Despite being a self-professed wimp when it comes to horror games, it takes a fair amount to properly rattle me when I'm actually playing them. I tend to get more stressed than frightened when playing games like Resident Evil, and the only time I've ever been properly scared and actually screamed in my seat was when I was playing P.T, Kojima's short teaser game on PS4 for the now cancelled Silent Hills. I had the lights on, Matthew by my side, and yet when we turned a corner in that creepy, looping corridor house, a ghost suddenly rushed us out of nowhere. Both of us yelled in terror at the sight of it, and it took ages for us to calm down and work up the courage to carry on.
It's not like I've been chasing that feeling in the intervening years (I am, after all, an officially certified wimp), but playing Resident Evil Village's House Beneviento section this week put me right back in that tiny London flat where we both screamed ourselves silly. It's proper nightmare fuel that place, and of course I had the good foresight to play it just before I was about to go to bed. Well done, Katharine, bravo.
Ed couldn't talk about House Beneviento in his Resident Evil Village review as Capcom didn't want it spoiled before Village's release, but the game's out now, which means I can inflict its night terrors on you no problem. I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but you know, fair warning and all that.
P.T, in case you're unfamiliar with it, is a first-person horror game set in a haunted house. You're stuck in a loop, going round and round the same set of corridors as you solve puzzles to advance to the next loop. Objects shift and morph in unsettling ways, fridges hang from the ceiling dripping blood, there are ghosts, glimpses of horrible things happening in different rooms you can't get to, and at a one point a phone starts ringing and you have to whisper something into the controller to answer it. There are multiple endings, too - the proper one revealing you've been playing as Norman Reedus all this time, who would have been the protagonist of Silent Hills had Konami not canned it a year later. (Reedus, of course, went on to work with Kojima in his next game Death Stranding, becoming one part of my beloved BB Boys).
House Beneviento isn't a looping corridor, but its tight hallways and assortment of creepy ass dolls scattered around the place definitely put you in a similar mindset. It's a completely different vibe from the grandeur and almost pantomime villainy of Castle Dimitrescu. For starters, all your weapons and items are confiscated almost as soon as you step foot inside the house. It's one big, non-combat puzzle, and the increasing weirdness of its various floors as you descend further and further into the belly of the mountain really ramp up the tension.
At first, the only thing that's really amiss are the hundreds of porcelain dolls cast about the place. I find dolls pretty creepy objects on their own, let alone in vast quantities, so we're already on "Do Not Like" territory - although I guess that's sort of to be expected when the main villain in this area has a living breathing Corpse Bride-alike sitting on her lap in the big portrait of her in the main entrance room.
As you wander through this empty house, you're waiting for something horrible to happen. It's quiet. Too quiet. And before you've even taken the lift down a floor, your nerves are already teetering on a knife edge. Up until now, Village has never gone this long without plopping a zombo in front of you or having a bird screech in the distance somewhere, and you expect something, anything to jump out at you so you can finally let out that breath you've been holding and gather your wits again.
But it's not just P.T that House Beneviento called to mind. As you descend further into the house, it quickly becomes clear that there's someone else pulling the strings here (who's the puppet doll now, eh?), which brought back some very fresh memories of Lucas' Testing Room in Resident Evil 7. There, Lucas trapped you in a terrible kind of escape room, playing cat and mouse as you went about solving his deranged set of clues to light an explosive birthday cake. You can find all the answers to his riddles by watching a tucked away video tape beforehand, which lets you play through the same section of the game as an earlier, albeit far more unlucky contestant of his, but the feeling of someone toying with you from afar is still at the forefront of your mind when you play through it again as Ethan.
House Beneviento calls back to these tapes in one of its many puzzles, too, in which you have to arrange certain strips of film in the right order in order to open up a secret door. When you complete the film puzzle, an old camera whirs up and you're locked into watching an old black and white tape of someone descending into a dark well, foreshadowing the trip you'll shortly need to make yourself to retrieve another important puzzle piece. While you don't 'play' this film section yourself, the use of film and looking through the eyes of someone else journeying through this doom pit is very Resi 7. It's a technique that's used multiple times as Ethan works through the Baker house, and nearly all of them end in with something awful happening to the person holding the video camera, giving you a glimpse of the terrors yet to come in your own playthrough.
So on top of feeling like you're being manipulated, this sense of impending dread is ratcheted up even further in House Beneviento, and surely something must be about to happen now. It's got to. Especially when you start to notice that, "Hey, why are there so many big closets I can climb into and shut the door from inside around here?"
What on earth am I going to have to hide from?
Then, finally, it comes. A monstrous, slouching, wailing nightmare that had me at full, "NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE" as I clung to the inside of those wooden wardrobes. I won't tell you what it is. It's too awful to describe. But holy mother Miranda, I winced, looked away, clamped my hands over my ears... anything so I wouldn't have to look at it a second longer than was absolutely necessary. It didn't quite make me yell like the ghost from P.T, but man alive, it was certainly just as horrible - and definitely not what you want rattling around in your brain just before going to sleep.
I'm quite glad House Beneviento is so short compared to Castle Dimitrescu. I don't think my nerves could take being stuck in that porcelian hellzone longer than a couple of hours, especially not with that thing stalking the corridors as well. I'm also quite glad that Village's third area, the Reservoir, has just gone full on gross with old frogspawn vom-man Moreau. I can take icky blobby toad bosses no problem, as long as there aren't any laughing dolls involved. Also, simply being outside again feels very cathartic after the claustrophobia of the old Beneviento pad. I can finally breathe again, even if it is tainted with the stench of sick and moldy windmills everywhere.
Still, even though I hated it and never want to see the inside of that house ever again, I am glad there are still games channeling that kind of homely P.T horror. Village is probably the first game I've played since that dark August evening in 2014 where I've really felt like it could be a spiritual successor to Kojima's mini masterpiece. Resi 7's Testing Room came close, but it took too much pleasure in its gory action sequences to really feel like much of a threat, and it also didn't have a seething hellspawn creature chasing after you, either. So if you are the sort who's been chasing those PT horror thrills for the past seven years, go and take yourself down to old House Beneviento. I won't say you're welcome, because only a psychopath would relish sending people off to that doll-infested prison, but I will wish you luck (and for the love of all that is holy, do not play with headphones on).