My love affair with Resident Evil began with the first game almost 27 years ago. Indeed, my enduring passion for the survival horror genre started in 1996 when 10-year-old me was scared shitless by zombie dogs bursting through flimsy windows in narrow Spencer Mansion hallways. I've since lost sleep over the sequel's Mr X, number 3's Nemesis, Resident Evil 4's Las Plagas, and the series' abiding suite of hideous scares since – from the stellar old school remakes of recent times, through to last year's Resident Evil: Village Shadows of Rose.
I can't wait for the Resident Evil 4 remake, and just the mere thought of playing the eighth main series installment in VR is both terrifying and exciting. Especially when the Shadows of Rose DLC contains what I believe to be the most horrifying set-piece in the entire almost-30-year-old series. Yes, really.
I'd even go one further to suggest that despite the combined success of 2017's Resident Evil 7 and 2021's Resident Evil: Village, their DLC expansions were even better explorations of their base games' best ideas. Naturally, after-the-fact add-ons, premium and/or complementary, are more likely to fly under the radar – simply because these extra portions can't exist without the main course – but there is some real meat on the bones of both RE7's Banned Footage and RE8's Shadow of Rose off-shoots.
The former's Marguerite Baker escape room puzzle is so, so clever, and a criminally underrated and overlooked evolution of Lucas Baker's trap-laden house of horrors from the Resident Evil 7 base game. After being captured and chained to a bed, the player is able to break free in short bursts; search the surrounding bedroom for clues and, crucially, the key to the door; and then return themselves to their shackles in order to avoid detection from Marguerite who pops in at random intervals. The whole set piece is fun and frantic and Misery-esque in its delivery, and, prior to checking out Shadows of Rose last year, was my favorite Resident Evil-shaped side venture.
Shadows of Rose's return to House Beneviento, on the other hand, takes things to a whole other level entirely. Revisiting what is easily one of the eeriest, most twisted and unsettling locations in survival horror history was never going to be a cake walk. Remember: this is the same place that gives us that oversized baby fetus stalker, soaked in blood, wailing in pain with quivering lips and a black hole for a mouth. Running the gamut from one side of the house to the elevator at the opposite end echoes the Silent Hill 2 mid-game set piece where James is forced to peg it from Pyramid Head – but doing so in a blackout, weaponless, with a monster so primordially unsettling in 4K visuals, screaming and laughing in tandem, is different gravy. After that, I reckon Capcom was forced to go bigger in Shadows of Rose. And I think the devs achieved just that.
Because, Jesus Christ on the cross, does that return to House Beneviento go to some weird places fast. What starts off with faux operations on wool-stuffed teddy bears, quickly descends into organizing sinister dioramas where children's toys depict scenes of brutal crimes. The power cuts out (obviously), and in your bid to restore it, you're forced to outrun a group of sentient clothes-less mannequins, whose beady eyes shine in the dark. Their movements jerk in the style of stop-motion animation, giving them a Ted Hughes' The Iron Man-like quality as if Tim Burton had penned the 1968 sci-fi novel instead of the late English author, and they only move when you've got your back to them. The sound of erratic footsteps pounding the wooden floor behind me as I fled to safety will stay with me for some time.
After that, you take an elevator to a world where everything is 10x bigger than it should be (the series' iconic save-point typewriters included), where evil humanoid dolls float through the air with spotlight eyes and scythes for hands, patrolling walkways lined with towering furniture. Get caught, and, well, you can probably guess what happens next.
Unarmed, you slouch deeper into the house in search of an exit and encounter the same mannequins as before; who, this time, are now fiberglass giants whose footsteps send shockwaves around the room. Wade deeper still into this nightmare world, and you wind up in a room full of massive, expressionless doll heads who spend 30 seconds or so cackling and absolutely roasting you and your dad – the protagonist of the base game – before you eventually navigate a network of hallways to battle Eveline in what is a pretty weak, gamified conclusion to the whole ordeal.
All dolled up
But that concluding boss fight doesn't detract from the overall experience, which is genuinely terrifying. Taken as a whole across Village's base game and DLC, House Beneviento is Resident Evil at its very best, and is a clear reflection of how far the series has come in recent years – it now being unafraid to step away from its B-Movie facade and lean fully into the supernatural. The next step for Capcom is, of course, the Resident Evil 4 remake, and while the studio has set the bar ever so high in remake terms with its own modern overhauls of Resident Evil 2 and 3, Motive Studio deftly illustrated how to rework a classic while keeping veterans on their toes with the Dead Space remake earlier this year.
I suspect the Resident Evil 4 remake will tread a similar path, and while it probably won't stray from the original formula too much – certainly not in the same vein as House Beneviento – that's not to say there won't be deviations from the beaten path. Who knows what's planned for DLC, or even VR thereafter. All I know is that I'll be easing myself in slowly. I'm still not over the last one. And I sure as hell won't be reading Ted Hughes' The Iron Man any time soon.
Not scared yet? After playing the best horror games you will be!