It was hard work being a Resident Evil fan for a while there. The unkindness the cosmos have shown to those who enjoy Capcom’s hit survival-horror series in the late ’00s has not only resulted in the franchise’s longest-ever wait for new content (a grand quota of nowt with a RE logo slapped upon it was produced between Resident Evil 6 on October 2, 2012 and Resident Evil: Revelations 2 on February 24, 2015), but, perhaps most troubling, the lurking suspicion that the series had lost its very soul.
Was the game that coined the descriptor of ‘survival horror’ even worthy of the title anymore? There was an awful lot of running and shooting in RE 6. A lot of bullets, a lot of everything. Compared to the sleek Alien Isolation, released in October 2014, Resident Evil was starting to feel as fresh as a Barry Burton’s socks.
And yet it occurred to me last week, playing through Resident Evil 3: Nemesis – a game that is much better than the middling experience I’ve read about in reviews – that I haven’t felt anything other than excitement about being a Resident Evil fan for some time now.
It’s been a great era to be a fan of the franchise. I’m all aboard the remake bus (please, can we have Code: Veronica now?). The news that there’s a new movie series in production, helmed by Johannes Roberts, works for me (Roberts, the man who made the very enjoyable, very stupid, 2017 Great White shark horror 47 Meters Down, is perfect to direct Resident Evil). Not only that, but in becoming a veteran, life-long, battle-worn believer in Capcom’s storied series, I’ve now lived enough Resi history for me to see patterns in how these things normally work out.
It was around the ambitious seventh game in the main series – 2017’s Resident Evil 7: Biohazard – Resi’s first divergent into first-person play (as well as its first taste of crunchy, deep-fried, southern gothic) that I finally began to trust Capcom as being a company that could mostly be relied upon to steady the boat in times of missteps or peril; that had the ability to move ahead via positioning to a new way of being.
This is a series that’s refreshed itself entirely at least twice. Consider it’s first time, when the pioneering Resident Evil 4 arrived in 2005, it’s reworked controls, and introduced a newly upsetting tone and darkly playful script that revoked any feelings of inertia that might have been creeping into a series that by then was already more than a decade old. Both of these games liberated Resident Evil, suggesting the franchise could go anywhere (both geographically and in tone).
They mirrored the message Capcom had been espousing since the very off (whereupon somebody at the company was desperate to make their light gun periphery work). Resident Evil didn’t have to be a game merely about zombies. It just had to be good. In my experience, a headful of ideas and the willingness to take risks will always see you right.
And yet, as history tells us, if we’re looking at the recent Resident Evil 3: Nemesis reboot as a misstep – though I enjoyed the thing, it was nowhere near as well received as 2019’s Resident Evil 2 remake – then what I saw last Friday at the PlayStation 5 reveal event, was a debut trailer for the forthcoming Resident Evil Village that left me more excited about Resident Evil than I’ve ever been before.
Resident Evil has always excelled on foreign soil and after becoming so intimately acquainted with Raccoon City again via these last two years’ remakes, the realisation that the game was heading overseas again was genuinely thrilling.
As soon as the camera began to push through the snowy undergrowth, we all thought Resident Evil 4, didn’t we? Which would make sense considering pop culture’s current trend for all thing’s folk horror. We’re thinking Kill List (2011), The Witch (2015), The Wailing (2016) and Midsommar (2019). When I say, ‘folk horror’, I mean the idea of people doing things the old way – things secretive and learned – juxtaposed with the face of modernity, and those things being very bad.
Even before the trailer dropped, Biohazard Declassified (the notorious RE fansite serving rumours that generally tends to get far more right than wrong) had been leaking information that appeared to lend credence this vibe.
The game would concern a cult that worshiped animals mutated by the new virus, Biohazard Declassified said. The occult would figure highly, it added. Vampires and werewolves would roam free (NB: it’s also rumoured that the game will feature a flashlight mechanic – and you wouldn’t be alone if your brain just flickered to Alan Wake, there – as well as a new character called ‘Emily’ who joins you while also looking for her missing father). Sure, Resi never gives into the lure of the supernatural, it’s always science, there’s always a lab involved somewhere. But I’ll say it again… vampires and werewolves.
Some details I observed from the trailer pose bigger questions. Are we in Romania now? After all, the currency listed on the top right of the (really very nice) inventory screen is Lei. Resident Evil 4, you’ll remember, listed its in-game currency as Peseta. Capcom always obliquely referred to the game’s setting as in ‘a remote part of Europe’, but Spain’s pre-Euro currency (as well as a selection of barked commands from the game’s Ganado) ultimately gave the game away.
Elsewhere, one of its returning protagonist Chris Redfield appears to have had quite the physical reinvention. Either that or he’s finally cashed in those Officers Club vouchers he’s been hoarding for ages now. This is some quality knitwear he’s put on display, and yet there are rumblings online that suggest the outfit he’s sporting is a homage of sorts to what Albert Wesker wears in Resident Evil 4 and the Wii spin-off, 2007’s The Umbrella Chronicles. Many fans know the outfit as ‘The Dark Legacy’.
Personally, I’m not having it. Wesker is done – by Chris’ hand, no less – at the climax of 2009’s Resident Evil 5. You’re telling me Chris is now choosing to dress like his former nemesis? (Not the Nemesis, though that would be fun). Notably, Biohazard Declassified recently tweeted their belief that Wesker is… back? How?
There’s also been some suggestion that Chris has turned heel, and in truth it wouldn’t be the first time a Delta Force/S.T.A.R.S hero has been lured to the dark side – and he was wearing an Umbrella badge at the end of RE7 after all (although coloured blue, not red, suggesting there’s now a ‘good’ Umbrella attempting to underdo the damage unleashed by their ‘bad’ namesakes).
Two games before that, Chris teamed up with Wesker to battle with his former partner, Jill Valentine in Resident Evil 5. Wesker was using mind control to join Jill. Surely Capcom wouldn’t use a plot device so similar, so soon? Still, Chris does stride into Ethan and Mia’s house and shoots their baby. Of all the activities we associate with Chris Redfield – working out, grunting, punching boulders – spree murder isn’t one of them…
There’s some cool symbology throughout the new trailer, mainly the recurring foetus motif that is likely to be a nod to the child Ethan and Mia lost at the hands of Chris. Many think that the trailer is also hinting at Chris’ last ride out. Sure, it begins by checking in on Ethan and Mia, looking content together, with the aforementioned child, however many years after the traumatic events of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.
But even before that we see the ledger – white on black, slightly dreamy, classically oblique Resi storytelling – ‘His story comes to a close’. Why not Ethan, who the game casts you as? Well, with just one game behind him, it feels awfully soon. Chris is the face on the sleeve, the poster – you might play as Ethan, but this appears to be a Chris Redfield story.
This is the story of how I got my favourite game franchise back. If anyone at Konami is reading this and is thinking about what to do with the mess that is the Silent Hill franchise next, then do let it be known, I’m rooting for you.