Developed and Published by: Capcom
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: Out Now!
Well, then, here we are; Resident Evil Village is out, and as the influx of Resident Evil content on this page might’ve suggested, it’s a game I was very excited for! So, now I’ve played it, it’s time to share my thoughts on the eighth mainline entry into the iconic horror franchise. Following on from the relative reset that was Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and the first-person perspective it introduced, Capcom decided to continue that trend with Village – once again, we play through the eyes of Ethan Winters (Todd Soley), experiencing the next part of their story. However, whilst RE7 largely steered clear of connections to other Resident Evil games for the majority of the runtime, Village definitely starts to bring in stronger connections to the series continuity, especially through the role that staple character Chris Redfield (Jeff Schine) has to play. The way events would tie together was an element I was very excited to uncover. As well as this, I was curious to see how they would develop both the character of Ethan and the first-person gameplay, as – whilst impressive – I did not find myself completely connecting to either in RE7. So, with all these factors at play, did Village deliver? Well, let’s dive into it…
-WARNING: SPOILERS FOR RESIDENT EVIL 7: BIOHAZARD AHEAD. FOR VILLAGE, I HAVE KEPT CLOSE TO THE DETAILS SHOWN IN TRAILERS, BUT BEWARE MINOR SPOILERS-
A Village Tale
Before anything else, Resident Evil Village begins with a storybook animation named Village of Shadows, which tells of a girl lost in the woods – it’s lusciously animated and produced with a glorious, darkly fairytale style, and is admittedly not at all subtle in the parallels it seeks to establish for the rest of the game; even so, it’s effective, and immediately differs Village somewhat from the way other Resident Evil games have opened. From here, we pick up with Ethan Winters a few years after the end of Resident Evil 7. With the help of Chris Redfield, Ethan has relocated with wife Mia and newborn baby Rose, and is living a relatively safe life – a life which is suddenly split apart when Chris arrives unannounced, shockingly shooting Mia multiple times in front of Ethan. Immediately, something is clearly wrong, because – amongst other details – we know Chris is not usually the type to do such a thing. Rose and Ethan are taken away, but the next thing we see through the eyes of Ethan is a crashed transport vehicle and dead bodies surrounding it, with only an ominous, snowy path shrouded in shadow as a way forward. This is when the horror gameplay really begins, as you have no choice but to gradually, tentatively move forward, with every tumbling snowbank or emerging shape cleverly resembling movement around you. This is an immediate sign that both audio and sound design are, like in RE7, again being employed to play on your fears and trepidations, and it’s very effective, especially as you get closer and closer to the rural, remote village that informs the name of the game.
From here, the inspiration from Resident Evil 4 starts becoming evident, as you start to explore this seemingly-abandoned settlement that has very clearly had something awful befall it. Severed horse heads, blood-strewn crows, and ruined houses dot your path as Ethan searches for any explanation or refuge. Soon you run into the base “zombies” of this game, the Lycans; these are werewolf-like hostiles that see you as their next meal. I have to say, your initial sightings of them are terrifying, from their sudden appearances to the brutal nature of their attacks as they relentlessly hound their prey – and, once again, you’ll find your in-game hands suffer as a result (ouch). This sequence slowly transitions into a desperate fight against a pack of Lycans that appears endless, giving you no option but to scramble for ammo and ways to evade the Lycans. This is very, very similar to the fight against the pack of infected townspeople at the beginning of RE4, and though the impact is slightly dampened by it not being an outright new set-up, it’s still undeniably effective at not only introducing the threat of the village but teaching you how to play. You’re forced to get accustomed with the familiar selection of weaponry and the process of crafting healing salves from the herbs and chemical fluid you discover, just to hold on against the incoming hoard.
