Published on May 21st, 2021 | by Jeff Thiessen0
Resident Evil Village
Jeff reviews Resident Evil Village and takes a stroll down memory lane thinking about games he’s set down the controller on before he’s finished them.
I don’t really quit games very often, at least not as often as I likely should. I’ve gotten better recently, just out of sheer necessity when I’m reminded of my ridiculous game backlog, but I still tie it to an openly acknowledged policy tethered directly to sunk-cost fallacy. If the cost of it was relatively cheap, I entertain the notion of throwing in the towel (a recent example of this was Yakuza 0; I quit about 40% in, not as an indictment of the game’s quality, but it’s incredibly dialogue driven and I just found myself not caring about the story, which is certainly an issue when every five minutes there are droves of sub-titles being hurled at you). The flip-side to this flawed system is when I clearly should move on to another game but cannot, due to the high price of purchase (I’m currently grinding through Persona 5: Royal, a great game but a leviathan 90+ hours is needed to complete the campaign, and I simply don’t know how this can happen as someone with a fairly demanding job and two kids at home).
So there you have it: two games I should quit, and I’m currently rocking a 50% success rate, simply due to the fact I spent $21 on one, and $90 on the other. The limitations of this system certainly cry out for a more fleshed out criteria, but at least it does keep me, Persona 5: Royal notwithstanding, away from dropping full price on a game I have a decent chance of not finishing, as clear and present penance is waiting just around the corner.
Now prior to my adventures with these two titles, I had only three quits in recent memory, and by that I mean going back a few years (and I play a shit-ton of video games) – Death Stranding, as I began to find it exhausting trying to predict which experience Death Stranding would present to me on any given day. Would I find it a beautiful immersion in this bizarre Kojima world? Sometimes. Or thoroughly bored by fetch-quests being refitted as gaming high art? Other times. Eventually I got so annoyed by my binary reaction to the game on any given day, I bailed, even if I did very much admire this effort from one of the last (only?) auteurs left in the AAA gaming world.
The other two I walked away from were Resident Evil games, namely Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, and its predecessor, Resident Evil 6, although for vastly different reasons.
Resident Evil 6, in case you haven’t played it, is a dogshit fucking videogame. I won’t go into specifics, as the shortcomings, voluminous as they are, have been well documented since release to the point where the game is now one of those unfortunate releases that have devolved into meme form, the same shadowy realm Cyberpunk 2077, and Balan Wonderland also take up residence within. I was very late to the party, and tried it out last year as it was cheap like borsht on the PS Store, but holy crap did it live up to its reputation and then some.
Biohazard on the other hand, saw Capcom wasn’t ready to see their flagship franchise go down without a fight, some five years after the clusterfuck that was 6. Gone was Leon’s karate prowess/run-and-gun brain mush players were left with no choice but to snicker at with their friends, and in its place was a first-person, balls out, HORROR GAME. Biohazard was for all intents and purposes, a complete reboot, completely ignoring all the Umbrella/Racoon City lore built over the last couple decades, and in its place you’re basically thrust into The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, attempting to survive in some shithole Southern US compound as murderous, backwoods rednecks try and skin you alive.
I quit Biohazard too, but for almost the exact inverse reasoning: it did its job too well. I have played my share of scary/horror games in the past, but I’ll be goddamned if this wasn’t the first one to make me literally feel like I was transported into a horror film, with Capcom basically saying, “Good luck. You’re the hunted now.”
I wasn’t planning to quit, but there is a part in the game, maybe a third or so in, when, after a nightmarishly gruelling first couple hours, I finally found myself in a cut scene at the compound, and with a helpful police officer no less! I could finally exhale a little, I mean I probably get in his car and go to the next set piece right, cause video game set-piece rules?
But of course Biohazard plays by horror movie rules, not video game ones, and so when the patriarch of the family emerged behind the cop, only to stab him through the back of his skull, and rip the top half of his head clean off, I should’ve seen it coming. It was at this point, I quit – I avenged that poor bastard’s death, and then I just put down the controller, as in a moment of clarity, I realized I wasn’t getting through the game. I was getting through moments, each corridor or unlocked door basically occupied as much mental energy as a Dark Souls boss.
This wasn’t fun. Capcom created the only game I’m personally aware of, that makes it absolutely impossible to achieve any kind of flow state. Impressive? Absolutely. Easy to walk away from this amazing gaming achievement? Piece of cake.
Also didn’t help that I played big chunks of it in VR…but with all that said, let’s get onto Village!
I didn’t quit Resident Evil: Village. In fact, for my money, this is the best Resident Evil game I’ve ever played. The story: following the horrific events of Biohazard, you again take control of survivor stooge Ethan Winter, back home with his no-longer possessed wife Mia (insert whatever marriage therapy joke you want here I suppose, if the mood strikes you), and infant daughter Rose. Well it doesn’t take long before everything goes to hell, and this time Ethan is off to Romania to get his daughter Rose back, who has been abducted.
That’s all I’ll say about the story, because truth be told, it’s really not very interesting, at least until a couple curveballs thrown in last act. This is the case, due to lack of trying on Capcom’s part though, and believe me when I say, that this is a good thing. If we’re being honest with each other, the story has always pretty much sucked in Resident Evil games, and Capcom hasn’t even tried to cloak this, in fact they started leaning into it in RE4, often considered the franchise’s magnum opus (need a refresher, do you? You travel to Spain to rescue the president’s teenage daughter Ashley, who has been, you guessed it, abducted by some mutant cult or something. Up to speed I presume, let’s carry on). Here in Village, there is some campy narrative to hitch onto if you really want to, but far be it from Capcom to waste much of your time with cut scenes to build up that lore! 95% of the cut scenes are just quick pan-out cuts to show the massive scale of whatever boss you’re about to engage with.
