I have a pretty long history with the Resident Evil franchise, having played a good chunk of them during my younger years. The fourth game has become a tradition of mine, as I try to play through it at least once annually. And while I enjoyed the fifth installment more than a lot of people, even I will admit that the fourth game marked a divergence away from the tense horror settings of previous entries. And while the fourth game nailed being both a superb action game and a shlocky but still pretty creepy at times horror game, the fifth was basically all out action. I haven’t played the sixth, but I’ve not heard good things about it. At the risk of sounding like I’m rambling, I decided to play the latest installment since Fall is in season and I was in the mood for some good old fashioned creep. And the end result with Capcom returning the series to its sci- fi horror based roots is an old school survival horror game that hits more than it misses, even though it does miss in a few areas.
You play as Ethan, a nondescript dude in a white shirt. He has received two videos from his wife Mia, who has been missing for three years now. The first video is telling him to stay away no matter what. The second is that she is in a Louisiana based plantation. This being a horror game, Ethan goes there to find out what happened to her. When he gets there, he finds a run-down house that he is soon trapped in. And things get bad. Then they get worse. And soon he finds himself held captive by the Baker family, a bunch of homicidal southerners who are even more monstrous than they first appear. They’re resilient to gunfire and many others forms of bodily harm. What started as a quest for the truth soon turns into a desperate struggle to survive.
Right away I was on board with the premise. It reminds me quite a bit of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and anyone who knows me knows that that is one of my absolute favorite horror films ever made. And initially, the game does a fantastic job of channeling the best qualities of that film. The environments are superbly detailed, filled with little gross touches and scattered things that really sell the idea that normal people once lived in the various locations. This game also manages to avoid one of the biggest pitfalls that plagues the series, which is locations that are so convoluted they’re silly. As much as I love Remake on the Gamecube, some of the puzzles you go through make the idea of someone living in the Spencer mansion absolutely absurd. Here, the environments feel like real places, real homes. The sound design is also top notch, with plenty of unnerving creaks and groans in the places surrounding you.
A first for the series, the game is set entirely in first person, which actually helped the developers get around the effects of the fixed camera angles from the earlier games. The whole point of those fixed cameras were to make the player unable to see everything, leading to a sense of claustrophobia and constant tension. Here, they use the perspective to still make the player feel vulnerable. The turning speed is deliberately slow, and the tension of avoiding a member of the Baker clan or one of the game’s monsters (more on them in a bit) is aided greatly by this slow movement. And even though it is slow, it doesn’t feel like a detriment to the game.
And at first glance, you might think this game follows the current trend of first person sneak em ups. That is, games where you can’t fight the monsters you’re after. For a good while, the game leaves Ethan helpless, but before too long, you gain a melee weapon as well as a pistol. And while the game doesn’t have the largest arsenal in the series, all of the staples are there, including a shotgun, grenade launcher, and a few others that will be familiar to fans of the early games. The thing is that Ethan is just an everyday dude, and can’t handle a gun very well, so aiming, much like moving, is slow and deliberate, and since ammo is fairly scarce for a long time, it’s always best to back up and place your shots carefully. This is doubly true because headshots are the name of the game. Enemies take forever to bring down with body shots, so in order to practically conserve ammo when needed, you’ll need to aim for the head, a tricky prospect when the enemies are shambling freaks made out of black mold.
This does lead me to one of my biggest issues I have with the game. The enemy variety is simply not there. The standard enemies, called Molded, are just black things with two arms and two legs and a bunch of teeth. There’s a variant that leaps on all fours, and one that has a bladed arm, and that’s really about it. While they are threatening from a gameplay perspective (especially in large numbers), they don’t ever feel like anything special. Even the first game had a pretty good variety of visually distinct enemies, and the fourth game was just fantastic with its cast of baddies. This game never ever moves away from the “shambling black thing” aesthetic that it establishes with its regular enemies, and to me that’s a severely missed opportunity to populate the fantastically realized environments with real things to be afraid of.
Thankfully, bosses tend to be a bit more creative. Throughout the course of the game, you’ll fight different members of the Baker family. While they appear human at first, they soon mutate into other things entirely, and you have to take them down by any means necessary. The fights themselves are kind of a mixed bag- an early one is kind of just running around a room whacking the enemy, but a mid game one is a run around through a particular building while fending off a truly disgusting monstrosity. I wasn’t super crazy about some of the fights, with the last one in particular being a huge, floppy anticlimax, but they are at least more visually distinctive than the regular enemies.
