A recent extended gameplay preview of Resident Evil Village strongly suggests that Lady Dimitrescu’s vampires and Heisenberg’s werewolves could sooner become the face of the franchise over the zombies that are so closely associated with the Resident Evil name.
At various points during the gameplay preview, we see Ethan do battle with werewolves (now formally referred to as “Lycans”) and a host of vampire-like creatures. Yes, we’ve seen those monsters before in previous trailers, but these recent previews confirm that those archetypes aren’t limited to the game’s major villains. There’s a small army of those monsters running around the village, and your battles against them will seemingly make up most of the game’s action.
In that sense, they basically function like the zombies in the original Resident Evil games, which is actually quite interesting when you consider that it’s been a little while since we’ve seen a zombie in a mainline Resident Evil game. They were practically the mascot of the series up until Resident Evil 4, which traded in zombies for zombie-like villagers and other monstrosities. Resident Evil 5 and 6 brought zombies back, but even the latter game clearly tried to mix things up a bit by introducing a greater variety of zombies (some of which even used guns) and limiting their appearance to certain scenarios.
Resident Evil 7 furthered the evolution of the zombie concept by utilizing “Molded” creatures who shared some zombie-like characteristics (humanoid figures, slow movements, and melee attacks) but were clearly not zombies as the game explained they were instead the unintended consequence of the E-Type bioweapon program that produced Eveline. They were close enough to zombies to give long-time series’ fans their “fix,” but they still left you with the feeling that the Resident Evil team was ready to move on from the Romero-style zombies that once seemed to be one of the essential parts of a Resident Evil game.
What we’ve seen of Village so far only supports that theory. In fact, there’s very little of the classic zombie archetype to be found in Village’s wolves and vampires. The footsoldier wolves seem to have the ability to summon nearby friends so that they can attack Ethan as a pack (they appear to function similar to RE4’s villagers in that respect), and some of them can even ride horses and wield weapons. Similarly, Lady Dimitrescu’s castle is populated by flying gargoyle/vampire-like creatures as well as Dimitrescu’s previously revealed “daughters” who utilize a series of almost supernatural abilities to hunt Ethan. Nearly every enemy we see in the game relies on some kind of skill that goes beyond snarling, shambling, biting, and…well, other zombie-like tactics.
In fact, the closest thing we’ve seen to a zombie thus far in Resident Evil Village are these hooded servants who again will undoubtedly again remind some of the villagers in Resident Evil 4. Even then, those servants have access to melee weapons and will sometimes even hide in pools of water and other areas in order to get the jump on Ethan, which suggests a level of intelligence we don’t typically associate with the average zombie in this series.
So are there zombies in Resident Evil Village? There’s always a chance there are some lurking around later in the game, but based on what we’ve seen so far, it appears the answer is “no.” To be honest, I’m starting to think that’s a good thing.
Resident Evil has always featured a variety of monsters, but for over 20 years, the shambling undead was the franchise’s default enemy type. Zombies remained relevant in horror culture throughout much of that time (increasingly so by the time the mid-2000s rolled around), so their presence usually went unquestioned. Actually, there was a time when the idea of having a Resident Evil game without a zombie was like having a Super Mario platformer without a Goomba. Sure, we can dispatch them rather easily, but it’s really about the ritual.
Now, though, I’m not so sure that the Resident Evil team should feel quite so obligated to bring zombies back into the fold. As we saw in the preview for Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead, which featured zombie war councils and hints at zombie love, the idea of the zombie has evolved quite a bit over the years. George Romero’s zombies walked so that 28 Days Later’s zombies could run so that modern zombies could be pretty much whatever their creators want them to be.
As basic enemies, though, zombies in Resident Evil games are starting to feel increasingly…well…basic. As we’ve seen by the reaction to Lady Dimitrescu, Resident Evil fans seem to be…thirsty for unique character designs, and the game’s creators seem to enjoy diving deeper into horror history to come up with those new designs. Sure, they could design zombies that are a little more modern and capable, but if you’re going to do that, then why not just throw zombies out entirely and pursue something that we maybe haven’t seen so much of before?
Movies like One Cut of the Dead show that there are certainly unique zombie stories left to tell, and The Walking Dead‘s absurd popularity over the years seems to prove that those predictions of zombie burnout we’ve heard before haven’t come true quite yet. Maybe the Resident Evil franchise has one great zombie game left in it, but I feel like that game would need to be specifically designed to account for the unique opportunities presented by a zombie threat (such as needing to hold up in a fixed location surrounded by undead) rather than try to force zombies into the experience as the “default” enemy type.
More importantly, for a series that initially distinguished itself partially based on the novelty of being a horror game starring zombies at a time when that concept was still a novelty, maybe it’s time for all of us to realize that one of the core components of this franchise isn’t the undead; it’s the ability to look at classic archetypes in a new way and perhaps even come up with some new ones in the process.
I’m not sure if Village’s werewolves and vampires will survive to see Resident Evil 9, but I do know that I’d like to see whatever comes next take more inspiration from their innovations rather than fallback on the idea that Resident Evil has to eventually return to zombies.