Sadly, I still found that a lot of my issues with the way Resident Evil 7 handled were carried over here, unresolved. As a first-person game, I find Resident Evil to be some way off the level of responsiveness that the best examples of the viewpoint achieve. Of course, I am not expecting it to be as immediate as a Call of Duty, as this is a survival horror game that limits the amount of power it gives you as the player. It is more of a case that I rarely felt in 100% control of how my inputs were reflected in-game; it’s almost there, but that final edge of responsiveness in turning a corner, lifting my hands to guard, is not quite present for me, with the notable exception of the 180-degree quick-turn – an exception that shows it could be done. The guns themselves are mixed in the feedback they give, with the pistol often feeling incredibly weak, the shotgun not having the sort of stopping power you’d expect, and the sniper rifle having less recoil than you’d think. It sounds harsh, I know, but I think that a little more refinement in these areas would go a long way to engrossing me further without losing the horror. It was mainly an issue in the first half of the game, when enemies are soaking up ammunition more for the sake of it than to actually be scary.
Village actually continues the trend of RE7, which started off with very few resemblances to traditional Resident Evil gameplay and gradually re-introduced those elements as you progressed and found more firepower. In the sequel, you now get an expanded inventory case composed of a grid in which to arrange your guns, ammo, health items, and more, which again is a clear reference to the case Leon kept items in back in Resident Evil 4. There’s also an expanded library of resources to find in the world, with scrap material dotted around for crafting ammunition on the go, and even the return of glinting treasures to seek out and sell similar to the likes of Resident Evil 5 (and, yes, RE4, but let’s shout out some other games here). Yes, sell – there is even a merchant now, like in, you know… Resident Evil 4… They’re a suspiciously helpful character who goes by the name of The Duke (Aaron LaPlante). By going up to one of their multiple stalls, you can sell found items, buy new ones, and pay for improvements to your guns, naturally giving you a lot more control over your armoury. All these familiar Resident Evil elements are welcome to give more depth to the gameplay and supply a few more options in how you can tackle situations. In general, it feels as though you get given a lot more ammunition in Village, but that is also matched by a higher encounter rate against an increased selection of threats. Compare it to the relatively limited enemy types in RE7 (mainly those mold creatures), and it is a refreshing step up, as even beyond the variation of Lycans, you’ll meet many other strains of opposition later on that make Village feel a lot more like a Resident Evil game where you never quite know who you’ll find around the corner.
It Takes Four
To see this variation, look no further than the several personable main “boss” characters in Resident Evil Village. Ethan soon realises that there is some connection between his child Rose and ongoing events; the mysterious Mother Miranda (Michelle Lukes) and the company she keeps have a fixation on the child. From here, Ethan seeks them all out in a quest to find his daughter – an earnest motivation I found it easy to get behind as the player. In Village, there is a self-confidence and determination to Ethan, shown by how he throws himself into fights and expresses a fiery frustration over how, once again, his life has been thrown into distress. I will say, Ethan feels much more of a deliberate, well-rounded character of his own in Village, unlike in Resident Evil 7, where his role as the player avatar felt a bit too passive. Indeed, even when Ethan is soon put into the same room as those boss characters, it is not fear he is showing, but an impatience to get through them and back to his family. To start with, Ethan targets the castle that forebodingly looks over the village – a castle inhabited by Lady Dimetrescu (Maggie Robertson), a vampiric, towering woman who has stoked the internet into quite the furore after her initial reveal (the fan art… shudder)! As a setting, the unrevealing Castle Dimetrescu is an example of one of the strengths of Resident Evil Village: the environment design. The castle is both intimidating and captivating, the cold stonework spattered with snow on the outside and filled with regal decoration on the inside. It is one of the highlights in terms of exploration, with the many levels of the building challenging you in different ways: there are the narrow, dark prison cells of the dungeons, the labyrinthine corridors and rooms of the main castle, and the airy but vulnerable spaces of the roof and courtyards.
