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Welcome to The Week in Gaming, the place where we pause each week to take a look at the video game news beats both big and small that you might be missing — while also taking a peek around the corner at what's ahead. Check in each Friday for news (and occasionally even views) on everything from sprawling RPGs to Metroidvania platformers to the latest in VR and free-to-play. We'll even throw in a good old-fashioned board game every now and then!
Mother Miranda, does Resident Evil Village nail a whole new level of creepy. Ethan Winters and Chris Redfield may be getting to chew the scenery in a hyped-up screen reunion as Village stalks its way into players’ hands today. But it’s Capcom’s fresh swerve toward Bloodborne-style gothic ambiance — and a certain fan-favorite 9-foot matron’s lust for blood — that will probably signify Village’s long-term place in RE lore once the demons are dead, the daughter is safe, and the cellar dust has finally cleared.
With more hype than there’s probably ever been for a Resident Evil game, Village arrives today with consensus support from critics. On the morning of its release, the next-gen PS5 and Xbox Series X versions are sitting at respective Metacritic scores of 84 and 82, with reviewers haunted by the game’s atmospheric setting, varied environments, deep bag of survival tricks, and balanced gameplay...which actually gives Ethan a fighting chance in all those pinned-down survival standoffs.
Most of the criticism stems from item scavenging that could be a little less tedious, particularly when the otherwise-helpful map insists that there’s one dark crevice somewhere that you’ve still managed to overlook. Some reviewers wished for a little more challenge, signaling that iconic baddie Lady Dimitrescu, for all her giant-sized Mr. X-style menace and meme-able adoration on social media, is disappointingly easy to avoid. And the story, while ambitious, didn’t resonate with some critics as effectively as the moody surroundings themselves. Overall, though, most are in agreement that there’s never been a Resident Evil game that treads so unapologetically into the realm of the supernatural… and that it ends up being an ideal fit for a horror series that’s always forced players to stay alive in dark places.
If only the critics could extend some of that abundant good will to Ethan, who’s never been more of a fish out of water than in Village’s insanely gothed-out, deep history-meets dark-lore setting. Perhaps even more than in Raccoon City, the environments in Capcom’s new survival horror stalker feel like one big ever-present thematic set piece, framing every fright within a film-worthy context of secret myths and deranged personal histories.
So far in our early playthrough (and yes, we’ve even peeked ahead), it’s the kind of wacked-out, best-left-alone stuff that tends to develop in isolated places where decades of cultish weirdness intermingles with the longtime inhabitants’ warped sense of megalomaniacal grandeur, and it all makes Ethan’s real mission — finding out what’s become of his kidnapped daughter Rose — a more unnerving survival gauntlet than anything that’s come before in the RE universe.
That’s not to say that Village is a tougher challenge than past RE games. With a new guard mechanic, a comparatively generous stream of scavenge-able supplies, a hugely refined inventory screen, and weapons that (eventually) feel up to the task of taking out the most durable of monsters, keeping Ethan alive won’t be an endeavor that’ll frustrate series veterans. And though Village has plenty of moment-by-moment jumps (just wait ’til you meet your first lycan in the tall grass), it’s probably not going to sit atop fans’ been-there, played-that rankings of the scariest games in the franchise.
But the bleak, wintry atmosphere and supernaturally saturated pall that hangs over Ethan’s every desperate move is a big mood, delivering a creepily unique setting that gets under your skin and haunts your memories long after you’ve set the controller down. There’s a dreadfully delicious sense of place in Village that’s likely to persist stubbornly in your head. Unlike a zombie-infested police station or a decrepit convenience store, there’s simply nowhere in Village’s sinister cloistered world where a guy like Ethan has the comfort of feeling like he’s fighting to defend familiar turf.
While no one’s likely to accuse Capcom of going for cinema-grade drama, the setting itself feels like something ripped from the most effective of freaked-out screen places where an everyman like Winters endangers himself just by showing up at all. Think Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu remake, or the Carcosa ruins from True Detective’s first season — all minus any pretense to award-worthy performances — and you’ll be in the video game ballpark. And while we won’t spoil anything here, the story does tread into unexpected territory near the end, setting up some super-intriguing possibilities (as well as a pretty big character moment), all of which points the way for a possible protagonist shake-up when the inevitable ninth RE game appears.
With a massive and well-earned fan base, a horror setting that just begs to be explored beyond the games, and the momentum of soaring popularity, Resident Evil as a franchise is heading into a season of big buzz — not only on the strength of this eighth full-scale installment, but in a range of crossover projects bound for screens big, small, and even virtual. Director Johannes Roberts is bringing Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City to theaters on Sept. 3 in reboot that severs ties with Paul W.S. Anderson’s hugely successful RE movie series from the past. Netflix is prepping the debut of Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness for a July series premiere. And Oculus is remaking GameCube classic Resident Evil 4 for its Quest 2 VR platform, complete with a VR-centric switch to a first-person point of view.
