Does a Resident Evil game need to be “scary” to be good? It’s no secret that the Resident Evil series has deep roots within the horror genre, and with that comes the assumption that players should be sufficiently terrified when playing. However, players have always been put in the shoes of an action hero within a horror movie. While the series does take heavy influence from films like Dawn of the Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the gameplay focuses on tension rather than outright jump scares.
Looking back at the first Resident Evil (1996), it’s clear the franchise aimed to be tense rather than outright horrifying. Players take control of a heavily trained police task force, perfectly capable of using many weapons and explosives. Resident Evil has never been shy when giving players access to combat shotguns, rocket launchers, handguns and other weapons. This gives players the firepower to deal with enemies like massive crocodiles, giant snakes and genetically enhanced super zombies. Over the years, each sequel has upped the ante, creating grander and more intense situations. All of this came to a boiling point with the widely disliked Resident Evil 6.
Resident Evil 6 turned a game rooted in horror into a game rooted in an action movie with horror elements. This shift created a game ultimately void of the tension that made Resident Evil the game it’s always been. Some could argue that Resident Evil 5 had already gone down this path; however, it still held tension and replayability. Replayability has always been a key feature in what makes the franchise what it is. Going through the game on higher difficulties, attempting speed runs, or simply unlocking unlimited ammo and blasting these monstrosities away with ease was always part of what made Resident Evil great. Looking back at all these best in the franchise and what made them great, we’ll see that it was never scary. It was always the tension of inventory management paired with an infinitely replayable game.
Resident Evil 7 brought us a gritty and horrifying look at what Resident Evil could be from a first-person perspective. Taking its inspirations from films like The Hills Have Eyes and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, we see a bleak and honestly somewhat scary experience. The frightening aspect of the game comes early on in the campaign before it quickly shifts into classic Resident Evil form by arming our protagonist and diving right back into inventory management. A focus on these systems made the game memorable for me and, to this day, is still one of my most replayed in the franchise. With Resident Evil: Village (or Resident Evil 8), we are given a game that’s not inspired by gritty horror 70s horror films but by gothic fantasy horror and even, to some extent, the Universal monsters. Right away, looking at different inspirations, we cannot expect the same horror provided by 7 with Village. With new inspirations comes an entirely different tone and vibe. Resident Evil: Village brings together all the aspects that make the franchise stand out and adds heavy tension through combat rather than the unknown.
Village of Shadows
Resident Evil: Village gives players the option to play on four different difficulties; Casual, Standard, Hardcore and Village of Shadows. Village of shadows is only unlocked by having the collectors edition of the game or beating the game for the first time. It’s not recommended that players start with Village of Shadows, but I would recommend players looking for a tense experience start with Hardcore. I understand the necessity for playing on Standard and Casual and would never hold that against someone just trying to play through the game casually. However, if you’re a veteran Resident Evil player and are looking for tension, you are doing a disservice starting on any difficulty other than Hardcore. I believe this to be one of Resident Evil: Villages shortcomings. The difficulty choice leaves many players unsure of where to start, with Hardcore sounding too difficult but standard turning out to be too easy. As mentioned previously, a lot of the tension within the franchise comes from inventory management. With the lower difficulties, you barely have to think twice about ammo or what gun you should level up.
With Hardcore and a higher extent Village of Shadows, players are given tense combat brought to life by the onslaught of lycan constantly set upon the village. With these combat sequences, players must think on their feet and shift focus mid-combat while juggling between firearms just to survive the encounters. With that said, Capcom never leaves players without enough ammunition to get through each encounter; each boss fight will provide you with more than enough to get to the next area.
Village has some of the best character design I’ve seen in the franchise to date and elevates what we’d generally expect from the series. Each family member provides a unique look, ability, and area that never leaves Village feeling stale or stuck in one tone. Throughout the franchise, we’ve had memorable monsters like Mr X, Nemesis and even the Bakers. Resident Evil: Village is no different. Each of the main antagonists is more memorable than the last, providing their own sense of horror and spectacle. The enemy variety in Resident Evil: Village is top notch and really elevates some of the issues with Resident Evil 7.
Taking a look back at the previous 8 games in the mainline series, it’s clear that being scary was never the goal. Resident Evil is full of terrifying moments, but the overall game never aims to be scary. Holding Resident Evil: Village up to be as scary as Resident Evil 7 is unfair since the franchise has never been about that, and it doesn’t need to be. The series is about playing out a horror movie where instead of a helpless civilian, you’re a well-trained soldier, managing inventories and fighting obscene laboratory abominations through a convoluted yet surprisingly in-depth story. The protagonist, Ethan, may not be a trained soldier, but he’s more than competent enough to stand with the best.
So, I do not think the Resident Evil series needs to be scary. Resident Evil: Village perfectly marries the horror and action aspects giving us the most Resident Evil-like experience we’ve had in years.