I began the Resident Evil Village demo straight after playing The Medium. This was like clambering out of a murky bath, into which a dozen stagnant sub-plots had dribbled, and standing under a power shower. What a relief to be met with the simple, clean narrative proposition of: “Escape the dungeon,” as the subtitles suggest. You’ve got to admire Capcom, a studio comprised of master melodramatists, for not only whipping up a dank cell with all the vital Gothic ingredients—ominous stains, torture racks, rusty bars, and bricks that seem to sweat—but for grabbing us by the lapels and shouting us into action.
A lock pick. A pair of bolt cutters. An ornate ring designed to look like an eyeball, set with a gem of unblinking blood red. A necklace, bearing no jewels, only the jawbone of some poor animal. And, of course, a rustic key, thicker than your wrist, without which no Resident Evil would be complete. The assemblage of knick-knacks in the demo has the perfect blend of medieval ceremony and modern force—hence the bolt cutters, which you find buried in someone’s back. I came away from the demo with the impression that this castle is exactly the sort of playground that Bruce Campbell might patrol, his unstoppable one-two punch of chin and chainsaw jutting and revving into the dark.
The Tea Cups
In the main hall, near a roaring fire, you will find a tea set. This should be applauded for two reasons: first, it’s a terrific show of manners, and second, if you examine one of the cups a little more closely, you will notice a caking of crusty red at the bottom and running up to the rim on one side. There is almost something Agatha Christie about it: the lethal lacing of nastiness within the slow-brewed pretense of the genteel. These aren’t just vampires we’re dealing with, then; these are the bloodsuckers of high society! This adds enormously to the tension, as you know that, should you be caught, you won’t just be killed—you’ll be sipped, strained, and, should your hosts require a soothing day’s sleep, quite possibly infused with chamomile.
Worse still, you end up at the bottom of a barrel, being pressed into mortified wine. The dungeon is stacked with such barrels, many of them dripping with dark-red ooze. One of them even coughed at me. I stumbled on a note that told of techniques “to enrich the wine’s flavor and intensity” and of the best vintage being the “Sanguis Virginis, meaning ‘maiden’s blood.’” As horror games go, I’m a fan of this technique: giving us a wide array of bizarre ends with which we may meet. This strategy was first, and most famously, employed in Resident Evil, when Jill Valentine narrowly avoided becoming a sandwich. Of course, that was a simple expression—used, in a show of supportive joviality, by Barry Burton—but that didn’t stop us inching warily through the game, scanning every patch of ceiling in fear of a descending slice of wholemeal.
The Military Application
At the end of most Resident Evil plots, the groping terrors that you’ve spent hours trying to elude are revealed to have been part of a ghoulish scientific experiment. Tradition has it that these are orchestrated by the Umbrella Corporation, for the purpose of selling on the results as bio-organic weapons. This is usually fairly understandable—you can see the value in reducing your enemies to zombies, say, or deploying the lone, lipless Nemesis to hunt down your target of choice. But, when it comes to the villains of Resident Evil Village, I can’t imagine the military advantage of turning your foes into vampires. You’d be giving them all manner of nifty abilities—such as being able to transmogrify into a swarm of insects, and of being a nine-foot-tall woman. I look forward to seeing how Umbrella will attempt to sell this to its shareholders.
A letter I found, which recorded one sorry chap’s arrival at the castle, was dated June 9th, 1958. This was one week before the release of Dracula, the classic Hammer horror. Clearly, Capcom has chosen its deity carefully: opting not for Bela Lugosi, wreathed in the flaring fug of black-and-white, but for Christopher Lee, with his pink-misted retinas and glistening canines. It makes sense. You can imagine Lee—who, at six foot five, wouldn’t look out of his element next to the towering monsters here—strolling in, quaffing from a bottle of Sanguis Virginis, and putting his feet up near the fire.
The name of the demo is “Maiden.” You play as the maiden, while the ladies of the house attempt to enrich your flavour and intensity and ship you off to Threshers. We aren’t given much detail about this maiden—only that she wore the aforementioned necklace (and thus had a taste for charnel chic) for protection, had it stripped from her, and is, as one note suggests, a “candidate.” It’s nice, in a Resident Evil game (or gamelet, if you will) to play as someone who isn’t zipped into a puffer jacket of muscle, and who hasn’t pinned an attaché case of weapons to their person, but who must get by on her wits alone (which, in this series, are about as rare as magnum ammo) It’s more horror than survival horror, and the heightened vulnerability gives us a taste of what Capcom would do with something closer to Outlast or Amnesia. Here’s hoping for a string of combat-free DLC gamelets!
Nearing the end of the demo, you reach a room abutting a courtyard. Outside are half-dead trees and a bone-numbing wind, moaning over banks of snow. All of which would make the castle, with its glowing hearth, an inviting place to be—were it not for the many-fanged death lurking in every corner. However, it wasn’t until my second play-through that I realised what else was outside: the day! Not to spoil the ending, but a certain someone is out there in the courtyard, meaning that, whatever the peculiar vintage of vampire that Capcom is going for here, the fiends aren’t all that bothered by the sun. This is disheartening news. Could we be in for a Twilight-style sparklefest? Perhaps, after all, this will be a love story. Maybe the whiny Ethan Winters, the returning protagonist from Resident Evil 7, will be carried off into the credits, snug in the arms of his looming love. Bah! Here’s hoping he ends up in a bottle of Sanguis Moronis.