From the moment we opened the door to a mysterious mansion and almost became Jill sandwiches a quarter of a century ago, the Resident Evil series has been a torch bearer for the survival horror genre. It’s strayed from the path plenty of times with some action-oriented forays that drew the ire of fans, but its legacy is undeniable. The seventh numbered entry rebirthed the franchise as a superb first-person horror experience that proved that Capcom still knew how to instil fear and turn the pantaloons brown, and a phenomenal remake of RE2 only cemented the notion Capcom hadn’t forgotten where it came from. So as the eighth major entry and a direct narrative continuation of RE7, does Resident Evil Village storm the barn, or does Ethan Winter’s tale get left out in the cold?
Eastern European Disneyland has its detractors
Following the Baker incident (there’s an in-game primer to get you back up to speed that’s highly recommended), Ethan and Mia Winters have been whisked away and given a new life in a remote Eastern European location. A new life begets new life, and they’ve also been blessed with a newborn baby named Rose. But happiness is fleeting in the RE universe, and a calm dinner is shattered in moments as the Winters house is stormed, Mia gets shot, and Rose and Ethan get captured and taken away by none other than sentient pile of steaks Chris Redfield. After being knocked unconscious, Ethan wakes up some time later to find the car he’s been carried away in has crashed on the snowy outskirts of a mysterious village, and there’s no sign of Rose, or walking advertisement for whey protein Chris Redfield. In the most video game set up possible, Ethan’s goal is simple – survive the horror, find the baby (I mean it’s not quite a princess but there is a castle). The only thing in his way is a village full of demented beasts and a castle run by an Internet thirst-inducing 20-foot vampire lady. You got this, Ethan.
In my review of RE7, I praised the way in which the setup actually allowed the game to sidestep some of the RE universe’s convoluted lore (which all things considered is more silly than scary), and simply present a creepy setting in which Capcom could flex its horror muscle. Village does something altogether similar, leaning on the classic horror tropes of creepy villages, torture dens, and medieval castles and filling them to the brim with werewolves, vampires and zombie-esque monstrosities. The lore is there, and I’d say it actually ties into the greater RE universe a little more naturally than in RE7 (even if things get characteristically very strange by the end of it), but it’s also just as fun to let the setting simply wash over you and suck you in, because it is nothing short of phenomenal. Much has been made of the village and castle sections in marketing material, but Village’s world is actually quite a bit larger than that, presented all in one seamless map with an amazing sense of interconnectedness and coherence. It may be something out of a demented Brothers Grimm fairy tale, but the jaw-dropping level of detail in every inch of the sprawling setting makes it feel like a real place, where real people once lived and now real horror rules.
The Fat Controller now sells guns and ammo
It may be something out of a demented Brothers Grimm fairy tale, but the jaw-dropping level of detail in every inch of the sprawling setting makes it feel like a real place, where real people once lived and now real horror rules
Every environment drips with a unique atmosphere, and there are also some fantastic larger-than-life characters (or simply larger than average door frames in the case of Lady Dimitrescu) for Ethan to contend with, but if there’s one weak character, it’s unfortunately Ethan himself. Let down by some feeble voice acting, there’s an overwhelming sense that he doesn’t really appreciate the whacky stuff going on and is incapable of reacting with any conviction to the events unfolding. I was reminded heavily of The Evil Within’s Sebastian Castellanos, who was famous for having the personality of a slightly damp, empty pizza box. There is some redemption for Ethan in the later sections of the game however, and even if he doesn’t give you much reason to stick with him emotionally at the outset, you’ll probably be glad you did.
So with a masterfully intricate setting and a slightly lukewarm protagonist on a mission, it’s time to explore, solve puzzles and fight things. Exploration is a real highlight, and I dutifully scoured every dank nook and unnerving cranny of the map, hunting for precious ammo, new weapons and secret treasures to sell to the corpulent merchant known as The Duke. The map is clear in signalling when you’ve cleared out all sections of an area of items and valuables, and it’s always in your interest to return to already visited sections when you get new key items if you want to uncover all the game’s secrets and bolster your arsenal. Going hand in hand with the exploration, puzzle solving is fairly straightforward but quintessentially Resident Evil and always enjoyable, so expect to be tracking down a wide variety of weird-looking keys and placing crests in indentations aplenty.
