Judging by its latest demo, Resident Evil Village might be the biggest departure for the horror franchise yet. The new 30-minute gameplay snippet hints at a more open, action-packed take on the series that’s more first-person shooter than survival horror.
Resident Evil purists might be disappointed to hear that. When Resident Evil 7 launched in 2017, it was praised as a return to the franchise’s roots. It traded in the Hollywood gunplay of previous installments for tense exploration and big jump scares. While the new game doesn’t quite feel like a return to the much-maligned Resident Evil 6 so far, it’s clear that it’s charting a new course for the series.
Resident Evil Village does feel like another return to the series’ roots in a different way, though. The new demo signals a game that might just be as cheesy as the original Resident Evil.
For those who haven’t revisited the first Resident Evil game in two decades, I recommend watching a playthrough on YouTube. The most immediate thing that sticks out probably won’t be the spooky setting, puzzle box gameplay, or fixed camera angles; it’s the relentless corniness of the whole experience.
The original game is a bit of a charming mess. It features a cheesy zombie horror story that jumps the shark (or kills it, in one instance) at every turn. What starts as a thriller about an elite group of special forces trapped in a zombie-infested mansion soon becomes a goofy haunted house story. It’s full of genuinely terrifying moments, but those are counterbalanced by over-the-top monsters and laughable dialogue.
The voice acting especially sticks out like a sore thumb. The performances are so bad that it’s hard not to chuckle at every line. Part of that came from a language barrier — director Shinji Mikami insisted on directing the English voice actors, but asked them to speak slowly so he could understand the lines. That resulted in stilted performances that wouldn’t feel out of place in a “so bad, it’s good” cult horror movie like Troll 2.
Resident Evil Village has that same energy already, though it’s unclear if it’s on purpose. The demo introduces players to the game’s titular village, which appears to be infested with werewolves. In one dramatic scene, a character morphs into a Lycan and enters a violent killing rage. It’s not particularly scary though; in fact, it’s all very silly.
The voice acting calls back to the original game as well, for better or worse. Ethan Winters returns for the sequel and he’s goofier than ever. After a dramatic character death, he whines “This place has gone mad!” in a line delivery that wouldn’t be out of place in the original.
It’s hard to even say if Village really will be a horror game. While its Maiden demo was tense and atmospheric, it presents a sequence that’s not actually in the final game. The new gameplay demo is an actual representation of the final game and it feels more like a grim action-adventure movie with an extra serving of violence. It doesn’t feel too far off from the kind of R-rated, Hollywood action movie that’s thrown into a February release slot because the studio isn’t confident it can compete with top-tier summer blockbusters. Think of movies like The Last Witch Hunter or Van Helsing.
That’s a big change of pace from Resident Evil 7, which is increasingly feeling more like an outlier than a return to form. It’s a genuinely terrifying game that trades in monster movie clichés and large-scale lore for a more claustrophobic, unsettling story. As much as the franchise is known for horror, surprisingly few of its games are really all that scary.
In that sense, Village almost feels truer to the original’s roots than Resident Evil 7. It relishes in the hammy melodrama and silly plot escalations. The gameplay may feel closer to Resident Evil 4 than the PS1 classics, but the tone is spot-on.
Yes, it’s a bit of a back-handed compliment, but Resident Evil Village may challenge fans to rethink what the core of the franchise really is. For 25 years, it’s been heralded as gaming’s great horror series, but is it because of the scares or the schlock? It’s likely a little bit of column A and column B. Resident Evil Village seems to be leaning more on the latter to craft a big, goofy blockbuster full of Lycans, vampires, and bad dialogue.
I’ll bring the popcorn.
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