In short, there’s never been a better time to be a Resident Evil fan…regardless of whether you take your survival old-school, current-gen, or simply kicked back in a dark room with a side of popcorn. Resident Evil Village is available today for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Google Stadia, and PC.
The best of the rest
Netflix gets animated with League of Legends
Speaking of franchises with crossover potential: Netflix has set an upcoming premiere window for Arcane, the animated League of Legends spinoff series it first announced in partnership with developer Riot Games back in 2019.
LoL fans got a sizable first taste of Arcane’s nicely-adapted animation style when the 2019 announcement teaser dropped. But where that one showed off a sweeping, epic scope of places and faces, Arcane’s brief new clip brings out the game’s signature flair for sass — and for anyone who’s sunk hours into LoL’s colorful PvP world, it’ll look plenty familiar:
Arcane marks Riot Games’ first foray into the world of made-for-TV animation, and more details — including an episode count and specific plot beats — have yet to be announced. But while we’re waiting for a firm debut date, Netflix revealed this week that the series is on track for a fall 2021 premiere.
Via IndieWire, Arcane’s story setup “follows the origins of two iconic League champions — and the power that will tear them apart,” and the action zones in on a pair of Runterran locales: “the utopian region of Piltover and the oppressed underground of Zaun.” Netflix is billing Arcane as an event series, which means we're probably getting a self-contained story from start to finish when League of Legends officially makes its first small-screen crossover later this fall.
Sony's new accord with Discord
Aside from butter-smooth frame rates, Pixar-worthy graphics, and near-instant load times, part of what distinguishes next-gen consoles from the past is their increasing integration with social platforms and game-adjacent internet media. With that in mind, Sony revealed this week a new partnership that’s set to link Discord communication with the PlayStation experience — though the details aren’t yet crystal clear.
Sony Interactive Entertainment president and CEO Jim Ryan said this week that Sony had bought a minority investment share in Discord, a move that likely signals Microsoft’s previous reported interest in buying outright the immensely popular communication platform, which serves a reported 140 million users, is effectively off the table.
Ryan didn’t do a deep dive in explaining how Discord and PlayStation will tie their services together, nor even whether it’ll strictly be a next-gen-only feature. But it sounds as though players will definitely be able to tap into Discord’s social functions in some significant way, whether directly from their Sony devices or via a PSN subscription.
“Together, our teams are already hard at work connecting Discord with your social and gaming experience on PlayStation Network,” Ryan said in SIE’s announcement. “Our goal is to bring the Discord and PlayStation experiences closer together on console and mobile starting early next year, allowing friends, groups, and communities to hang out, have fun, and communicate more easily while playing games together.”
- At this point it’s not a shock, but it is indicative of Nintendo’s ever-broadening reach: Switch consoles officially sold like crazy last year, moving a reported 84.59 million units (via VGC) for the 12-month fiscal period that ended last month. That’s an increase of 4.72 million units compared with the previous year, following a pace that poises the Switch to overtake the Wii’s lifetime sales total — potentially as early as March of 2022. It also doesn’t put the Switch all that far behind the PS4, which at 115 million units (to date) was steadily creeping up on the PS2’s all-time historic record of 155 million…before the PlayStation 5 came along last fall.
- Apex Legends kicked off its Season 9 this week, bringing (among lots of other stuff) a new 3v3 “Arena” play mode, new legend Valkyrie (who gets acrobatically mobile thanks to a jet pack), plus a new update to the Olympus map first introduced in Season 7. Check out the new S9 Legacy update trailer above, and hit Respawn Entertainment’s Apex Legends landing page for all the free-to-play details.
- The Division is also set to get in on the free-to-play game, thanks to the upcoming release of Tom Clancy’s The Division Heartland, a console game that'lll be set in the franchise’s post-apocalyptic world while unspooling “an all new perspective on the universe in a new setting,” according to publisher Ubisoft. No release date has been announced yet, though developer Red Storm Entertainment is targeting a premiere for consoles and PC sometime between now and 2022.
- The PS2 and Xbox-era Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is getting a short-notice re-release today for PS4, Xbox One, and Switch. Developer Interplay and publisher Wizards of the Coast revealed via IGN earlier this week that the new version isn’t a full remaster or remake, and essentially brings a 4K boost to the original game for the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, while offering backward compatibility for anyone who’s already switched over to a PS5 or Xbox Series X. This one’s a digital download only, so be on the lookout via your system’s online storefront to dive back into a D&D-derived RPG classic.
- Agent 47 is methodically working his way through his own inner demons as part of Hitman 3’s Seven Deadly Sins postgame content rollout. Our able assassin’s next confessional confrontation takes on the Season of Pride, an all-new DLC mission slate that cometh — hopefully not before a fateful fall — when the new expansion releases on May 10 for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and PC.