an important moment.
As a matter of fact, a fair amount of the game is played in abject silence; the only noises being the crunch of your footsteps through the bloodied snow, or the crack of branches as the ravens take flight around you. From the second I realized what was going on, I understood the brilliance of what Capcom was doing.
In most games, the player is bombarded by noise from all angles. Gunfire, dialogue, what have you, set against the backdrop of a piece of music specially written for every room and hallway. Over the years, we’ve become acclimated to it; we don’t even notice it. But let me tell you, it’s noticeable when it’s gone.
At its core, music in video games tells the player how to feel. Joy, sadness, anger, awe, all the emotions in the world handed to the player through a succession of musical notes. When that’s taken away, it leaves the player stranded and alone; they don’t know how to feel. Inevitably, this gives way to a creeping sense of dread, the feeling that anything could happen around any given corner.
It’s a masterstroke on Capcom’s part for being able to show restraint where, too often, the music can overwhelm any given scene.
Intro to the Village
In keeping with my comments above, we’re going to do a quick walkthrough of the player’s introduction to the village. From the moment the player slides down the muddy slope and into the ramshackle collection of dilapidated homes, they are confronted with the fact that something is very wrong.
The village is empty, blood is smeared everywhere, and most of the homes are torn to shreds; the aftermath of a battle that you just missed. Walking down a narrow alley, you see severed goat heads hung from the branches of the gnarled trees above you. There’s no power, there’s no life, there’s no hope. All of this, and not a single body to be found.
It would’ve been all too easy to oversaturate the village with gruesomeness. The human imagination can conjure up some pretty horrible shit with the intent to terrify. However, once again, Capcom shows restraint; walking that fine line between too much, and just enough. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty fucking grim in there, but never once did I feel myself thinking, “Oooookay, that’s enough, now it’s getting stupid.”
As a hub from which you strike out into the story, the village had to be perfect. It had to be a place that you didn’t mind coming back to; a place that had enough secrets and visually interesting tableaus to keep you intrigued on your eighth foray through its horrid streets.
Ah, the Big Woman… Given center stage during the marketing campaign for RE8, Lady Dimitrescu conjured images and fantasies from the darker parts of players’ imaginations. They were instantly captivated by her regal nature, her monochromatic look, and yes, her dump truck of a behind.
Easily my favorite part of the game, Dimitrescu, her “daughters,” and the castle they called home were an homage to that most venerable of gothic horror novels, Dracula. Being chased through winding, dimly-lit corridors, trying to outwit the invulnerable enemies as I try to find my way out, has never gotten old (again, playthrough number 6).
Some of the most terrifying moments in the game were sneaking around a corner only to see Dimitrescu at the other end of a long hallway, staring right at me. Bear in mind, all of this was unscripted by the developers. Placing her in the castle and making her a threat was the best decision they could’ve made.
That being said, she is criminally underutilized. Whether because they didn’t realize what they had, or because they didn’t know what to do with her, Dimitrescu exits stage left at less than a third of the way through the game. It struck (and still strikes) me as a strange choice, given the emphasis they placed on her in the run-up to release, and her sheer presence when she’s in frame.
Dissecting the Doll
One of the more talked about moments in the game, the Dollmaker’s manor has been plastered all over social media. Endless YouTubers and Tik-Tokers (God, I hate Tik-Tok) have posted videos of themselves losing their shit at the sight of a gigantic fetus that chases you through lightless hallways.
It was tense and scary the first time I did it. Six runs on, however, it’s an irritation that grinds the story to a halt.
What doesn’t get old, however, is the puzzle in the run-up to that moment. In the basement of the manor, set out on a bloodied slab, is a life-size replica of your wife as a ventriloquist doll. In order to progress, you are forced to carefully take the doll apart to find the clues that will let you continue further.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Big deal,” right? Well, think of it this way: The game is forcing you, in essence, to dissect your wife.
As her blank, lifeless eyes stare back at you, you remove her arms and her legs, cutting the bloodied bandages across her chest and retrieving the next piece of the puzzle from where her heart would be. It didn’t click for me at the start, but as the pseudo-autopsy continued, I felt myself getting more and more disgusted.
It’s a grueling, excruciating process. A true set-piece moment that flies in the face of those dime-a-dozen walking simulators that call themselves horror games (looking at you, Outlast).
One of the later bosses, and by far the most disgusting, is “Dr.” Moreau (haha). A disgusting, putrid abomination that is just barely valuable enough for the chief antagonist to put up with, he somehow is able to conjure feelings of sadness and pity in the player.
Where Dimitrescu became statuesque after her transformation, Moreau became hunched and deformed. Where Heisenberg (another antagonist, and the least interesting in my opinion) is brilliant and ruthless, Moreau is pathetic and stupid. He’s everything the others are not, looked down on and ridiculed, forced into the slimy depths of the village’s reservoir so the others don’t have to look at, or think about, him.
All he wants is approval and love; all he cares for is his creator’s approval. He is given none of these things as he lives his life, forgotten and unfulfilled.
Unfortunately, despite the setup, these themes are barely explored by Capcom, who chose instead to make an on-rails boss battle that quickly loses its luster. Instead of exploring his psyche or his motivations, they exploit his grotesque nature (he vomits uncontrollably almost constantly, and is so weighed down by his deformity that he can barely move outside of water).
I don’t know… If this had been a different game, I suppose I would’ve been alright with this surface level approach, but given how much they got right with this game, it feels like a bit of a misfire here.
The Final Battle
As is to be expected of any given game like this, there is a final, climactic battle where the forces of good duel the forces of evil for the ultimate prize (in this case, a wee little baby). But we aren’t here to talk about that.
What we are here to talk about is the spectacle of this battle.
It doesn’t take place across some massive battlefield, mountains aren’t being shattered beneath the weight of the combatants’ blows. It takes place in a small room, writhing with black mold, lit by the flickering light of torches and candles.
Despite this, there is one word that kept flashing neon in my head: Biblical.
The artists and designers drew heavily on religious imagery and iconography for this sequence, and it worked beautifully. Mother Miranda (the game’s big-baddie) becomes an eight-winged angel, framed by a halo, that soars above you, raining fire and brimstone on your head. Her form becomes, at once, hideous and beautiful (a difficult feat for any VFX designer) as she slices at you with razor-sharp talons. Massive statues of grim men in stone thrones watch as you duel this woman, and trees of black mold sprout wherever she treads.
It's difficult to take in all at once, and, to be honest, I was too busy fighting for my life to appreciate what Capcom had done with this climactic sequence the first time around.
Each subsequent playthrough revealed a little more about what was actually happening during this battle, and as of right now, it’s firmly seated as one of the most beautiful and spectacular visual displays I’ve experienced in a video game.
My interest in the Resident Evil franchise has always been tacit at best. The movies… Well, they weren’t great, and the games have always left something to be desired in my book. As a matter of fact, I think the last game I played was RE5, way back in 2009.
However, as I’m sure you know by now, I fucking love gothic horror. Seeing the debut of RE8 immediately piqued my interest, and though I’ve had to wait a while, I’d say that it paid off in spades.
It may be hammy, there may be plot holes, and while the controls may not be the most responsive, all of these issues make sense when looking at the game as a whole rather than the sum of its parts.
By no means perfect, RE8 still gets more right than it does wrong, and while it may not win any game of the year awards, it’s still a damned good time, and well worth the effort to check out.
I’m not going to lie to you, I’m seriously excited to see what Capcom does with the series, and where they take it next.