Something that stands out as you explore the castle is the pacing of Resident Evil Village. After the confined southern USA estate of RE7, the village and areas within it are of a purposefully larger scale, but the open exploration allowed within them also has the risk of slowing down your progress and losing built tension; items are hidden all over, and this encourages you to keep an eye out and even retread your steps Metroidvania-style as you gain new ways of accessing closed-off doorways. Whilst satisfying to get those rooms marked blue (for complete) on your map, this could easily go against the thrill of the narrative momentum. Village surprised me in a good way in this sense, as there is a decent mix of the open paths with less dangerous opponents, and the linearity of running into – in the case of the castle – Lady Dimetrescu and her three daughters. It did not feel as though there was a big exploration area and then one boss fight at the end; it was more of an interwoven sequence of puzzles and set-pieces. There’s a certain point in Village where I was concerned it was going too open and indirect, but I am glad to say the balance of pacing meant that went unfounded. Instead, Village kept me engaged, as I knew a major story development could happen at any time, and this reduced any potential predictability – ideal in a horror game!
On the topic of scares, Village had quite the act to follow after the terrors of RE7, and attempts to tread more of a fine line between those intense first-person jumps and the more heart-racing action fights. I wouldn’t say it’s ever as downright scary as, say, the early moments of RE7, but it definitely keeps you on your toes. As you progress past the castle and deeper into the game, you find that Village actually draws on a range of inspiration for the types of horror it throws at you, informed not just by past Resident Evil games but other horror series as well (which ones will become clear as you play!). This ensures that Village never gets stale in the way I found RE7 and the overreliance on mold did, but equally, everyone has their own personal preferences (for lack of a better word) when it comes to the sorts of scenarios that play on their mind. Therefore, you may find that some areas of Village are much more cathartic for you than others, and you pine for more of one over the other. It is a bit of a horror greatest hits, and naturally, that results in some sections you’d be more inclined to skip than others. This becomes even more evident on a repeat playthrough, where I am extremely excited to replay some sequences but sort of meandering through others because I have to.
Whilst the boss rush vibe is a major part of the roughly five-to-ten-hour runtime of Village, it certainly is not the entirety of it, and a way Village positively differs from RE7 is the amount of series continuity it links to and includes. As the main key art of Village makes clear, Chris Redfield has an essential role to play in this game – oh, and the new character model is much, much better, so let’s gloss over that misjudged redesign in his brief cameo at the end of RE7, yeah? It’s only really in the latter stages of the game that this all reveals itself, so for the sake of spoilers, I am not going to go too much into it; but I will say that Village manages to include several fan-pleasing instances that had me outwardly voicing my glee, without ever forgetting that this is the story of Ethan and his family first and foremost. The narrative definitely has issues, mainly to do with a lack of time given to Mother Miranda to make an impression as the main antagonist, but the very human essence revolving around the Winters’ is the anchor throughout. The balance between this and the involvement of Chris is struck well as an escalation of RE7, and by the ending, had me immediately ready for where Resident Evil goes next. This is based on the revelations and hints we are given to the future of the series – only, like, four years to wait…
One direction that Resident Evil is definitely finding results in pursuing is the visuals of the RE Engine. Even playing on my base PlayStation 4, Resident Evil Village is an extremely impressive game graphically, only accentuated by the art direction of this twisted village and the many mysterious surrounding locales. Characters, friend and foe, have detailed and expressive models that you often get to witness very close-up (you really get to appreciate the hair of a Lycan when they’re ripping you apart), and as I have mentioned, it is not only the fidelity of the environments but the general composition of them that showcases an intelligent utilisation of aesthetics. From the key art, you’d think this would be a game dominated by a dirtily white colour pallete, yet deviation into caverns, castles, and other settings keeps things fresh, with one of my main complaints that I would have liked a bit more time with some of those different regions of the map. Also, Village reminded me a lot of early games in the series – in particular the original Resident Evil – in how it plays with your head through the fields of view and camera angles it places in front of you. Even with the apparent freedom of the first-person view and the lack of fixed perspectives, you get the sense that the game knows where you are going to go before you do. The layout of the path ahead is often full of forms and shadows that make empty areas appear much more dangerous than they are…
That’s only more effective when combined with audio that does much the same thing. Every sound feels as though it has been composed to unsettle you; this might be the obvious, for example the call of a pack of Lycans, or the more subtle, such as the rustling of long grass concealing threats within. It goes both ways, too – hearing Ethan stagger and voice his pain pulls you into the most strenuous moments, and the satisfying explosion of, say, a mine set off at the critical moment delivers that satisfying retaliation you were seeking. Another element of this I’d like to comment on is the voice acting, as it is consistently brilliant throughout. Village is definitely one of the least knowingly-melodramatic of the Resident Evil games, going for a more grounded tone, but still maintains charisma. Ethan and Chris are quite serious all the way through and have genuinely touching moments, and there was an unexpected amount of personality in some of the boss enemies, such as the showboating and deceptive Karl Heisenberg (Neil Newbon). This lifted them above being stock Resident Evil fights, even if their eventual final conflicts were only sometimes successful in how much they delivered on the set-up. I’d say around half of the boss fights were a relative disappointment, whether because of not enough build-up, or because they were less exciting than the prior puzzling might have had you thinking.
