There's a fair amount of tonal whiplash to the hour and ten minutes of new gameplay I've seen for Resident Evil 8 compared to 2017's Resident Evil 7. That's not a judgement, as it looks like Capcom has only shown the tiniest beats so far (more on that later), and playing the recent Resident Evil Village demo gameplay proves it all works. But there's no denying there are big changes at every level – from gameplay to narrative style, combat, characters and more. Where 7 gave us an understated slasher movie in a claustrophobic house, Resident Evil Village embraces the camp of older games (most notably Resident Evil 4) and lets rip with extended shootouts against hordes of werewolves, enemies with telekinetic powers, and a possessed, screeching two foot tall wooden doll wearing a wedding dress.
Will someone please tell me what the hell is going on?
It is a fever dream in places. Mother Miranda – the mysterious figure behind Ethan Winters' kidnapped daughter – is revealed to be biblically themed matriarch, with a halo, clerical stole, and eight wings (presumably placing her above the six winged Seraphim, theology fans). Lady Dimitrescu will be everything you are hoping for too, languidly walk-chasing you – much like Jack did throughout Resident Evil 7 – shouting 'Man-thing!' contemptuously as she bends double through doorways. And then there are the werewolves. Werewolves everywhere. Called Lycans, they pour from the rooftops, constantly pushing combat from tight panicky spaces one minute to wide open areas the next as you run and fight.
The recent demo gives a great example of how all this feels. There's more ammo now – especially if you can find supplies to craft more – but it's still precious, with every wasted shot making the fight to survive harder. However, the demo only included three Lycans, demonstrating their cautious, dodging attack lunges. The gameplay I've seen features ten at a time. Initially it seems manageable as you barricade doors to hold them back, much like Resident Evil 2's window boarding mechanic, but the barriers don't hold, obviously, and the fight soon spills through the streets. Here, there are crowds of enemies, forcing Ethan to dash around corners to get away and eventually into another building, using the doorway to funnel pursuing monsters past a shootable exploding red barrel.
In the more open spaces, and with the highly agile Lycans preferring rooftops to move around on, fighting is a fast, head whipping balance of targeting, engaging, and running away. Snap judgements on where to dash seem to be a key skill, using buildings and alleys to separate Lycans or avoid larger clusters. Interestingly, Capcom explains Lycans only attack in packs, and appear almost dormant when perched on the rooftops alone. Gameplay shows them stirring as you get near, then settling back down as you move away, and it looks like you'll have a choice in some cases whether to avoid or engage them as you explore. There are hints of slower burn moments as well, with Ethan exploring decrepit rooms with blood stained floors and grimy stone cellars by torchlight. Paced well, these tonal shifts could create a great dynamic range.
The actual village all this takes place in seems to be a large area to explore in its own right. There are animals to kill for crafting supplies, and Capcom has made it clear that some areas won't be accessible until you have certain tools. That's not uncommon for a series built on backtracking entire maps once you have the right key for a door, but this is the first time we've seen it in what appears to be a more open world, with the village acting as a hub linking numerous locations. In the demo alone there are at least four locked gates patiently waiting to be opened at some point.
You're not alone here, as Ethan meets at least one beleaguered group of survivors. From listening to them fight and argue, it seems that whatever happened happened fast. And, when someone suddenly turns into a Lycan, it's obvious the creatures are infectious and the chaos must have spread like a zombie outbreak. Ethan also seems to have lost half his left hand to a bite in some of what I've seen, with his third and fourth fingers completely missing. If that was a Lycan bite, then it could be setting up an unpredictable twist later on. One thing that also becomes apparent is that Mother Miranda is worshiped like a god, with villagers praying to 'Great Ones' and 'giving glory to Mother Miranda'. While Dimitrescu's castle is seen as 'a place of blood and death' it's less clear if Miranda is perceived as evil, with worshipers seeing the attack as 'Mother Miranda abandoning them', rather causing it.
As to who or what Mother Miranda actually is, isn't clear. The implication that she wasn't always evil smacks of a very Resident Evil style accidental bioweapon encounter. Whether that's virus related, Las Plagas, or Mold themed isn't clear. Although, given she's kidnapped Ethan's daughter – probably the first 'pure-born' E-Type Mold infected subject – Mold might be the way to go. (Ethan and his wife Mia were both infected by Mold in Resident Evil 7.) One of the logos for Village also seems to show a desiccated E or D type Mold bioweapon embryo in a nest, with Mother Miranda's wings surrounding it.
The symbolism suggests she's trying to hatch or birth something. However, while the Ethan connection says Mold, Lady Dimitrescu's claws are absolutely a T-Virus Tyrant vibe, and nothing explains the werewolves, who have no precedence in Resident Evil unless you count an appearance in a 1998 tie-in comic. Whatever Mother Miranda is, and up to, she's the leader and creator of the four main bad guys – Dimitrescu, Heisenberg, Moreau, Beneviento. A note from Dimitrescu credits Mother Miranda with giving her the "castle, obedient daughters and everlasting life". I'm assuming the others owe a similar debt.
Dimitrescu is functionally a vampire; Heisenberg (a bearded figure in glasses) is telekinetic – controlling rubble to attack and trap Ethan, and calling a giant hammer weapon to hand with a flick of his wrist. Moreau is a bloated and deformed hunchback, and the screeching doll is Beneviento. Or at least her avatar, as the doll scurries to the lap of a shrouded black figure who might well be the real power behind it. When Heisenberg captures Ethan, he brings him in front of the five main villains and we see the power dynamic as Dimitrescu and Heisenberg vie for Mother Miranda's favor. Moreau and Beneviento on the other hand seem to have set sail way down crazy river, potentially making them more dangerous than Dimitrescu and Heisenberg's coherent ambition.
What do they do in the shadows?
This, so far then, is shaping to be a far more flamboyant horror pizzazz compared to Resident Evil 7's slow burn. There's an obvious Resident Evil 4 feel to the location and the lavish camp of Dimitrescu and her castle, but one clue suggests we haven't really seen the 'real' game. A brief glance at a map of D's castle shows it's much smaller than the main house in Resident Evil 7. Combined with the other characters – Heisenberg, Moreau, Beneviento and Mother Miranda – who all have their own territories and are clearly boss battle to be, and a full Resident Evil Village map that shows 12 named locations across an open world set up, and it looks like we've barely seen any of what's to come. Early rumors that were correct about the Eastern European setting, Castles and werewolves, also mentioned three playable characters (Chris Redfield as one, the third is unknown), as well as hallucinations, occultism, and insanity playing a part.
It means the final game will probably be full of surprises. Lady Dimitrescu has dominated coverage because everyone really needs some time in horny jail, but it's increasingly clear that 99% of what's been shown so far is only from the first few hours. From what I've pieced together, the timeline appears to be this: Ethan arrives at the village as prisoner or stowaway in one of Chris Redfield's vehicles and escapes when it crashes; he explores the village, is told Rose is inside the castle and tries to get in, but is captured by Heisenberg and meets Mother Miranda, Dimitrescu, Moreau and Beneviento; he then escapes, and gets inside Dimitrescu's castle to face her... That's likely the first 3-4 hours of the game and everything Capcom's shown so far seems to fit inside that progression. It's whatever happens after that where things are going to get really interesting. Crucially, despite the completely different feel to the ramped up combat and more extravagant enemies we've seen so far, Village is pulling it off so far, which bodes well for whatever surprises are yet to come hidden in the mountains.
If you're hyped for the game, be sure to check out the latest Resident Evil 8 pre-order prices with our guide.