Saturday, May 22, 2021

Resident Evil Village (PS5)

Despite my lack of experience with the Resident Evil franchise, I still played Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and enjoyed it enough that I heavily anticipated Resident Evil Village, aka Resident Evil 8, as soon as Capcom had announced it. I even played the PS5-exclusive Maiden demo despite its status as more of a visual showcase. Naturally, this made Village a day one purchase for me and I started playing as soon as I could install the disc. Four days later, I emerged from the titular village recognizing that while it wasn’t as scary as the previous game, its actionized approach still worked pretty well.

Three years after the events of Biohazard, Ethan and Mia have moved to Europe to better raise their newborn daughter, Rosemary. One night, Chris Redfield shows up with his men, kills Mia and takes Ethan and Rose. During the drive, however, the transport truck Ethan is in crashes, leaving Chris’ men dead. Ethan reaches a nearby village overrun by Lycans and fights his way through. Just when he feels safe, however, he’s captured by Mother Miranda, a deity worshipped by the villagers, along with her lords Alcina Dimitrescu, Donna Beneviento, Salvatore Moreau, and Karl Heisenberg. Ethan barely escapes with his life and feels more determined than ever to rescue his daughter.

Ethan quickly meets Mother Miranda and the four Lords of the village.

Understanding the events of Village hinges somewhat on the player’s knowledge of Biohazard, since Ethan and his relationships with Mia and Chris Redfield are established in that game and the Dulvey Incident comes up a few times as a recurring plot point. As such, the game goes out of its way to make sure that any players starting off with Village know what happened in Biohazard through an optional short that does a pretty good job at quickly summarizing the events.

As for Village itself, its story isn’t the best from a video game, but it successfully keeps the player engaged with plenty of intriguing characters and powerful story twists that recontextualize not only what you’ve witnessed within the game, but also the story of Biohazard. Longtime fans will more likely feel shocked by a specific twist near the end of the game that recontextualizes the series as a whole, but this doesn’t take away too much for those who have only played Biohazard and/or Village. Ethan feels more fleshed out this time around, with a greater depth of emotion and a strong determination to save his daughter no matter the cost. It’s also evident that the Dulvey Incident affected him greatly, since it influences some of his decisions and how he interacts with Mia and the world around him. His character arc also leads to a surprisingly emotional and bittersweet conclusion.

The villains are also interesting, each with a shared tragic background and their own set of goals and motivations. Apart from Mother Miranda, the overarching villain of the game, the two most interesting ones were Alcina Dimitrescu and Karl Heisenberg. Alcina, who took up a lion’s share of the game’s marketing, cares about pleasing Mother Miranda but also protecting the lives of her daughters, even if they aren’t related by blood. Karl, on the other hand, is more complex, with a deep enough hatred for Mother Miranda that he even tries working with Ethan, only to be turned down. He’s also a twisted man on his own, best shown through the abominations he creates in the village’s repurposed factory. Of course, it’s also interesting how no matter what sort of supernatural phenomenon are in the game, including vampires and werewolves, there’s an interesting and horrifying scientific explanation for it that fits well within the world of Resident Evil.

Karl Heisenberg is easily the most interesting antagonist in the game.

If you’ve played Biohazard, you’ll have a general idea of Village’s gameplay. In contrast to its predecessor, however, Village is more action-oriented, with more of a focus on combat while retaining the core of Biohazard’s first-person approach. This also means ammo is generally more plentiful than before, which can make this game feel easier to get through without dying unless you’re negligent. There’s much more enemy variety than in Biohazard, which prominently featured variations of Molded, now including Lycans, vampiric creatures and mechanical abominations. The PS5 version also uses adaptive triggers that increase the immersion of using specific weapons.

