After the events of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Ethan Winters was ready to try and live somewhere quiet… somewhere far away from Louisiana and the Baker House. Now somewhere in Europe, the Winters family is together and happy, though possibly in need of some trauma counselling. Then disaster strikes, leaving you cold and alone in the hours before dawn. Ethan stumbles into a small wooden house, covered in bloodstains and looking worse for wear. Eventually, dawn breaks, and you find yourself looking out at a village, the skyline broken by a windmill and a large castle. Then a horde of enemies attacks
Up close and personal
Resident Evil 8 continues the first-person view for the survival horror series, meaning the action is up close and personal, and you get to spend a lot of time looking at various enemies getting really close to you and biting you, and you get to enjoy the game’s environments in all their splendour. Capcom has really brought the eye candy for this game, with some of the most gorgeous and highly detailed environments for you to explore. When not being chased by a powerful foe, the game has an almost walking simulator feel to it as you move through rooms looking for resources, bits of lore and strange items to solve the various puzzles all around you. Every bookcase, every dining table is full of items that won’t necessarily help you in the game, but it does a great job of making the spaces feel lived in. A pot of food on the stove shows the occupants left in a hurry and the garlands of garlic hint at superstitious folk. All these details make the places you are in feel real, and you feel rewarded when you find a stash of goods or a combination lock and you saw the code in a child’s drawing a room back.
But the game isn’t a walking simulator, and it is happy to remind you of that. While solving puzzles and exploring can feel safe at times, the Resident Evil series is known for its jump scares and a few times an enemy will hop out just as you are concentrating on something outside a window, or just after you finish looting a treasure trove, a bunch of enemies arrive to block your way back outside.
It takes a village
As you explore the village, you will find many blocked routes and barred doors, often with something exciting just in view through a small gap or window. A new enemy type lurks here, the lycans, which act as the fodder for most of the game. Some of them are quick on their feet, running headlong into you or sidestepping to try to avoid another bullet. Eventually, they become easy enough to dispatch, but learning the tricks to their movement and how much damage they can suffer before falling over is quite important. Sometimes you will enter an area and suddenly a small pack of them will appear and the game offers several ways to deal with them, letting you use the resources at your disposal as well as the environment. Often a pack will appear very close to a house that you can hide in, moving a cupboard in front of the doorway or window you just vaulted through. Then you have time to either scrounge for some ammo, plant a mine or shoot enemies through the cover, killing a few before they break inside and it becomes a tense melee. I loved these sections, working out the best way to deal with enemies depending on my resources. If I had enough mines that they made two stacks of them in my little briefcase, then I would plant a mine and lure the enemies over there. Or if I was low on bullets, I would find a narrow place to kill enemies with my knife, opting to rather use first aid afterwards than find myself without ammo later.
The village becomes a central area that you explore in sections as you find new key items or blocked pathways get cleared by larger, stronger things moving around. Heading out of the village leads to the domains of the four lords of this region, all-powerful figures in their own right that bow before Mother Miranda, who is worshipped by the villagers, her framed photo seen on many walls in the houses, or sometimes even at altars. Lady Dimetrescu is one such lord, reigning from her castle. What I really enjoyed is that while you end up going after all four lords for story reasons I won’t spoil, the process never feels the same. It would have been simple to have each lord follow a list: explore the place, kill the lord, get the key item. Instead, each lord’s domain is varied in size, scope, process and type of horror.
In Castle Dimetrescu, the massive castle is part walking simulator as you explore and find the dark secrets contained in those walls, and part run from indestructible enemies. A game of cat and mouse could occur as you explore, forcing you to go elsewhere for a while or search in a real hurry. I didn’t like that idea, so I often moved off elsewhere, preferring to do my searching of every room methodically and without fear of losing limb or life. Then the next lord effectively shoves you in an escape room scenario, forcing you to solve various puzzles and then as you are about to leave, killing the power and setting a horrible, disgusting abomination after you, forcing you to play hide and seek with an enemy that eats you if it gets within reach.
The fact that you never know what you will be getting keeps things fresh, with new colour palettes and locations each having a slightly different horror setting to deal with. Are you ready to feel helpless without any weapons? Ready to deal with a fear of what lurks in the water, or revulsion mixed with disgust? Apparitions in a misty forest? How about a gauntlet of foes as you wander into the den of the creatures you normally run away from? Each area offers a slightly different pace and challenge as you try to find those who stole your baby girl.
Different spokes, different strokes
While Village might not be the scariest game in the Resident Evil series, it does a masterful job of blurring the lines between folklore and science, myth and magic bumping into parasites and mould. While the combat is satisfying, the true star is in the moments when you walk around trying to piece together what has happened, solving intricate puzzles to open doors or chests for new gear or things to sell. I love games that reward exploration, and this game does in heaps… just sometimes the reward is a massive spike in my heart rate as something leaps at my face. You think I would have learnt but no, still getting caught.
Resident Evil 8’s biggest flaw is the quality swing between the first and second half of the game. The best bits to explore and best scares are in the first half of the game, with the latter half having more of a focus on combat sections and massive fights rather than on scaring you. A lot of the hard-won tension in the game disappears, and while the first half had me glad that my controller needed to charge and I could take a break and calm down, the second half could have been a lot more terrifying instead of relying on action and adrenaline. Mostly this is due to you finally exploring everything in the village, which remains the sleepy central area that feels tense but rewarding until you plunder all of its secrets, and no new enemy encounters can trigger, because you have looted the place dry. Or maybe it is because Lady Dimetrescu is only towering over the beginning of the game.