Title: Resident Evil Village
Capcom's once great survival horror game is back again for its tenth main entry in the form of Resident Evil Village. Falling either side of the recent remakes of series classics Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, this latest release links up with 2017's Resident Evil 7: Biohazard to form a direct continuation of the story of Ethan Winters.
Not just a thinly veiled excuse to put the Roman numeral VIII into the title, the village in question becomes one of the game's main locations, and ground zero for certain supernatural happenings as you follow Ethan to a remote Transylvanian settlement. Set three years after escaping from Resident Evil 7's Baker family, Ethan is out to avenge his recently murdered wife, Mia, and rescue their kidnapped baby daughter Rosemary. Cheerful stuff I know, but this is Resident Evil after all...
- RESIDENT EVIL VILLAGE // CAPCOM -
Much like the preceding game, Village combines the familiar cycle of key item-based puzzles to progress through looped areas with first-person shooting and melee action. Fans of the over-the-shoulder camera, or even the classic fixed-camera styles of older titles may not be totally sold on this, and the FPS combat certainly doesn't feel like a strong point. With a rather disconnected feeling between weapon and presumably successful shots / hits on enemies, this is a combat system that feels quite dated to me personally. Still, anyone who is more invested in the formula of Biohazard will likely enjoy more of the same, blended with an inventory management grid more in keeping with that of Resident Evil 4.
There have of course, been plenty of chances to try out the game up to this point, assuming that you could make sense of the unnecessarily convoluted demo schedule to work out exactly when each one was available, which hardware was required to access it, and how long you were allowed to play for. But enough of that, Resident Evil Village is equipped with a brand new photo mode and that should be enough to get players and photographers with a liking for more spooky and frightening subject material a little excited.
Unfortunately though, when it comes to virtual photography, this is less of a thriller and more of a photo mode horror show!
Key Photo Mode Features:
Fixed camera position
Selection of filters & frames
- PHOTO MODE UI // RE VILLAGE -
Controls & Implementation:
If you are thinking that those "key" features are a bit lacklustre, you'd be right. This is absolutely not a photo mode that is looking to innovate or break new ground, and it might even be said that it manages to miss the most important values of virtual photography.
Let's get one of the worst things out of the way first then. The Resident Evil Village photo mode uses a fixed camera position based on the player's first-person view at the moment of hitting pause. That is to say that once in the photo mode, the camera cannot be moved within the scene at all. From this fixed location, the RS at least offers 360° pan & tilt, and a ±90° centre-axis roll is available from the UI menu, but even vertical crane adjustment is missing and essentially limited to whether the player was standing or crouching before entering the photo mode.
- PHOTO MODE CONTROLS // RE VILLAGE -
More generosity is at least afforded to the "area of view" option with a broad range of adjustment enabling very wide-angled shots while also offering a significant zoom. This does make it possible to bring more distant objects of interest into view even if you can't get the player camera any closer, but it is obviously no substitute for freedom of movement. Ultimately, the inability to create angles and having each frame fundamentally confined to an area within the gameplay view, means that any creativity is quickly stifled.
Not the way that anybody should be introduced to the concept of a photo mode...
It should be said by the way, that the UI that houses the vast majority of this photo mode's capability has a clean and easily navigable design with non-numerical settings on - / + slider bars, and a series of tabs that are switched between via the L1 / R1 buttons. An inviting help button does little more than tell you to use the console's screenshot feature to save an image, but every option benefits from its own short tooltip that describes what it does.
A very visible thirds grid can also be toggled from the menu to add some compositional guides, and the only real complaint here would be that the UI does generally take up a lot of on-screen space while not allowing changes to be made when it is hidden.
- HELPFUL -
Looking further into the UI-based options, it doesn't take long to discover the camera's depth of field tools. Rather than implementing a fully simulated camera aperture, Resident Evil handles DoF through independent control of the point of focus and how much defocus / blur is applied to the long range distance (background) and the short range distance (foreground). An additional overall option increases or decreases the strength of the effect in both regions, and a master toggle disables it entirely.
Theoretically at least, this should be a perfectly capable setup; no doubt less intuitive than a single aperture f-stop value, but able to produce the desired effect. At certain distances this is certainly true and the options work well to generate a pleasing defocus effect on the foreground, background or both. With a bit of fiddling it can soon yield a believable depth of field, but it is unfortunately countered by an imprecise focus adjustment. Particularly with objects close to the camera, accurate focusing becomes difficult and the multitude of blur options start to feel like trial and error rather than anything logical.
That the © Capcom watermark makes a mockery of the 90° roll is immaterial at this point...
One thing that should come as no surprise is the generally low levels of light available in the game as it often strives to maintain a sense of atmosphere and foreboding. To help with this, the photo mode's master brightness slider brings useful levels of exposure adjustment in both directions, while a simple vignette darkens the edges of the frame. Bloom is also available to add a soft and beautiful glow around light sources such as candles, just be careful not to go too high with this setting though as you'll start to see softening of the image as a whole. Unless of course, that is the look you are aiming for.
Beyond these illumination settings, the UI tabs hold a set of 8 image frames, that include 4:3 and letterbox crops as well as a few stylised surrounds, the obligatory Resident Evil Village game logo, and 8 different colour filters. With names like orange, blue and vintage, these filters may not be the most varied out there but are in keeping with the overall style of the game, it's just a shame to see no intensity option to allow each one to be fine tuned a little.
