This article by Josh Bycer originally appeared on game-wisdom.com on May 17
Resident Evil 7 proved that the series that had fallen so far out of horror’s grace could still do something interesting, and while it wasn’t the perfect horror experience, it was enough to breathe new life into it. Since then, fans have been waiting to see how Capcom will capitalize on reviving Resident Evil. What we got were two remakes, one amazing, one not so much, and now finally a proper sequel. Resident Evil 8 feels like a more confident version of 7 but fails in my opinion to properly improve on the formula.
author of “20 Essential Games to Study” and “Game Design Deep Dive Platformers”
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Resident Evil 8 once again stars the ultimate hand model Ethan Winters who after having rescued his wife from the last game has gone into hiding in Europe with their new daughter Rose in tow. After some shocking (if you haven’t seen every single trailer leading up to the game) scenes, Ethan finds himself stranded in a mysterious village and trying to save his daughter.
Once again, the RE Engine is impressive, with every environment looking amazingly detailed, and the game space is far larger compared to the Baker estate. As with 7, the game is played entirely in first-person, and you are going to feel every hit that poor Ethan takes in this game.
One of the legitimate complaints about RE7 was that the enemies outside of the Baker family felt too generic and dull to fight, so with that, RE8’s combat has been bumped up a few notches.
Enemies in RE8 are far more dangerous to fight, and this gets more and more true the higher you raise the difficulty. Enemies move at random gaits at the player and can auto-dodge like the agents in the matrix when your reticule is put on them. Sadly, the dynamic movement of the zombies in RE2R and RE3R are not present with these enemies. To be frank, the basic enemy AI feels like a step down compared to those games, with most encounters limited to specific rooms and event triggers. At one point during my playthrough, I watched an enemy turn around and completely forget about me because I crossed over an invisible boundary in the very same room.
The segmented pacing both helps and hurts RE 8 with some areas fairing better than others
There are far more enemy types in RE8 compared to 7, and the start of the game is perhaps one of the hardest out of all the games in the series because of it. This is the only time I’ve seen in a RE game that new enemies were introduced all the way to the final chapter of the game. Alpha Antagonists come in the form of the various leaders and mysterious figures that are pulling the strings to Ethan’s plight. None more famous than the character that took the internet by storm: Lady Dimitrescu. As another issue, for those hoping that Lady D will chase you like Mr. X or Nemesis, she and her daughters show up at fixed points and are more like the Baker family in 7.
Given a mysterious village, it’s easy to find references to Resident Evil 4, and that was definitely done on purpose in more ways than one.
Many of the game system additions in RE8 come in the form of adopting elements from Resident Evil 4. Considering the importance and praise of that entry, it’s easy to see why. Instead of having limited weapons and a few upgrades, there is now a shop — along with a new merchant: The Duke — where players can spend accumulated money. Your generic inventory has been replaced with an attaché case like Leon’s and it can be upgraded. Crafting has been expanded with the player now able to craft healing, ammo, sub-weapons, and buy new crafting recipes.
Weapons can be enhanced by finding or buying mods, as well as being upgraded at the new gunsmith option. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of having blanket upgrades for weapons in a horror game, and the weapon mod system in Revelations 1 and 2 was my favorite. The problem with RE8‘s system is that it exemplifies the pacing issue that a lot of horror games have — you are paper-thin and weak at the start, and then death incarnate by the end. Not only can you upgrade and find additional weapons, but there is a character upgrade system that allows you to hunt animals for ingredients for perks stat-affecting meals.
Upgrades for both Ethan and his weapons become your main way of turning the tide against the enemies
For those hoping for more combat tactics for Ethan personally, there hasn’t been much added. The ability to “perfect block” seems to have been removed and replaced with being able to shove and kick enemies away after blocking. There only seems to be one “block” in terms of damage resisted, and that can be upgraded through food items. Unfortunately, it’s with combat that my set of issues with RE8 begin.
As I said earlier, there are a lot of aspects of RE8 that feel like direct lines from RE4, however, there is one major problem. Resident Evil 4 worked so well because it completely shredded everything about the previous games, for better and worse, to be its own thing. With RE8, this is built on top of the framework of RE7, and it leaves me with a less than fulfilling experience.
To be frank, I hated the combat in RE8, and it left me more frustrated with the game than fearful. Besides the lackluster AI that I already mentioned, they just feel very artificial to fight compared to the more dynamic nature of the zombies and enemies of the previous two games. I’ve watched enemies read my input and perform evasive dodges to the point of absurdity. Likewise, there were times where I would shoot an enemy directly in its face and they shrugged it off like it was a love tap. Instead of the dynamic of being able to shoot and stun enemies like in the recent remakes, your strategy basically devolves into aiming for weak points or just running and blocking. Some of the later enemies do mix it up with different targets to hit, but the combat never really evolves. There are far too few instances of being able to use the environment to aid you or make boss fights go down quicker like in RE2R and RE3R.
