So maybe a few of you heard there was a spookedy new "Biohazard" game in 2021? No, not the real life biohazard game we had to play at the grocery store, but Resident Evil: Village, the eighth core title in the series that helped coin the term "survival horror." Kind of funny that it's only the eighth when there's been around, what, 70 or 80 actual Resident Evil games? Something like that. There's like five of them a year, right?
But this time, something different happened. Everyone knew Resident Evil as that game series with all the grody mutant zombies you blow up, but when this one's first major trailer landed, we were introduced to a mature lady vampire tall enough to throttle a giraffe, and y'all just about lost your collective minds.
Resident Evil always had big, scary, monstrous villains, but here was a big, scary, monstrous villain who filled out a nice dress and promised to chase you around her house while she verbally demeaned you. If you were even modestly adjacent to gaming culture at the time, you couldn't scroll two pages of tumblr or twitter without tripping over someone or other admitting they'd be pretty alright with a Giant Vampire Mommy stepping on them to death, and even a lot of people with absolutely zero investment in Giant Vampire Mommies still seemed to enjoy the sheer style and campiness of Lady Dimitrescu in a way I don't think any of us ever witnessed before in a horror game antagonist.
But the really wild thing is that this all was still just the tip of the iceberg. All the above went down before we even knew much of anything about this character, and then the next trailer revealed she was just one of five outrageous new villains from the same single game, and even as I write this, every one of them continues to enjoy a fandom both individually and as a collective whole. A fandom that evidently reaches so far beyond the typical audience for this franchise that there are people who have chosen Village as not only their first Resident Evil game, but their first horror game.
It's really not just because of a vampire with bazongulongs and a rockin' hat, now, is it?
Maybe it's just in my own social media sphere, but I can honestly say I've never seen people fall in love with the villains of a major horror game quite like they've fallen in love with these clowns, and it's clear that the development team felt very much the same, even promoting the game's release with a series of zany little puppet shorts primarily in response to fans who, allegedly, thought the game would be "too scary." These games had always exuded a conscious degree of camp value, but I don't think we've seen their marketing lighten up quite this much, and I almost wonder if it wasn't just the team's way of working through 2021's global crisis.
This sense of fun carries over well into the game itself, and especially in its surprise intro sequence, which you can watch above in its entirety: a beautifully stylized fairy tale calling to mind something more like Coraline or Return to Oz than what we're accustomed to from Biohazard. This sequence is revealed to be an in-universe local legend, and the animal characters parallel our four main villains in various ways. It's almost jarringly artsy and whimsical for a franchise associated more with putting bullets into zombies, and I couldn't be more delighted by that. It's as if they're as sick of the zombies and bullets as I am, and finally just wanted to weave a dark, fantastic horror adventure, and allow me to diverge into a little early creature reviewing here:
Village even foregoes anything really resembling "zombies" altogether, as the parasitic mold introduced in the previous game can apparently also turn humans into grey, mildewy "werewolves." It's a clever combination, given that we know both lycanthropy and mold for growing fuzz where fuzz ought not to be, and it makes me realize just how rarely this series ever actually explored classic monster archetypes. It had zombies from day one, and antagonists like the Nemesis obviously drew from Frankenstein, but most other creatures in this canon have been mutated wildlife or completely original hybrids. It was difficult to appreciate these designs while fending them off in-game, but there's definitely a fun quasihuman weirdness to their faces and proportions; they're not just scary-looking people or scary-looking dogs, though still not quite as great as the werewolf designs in Bloodborne, which feels like a heavy influence on the direction this game took.
As much as I do appreciate those original mutants the most, it's overall a lot of fun to see what constitutes a "werewolf" in the setting, let alone "vampires" and some of the other freaks we'll be meeting.
I also appreciate that we've drifted even farther away from the same old viruses. I remember finding it odd, at the time, that the plaga parasites of Resident Evil 4 were a phenomenon largely unrelated to man-made bioweaponry, but now we've seen still other flavors of mutagenic parasite, a mutagenic fungus, and now a combo platter introduced here as the cadou, a parasitic nematode mutated by the mold into a strange, embryonic looking organism that allows its host to assimilate other living beings.
We used to think this series was entirely about monstrous products of genetic engineering, but now we know Umbrella corporation was only a young punk in the monster making scene, and the real unifying element of these games is quite simply that ghouls and goblins exist with biological origins; that "monsters" are all just different flavors of Biohazard. They've got viruses, fungi, and parasitic animals now...they're just missing some bacterial and protozoan outbreaks!
Another thing I love about this game is a continuation of what made the seventh game memorable, and that's that you're playing a regular guy. I mean...sort of, but more about that later. You still gets guns, sure, maybe more than were really called for, but Ethan Winters is only marginally more experienced than he was in RE7, and unlike Claire, Jill or Leon, he has not undergone continued training as an elite monster-slayer. While many other entries in this series began to feel more like superhero fantasies than horror scenarios, Village puts us in the shoes of someone who just wants a wholesome, harmless domestic life and never asked for his family to become a magnet for malevolent mushrooms. He's got a personality about as exciting as a slice of wonderbread, but that's precisely what makes me care more about this poor guy. He should be coming home to his wife and his daughter from a job at a 7-11, not strangling harpies with half his fingers left.
This is the first time my thoughts on a Resident Evil title were detailed enough to warrant a generalized "game review" before we even get to the monster reviews, and my thoughts on the game's five bosses are actually going to fill articles all their own, so you've basically read only one of six in-depth looks we'll be taking over the season!