- IN THE FRAME -
Another effect that I am surprised to see missing is film grain because, given the low light setting, a little added grain would have been otherwise well suited to the aesthetic of the captured images. Instead we see a chromatic aberration setting that didn't seem to be working at the time of testing, and a lens distortion effect that can exaggerate the perspective of a shot or counteract the use of a particularly wide field of view.
All in all, it seems as though the features that would have been most important here have been neglected, with others included just for the sake of it. Neglect does feel like an accurate description really, as several areas seem to have been implemented without being thought through to any great depth, and even the camera inversion settings bear that out. Despite the game options including three separate axis-inversion settings, namely "movement camera", "aiming camera" and "menu / non-movement camera", none of these apply to the photo mode, only adding frustration for anyone who does use inverted axes.
The undoubted draw to a Resident Evil photo mode has to be the potential of its thematic setting. A chance to shoot atmospheric, gruesome and even disturbing images in a horror movie style. Naturally, this is not something that is going to appeal to everyone, but for others it may be a welcome departure from noble warriors and Lycra-clad superheroes.
- THE DIMITRESCUS // © CAPCOM -
Capcom does have a poster-girl of their own in that regard with the imposingly proportioned Lady Dimitrescu dominating public mind share long before the game's release. Her glamorous 1960's style, enchanting charisma and retractable claws have all the makings of a future-classic femme fatale. She's not alone either, residing in Castle Dimitrescu along with her 3 daughters Bela, Cassandra and Daniela, each with a more ominous and vampiric style than their alluringly refined mother.
A shame then that the lack of camera movement will make it all but impossible to get any creative angles on these leading ladies. There are other, more abundant antagonistic monsters to be found of course, the werewolf-like Lycan who roam the Village for example, but even with camera restraints aside, it has to be said that this isn't a title that seems overly suited to character portraits. I mean, take a look at the level of detail here and make your own mind up on that one...
- LYCAN // RE VILLAGE -
Similar criticism could be aimed at the outdoor environment too, where low quality textures and foliage really do not hold up to close scrutiny, and it is getting inside Castle Dimistrescu that adds the most interest to your surroundings. Here, the opulence and wickedness of its occupants are portrayed with beautifully detailed period decor and sinister discoveries while low-res ray tracing creates a great sense of shine on polished marble floors. Little wonder then, that frequent crawl spaces and squeeze-through gaps give the game chance to load up the next ornate space.
- CASTLE DIMITRESCU -
The harsh truth is though, that Capcom have not considered how people could or would want to photograph this game. It is easy to get an early hint of this when the first cut scene shows a button prompt of "skip / photo mode". Let's be clear, screenshotting cut scenes created by artists at the game development studio with zero compositional input does not constitute virtual photography, and this should not be the way that anybody is introduced to the concept of a photo mode!
As though to underline this poor grasp that the publisher has on the art form, you may have noticed the © Capcom watermark emblazoned across every captured image. Whether this is something that can be easily obviated with a 21:9 crop or the fact that it makes a mockery of the 90° roll is immaterial at this point. No photo mode should be taking away the copyright ownership from its users.
- SINISTER & VAMPIRIC -
I fully accept that each game and publisher may approach user generated content differently, but the importance of respecting unique artistic creation cannot be overstated. And so, therein lies the issue with Resident Evil Village's photo mode. It has seemingly been created in response to rising popularity of the feature but with an evident lack of understanding or appreciation of what the art form is actually about.
"An original virtual photograph is eligible by law for copyright protection, granting the photographer exclusive right to copy and distribute the image"
A Resident Evil photo mode should appeal to an audience thirsty for a darker and more sinister photographic genre, something to test a different branch of their creative output. Sadly though the potential of that creativity has been overlooked and undermined with a deeply flawed approach to virtual photography tools that miss the point entirely.
As a game, I am sure that Village will find an appreciative fanbase, but virtual photographers should look elsewhere because this photo mode, arguably little more than a glorified no-HUD mode, is certainly not a step forward for the art, nor a good example for anyone looking to join it.
[ Disclosure: Resident Evil Village reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a digital download ]
Full Feature Set:
Photo Mode Access: Options Menu
Camera Movement: Fixed position camera
Area of View: Narrow / wide angle (non-numeric)
Inclination (roll): ±90°
Depth of Field Blur: On / Off
Focus Area: ± Slider (non-numeric)
Blur Strength (short range): ± Slider (non-numeric)
Blur Strength (long range): ± Slider (non-numeric)
Blur Strength (overall): ± Slider (non-numeric)
Brightness: ± Slider (non-numeric)
Vignette: On / Off
Vignette Coverage: ± Slider (non-numeric)
Bloom: On / Off
Bloom Strength: ± Slider (non-numeric)
Filters: None + 8 Presets
Lens Distortion: On / Off
Lens Distortion Strength: ± Slider (non-numeric)
Chromatic Aberration: On / Off
Chromatic Aberration Strength: ± Slider (non-numeric)
Frame Type: None + 8 Presets
Game Logo: None + 6 Preset Positions
Enemy Display: On / Off
Character Display: On / Off
Animal Display: On / Off
Grid: On / Off