Not since the original RE Remastered have I been so ammo-starved at the start playing on hardcore difficulty. Even with direct headshots, enemies would still take a lot of ammo before they would go down. Many enemies are faster than Ethan, even when he is running full speed away, and you can’t leg-stun them and get away like the zombies in the previous games. You are very much tied to the crafting system to have any chance at being able to survive. It wasn’t until I upgraded my shotgun for the first time that things began to stabilize. Once again, instead of being nervous when enemies showed up, it was a return to the shotgun strategy of RE7. As an important note, the game’s ultimate difficulty “village of shadows” has been described as even more ammo-starved and inflated health pools and you will need to use every exploit and trick to get through it. I managed to get through using a combination of speed run strategies and item hoarding at every chance I could.
Much of the first quarter plays out like RE7, but without any real improvements in enemy or alpha antagonist design
Instead of improving the combat and gunplay, all the developers did was double down on the encounters. In the first quarter of RE8 alone, I think I killed more enemies than the entirety of RE7 along with more boss encounters. Many areas feel like they belong in RE 5/6 or the Dead Space series in terms of the number of enemies attacking at once. I’m fine with having more enemies and making combat interesting, but the combat system of RE7 was just barely there, and the developers did not improve any aspect of it for the sequel. Pretty much, your main strategy for the higher difficulties is going to be learning how to run like hell from large groups. And that is a major problem, as it renders most encounters meaningless when all you need to do is run a little bit forward or open a door and all the enemies disappear.
Like the meals you share with the duke, there are scrapes of excellence hidden throughout RE8 that come too few and far between.
When RE8 doesn’t force you into a combat-heavy boss fight or scripted event, the exploration side is arguably the best of any modern RE game. The structure is that you have four lords to deal with, each with its own unique setting and situation to deal with, and the village that acts as the hub. Scavenging for resources is always a tense affair and it is legitimately rewarding to find more crafting resources, new treasures, or the game’s hidden collectible of attacking wooden goats. After every lord, you are always given an item that unlocks more areas and secrets back in the hub.
Even though it’s not as adventure-heavy as the originals, RE8 is the closest the series has come in a very long time to having legitimate puzzles and adventure-styled gameplay. Each area is full of puzzles, keys, and secrets for you to discover. The game uses the same color-coded system from RE2R/RE3R, and it can be very cathartic to see an entire area turn blue after you have gotten everything. While many people will be looking forward to the vampire family, I found one of the later areas that harken back to the escape room section in RE7 to be one of my favorites. With that said, I found the first quarter of the game to be the weakest part, despite all the love from fans for the vampires.
Some of the best parts, in my opinion, are when the game lets you explore as opposed to the set pieces
The castle feels just like a smaller scale version of RE7. It’s overly linear, has the second most amount of combat in the entire game, and many of the additions to RE8 don’t show up until after it’s done. It’s interesting, normally I say the first quarter and opening is the best part of a horror game, but I found myself enjoying the middle and end of RE8 most of all. I wasn’t so overpowered that the game was repetitive, but I was just strong enough that I could hold my own in most encounters and focus on exploring. Without spoiling it, the final two bosses feel so out of place for a RE boss fight, but I can’t go into more detail. The penultimate section I felt was one of the better areas thanks to how different it was from everything else, and that it threw in completely new enemies to fight you. Whenever I could focus on exploration and not combat was good.
Resident Evil 8 is a tough game for me to judge, and I feel that this is a tale of two different experiences — the great exploration and adventure gameplay, and the just so-so combat. Comparing it to RE7 and I would say that RE8 is overall the better game and has higher highs, while RE7 feels like a more cohesive story from beginning to end, but the lows are lower. Ultimately, I feel disappointed with RE8, as the developers put more focus on the action instead of the horror and the combat itself wasn’t that amazing. However, the foundation and core gameplay loop still work and are as engaging as ever. If you read my previous piece ranking the Resident Evil games and curious about where I would place 8, I would put it in the #5 slot and push RE7 and everything else below it down.
If you were someone who was hoping for more exploration and less focus on combat, RE8 may not work for you. However, if you are fine with the combat, and one of the most out-there stories ever in a RE game (and that’s saying something right there), then Resident Evil 8 is a bigger and more expansive sequel and I have to give it a big hand.
If you’re interested in more thoughts about horror design, be sure to check out my next book “Game Design Deep Dive Horror” due out by the end of the year.