As I need to stop there and not stray into spoiler territory, let’s talk about another essential and often underrated part of Resident Evil games – the bonuses offered to go along with the main campaign. One of the most marketed is the return of a Mercenaries mode, which slightly differs from the one seen in such games as Resident Evil 5, but has the same core concept; in a handful of levels based on locations from the main game, you embark on an arcade-style time attack, attempting to kill a set amount of enemies before the timer runs out, racking up combos and finding orbs that can supply either more time or a new modifier to help you out. Defeating every enemy, doing so in the quickest time possible, and more all effect your final score, with certain thresholds marked with completion awards. It’s a decently enjoyable offering, and the sheer firepower on offer acts as a relief from the tension of the story. The time limits, whilst not as overly restrictive as those in RE5, go too much the other way in how generous they are, and the entire experience has a sense of being a bit throwaway in how unrefined it is – don’t expect levels to lead you through as smartly as in the story once you’re just dropped into them like this. Horrifying boss enemies are reduced to being unthreatening against your armoury, too, which feels a bit wrong. Still, if you need to get away from the suspense for a while but would like to stay in the Village ballpark, Mercenaries is a satisfactory enough add-on.
Furthermore, there are a set of endgame rewards awaiting those who finish the story, and plenty of reasons to replay the game in order to expand on them. From my time playing on a harder difficulty, it’s indeed a severe step-up that ruthlessly challenges your skills. Resident Evil has a knack of raising the challenge level by mixing up the enemy layouts in creative ways as you go up the difficulties, and that is not quite as present here as it was in, say, the longevity of Resident Evil 3, but still – for seasoned Village players, there is much here to test you out, as even the early encounters turn into tough battles for survival, and you’re asked to think about your loadout and approach in new ways. Just finding everything on the map, too, is an adventure of itself, as I know there are still a few unexplored side areas for me to find on my repeated playthroughs.
One of the main praises I can give Resident Evil Village is, for all of the problems I had with it, I was left profoundly satisfied. I went in hoping for not just an elevation of the experimentations that Resident Evil 7 begun, but more of a solidly Resident Evil experience than that prior game. Indeed, RE7 often felt like a new, high production value horror title with the Resident Evil name put onto it, but Village definitively and contrastingly felt like a Resident Evil game in first-person. Adding in a few more traditional series game mechanics, alongside more of a role for Chris, meant that the next chapter in the story of the Winters family had a much firmer standing in the continuity. However, some of the issues I had with the first-person perspective of RE7 are still present, in particular the control inaccuracies it brings with it; also, whilst I appreciate the range of enemies and settings, some were definitely given less time than they needed, and felt rushed as a result. Overall, though, the highs firmly outdo the lows of Village, and the setting and story are resoundingly successful in levelling that rollercoaster out into an experience I had a brilliant time with. In a lot of ways, Resident Evil Village is a game that puts the series back on track without losing the positive lessons it learned from the changes of RE7, and with how it ends, has me confident that there is a long, healthy, and horrific ride ahead.