The best scares should always leave a scar. Anything less is a mere parlor trick, immediately affecting, but just as quickly forgotten. Resident Evil has always had a particular penchant for leaving permanent marks on the psyche – its scares leaving scars on generations of players over the past 25 years. On May 7, Capcom is returning with Resident Evil Village, and it wants your attempt to survive its horrors to be something you'll never forget.
If our peek at how Sanguis Virginis is made in the PS5 Resident Evil Maiden demo was any indication, Resident Evil Village is going to carve its marks deep beneath the skin, and, according to Capcom, we haven't seen anything yet. "One of the central themes of the Resident Evil series is horror or fear, and I would just warn you not to take anything you've seen so far as an indication that you can relax in terms of horror content," game director Morimasa Sato teases, speaking to Edge Magazine in issue #356. "There are plenty of intense and horrifying scenes in the game, but we've chosen to leave those for you to experience by yourself."
Stand your ground
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was a fearless reinvention of a series in desperate need of it. By letting us take simultaneous control of both camera and character, Biohazard shifted our vantage point from viewer to victim. It was an impressive sleight of hand, trapping us in the body of a protagonist as terrified of the scenario that lay before him as we were as players to experience it.
With this change of perspective, Capcom effectively cultivated a vibe of fear and loathing in Louisiana, and that's something the team is eager to explore further in Resident Evil Village. "I think of the Resident Evil series as horror movies with the player in the starring role," Sato explained last year (opens in new tab), speaking to the power of the returning first-person camera. "We've put a lot of emphasis on letting you play the game the way you would act if you were there in real life – letting you plan, face, and overcome obstacles as if you were there in person."
Capcom has spent the last three years focused on refining these elements. Sanding down the sharp edges of Resident Evil 7's combat system and expanding the scope and depth of the playable space in Resident Evil Village. However, the game could have taken a different path entirely. "There were originally some opinions within the team saying that third-person perspective might bring a different kind of combat experience," Sato tells Edge, "But I believe that the first-person perspective allows us to express the more up-close-and-personal fear and desperation of Ethan's story."
Resident Evil Village is far more dangerous of a situation than the one presented in RE7. There are wider and more vertical spaces to navigate, greater numbers of enemies to outmaneuver, and more intelligent threats to combat. Thankfully, Ethan has taken a couple of self-defense classes since we last saw him. "Resident Evil games aren't about proactively hunting down enemies, but rather facing up against horrific enemies for your own survival. When we were designing Resident Evil 7 – a game which was very much focused on the horror aspect of the series – it felt like a natural conclusion that a system was needed during combat for guarding against enemy attacks."
Sato continues, telling Edge: "Then, for Resident Evil Village, we evolved this system further by having a button input to guard – and thus take less damage from an attack – and then with a further input push an enemy away for a chance to counter-attack with your gun. It's a very effective system when trying to survive in the game, but it's still, first and foremost, an emergency measure – it's by no means central to the combat."
Like in Resident Evil 7, combat should be treated as a last resort. In the playable teaser for PS5, movement is methodical – your turning circle slow and purposeful, designed to make you think carefully about every action taken. Given the type of threats you'll be encountering throughout Resident Evil Village, there's no harm in turning away from danger. If anything, that tactic might be encouraged, should you want to see Ethan's mission through to the end.
Ethan Winters returns
Ethan Winters understands the scars of surviving horror better than most. He might have made it through the Dulvey incident alive, but he is still haunted by its aftermath. In Resident Evil Village, the ghosts of Ethan's past will reemerge and come bearing a familiar face. "Following the events of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Mia and Ethan start a new life in Eastern Europe, under the protection of the BSAA," producer Peter Fabiano tells Official PlayStation Magazine in issue #185. "That all comes to an end when Chris [Redfield] kidnaps their daughter, forcing Ethan to search through the eponymous village in an attempt to get her back."
For Capcom to bring Ethan back in this way is revealing. In its 25-year history, Resident Evil has never entrusted back-to-back installments of the mainline series to a single protagonist. The closest it has come is between Resident Evil 5 and 6, with Redfield leading the former and appearing in the latter as a small piece of a much larger tapestry. The architects of Village, it would seem, have unfinished business with Ethan Winters. "While, officially, Resident Evil Village has been in production for about three years," Fabiano continues, "concepting and planning was something going through our minds towards the end of Resident Evil 7. The team grew quite attached to Ethan as a character, so we knew we wanted to continue his story arc."
We too became quite attached to Ethan as we ushered him through a living nightmare in the swamplands of Louisiana. His bones were broken, limbs decapitated, resolve tested, and sense of reality warped beyond all recognition. Contact with a new breed of bioweapon – Eveline, the presiding puppeteer over the carnage at the Baker ranch – caused an infection that is likely lingering at a molecular level, as so many of the viruses and fungi have done throughout Resident Evil history. Could his bloodwork be the reason Ethan was dragged into another harrowing adventure? Capcom is refusing to say. "The biggest surprise you could possibly imagine awaits Ethan Winters in this story," teases Sato, adding: "What that is, you'll have to see for yourself!"
Whatever that surprise is, it can't be good. The game director spoke with finality last year, explaining that (opens in new tab) "Village takes all the different aspects of Ethan and tells his whole story. I wanted to take the Ethan Winters we started creating in 7 and see his story through to the end." Ominous words that begin to take form as we see the scope of Winters' plight. Mia, murdered by the very agency tasked with protecting her; Rosemary, daughter to two parents who fought off infections with the E-Type bioweapon, in the hands of cultists presiding over an ancient ceremony; Ethan, forced to entertain one nightmare to escape another.
