This article contains light spoilers for the Resident Evil: Village Maiden demo. Maiden is currently exclusive to Playstation 5, but we tried it out anyway. There's another demo expected to come to all platforms this Spring.
I'm trapped in an eerie dungeon in search of an escape. After crawling through a broken wall and stepping out into a draughty corridor, I see a message scrawled on the wall in blood: "Help me brother."
There's the faint howling of the wind outside and I can hear the scraping of my shoes against the uneven slabs beneath my feet. Using just the weak beam from my flashlight I weave into each of the cells, searching for something that can help me get the locked door ahead open, and get the hell out of here. Chains clink as they sway lazily from the walls and body-shaped bundles drop from the ceiling as I walk beneath them. I've managed to disturb a creature in the next cell along, which is now snarling and ramming into a set of flimsy boards that separate us. I have no idea what it is, but I don't fancy hanging around to find out, either.
These are the opening moments of The Maiden, Resident Evil Village's exclusive PlayStation 5 demo-stroke-prologue. It's described as a "stand-alone separate experience from the main game that is a kind of short story set within the world of RE Village," and takes around 20 minutes to play through. It's set in a different time period from the upcoming main game and, focusing on a different protagonist, lets us explore parts of Dimitrescu Castle.
Starting in the dungeon and working my way up into the main entrance hall, I immediately felt on edge. While there's plenty of time to linger in each area and inspect every inch of the rooms, the notes peppered throughout the dungeon and castle remind players that they're not safe here. I found 1950s diary entries that became more desperate and worrying as I read on, and the more I learned about the castle's mistress and her daughters, the more I dreaded bumping into them.
While the dungeon was creepy in its own conventional way, walking around the grandiose rooms of Dimitrescu Castle was even more unsettling. The Resident Evil games are renowned for maintaining a tense atmosphere, and The Maiden had me spinning around to peer over my shoulder often in my 20-minute playthrough. As I combed each area I almost got comfortable with the creaky doors and far-off knocks in the distance, only to be occasionally startled by the clear, disembodied voice of Lady Dimitrescu right behind me.
It's worth taking a few moments to take in the ornate molding lining its walls, doors, and polished silverware. There's a sense of wonder when you first step out into the main hall, with its glittering chandelier and classic oil painting portraits. But the castle also feels lived-in, and sometimes deceptively inviting.
There's a fire roaring beside its leather chairs, and the flowers in the vases are fresh. These rosy flourishes are offset by smaller, more ominous details. There's a tea set neatly perched on a side table with lipstick on one of the cups, but upon further inspection there's a thick, red liquid staining the bottom, too. A note that simply lists "candidates" and "rejects", and a pile of rags in the fireplace sets the tone that something untoward is unfolding here, and we've wandered right into the middle of it.
While there isn't any combat in the demo, there are several items to find, and you'll recognise them from previous Resident Evil games. You'll need to find different ways to open some of the doors, and examine some items more closely to find exactly what you need to progress. Without spoiling the demo too much, you'll meet a couple of the inhabitants of the castle, and, yes, Lady Dimitrescu is just as charming, tall, and terrifying as we've been led to believe.
The Maiden sets an exciting, menacing, and downright weird tone thanks to the glimpse of the enemies we've seen so far. The larger Resident Evil Village demo, on the way this Spring, feels excruciatingly far away now. While The Maiden gives us a taste of what to expect, it's left me with even more questions that I know I'll be obsessing over until Capcom are ready to reveal more.
I played The Maiden during the day, but I imagine it's even better to play in the evening with the lights off. If your setup allows it, don't forget to enable HDR and bump up the volume on your headphones for the best experience.