Resident Evil: Maiden is the best video game demo since Silent Hills P.T.
We need more like it.
The Maiden demo for Resident Evil Village is a slender slice of blood-red cake that will stain your teeth and leave you frothing at the mouth for more. More video games need demos exactly like this to supplement the core experience from the full game.
What is the Resident Evil Village: Maiden demo?
Released January 21 following Capcom's Resident Evil Showcase, which focused on the upcoming release of Resident Evil Village, the Maiden demo is a tightly scripted prequel that puts players in the shoes of a nameless woman trying to escape captivity. It's set in a gothic mansion, Dimitrescu Castle, adjacent to the game's titular "Village" in Eastern Europe.
You wake up in a dungeon cell and spend a short while trying to escape the manor. You solve a few puzzles along the way and endure terrifying jumpscares as death looms around every corner. The whole experience takes no more than half an hour — and much less if you know what you're doing.
I'm not even that much of a Resident Evil fan, but Maiden is one of the absolute best video game demos in recent memory. It's impressive, tantalizing, and it does a whole lot more than advertise the potential of Resident Evil Village.
Not representative of gameplay
Rather than attempt — and potentially fail — to capture a narrow slice of Resident Evil Village gameplay, Maiden instead takes the opposite approach by providing a stripped-down visual showcase.
"Maiden was originally designed as a visual demo that would allow you to explore the inside of Dimitrescu Castle," Producer Peter Fabiano told the official PlayStation Blog, "but it evolved to include a short story and puzzle-solving." The nameless "maiden" cannot fight or block, but she can interact with the environment to solve puzzles.
You spend the vast majority of Maiden feeling weak, powerless, and scared as you search for some bolt cutters, a lockpick, or a key. The puzzles are just challenging enough that you have to think and experiment; You might even want a guide to help you. Like all horror video games, Resident Evil Village's scariness will wane over time as you discover better weapons and resources that establish a sense of agency and control over the terrifying, chaotic world.
Maiden affords you no such opportunity — and it's that much better for it.
An effective showcase of the PS5's 3D audio and ray tracing
Maiden is a breezy experience despite the overwhelming atmosphere of horror as you crawl through a dungeon full of torture devices and barrels of blood. Ray tracing in the dimly lit corridors makes for ultra-realistic visuals that border on nauseating.
In the stillness, you can hear blood or water dripping. Depending on where you are as you creep through the dungeon, your own footsteps might echo in a realistic way that makes it sound like there's someone behind you. It's a disorienting and strange phenomenon that amps up the immersion in truly scary ways. But that's the magic of 3D audio.
From a purely technical standpoint, Maiden is an effective way to convince us that the audiovisual horror experience in Resident Evil Village and the PS5 will be better than almost anything that's come before it.
Maiden is a standalone gaming experience
A common critique of video game demos is that they merely show off an early mission or sequence. That means if you do purchase the full game, you'll need to rehash the same experience if your progress doesn't carry over, as is typically the case.
Maiden is a glaring reminder that the best video game demos are supplemental rather than redundant. "This is a stand-alone separate experience from the main game that is a kind of short story set within the world of RE Village," PS Blog confirms.
Producer Peter Fabiano confirmed in the same post that the demo takes place at a different point in time than Ethan Winter's Village experience. There are specific links and/or Easter eggs that fans might not understand until after they've played the full game, but that only enhances Maiden's value as a standalone experience.
Capcom's approach — which feels like a natural evolution of Resident Evil Biohazard's excellent VR demo — reinvents the antiquated demo model that was ultimately deemed bad for developers.
Why are video game demos so rare these days?
Given how startling and compelling the Maiden demo is in its execution, it makes you wonder why game demos have become such a rarity when, once upon a time, every single issue of PlayStation Magazine included a disc with several demos on it. What happened?
Some research convinced the entire industry that all demos hurt game sales when, in reality, demos just needed to change.
Research presented back in 2013 by game designer Jesse Schell showed that demos have a negative impact on a game's projected sales by more than 50 percent. The implication here is that if players are underwhelmed by a gameplay demo, they're much less likely to spend full price on the game. That makes sense.
Consider Cyberpunk 2077 as a counterpoint: Despite a disastrous release build that was riddled with so many bugs that it's led to lawsuits and returns en masse, it was still a tremendous success in terms of gross sales. Had CD Projekt Red released a lackluster Cyberpunk 2077 demo, many potential players would have never bought it. Even though the company offered returns, it's likely that many gamers never bothered going through the process. The end result is more revenue regardless.
Whether or not you're a fan of the Resident Evil franchise, it's impossible to deny that with Maiden in particular, Capcom has become a trailblazer when it comes to what game demos should strive for moving forward.
Maiden is available now for PS5. Resident Evil Village will be released on May 7, 2021.