The story present here starts of very small in scope, with Ethan trying to defend himself from the Bakers that are stalking him throughout their property. This is by far the story’s best aspect. The Bakers are messed up, disturbing characters, and they manage to transcend the “violent redneck” stereotype that comes with stories such as this due to some pretty big revelations later on (and while said revelations don’t take up a lot of screen time, the mocap and voice acting really help sell the Bakers as tragic figures). You bear witness to some truly violent and morbid stuff throughout the course of the story and at first it seems to be fairly disparate from the rest of the series. However, as it goes on, the story becomes… I don’t want to say predictable, but people familiar with the series like myself might feel a sense of déjà vu. I’d say that the game has a very strong first half and a mixed bag of a second half. And I say that because the stuff with the characters in this game is pretty good, but the connections to the series as a whole feel rather bland and uninspired. It works better when viewed as a standalone arc involving the small cast of new characters rather than a truly whole narrative tying back to the rest of the series.
The campaign is generally very well paced. There are plenty of intense set pieces sprinkled throughout the story, including a really strange but interesting one involving a car early on. The series penchant for puzzles also returns, but for the most part they’ve been radically simplified from the series standard. Most of the time you’re simply looking for what boils down to a key for a door. This is both good and bad. It’s good because it keeps the pace up and moving. But fans looking for the truly taxing puzzles of the early games will undoubtedly be let down by how easy most of the ones here are.
Balancing the puzzle elements are the chases and exploration. Exploring can net you extra supplies to craft healing and ammo with, which is always a plus. Chases are more of a mixed bag. Often times, Ethan is stalked by one of the Bakers and he must avoid them using rudimentary stealth mechanics (if you’re not in their immediate line of sight, they won’t know you’re there). But if they find you, they’re very difficult to get away from since they’re resilient and only vulnerable to gunfire when the game is ready for them to be. This to me was fairly frustrating, since they don’t always react to gunfire even if you’re technically in their boss battle. Ammo is scarce for much of the game, and wasting it shooting at them when in reality you haven’t entered the proper fight, and therefor aren’t doing real damage to them, can be frustrating. But on the plus side of things, the campaign is broken up nicely in the third quarter by confronting Lucas, who, rather than stalking you like Jack and Marguerite, lays out devious and gruesome traps for you. There are also some playable VHS tapes that provide some exposition and clues that help out later on.
This game is a bit frustrating, because when it’s good, it’s really good. Exploring the rundown building throughout the Baker property is truly rewarding and creepy thanks to the myriad supplies and the exceptional environmental design. But on the other hand, the enemies feel very bland and the boss encounters tend to be hit or miss. The story is suitably disturbing and gruesome, but kind of loses its way when it starts attempting to connect to the series as a whole, but it still manages to provide good closure for the characters introduced here. To me, this is Capcom laying the ground work for the future of the series. If they can double down on what makes this game work, mainly the atmosphere, characters, and exploration, and improve upon what can be improved upon, the next game could rival the fourth installment in terms of series best. As it is right now, this is definitely a hug return to form, but I can’t help but feel that it could have been better.
+ Fantastic environments and sound lend a disturbing, gruesome atmosphere
+ Exploration is highly rewarding
+ Story starts off strong and maintains good character work throughout
+ Well paced campaign that mixes things up at just the right times
+ Combat that manages to make you feel vulnerable without feeling clunky
+ Some truly nightmarish boss designs…
- … but boss encounters themselves tend to be hit or miss
- Regular enemy design lacks the creativity the series is known for
- The story becomes predictable for the series after a certain point
Here I will be doing short reviews of each DLC included in the Gold edition of the game. Keep in mind while reading this that I will avoid spoilers whenever possible, but due to the nature of a few of them it will simply be impossible to not give away some late game developments. You’ve been warned.
Part of the Banned Footage pack, you play as Clancy, a hapless camera man who documents his host on real life haunting cases who is capture by the Baker family. In Nightmare, the goal is to survive five hours until morning. Essentially, though, each hour is a wave of enemies. You must use gathered scrap metal to craft different items as well as environmental pieces that can mess your enemies up such as trip wire or turrets. It’s an okay diversion, but I’m not entirely sure that it works. For one, you have to grind through rewards, which will unlock different weapons for you to craft or give you permanent buffs when you start a new run. For the other, the combat in this game is deliberately designed to make the player feel vulnerable and the fast pacing of this mode feels at odds with the mechanics.