Do it for her
Resident Evil games have always indulged in action, but have sometimes struck an awkward balance between all-out action and true survival horror. Thankfully, Village aligns itself rather closely with the universally praised RE4 in terms of the balance and feel of combat, and enemy variety is also significantly more varied than in RE7. There’s a great ebb and flow of resources where you’ll get comfortable in times of surplus only to be faced with a heady challenge and have your precious stockpiles dwindle. I definitely recommend that action game aficionados play on Hardcore, which makes enemies tougher and resources scarcer, dialling up the tension as you try to make every single bullet count.
As mentioned, you can sell certain valuables to The Duke and exchange currency called Lei for items and weapon upgrades, and this is another aspect that’s handled expertly. Beginning with only a pistol that may as well be shooting flower petals for all the strength it has, you’ll slowly but surely increase the power of your firearms and find new and improved variants for your weaponry that tips the balance back in your favour. I do miss my laser sight attachment for the pistol though. The challenge steadily increases accordingly, and in general I found the pacing of the difficulty of the task at hand to be engaging throughout the 13 hours it took for me to see the story through to its end. If it’s one aspect of the combat design I was less enamoured with it’s in the boss designs. They are incredibly striking from a visual standpoint, but in terms of gameplay design they more often than not devolve into tired bullet sponge affairs where you’re scrambling around a smallish arena in a war of attrition unloading lead endlessly into their telegraphed weak points. They’re not terrible by any stretch, but none of them are memorable mechanically. There are also a couple of monster closet sections that aren’t really well signposted, and I spent a little too much time in these sections wasting time and ammo while I scratched my head wondering what the game wanted from me before managing to trigger a cutscene.
You can tell by the creepy dolls hanging from trees that this is a safe space
Village aligns itself rather closely with the universally praised RE4 in terms of the balance and feel of combat, and enemy variety is also significantly more varied than in RE7
Technically speaking Village is an absolute triumph, which ought to come as no surprise from a developer with the pedigree of Capcom, who has managed to squeeze every drop of muscle out of their proprietary RE Engine. They say good graphics don’t equal good gameplay, but when you can absolutely have both then why wouldn’t you? The subtle environmental detail that densely packs every square inch and impeccable lighting effects bring the world to life in magnificent fashion, and playing on PS5 it’s an absolute marvel to behold and never skips a beat.
As I mentioned, playing on Hardcore and taking my time with exploration took me 13 hours to roll credits, but if that’s not enough for you (you greedy bastard) then there is some in-built replayability that could conceivably keep you playing the game for triple that time. Completing challenges within the campaign earns you Completion Points (CP) that you can use to unlock a wide variety of concept art, figurines, new weapons and mods, as well as giving you access to the arcade shooter stylings of the Mercenaries mode. In Mercenaries, you’ll tackle various stages and dispatch a slew of enemies in as fast a time as possible for higher scores, which in turn allow you to access new stages and new abilities. The Duke lets you upgrade your weaponry or buy new guns in-between rounds, and as the stages get larger you’ll get more and more cash to splash on decking out Ethan to chase those scores. The gunplay from the main game is definitely more than serviceable, and later stages introduce some challenging enemy mixups, but without the survival horror feel from the main game I found my attention wandering a bit. It certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s there, and I’m sure there are plenty who’ll enjoy the arcade feel, but for me and mine the campaign was more than enough to slake my thirst.
Discover the secrets of where crystal meth is grown
Village is another stellar entry in a franchise that suitably will probably never die. Capcom has once again proven a deft hand at crafting an incredibly immersive survival horror setting that steps outside the franchise’s norm to bring new perspectives and possibilities in the series. While RE7 was a return to form for the series, Village represents a confident continuation and evolution of that form, improving upon its direct predecessor in almost every way. While Ethan Winters isn’t really the strongest of protagonists, and some boss fights are a bit lacklustre from a gameplay design perspective, all the classic elements of the modern RE experience are present and accounted for, and are brought to life by some extremely impressive technical wizardry by the grace of the RE engine. If RE7 was the game that gave rebirth to the RE baby, then Village is the voice that fills its head with dark fairytales and promises of horrors to come.
Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher
- PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X&S / Xbox One / PC / Stadia
- May 7, 2021