UPDATE 15/7/21 11.25am: Capcom got in touch this morning to give us an update on this situation. "The team are working on a patch to address PC performance issues, it should be available soon - we'll have more details shortly." This sounds like a positive move and will update with analysis of any update as and when it appears.
ORIGINAL STORY 14/7/21 4pm: The recent story surrounding the notion of a pirate, DRM-free 'cracked' version of Resident Evil Village out-performing Capcom's launch code had me in turns fascinated and horrified. I can accept that anti-piracy measures are a necessity, and I can equally accept that their sophistication these days may have a certain level of CPU overhead. However, putting out a game that has performance issues because of the DRM crosses a red line - it's something that a developer or publisher absolutely should not do. And yet, I can confirm that Resident Evil Village on PC in its cracked form does run smoother than the flawed official release.
In fact, the compromised code addresses the two key performance issues my colleague Alex Battaglia noted in his Resident Evil Village PC tech review. Firstly, key animations during combat - enemies recoiling or lunging at you - cause noticeable split-second stutter. In the original review, we tested at 60fps, finding that the stutter could hit 66ms - four frames - but with frame-rate uncapped, I noted that the freezing could actually hit a maximum 130ms. This is a key problem because, not surprisingly, shooting zombies is a key part of this particular survival horror shooter. The second problem concerns encounters with the maidens - the daughters of Lady Dimitrescu - where their arrival in-game coincides with huge, sustained frame-time stutter. Suffice to say, none of these issues crop up in the console versions of the game.
In repeating these tests for this piece, I was struck by the fact that in the two months since Resident Evil Village PC shipped, nothing has been done by Capcom to address these obvious issues. However, I can confirm that the cracked version does just that, resolving both of these key performance trouble spots. In its NFO notes, the hacker talks about two DRM systems in play within Resident Evil Village: Denuvo, plus Capcom's own anti-piracy tech which allegedly sits within Denuvo, making it even less optimal. The notes suggests that CPU-heavy DRM countermeasures kick in with these key animations - explicitly pointing the finger at the copy protection for the game's performance problems.
And here's the kicker: regardless of whether the hacking team are on the level about the cause of the performance problems, the fact is that in all of the scenarios I tested, the crack fixed them. Combat is now smooth and consistent across the board, with no split-second freezing. While there's conjecture that the pirate version of the game may be missing some animations, battles against Lady Dimitrescu's daughters play out with no sudden lurches and stutters. RE Engine becomes just as performant as we'd hope it would be - on close to console equivalent settings with ray tracing enabled, I could play between 90fps up to 160fps on an RTX 3080.
The success of the pirated version in solving these long-outstanding issues suggests two potential scenarios: first of all, the hackers are being on the level with us - that is indeed the DRM causing the problems in the first place and they've done us a solid favour by removing it. And if the hackers aren't being straight with us, the alternative is perhaps even more remarkable: that they optimised the game in a way that Capcom has been unwilling to for the last couple of months.
The point is that any justification for integrating DRM goes out of the window if a pirated version of the game provides a better experience than a bought-and-paid-for copy. I shared my findings with Capcom on Monday night and have asked for comment and I've also tried to contact Denuvo for their response. However, so far I've not had anything back. At this point, however, I do feel that Capcom owes its paying customers an apology, but more constructively, it needs to urgently release a patch that addresses the problems, that brings its official code into line with the performance offered by the pirate version.
In the meantime though, where does this leave the user who's bought the game? It's not too difficult to find the crack on its own, which works with the standard Steam download (but does seem to be incompatible with existing saves) but this can hardly be recommended. I've heard good things about the RE Framework which claims to solve the stuttering problems and adds in quality of life improvements like a field of view slider. It's something I couldn't test myself - the injected code seemed to stop button prompts from appearing, which made progress into the game impossible. With that said, others are reporting that it works. It's hard to imagine that a mod would tamper with the game's DRM, so maybe there is a way forward to resolve this issue without resorting to pirate code. There is also talk of missing animations with the cracked version, which would not apply to this mod.
At this point, the ball is in Capcom's court and I'd hope to see some kind of response and positive action soon - and we'll update you if and when it does.
Digital Foundry specialises in technical analysis of gaming hardware and software, using state-of-the-art capture systems and bespoke software to show you how well games and hardware run, visualising precisely what they're capable of. In order to show you what 4K gaming actually looks like we needed to build our own platform to supply high quality 4K video for offline viewing. So we did.
Our videos are multi-gigabyte files and we've chosen a high quality provider to ensure fast downloads. However, that bandwidth isn't free and so we charge a small monthly subscription fee of £4.50. We think it's a small price to pay for unlimited access to top-tier quality encodes of our content. Thank you.Support Digital Foundry