Poor Ethan Winters. Just after he’s started to settle down and enjoy family life, out of nowhere his wife gets shot, daughter kidnapped, until he once again finds himself embroiled within another eerie conspiracy that sees him waist-high in nightmarish monsters. It’s sure to be quite the weekend. Luckily for us, his grief is our gain, as Resident Evil: Village marks a strong continuation of the franchise’s recent swerve into a more claustrophobic brand of survival horror. Mechanical improvements may be minor, sure, yet overall this is about as inventive and terrifying as Resident Evil has ever been. Village pays respect to the events and tropes that have come before while still finding room to take risks.
The first thing to mention is that Resident Evil: Village is an outright beautiful game. From the oddly enticing beauty of the Eastern European village itself that’s been frozen over to the lavishly glossy and wet-looking interiors of its more ornate structures, Capcom’s A-team have proven themselves masters of environmental design before but here every location you explore boasts an impressively noticeable lived-in feel. Books sprawled out over the mantelpiece, tipped-over barrels spewing what appears to be red wine… all this comes together to create a deeply unsettling atmosphere – to the point that the graveyard often felt like the safest location.
The titular village portion plays a larger role than what Resident Evil 4 alumni will likely expect. And though smaller by comparison, frequently returning to it to discover new routes and pathways is excitingly tense. The same can also be said for the much-publicised Lady Dimitrescu’s castle. Anyone who’s already indulged in either the Maiden demo or the other few from the past few days will have some idea of what to expect from this domain, but again there’s plenty of surprises to see when traversing from cellar to roof. Full of engaging yet not overly elaborate puzzles to solve and important story context to uncover, Castle Dimitrescu is yet another iconic Resident Evil location.
Lady Dimitrescu herself is also a commanding villain for the time she’s featured, especially during sections where she persistently follows you around environments Mr. X-style and you have to think on your feet about which castle route you’ll need to take next. She’s not quite as intimidating or unpredictable as the Resident Evil 2 remake’s relentless stalker, true, but this is more than made up for by her constant teasing. It isn’t too much of a spoiler to say that her curvaceous figure doesn’t stay that way for long, and that facing the internet’s favourite tall vampire lady in her final form makes for a fun set piece, indicative of Resident Evil: Village’s tendency to have boss fights play out cinematically despite their up-close and personal nature. It’s a tricky art to balance, but this is one of the better trait’s Resident Evil’s eighth mainline entry successfully carries over from Biohazard.
There’s so much more to Resident Evil: Village’s structure, story and setting which I’d be remiss to mention in explicit detail. However, just know going in that there’s a lot more to all three of these aspects than Capcom’s marketing would have you believe. As mentioned in the introduction, this is a game unafraid to take risks, featuring so many narrative twists and rug-pulls that I was never sure where the horrific journey would take me next. Chris Redfield’s involvement in the whole matter, for instance, though providing some much-needed connective tissue between Village and the rest of the series canon, turns out to be one of the less surprising aspects. His inclusion is fine, yet it says a lot that his role is quite inconsequential to Ethan’s story in the long run; Village’s new cast of villainous cretins were well-defined enough to keep me engaged and encouraged to press on.
Speaking of which, although the series’ traditional undead zombies are indeed present, the new Lycan enemies are a more than worthy substitute. As an upgrade to the last game’s sludge-based moulded they never disappoint, able to move at speed, swerve out of your line of fire and easily overwhelm should you let them get the better of you. Admittedly, I was initially unsure about whether Resident Evil was venturing too far into Twilight-esque territory with the addition of werewolves and vampires, but both make sense for the story and help Village’s setting boast a distinctly supernatural atmosphere. Your first meeting with the Lycans occurs extremely early on in the campaign, and it’s not hyperbolic to say it plays out as one of the most terrifying Resident Evil encounters ever.
Another highlight is a particular sequence where your weapons are completely taken away for a short while. Here the emphasis on true survival is upped as you try to outwit and hide against a truly unsettling enemy, all as you hunt down the different solutions needed to escape a building infested with creepy china dolls. Most of the terror here may ultimately be scripted, yes, but it’s a perfect example of Capcom being smarter about its brand of horror. Long gone are the days where you’re punching a boulder surrounded by a pool of lava to save the day.
That’s not to see Resident Evil: Village doesn’t turn the action up to 11 every once in a while. Some of Ethan’s weapons can actually pack a huge punch in the final hours should you choose to upgrade them enough, and it’s a gratifying sensation to take the fight back to the folk who you once feared. This you do when visiting new merchant character The Duke, who offers everything from weapon upgrades to ammunition recipes and even meals that can permanently enhance Ethan’s traits. You’d think that Village introducing a crafting would lessen the survival horror aspect, but you’re still always scrounging around for the raw materials needed and forced to search high and low.
Finishing the campaign took me 9 hours to beat on the standard difficulty, but there was definitely more time I could have spent hunting down all the collectibles and optional items. Plus, it's hard to complain about length when Village feels perfectly paced for the most part, and you can always supplement the adventure by chasing high scores in The Mercenaries, which makes its grand return here. Playing it in first-person definitely gives this fan-favourite mode a different flavour than before, but it’s much faster-paced than your efforts in the main campaign as the enemies just keep on coming. Your goal is to kill as many as possible within the given time limit to reach the highest score, but the ability to buy more upgrades in between areas and smashing blue orbs to gain different gameplay buffs – improved health, headshots that do more damage, etc – help make it a cathartic arcade romp. Generally, The Mercenaries offers some good horror respite and it’s good to see it realised in a fresh way.
Overall, Resident Evil: Village is an impressive survival horror package that continues Capcom’s winning hot streak with the franchise. By not resting on its laurels and continuing to place almost all facets of horror in front of the player, Ethan’s follow-up story is an appropriately terrifying jaunt through one of the best-realised we’ve seen yet on the next generation of consoles. Village is proof that quality will always trump quantity in terms of scale and length, yet it still finds the time to innovate in unexpected ways. And even during the odd event where this experimentation isn’t so successful, you quickly forget about such misfires thanks to a bigger, better scare lurking just around the corner. Simply put, Resident Evil: Village sets the new standard for survival horror.
- + Pros
- Pays tribute to both the past and present era of Resident Evil
- Unbelievable environmental detail
- A variety of effective scares that always keeps you guessing
- A great incarnation of The Mercenaries mode
- A confident continuation of first-person Resident Evil
- - Cons
- Mechanical tweaks are minimal
- Not all risks pay off