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Resident Evil VIII rekindles the illogical, weird magic of the series
Resident Evil is about the balance of fear and power. Its a staple of the series. At the beginning of each game, the player is meant to feel overwhelmed and confused. By the end, they can fight back against these emotions – usually with a rocket launcher.
“Resident Evil VIII: Village” continues this tradition, dropping faceless protagonist Ethan Winters – also the star of “Resident Evil 7: Biohazard” – in the middle of a wildly unfamiliar situation. But if you loved the understated horror of Ethan’s adventure in the seventh game, you’ll only get a bit of that here. In fact, you’ll likely leave disappointed. But if you’re like me and your favorite title is “Resident Evil 4,” this will delight.
Built like a Disneyland of horror tropes and gore, the eponymous village funnels you toward gory sights and sounds, with Ethan circling a drain of carnage. Resident Evil games are almost literally visceral experiences, holding up guts and gross things up to the camera to intimidate, bewilder and occasionally even charm. The good news: “Village” is a visually stunning ride. Later in the game, when the action ramps up, I couldn’t help but compare it to 2019′s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare,” with its arresting visual and audio fidelity. (Just swap the guns and militants for werewolves and biomechanical freaks).
“Village” quickly moves along narrative beats familiar to “Resident Evil 4” veterans, including oddball villains like the now-infamous Lady Dimetrescu, the 9-foot-tall vampire that dominated the game’s marketing. She and the other lords of the village conjure gleeful energy throughout the game, fabulous and fearsome. It’s the kind of gory glamour the series sometimes loves to dress itself in, as in the opera-house drama of “Code Veronica,” or the sixth sequel’s climactic battle between a zombie Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Jeep. In “Village,” Ethan trades the small-town Louisiana horror of “Biohazard” for weirder territory.
Now we turn to some bad news: Dimetrescu is far from the game’s focus. Rather, she’s just one of four villains Ethan must topple to rescue his daughter. Yes, it’s another horror game about the travails and emotions of being a dad. The premise is stale, so it’s good that the four “children” of the chief antagonist, Mother Miranda, try to breathe life (or death?) into it. Not all of them do. A third villain’s section of the horror theme park is a swampy trial-and-error drudge, and his fight fails to excite.
Dimetrescu is charismatic to the detriment of your other foes. She is imperious and poised, and you’ll find it impossible to unglue your eyes from the screen any time she appears, or even as she stalks you throughout her castle. No one, not even the mysterious Mother Miranda, commands as much attention, and it’s hard not to notice once she exits the stage.
Fortunately, the horror showcase that follows is immediately terrifying. Anyone concerned that Dimetrescu’s flamboyance might subdue the game’s fear factor need not worry. The next monster is a constant startling presence, with a face so unsettling it had the polar opposite effect of Dimetrescu: I kept having to look away.
“Village” gives players plenty of opportunity to explore. It’s very much a lighter “Metroid” experience, where accomplishing certain tasks gives you the key to explore more areas and find more secrets. The actual village hub has a few locked doors and treasure chests with ample rewards and story nuggets about what exactly is going on. It’s surface-level stuff, and hardly any of it is coherent or compelling, but this is Resident Evil, not “The Last of Us.”
Make no mistake: the environment isn’t interactive, it’s mostly there to set a majestic mood while leaving just enough visual cues to push you forward. This game is far from clever, and the puzzles are about as hard as they were in the recent remakes. But they’re enough to make some players feel clever, and that’s all you can ask. And the backdrop for these simplistic puzzles almost never gets old to tour. Outside of the village and the castle, the story takes you to the expected tropes of past Resident Evil titles, but plays with your expectations enough to keep it engaging and surprising.
As audience surrogate and everyman, Ethan Winters is not an interesting or wise character. But “Village” eventually turns him into a sympathetic one, painting him as a hapless, entangled victim. By the end of the game, Ethan Winters is no longer the dogged, serious and scared hero of “Biohazard.” He’s the tragic superhero protagonist of a Zack Snyder film, a singular, narrow vision of emotion maximized to mythology. It’s here where Resident Evil returns to its classic escalation of stakes and action. Unlike the lonely “Biohazard,” “Village” ends with a muddy conspiracy and muddier motivations, and at a scale we haven’t seen since the loud, ridiculous “Resident Evil 6,” all the way back in 2012.
This is why your enjoyment of “Village” depends on what you want out of Resident Evil. I love when “Village” leans into camp and slapstick goth violence. I love when it magically, without logic, gives me the tools I need to fight against the madness. I love how many aesthetic cues it takes from the fourth game. I love how many gameplay mechanics “Village” borrows from it too, especially the return of the attaché case. Resident Evil games are as much about inventory management as they are about killing zombies, and “Village” allows you to play “Tetris” with your items. My Ethan Winters took plenty of breaks to play Marie Kondo, decluttering and rearranging until the joy sparked.
A mercantile system also returns in the very large body of the Duke, who lords over the proceedings with a watchful eye. The Duke is absolutely related to the famous “What’re ya buying” anonymous merchant of “RE4,″ whose identity has confounded fans and lore theorists. But the Duke gives a few more clues about the nature of these retailers, and about the whole series in general. After buying one of the many upgrades for your weapons (which persist in future playthroughs), the Duke will cheerfully tell you to “have a wonderful adventure.”
The Resident Evil series is eternally challenged by balancing its aggressive violence, the grim beauty of its environments, and the whimsy of its typecast, entirely moronic characters. “Village” almost walks that line – until it can’t help itself, and runs amok with its own imagination. Many fans, myself included, will welcome it. If the end of the world already feels like a bunch of nonsense with irrational, emotional people, might as well make an adventure of it.
Published : May 06, 2021
By : The Washington Post · Gene Park