Tools of the trade
Fabiano tells OPM that "you'll notice we took a lot of inspiration from Resident Evil 4" and that "there are certainly some homages to Resident Evil 4 that players will take note of". There is, for example, a similar partitioning of environments, with a towering castle overshadowing a sprawling and dilapidated village. Amongst those ramshackle shacks are hordes of mutated enemies working in packs, utilising their familiarity with the space to outmaneuver and overwhelm. Within the castle walls, more decadent and otherworldly threats await; ancient cultists and tyrannical witches bearing the telltale signs of a Progenitor Virus mutation.
Resident Evil 4 players will also the return of weapon customisation, stringent item management, ammo sparsity, and even the appearance of a merchant – a mysterious vendor who is willing to sell weapons, items, and crafting resources to help you survive the suite of new nemeses, should you have the Lei to spend. "One of the hidden themes of Resident Evil Village is recreating the fun of Resident Evil 4, so it was essential that the merchant character have the same sense of playfulness as that game had," says Sato.
The Duke, as the merchant is known, is a larger than life NPC that will appear at designated points throughout Resident Evil: Village to set up his Emporium; you'll find the currency to spend here by pillaging through Dimitrescu Castle and by smashing every wooden crate wrapped in yellow tape that you can find with your knife. The shop itself is split between Supplies, Gunsmithery, and The Duke's Purse, and it's here where you'll be able to purchase mission-critical items, supplies, and weapons – revolvers, long-barreled pistols, hunting knives, and different variants of rifle are just some of the firearms carried by The Duke.
You'll also acquire new weapons while exploring and (were we to take a stab in the dark) by solving ridiculous and intricate puzzles. Of course, you won't be able to carry all of your gear around the village. "I think you'll see some similarities in item management… the inventory takes the shape of an attache case with slots for items that you can place within the given space," Fabiano continues, teasing further homages to Resident Evil 4.
In Resident Evil 7, you started with 12 items slots and could upgrade your carrying capacity by locating three hidden backpacks, each of which would grant an additional four+ inventory spaces. While Resident Evil Village does have hidden items to collect – mysterious goat totems, for example – you'll need to purchase larger cases from The Duke if you want to expand your inventory. The latest demo revealed a starting 9x5 grid (with 45 available item slots) in Village, with at least one of the expanded cases costing a pricey 10,000 Lei.
You'll also be able to craft items and ammunition more freely than you've ever been able to in Resident Evil. The UI indicates that there are five types of resources to be collected and combined; one Green Herb and one Chem Fluid can be combined to create a First Aid Med, a medicine that fully heals all wounds, for example, while ammunition can be crafted should you purchase or locate the relevant crafting recipe. The biggest consumer of space is, of course, weaponry, your standard EMI 1 Handgun taking up six slots of inventory space and the pump-action M1897 Shotgun consuming 10. As in Resident Evil 4, carrying a smaller selection of weapons and upgrading their range, firepower, and reload speed might be a better tactic for survival than holding onto a wider variety at the behest of medicines and ammunition.
Enter the survival horror
It's how Resident Evil Village brings all of these elements together that has us counting down the days until May 7, 2021. It's believed (but not confirmed) that the game will feature a semi-open world, with areas of the sprawling village woven together carefully, becoming more accessible over time. We know from a look at the Collector's Edition map that four noble families control the area, with house Beneviento, Moreau, and Heisenberg oversee the village's districts, while the Dimitrescu family claim dominion over the castle that towers above it all.
"When people imagine a single village, I think most would tend to envision something quite small. But when you look at Village, even the far-off landscapes are extremely realistic," Sato noted in a behind-the-scenes look at the game (opens in new tab). "The mountains in the distance are rendered beautifully, and the game world has an incredible sense of scale. We want the player to walk through and encounter things that make them think, 'wow, you can even get to this place!'"
"I'll just say it's much larger than what players experienced in Resident Evil 7: Biohazard," says Fabiano when asked by OPM to comment on scale of content in the game. When pressed on how much of the game takes place in Castle Dimitrescu, he's similarly cagey: "It's hard to put a percentage on it, but I'm sure you'll see there's plenty of the castle to explore." That's exciting to hear, because what we've seen of the space so far through the PS5 Maiden Demo is promising – a labyrinth of tight crawl spaces in decay that lead to twisting corridors cast in decedent light, and we're eager to explore it further.
What's particularly exciting about this division of environmental spaces is the gameplay differences we can expect to encounter between them. In the castle, there's Lady Dimitrescu – all 9 foot 6 inches of her – and her three 'daughters'; their silhouettes outlined in shadow by swarms of insects, their jagged Cheshire cat smiles piercing through the veil of Ethan's shattering reality. Outside of the castle, there are packs of 'Lycans' working to stop Ethan from reaching the castle grounds – ferocious creatures that have nested in the area, nimbly stalking those who reside in the village with sharp teeth and slashing claws.
How these more supernatural leaning creatures fit into a Resident Evil game remains to be seen, but Fabiano assures us it'll make sense in the end. "We don't want to spoil too much of the story, but what I can say is that the creatures all fit within the context of the Resident Evil world," he says to OPM, adding that "we can assure you that Resident Evil Village takes into account the overall world and history of the series."
Fabiano says that his team at Capcom is "making what we consider the best survival horror game to date". It would be strange if he didn't say that, of course, but we understand the impulse. Resident Evil Village has the difficult task of iterating on the series' latest evolution, and it's trying to do so by expanding the scope of play and the scale of the world – looking back to the finely-tuned (and utterly audacious) action of Resident Evil 4 and combining it with the careful detail and tempered pacing of Resident Evil 7. It's a difficult balance to strike, and it won't be long before we get the opportunity to experience it all for ourselves.
Excited to play Resident Evil 8? There are a number of limited edition collector's editions available, so you might want to think about getting a Resident Evil 8 pre-order in while you still can.