When players think of Resident Evil as a series, a few things spring to mind. Zombies, typewriters, police officers fighting an evil corporation. But Maiden, the PlayStation 5-exclusive visual showcase that doubles as a demo for Resident Evil Village, eschews most of the trappings traditionally associated with the franchise. Maiden proves that there is still room to innovate in a long-running series. Though short and light on features, this exploration-focused demo is an intriguing look at the future of survival horror.
Adaptability is key to survival. Resident Evil arguably invented survival horror back in 1996 but the series has had a bit of an identity crisis ever since. The series has steadily skewed more towards action, culminating in the co-op murderfest that was Resident Evil 6. But 2017’s Resident Evil VII: Biohazard refocused the series, shifting to a first-person perspective to put players face-to-face with fear. At a glance, Maiden feels like a natural extension of Biohazard‘s gameplay.
The demo is limited, but offers a tantalizing taste of what’s to come when Village is released later this year. After waking in a dank and disgusting dungeon, the player must explore their environment and make an escape attempt. Fortunately, the player finds a crumpled-up note in their cell that provides clues on how to make a run for it. The dungeon is oppressive and terrifying, full of drips and echoes that will have players questioning their every move. It’s a true nightmare scenario, cell after cell of bound and tortured corpses that have met a miserable fate. Fans of the genre might be reminded of parts of Amnesia: The Dark Descent as they scramble around bloody rooms searching for the one or two tools that will allow them to break free of confinement. There is no combat to contend with in this demo, but the tension still runs sky-high due to excellent sound design genuinely creepy visuals.
Capcom has clearly been paying attention to the survival horror shift that’s been happening in recent years. The opening area of the Maiden demo is small, and players will likely run back and forth through it multiple times as they search the darkest corners for anything helpful. Some events seem to trigger only after exploring an area more than once, perhaps in a nod to the state changes of the lost-forever P.T. This demo feels immersive, as the 3D audio lets players pinpoint exactly where a body has slumped over or which hole a rat scrambled through.
Terror only grows once players escape the confines of the dungeon and reach the other main environment: an opulent mansion. Gloriously tacky, the gilded walls, beautiful chandelier, and flickering wall torches are wonderful to look at. The environment is sumptuous and inviting, but there’s something unsettling about the house. Footsteps seem to pad along when the player isn’t moving, and occasionally they might hear a peal of laughter. Notes and journals offer a glimpse of the horrors to come, and this is where players will either be fully on board with Village or disgruntled at the direction the series is going: it seems abundantly clear that vampires are afoot.
It’s a revelation that brings several small details into sharp focus. A teacup encrusted with red liquid and a portrait of bats flying across a moonlit sky seem like head-smackingly obvious tells for anyone visiting this mansion on a whim. A journal entry left by a careless servant notes that the ladies of the house screamed when the curtains were drawn open during a hot day, even a tiny bit. It’s not bad storytelling, but it might make the reader question if anyone in the nearby village has ever even heard of a vampire. Was no one in the area concerned that the signature wine of the estate is called “maiden’s blood”?
The demo is not exactly subtle, but it doesn’t need to be. As a showcase for what Village‘s interiors could look like, it’s jaw-dropping. Environments are incredibly detailed, and the opening dungeon in particular will make squeamish players lightheaded. Every medieval torture device, from the iron chair to the rack to a helmet with thumbscrews that press into eye sockets is lovingly rendered with stomach-turning realism.
There is one signature survival horror puzzle: a statue of a face missing an eye from its socket. Find the appropriate eyeball and slot it in, and the player finds the final tool needed to make a break for freedom. The final few moments of the demo are the perfect blend of camp and white-hot terror. All told, the experience will last players probably half an hour to 45 minutes, but the excellent visual details and audio design make it well worth the time. Maiden may not be a full-on Resident Evil experience but this free-to-play demo is an excellent appetizer for what’s to come.