Clancy is once again put in a bad situation by the Bakers. This time, he is trapped in a bedroom and told by Marguerite to eat a bowl of absolutely disgusting meat. She leaves and Clancy finds that he can break out of the hand cuff keeping him on the bed. From there, you must solve the various puzzles within the small room to escape. It sounds simple, but certain puzzle solutions cause a loud noise like a clock gonging or glass breaking, which brings Marguerite running back in. You have a set amount of time to put the room back exactly as it was so that she doesn’t realize you broke out. It’s a neat concept for sure, and leads to some great tension when you’re unsure of whether or not you managed to put the room back together in a way that she won’t notice. The only real issue is that it’s only good for one play through and that’s it, since the puzzles are always the same.
Clancy is this time put into a deadly game of 21 where he plays against a person with a bag over their head. Lucas has rigged them up to traps that will chop their fingers off each round they lose. The goal here is simple: get a set of cards as close to 21 as possible without going over, but also have more than your opponent. As the game goes on, new methods of torture are brought out, giving this mini game a surprisingly sadistic and realistic air to it. Where much of the violence in the main game is offset by the sci- fi elements of the story, here it almost feels like you’re watching a snuff film play out, which is truly disturbing. Upon beating it, not only are you treated to what is possibly the game’s nastiest death, but you can play a survival mode where you see how long you can go before biting the dust. Much like Nightmare, 21 has some unlockables you get over time that will give you certain buffs. But to me it’s only really worth it for the main story segment, because it’s ultimately just simulated gambling.
Acting as a prequel to the main story, we see a bit of the Bakers before everything went wrong through the eyes of their daughter Zoe. This is mainly effective for the first few minutes where they come across as a normal, and even kind family. It isn’t long before their good deeds go punished, though, and it’s essentially a game of avoiding Jack and Marguerite. There is a hidden ending to this depending on whether you do some extra objectives, but I’m not entirely sure it’s worth the effort since you already know the outcome. Still, I think it’s a worthwhile piece of DLC since it fleshes out who the Bakers were before everything went wrong.
Not a Hero:
Acting as an epilogue to the main story, you play as a highly trained individual and are tasked with tying up one of the loose ends from the main campaign. This is a fairly combat heavy expansion, with smoother gunplay, but it still manages to be creepy thanks to the environments and situations you’re thrown into. This has a better final boss than the main story, but that’s not saying much, as the encounter here is still nothing too back breaking. Still, it’s a well-paced piece of DLC, and has some nice unlockables for future replays, as well as more than a few nods of the hat to the series history.
End of Zoe:
Playing as a new character not seen in the main game, you are essentially tying up the other loose end from the story. There’s a heavy swamp aesthetic here, with lots of stilt houses and grimy, run down environments. The truly weird thing about this expansion, though, is that it focuses on melee combat. The player character apparently has fists made of steel, as you regularly duke it out with the Molded and sometimes literally rip their heads off. It kind of works in a goofy B movie sort of way, and has some nice tense moments, such as wading through gator infested waters. It doesn’t really add much to the overall arc of the game, but it’s enjoyable for the oddity that it is.
Jack’s 55th Birthday:
Essentially the Mercenaries of this game, it’s a parody where you must run around the many environments and find Jack food to satisfy him before he hulks out and goes bananas. Shooting enemies earns you more time, and item management is a must since many pieces of food take up a lot of space. This is such a weird mode due to the tone, but much like Nightmare, the combat mechanics don’t exactly feel suited to the kind of fast paced play it demands. The Mercenaries was a real treat in the fourth and fifth installments thanks to the variety of enemies in those games, but here it doesn’t feel quite as special. If you’re a score chaser you might get some mileage out of it, but for me, I felt content after just a few rounds.
Ethan Must Die:
The final piece of DLC in the Gold Edition, this is essentially a rogue like comprising of the environments from this game. You are given a task in the beginning, and can find crates with different star rarities. What’s inside depends on the star rating and RNG. But you are tasked with surviving through much harsher versions of areas from the main game. I say that because here, enemies are far more resilient than in the campaign and Ethan can take maybe two hits max. Once you die, it’s back to the beginning with a new wave of item generation. You can recover one random item from your previous play through if you reach the spot you died last time, but to me the RNG is almost too random to make this consistently enjoyable. I had one run where I got pretty far, but most runs ended in the first room because I was poorly armed. Maybe I’m just bad at it, or maybe this mode is only for die hard masochists. Either way, it’s an okay idea with so so execution.