That really is a prime example of the main reason I adore Village so much: there are wonderfully self-aware games out there, that are created with its strengths and accurate placing within our cultural zeitgeist firmly in lockstep, but can you name one that is also hyper-aware of its past screwups, and face them so head-on, what might be interpreted as improvements are actually just browbeating those previous shortcomings into something completely new and invigorating? This is what Resident Evil Village provides, in every single one of its acts (about an 8-10 hour playthrough, by the way).
Let me be clear: Resident Evil: Village is absolutely bonkers, and Capcom has allowed itself to do this both by distancing itself completely from the semi-unintentional idiocy of RE6, and to a lesser degree, 4/5, and also ramping it up to 11. The enemies and bosses you’ll encounter here, nothing is grounded remotely in reality like all previous RE games, but the genius of Village is somehow the lunacy never takes you out of the game or makes you feel like you’re playing a different series. Within the first hour or two, you’re fighting lycans, some kind of dive-bomber dinosaur type bird, and of course a ten-foot tall Vampira.
I’ll be honest, it threw me at first. When a friend asked me how I was enjoying it, I offered up an unsolicited compare/contrast to Biohazard to illustrate my lukewarm experience thus far: “Well I personally find The Texas Chainsaw Massacre more scary than Van Helsing, but that’s just me.”
An hour or so more into the game, I finally broke free from the shackles of what I felt a Resident Evil game oughta be, fully embraced what Capcom is doing with the franchise in 2021, and I became acutely aware I was playing one of the best games in the last few years or so.
I have a theory with Capcom’s new direction of the franchise, and I really hope it’s correct…I feel like they’re now treating RE games as a horror anthology of sorts. If Biohazard was a homage to rural horror like Hills have Eyes, or Texas Chainsaw, then Village takes its cues from any fairytale horror you can shake a stick at. I really hope they keep shifting horror genres to tackle, as it leaves them limitless freedom, as opposed to being bogged down by Umbrella lore nobody even gives a shit about anymore, feeling a perpetual need to keep upping the ante, and that’s how you end up with some dumbass protagonist punching boulders into lava (more on that later).
All the four main sections, or “houses” you travel through are immaculately set up, meticulously decorated, and brilliantly proportional scale in relation to the scope of the game, with every room making it extremely easy to not only observe its purpose, but to subtly keep Ethan moving forward. They’re all wildly different than each other, but somehow Capcom doesn’t let them feel like a greatest hits horror package, all totally disconnected from each other. This is likely due to a brilliant design decision, which is making the Village act as a hub of sorts, with all the houses sort of branching off from there. The connection between all the houses might not hold up under some light scrutiny when examining Village’s overarching plot, but just like so many of the best things in this game, it is one thing, but making you feel something else, something better.
And speaking of Ethan…if you needed any more proof how Capcom is taking the piss (and I mean that in a very complimentary way), look no further than this dipshit. My god – this guy really is dumber than rocks. It’s easy to miss his little bits of random dialogue as you play, as they effectively act as background noise or under-the breath mutterings you hear a lot of video game protagonists similarly offer up, but once I started paying closer attention, I was basically howling every time he spoke. A few choice samples: (in mid-fight against some horrific boss, when she unveils her second form): “Agghh, you’re fucked!” (when he finds a part of someone who he loves in a jar): “WHERE IS THE REST OF HER?”
And I think my personal favourite has to be when he is walking through absolute carnage and dead bodies everywhere: “Who would do something like this?”
Ethan Winter constantly finds all this weird, but not even close to weird enough, and it was a stroke of genius on Capcom’s part to keep him consistent with the unhinged aesthetic maintained throughout the rest of the game, while still allowing him to effectively be an empty vessel for the player to navigate this world.
The gameplay is also terrific, definitely heavier on combat than Biohazard, but it never overtakes whatever unique, fucked up vibe a particular house is setting up for you. Ammo doesn’t seem to be a problem, and I know on the surface that might sound like a nerf or whatever, but personally I like this freedom where if I miss a shot, I’m not running an automatic debate in my head if I should save scum or whatever.
And graphics wise, at least on my PS5, I don’t think I’ve seen a better game. In my life. They’re that good.
C’mon, just hop in, and enjoy Capcom’s ride. I know the play-through isn’t Persona 5: Royal type length, but Capcom has set up such a gnarly, perfectly paced game, that I would hazard a guess most owners of the game would give it two+ playthroughs. I know I will be adding subsequent playthroughs to my ever-growing backlog list.
I guess I’ll close with my star witness pitch, as to why yes, you really do need to play this game: at one point during a battle with a late-game boss, he randomly calls Chris Redfield (yes, he has a small part in this game, no it’s not a spoiler), a “boulder-punching asshole.” This is of course a reference to the end-game sequence of Resident Evil 5 that has become a meme, with Chris angrily, and successfully punching a giant boulder into a lava pit.
The sentient being we know as Resident Evil, has finally achieved self-awareness, and it’s glorious fun.