‘Resident Evil’s’ iconic ‘stalkers’ return sharper and scarier on next-generation consoles
After teasing fans with multiple demos, Capcom’s “Resident Evil” franchise is cementing its 25th anniversary with its newest first-person survival horror game releasing Friday.
A flowery yet haunting bedtime tale narrated by a mother to her infant daughter is the cutscene that begins “Resident Evil Village,” set years after the events of “Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.”
From the steam hovering over a pot of freshly cooked ciorbă de legume (Romanian vegetable soup) to the lifelike blending of light and shadows in a calm residence’s corridors, the series’ eighth game looks and feels uncomfortably realistic from the start.
Every cutscene is worth watching in full. But it’s not long before Ethan Winters, the protagonist in the previous game, and his family are ejected from normalcy and plunged into chaos.
As is the case with its previous installments, “Resident Evil Village” is eager to show familiar faces, and it’s structured in traditional fashion: There are clues to be found. Puzzles to be solved. Loved ones to be saved. And excruciating pain to be experienced.
But one thing particularly worth noting is the clever re-imagining of its iconic “stalker” character type, which is done in a way that feels fresh, scary and anything but ad nauseum.
To serve as a stalker, the developers sire a blades-wielding relentless vampiress, and they did so without painfully oversexualizing her (ahem, classic “BloodRayne”).
Lady Dimitrescu, the “Tall Vampire Lady” that demo-players have been dying to meet, is an elegant, refined and towering woman who operates as one of the game’s patient, pursuing predators. She has quick cutting claws reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands.
Like Edward, underneath her intimidating exterior lies an especially soft spot for the ones she loves — her naive and petulant undead daughters. But unlike Edward, her maternal and protective instincts, super strength and short temper allows her to remorselessly trim more than just hedges.
The stalkers in this installment again impart the three lessons this series has always taught well.
The first two are patience and perseverance, which are needed as you piece together clues to progress through the storyline.
For what it’s worth, several other games have also incorporated those first two legs of the “three Ps stool,” but “Resident Evil’s” ability to teach the third lesson is what has kept the franchise above the pack since the 1990s.
As much as I love “Dark Souls,” I also appreciate when games introduce you to enemies early on that you must — not should — avoid. With “Resident Evil Village,” you can’t just farm and grind until you’re leveled enough to hack and slash through every obstacle in your path.
By design, the hounding, persistent and invincible enemies that fans have grown to love running from leaves players, yet again, similarly feeling one thing: powerless.
Powerless to fight — and win. Powerless to defend. The only solution is to avoid and evade until the time is right.
But that overcast cloud of fear and powerlessness slowly evaporates as players progress, their attentiveness sharpens and their confidence in newfound abilities — including the weapons and strategies they acquire along the way — positions them to later conquer what they couldn’t beforehand.
And that’s a powerful life lesson. Sometimes it’s best to decline engaging an obstacle head-on until you’re adequately prepared.
Although Ethan does express frustration throughout his trials, his tenacity of spirit ultimately illuminates any darkness of uncertainty. He’s determined to complete his task — it’s just a matter of how long it may take and how painful it may have to be.
This newest rendition also proves the franchise has yet again masterfully maintained the same feeling of tension by immersion that’s been a hallmark since its fixed-camera era.
The first-person viewpoint, of course, means the players are unable to remove themselves from the protagonist’s perspective.
When you’re grabbed from behind, you don’t see it coming. And when you’re grabbed from the front, the enemy’s injury-inflicting animation is up close and personal.
There is, though, a certain camaraderie that both experienced and novice players can feel as they’re taking similar measures to mitigate risk, from unlocking every door they come across for future escape routes to scrambling down hallways, fleeing stalkers and hoping they’re never trapped at dead ends.
Most of all, every player’s ceaseless anticipation of what could be lurking around each corner reinforces that Shakespearean adage: Fear of death makes us all cowards.
And in this case, “Resident Evil Village” teaches cowards to become heroes together.
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