Gone is the need for Antique Coins for special upgrades, as you can now buy more weapons, upgrades and ammo with Lei, the village’s currency. Using Lei involves interacting with the Duke, Village’s answer to the Merchant from Resident Evil 4. Apart from buying useful items, including increased storage space, you can also sell him Treasures found around the world or dropped by enemies, along with other useless items or Treasures that have been combined for greater value, for even more Lei. If you hunt animals that appear throughout the village, you can also give the Duke their meat so he can cook a meal that will permanently increase one of your stats. His presence is well-implemented and appreciated at certain points during the game, though it helps that he’s a generally likeable character for going out of his way to help Ethan out. He’ll even typically have a typewriter placed nearby so Ethan can save his progress.

The Duke is a very helpful character.

Ethan’s grid-based storage system returns from Biohazard but with a lack of an external storage system. Instead, his items are housed in a briefcase, much like in Resident Evil 4, along with the accompanying “inventory Tetris” that can ensue when sorting items. Fortunately, Herbs and other crafting items don’t take up any inventory slots, providing greater freedom for storing weapons, ammunition and Healing Meds.

Pacing, however, is a bit mixed. Despite its prominence in the game’s marketing, including its use in the Maiden demo, Castle Dimitrescu is only used for about a quarter of the story. I expected this as soon as I saw the four Lords during the opening segment, but I can see how others who would pick this game up might feel disappointed by this fact. It also has much more screen time than the two Lords that follow, but the bosses in the castle aren’t too difficult to deal with, three of them using virtually the same strategy. Castle Dimitrescu is also the only section where the area bosses, including Alcina, can actively stalk you. These moments increase the tension, but not exactly to the same terrifying extent as Jack Baker in Biohazard.

Don't expect to see Alcina Dimistrescu outside of her castle.

Once you leave the castle, each section afterwards is generally shorter and more linear with the exception of the factory. This is balanced somewhat by the open nature of the village, which has more options for exploration after obtaining certain items and features hidden areas that lead to unique Treasures and some unique mini-bosses. House Moreau has some sense of exploration at the beginning with a boat segment, but quickly turns into a more puzzle-oriented section that leads to a disturbing boss fight. House Beneviento, on the other hand, is short but has a greater emphasis on horror than the rest of the game, including a repeated sequence that legitimately terrified me, and has a rather creative approach to a boss fight that maintains a high level of tension without relying on weapons.

Beating the game unlocks Challenges that retroactively reward you Completion Points (CP) based on your actions. CP is spent on extras, including gallery art, Infinite Ammo weapons and, for just 10 CP, the bonus The Mercenaries game mode. This mode acts as more of an arcade shooter, including the use of special abilities, where you have to kill a certain number of enemies and reach a goal within a time limit. This mode is enjoyable on its own and doubles as a way to earn more CP and unlockable weapons.

Visually, Village immediately improves over its predecessor, but really shines on the PS5 hardware, with a better framerate and resolution along with ray tracing support. One of the major highlights was the Village of Shadows sequence in the game, which has such an interesting art style that I wouldn’t mind seeing a larger project with that aesthetic. The crystallization effect when defeating bosses is also implemented better than the calcification of the previous game and water animations look spectacular, though the wine pouring effect needed a little work. Enemy and boss designs are also generally more varied and creative than in Biohazard, drawing inspiration from multiple gothic and horror sources, and Chris Redfield’s appearance notably looks closer to his pre-Biohazard design. Despite the PS5 capabilities, including almost non-existent load times, I did notice some minor texture pop-in, but not enough to really detract from the experience.

Environments are visually stunning.

The voice acting is generally good, especially from returning characters, though I want to point out the late Jeanette Maus, who did well as Cassandra Dimitrescu. The Safe Room music has a different tone than that of Biohazard, though it fits the setting well and still provides a feeling of safety. If you have the Trauma Pack, however, you can replace the music with the Resident Evil interpretation of “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” (and replace the typewriter with the tape recorder for the full experience).

While Village is more action-oriented than Biohazard, and requires knowledge of that game to understand what’s going on, I would still recommend it. It could have had better pacing, but there’s a good amount of content and the first-person view is still used to great effect, even with more third-person cutscenes, with no shortage of memorable moments.

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