Resident Evil Village, the latest instalment in Capcom’s survival horror franchise, was released in May. The game’s a critical hit, with fans enthralled by the glamorous, gargantuan Lady Dimitrescu.
The only problem players seem to have with the newest Resident Evil game is its playtime, which runs around 10 hours for a first playthrough. Is Village too short? In my opinion, it’s not. The reason for this lies in the vast potential for replayability that all of the Resident Evil games have.
It’s been like this since the beginning. Some of the early games offered unlockable costumes and special weapons to encourage multiple playthroughs. More recently one of the great draws of the series has become its challenge modes, both those built into the fabric of the game by the developer and those created by players themselves.
Challenges are optional goals, many of which come in the typical forms of achievements or trophies. Others allow access to unlockable bonus content: new, more powerful weapons, unlimited ammo, and items that might increase your walking speed or boost your attack or defence power. These challenges tend to be things players wouldn’t typically achieve in a normal run: completing the game in under three hours, completing the game without healing or without using your extended inventory.
In some of the more recent games, such as the Resident Evil 2 (2019) and Resident Evil 3 (2020) remakes, completing these challenges nets you points that you can spend to unlock special items. These games also include challenges such as enemy counters that track how many enemies you’ve taken out across all playthroughs: once you hit a certain number, it rewards you with more points. This in turn encourages further playthroughs. You want that special gun? Better hop on another run and take out some more zombies.
In other games the bonus content is a major draw because it changes a game you thought you knew into something unfamiliar and newly challenging. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (2017) – a deep south horror that draws on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for inspiration – is a tough game on ‘normal’ difficulty. On completion you unlock the Madhouse mode, which makes enemies stronger and resources less abundant. Crucially, Madhouse also changes the location of some keys and other essential items, making it impossible to rely on your knowledge of the normal game in order to survive in the new mode.
There’s another layer though. Complete the whole game within four hours on any difficulty and you are awarded the circular saw, an extremely strong weapon that makes Madhouse mode much easier. The challenges and their rewards weave across each other, enriching each playthrough in fresh and interesting ways.
The above examples are elements that are built into the game, fun features that are perhaps not atypical for a series like Resident Evil. But there’s another challenge aspect to the series that sets it aside from others: the scope and quality of player-generated content.
Players interacting with and changing elements of gameplay isn’t a new thing in gaming. Modding (the practice of players creating modifications to change facets of a game, creating new content or altering existing content) has been around for a long time. Sometimes these changes are cosmetic – changing enemies in Village into horrifying versions of Barney the Dinosaur, for example – but they will often have gameplay ramifications too. A mod for the Resident Evil 3 remake changed every enemy in the game into Nemesis, the toughest baddie in the title.
Modding, which requires programming software, is usually reserved for PC players. While there’s some innovative stuff going on there, the really interesting part of the Resident Evil community includes those who take the base game without the use of mods and create their own community challenges.
Speedrunning – completing the game in the quickest possible time – is a big part of that, and the Resident Evil speedrunning community welcomes new players while keeping its competitive edge. Speedrunning itself is broken down into individual categories for which there are well kept and hotly contested leaderboards. These include glitchless vs glitched runs, running with or without unlockable items or the use of certain weapons, and runs of various difficulty levels.
And then you have the players who completely break away and create new challenges, both as personal achievements but also as content for other players to watch, enjoy and make their own attempts at. Some popular examples include knife only challenges, where you complete the game without using firearms; no damage, where you complete an entire game without taking any damage to your player character; and no dodging, where you take your character on a leisurely wander through the game, often on the hardest difficulty, never dodging or running from any enemies.
These challenges don’t typically net you any in-game points, achievements or trophies – although, clearly inspired by the fanbase, Capcom have added a knife only achievement for Village – but do win you notoriety within the online community. There’s something quite brilliant in watching hardcore players work their way through these games, explaining how they figured out the strategies to do so. And once you’ve watched a player defeat the final boss in Resident Evil 4 by throwing eggs at him, you start re-evaluating your own interactions with the games.
A large part of the experience of playing the Resident Evil games hinges on how the player approaches them. Resident Evil fans have taken a series that was already a lot of fun to play and made sure there is always something fresh there, using innovation and creativity to keep the games alive. In this way, the games’ playtime can be extended to a near-infinite degree. No wonder we keep returning, again and again.