This article contains major spoilers for Resident Evil Village
Chris Redfield has been around for as long as Resident Evil itself. He was, along with Jill Valentine, one of the original game's two playable characters, and has since appeared in several sequels and spin-offs—including a starring role in Resident Evil 5. Pretty much his entire adult life has been spent fighting bioweapons, from flesh-eating zombies to a skyscraper-sized tentacle monster in a volcano. Dude's had it rough.
When we first met Chris he was a member of STARS, a special forces division of the Raccoon City Police Department. Later, vowing to stop the spread of bioweapons, he co-founded the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance. Although after the events of Resident Evil Village, where it's revealed the BSAA has been using its own bio-weapons as frontline soldiers, it doesn't seem like he'll be a member for much longer.
Resident Evil characters have always been one-dimensional. Try to describe them without saying A) what they do or B) what they look like (thanks, Mr. Plinkett) and you'd struggle to say anything meaningful. They're costumes, not people. But it doesn't matter, because Resident Evil is, for the most part, shameless schlock. The videogame equivalent of a straight-to-video B-movie. It doesn't need nuanced characters.
Albert Wesker isn't a memorable villain because he's an interesting character. It's because he's a comically evil asshole who can do cool Matrix moves and transform into a monster. Barry Burton doesn't have an army of fans because of his layered, complex personality—people like him because he's a big, fun guy with a beard and a massive gun. And what's the one thing most people remember Chris Redfield for? Nothing he's ever said or thought, but the time he punched a boulder really hard.
The new wave of Resident Evil games is still schlock, but it's a grounded kind of schlock. It's grimier, darker, more realistic—well, as realistic as a game featuring werewolves, talking dolls, and 10-foot tall vampires can be. The theatricality has been toned down, and the characters are now a little more rounded—particularly our old pal, Chris Redfield. Chris plays a more important role in Resident Evil Village than I expected—although his face being on the cover was a clue.
Village sets Chris up as the bad guy. Within minutes of starting the game, you watch him brutally kill Ethan's wife and snatch his baby away. It's a good trick. You wonder if Capcom really has turned one of the series' most reliable heroes into a villain. But, somewhat predictably, it's all a ruse. That wasn't Ethan's wife—it was the game's big bad, Mother Miranda, posing as her. You learn this eventually, but before then, every time you meet Chris he's angry, exhausted, and exasperated by Ethan's presence.
This is a very different Chris than we've ever seen before. For the first time, he feels like a human. He's weary, cynical, and just seems really tired—as you would after spending decades fighting zombies and monsters, and being constantly betrayed by people. He's still a burly dude, but there are cracks and lines on his face and his hair seems a little greyer too—although I might just be imagining that. He's tetchy and flawed and clearly sick of having to babysit Ethan. "This job's hard enough without civilians getting in in the way!" he yells in one scene. I can't imagine this guy punching a rock.
At one point he smiles at Ethan, and it's the awkward, unnatural smile of someone who's forgotten how to do it. At first glance it looks like a normal enough smile, but there's a flicker of sadness in the eyes. If you've ever been depressed and forced to attend a social gathering where you have to smile and meet people, it's that exact face. I might be reading too much into an expression, but Capcom's performance capture technology is so good that I'm convinced the actor was directed this way.
In another scene he's sitting in a car before a mission, staring anxiously into space. He lights a cigarette and just sits in silence, like he's working up the courage to wade back into the living nightmare that is his existence. The old boulder-punching Chris would leap enthusiastically out of the car, do 30 one-armed push-ups in the snow, cock his shotgun, and quip "It's guns o'clock." Or, uh, something along those lines.
Chris has always been a nothing character, so it's nice seeing this familiar face finally given some depth. It's ultimately a small amount of depth—but enough to transform him from a cardboard cut-out into a person. This is cheapened a little when you briefly play as him and he's an unstoppable powerhouse with an infinite supply of bullets. But hell, he's been doing this shit for years—and it's a cathartic moment for players who have been carefully conserving ammunition up until that point.
I'm giving Capcom a lot of credit here for doing the bare minimum of characterisation. But for this series, it's a massive step. I don't want Resident Evil to suddenly be all about the characters, because the villains and monsters are much more interesting. But when the people enduring these nightmares feel like people, the horror hits harder—even if they're a dullard like Ethan Winters. The last we see of Chris in Village, he's heading for the BSAA's European headquarters to find out why they're using bio-weapons, and I hope we get to join him on that adventure at some point.