Reviewing a Resident Evil game is always a tough endeavor for me because Resi is a series that I personally hold close to my heart to the point I even enjoy most of the bad ones, but if I were to try to speak about it as objectively as possible, it probably wouldn’t come off that way. It’s also difficult to judge a series that has as much variance in quality as Resident Evil does. That being said, I gave a pretty harsh review to R3make, so I figure I can put my personal feelings aside and review Resident Evil 8 objectively enough, but does it fare better than last year’s entry in the franchise?
Resident Evil VIII: Village, which I’m convinced was reversed engineered from somebody realizing that eight in Roman numerals is the beginning of the word village, is the second game in the new first-person style first introduced in Resident Evil VII. Ethan Winters, the pair of floating hands that swears like an edgy teen, is living happily with his family when he wakes up in a strange, vaguely Eastern European village that is being swarmed with lycanthropic monsters. Right off the bat, I was getting strong Resident Evil 4 vibes, not just because one of the first things you do when you get control of your character is to bust into some random foreigner’s house and start yelling at them, but also because it has the exact same scenario where you have to fight off a large group of enemies until a timer ends and then they fuck off. Anybody who is a big enough fan of the series to play most of the games will realize that RE 8 is essentially a mixture of Resident Evil 4 and 7. While these are both games I love, they’re two very different games, and both nail an aspect of the genre that is hard to replicate.
Action horror is one of the hardest things to pull off in games because action and horror are two opposite ends of the spectrum. Most action horror games come off as shooters that take place in dark hallways. Resident Evil 4 is the high point of the genre. It’s not just about the pacing, as RE 4 escalates and deescalates the action in between faster and slower bits masterfully, but there are genuinely some great horror moments too, like the hedge maze, the sewer sections with the invisible enemies and the boss that breaks through the ceiling like a Xenomorph from Alien. It’s not a constant barrage of enemies, that just becomes mind numbing, there has to be a good pace to it. As you can probably tell, RE VIII is more action focused than survival horror focused, and it doesn’t really work in the game’s favor. While there are certainly times where the barrage of enemies gives off that unnerving feel of a RE 4, most of the time, it just kind of feels a bit tedious after a while fighting the same few types of enemies.
But RE VIII doesn’t just take elements from old games, it also takes after its direct predecessor in RE 7. Of course, it is in first person, which I really enjoy because it is super immersive and makes it so you can aim at enemies that duck and weave without feeling like you’re trying to corral an over zealous dog with salad tongs on your hands. It also follows the same basic structure as RE 7 where you spend the game fighting different members of a deranged family. But, whereas Resident Evil 7 had a more sadistic Texas Chainsaw Massacre feel, this one is more of a shitty B monster movie one. I do enjoy the cultish aspects to the story, and Ethan Winters as a character, because despite being kind of a blank canvas, his dry false bravado and nonchalant attitude adds a layer of self-awareness that the story needs; even if his personality has the staying power of Chris Brown’s average girlfriend, and he sustains about as much physical trauma.
It’s great that they finally brought back the merchant and inventory system from RE 4, as it’s satisfying to rearrange your case of items and figuring out how to fit 4 weapons and ammo in there along with all your health items. In addition, I like that finding treasures to sell for upgrades and other items encourages you to explore the environments more thoroughly, plus it’s cool that there are optional areas and mini-bosses that further make exploration worth it, and there are tons of collectables for the completionist types. It’s also great that the story manages to maintain some mystique to it, since the average Resident Evil plot usually involves a comically evil mega corporation undertaking some insanely unpractical plot to create a bioweapon to kill like 3 specific people because apparently hitmen don’t exist. Even though it focuses more on action than horror, there’s one sequence halfway through the game that takes place in a doll workshop that is genuinely terrifying. I just wish that the rest of the game reached those highs, as it really peaks after the first few areas, even if there are some really great boss fights throughout.
You might be saying “Satirical, why do you keep comparing the game to RE 4 and 7 and not just judge it more on its own merits?” And therein lies the issue, astute reader. Resident Evil VIII doesn’t have much of its own identity because all its best ideas are stolen from much better games. There’s a lot of mechanics and ideas taken from RE 4, but it just doesn’t do the action horror thing anywhere near as well. The overall structure of the game is very similar to RE 7, but 7, despite being far from a perfect game, was a revelation for the series, and the psychotic hillbillie hoedown was infinitely cooler of a vibe than the generic gray and white Eastern European cult setting of 8. What made Resident Evil 7 so great was the personal and intimate feel of the horror. There was a grotesqueness and claustrophobia to it, but it was still campy enough that seeing a group of deranged, bio-weaponized rednecks argue about the etiquette of entertaining a guest was amusing. VIII follows the same general structure, but the Dimitrescu family doesn’t have the same campy charm needed to carry the story, because when Resident Evil tries to take itself even somewhat seriously, it always comes off like a 10-year-old wrote it. But, to its credit, there are some story points and twists near the end of RE 8 that are genuinely good.
Overall, there are elements of Resident Evil 8 that I really like, and it has some truly great high points; but in comparison to the games it’s taking most of its inspiration from, and given how much of a refreshing take on the series 7 ended up being, it feels lacking. I did enjoy it, as the core gameplay and atmosphere for the most part is well done and as far as Resident Evil games go, the story had at least some level of intrigue about it. But just like 4, 7 was a rebirth for the series, and just like the jump from 4 to 5, the jump from 7 to 8 already feels like it’s treading enough water that it’s starting to annoy the local fish. Resident Evil 8 will ultimately fall into the same category as most Resident Evil games. It’s a decent title that feels a bit like a watered-down version of a better, more ambitious one.