Resident Evil Village – Review

Resident Evil Village is the much anticipated follow up to the bold re-imagining that was 2017s Resident Evil 7 Biohazard. A palate cleanse was called for and that’s exactly what RE7 did: the camera perspective shifted to first-person and the gameplay hearkened back to the roots of the franchise featuring a puzzle and trap-filled Louisiana homestead and a distinct focus on exploration. They also introduced us to the painfully average protagonist Ethan Winters and the now somewhat iconic Baker family. This experiment was undoubtedly a success, breathing new life into a franchise that had well and truly jumped the shark.

Set a few years after the events of RE7, Resident Evil Village sees Ethan, his wife Mia and infant daughter Rose, once again tangled up in the machinations of shady corporations, bio-weapons and insular, cult-like communities. The instigating event has been placed front and centre in a lot of the trailers, but just in case you’ve managed to avoid those I won’t spoil it here. Suffice it to say Ethan’s daughter Rose is taken from him and he must explore a snowy, mountain village overshadowed by an enormous and wonderfully Gothic castle and contend with the beastly forces of Mother Miranda in order to get her back.

For those of you who found Ethan and Mia difficult to care about the first time around, there isn’t much to change your mind here. The writers at Capcom seem to assume you love this couple and their new child by default and are content with their complete lack of any interesting qualities. They are just the most cookie-cutter, milquetoast, mediocre couple of characters you’ve ever come across. There are ways to endear a player to characters in a short amount of time, and Village just totally fails to do so. More on this later, but for now let’s go for the jugular.

Let me be clear from the outset, Resident Evil Village is a delight. It’s just wonderful. As soon as I took my first steps into the titular village, the sound of an icy breeze playing past my ears, growls and screams echoing in the distance, doors creaking open into pitch-black interiors of run-down hovels, the by-the-numbers intro evaporated from my mind. This is survival horror at its finest and if RE7 was a timid suggestion, Village is a statement of utter conviction: Resident Evil is back on track.

The first few hours introduces you to how the rest of the game will play out. You explore the seemingly abandoned village for resources: ammo, herbs, lock picks and exploration items like keys, puzzle items and so forth. You’ll combine chem fluid and gunpowder, read various documents and perhaps even encounter a friendly face or two. You’ll come across many tantalisingly locked doors with very ornate emblems on them that you just know won’t be openable for some time. A brilliant (but potentially divisive) inclusion is having your weapons/ammo/healing items inventory be entirely separate from your key items. Meaning you can pick up as many keys, tools and stone slabs as you like without having to constantly run back to a storage crate. Finally, this section will also feature your first encounter with the extremely intimidating lycans.

The first-person combat is tight, responsive and intuitive this time around. The lycans are way more engaging to fight than the shambling and samey moulded from RE7, not only will they dart forward suddenly or dodge to the side as they close in, but thanks to the many open areas found throughout the game, every encounter feels dynamic. Not only can lycans appear from seemingly anywhere (dropping from the ceiling, climbing through windows or clambering up onto rooftops) but you are also presented with more options, to make a tactical retreat up a ladder or into a nearby cabin for example.

Capcom has clearly gone back and taken inspiration from Resident Evil 4 when designing this village as it features multiple interiors that let you barricade doorways. By holding ‘F’ near specific sets of shelves you can block an entrance and buy yourself some time to heal or reload as several slathering, rabid monsters try to get in through windows, holes in the walls or down from the roof. This isn’t a deep mechanic by any means, but barricading a doorway just before a lycan smashes its arm through the door is just great fun.

The animations are fantastic which makes it particularly intense when these bloodthirsty wolfmen get right up in your face and take a bite out of your collarbone. Ethan can guard (by holding spacebar on PC) which lowers the damage he takes as well as opening up the attacking enemy to be shoved backwards, giving you some breathing room. Otherwise, the combat will be familiar to anyone who’s played modern Resident Evil: aim for the head and keep your distance.

The boss fights, one of the most frustrating elements of the previous game for me personally, are enormously improved in Village. Not only is each one far more thematically and visually interesting, but the actual mechanics of these fights are engaging and actually compliment the first-person perspective rather than clash with it. Capcom has clearly learned what does and doesn’t work in first-person as everything in Village is a lot less cumbersome.

This introductory village is a central location that you’ll return to multiple times throughout the game with each visit opening up new paths to explore, items to find and treasure to collect. The castle owned by the (iconic/memeified before the game is even out) Lady Dimitrescu is the first of several locations you’ll make your way to that act as self-contained ‘levels’ despite the entire map being beautifully intertwined. The feeling of emerging from a dank crypt or lycan-infested dungeon with new tools or equipment that you can now use to gain access to a previously unexplored section of the village is extremely gratifying.

The level design is phenomenal across the board with areas like the castle boasting intricate and interconnected maps that far outstrip anything seen in RE7. When Lady Dimitrescu begins hunting you like Jack Baker or Mr X, it leads to some truly exciting (and somewhat panicked) moments of discovery as you frantically start opening random doors looking for a way to escape her claws.

More than simply being connected, each new offshoot from the village you explore feels completely distinct from the one before it. You’ll be dealing with an entirely new area with different aesthetics, characters, enemy variants and even, at times, gameplay mechanics. There are sections of this game I desperately want to talk about but can’t for fear of spoilers. Rest assured there are some absolutely masterful horror sequences in store that are very difficult to not gush about.

Resident Evil Village is wonderfully paced, always making it clear when you’re in for a solid dose of exploration and puzzle-solving, or a gauntlet of combat encounters. Boss fights and other breaks in the loop always seem to come at the perfect time and the rewards for taking a break from the main objective are always worth it.

Visually this game is an absolute feast, not only are the textures and character models of an absurdly high quality but the detail and minutiae of the various locations are similarly stunning. Whether it’s the interior of a ransacked cottage, its gore-spattered contents upturned everywhere, or the pristine, impossibly luxurious halls and corridors of Castle Dimitrescu, I was in constant awe of how realistic and lived-in everything looks. Resident Evil 7 didn’t look bad by any means, but the odd layout of the Baker estate and the low texture resolution did give the game a somewhat thrown together feel at times. I had no such qualms with Village.

Beyond the technical aspect is the art direction, the various creatures and villains you come up against are as wondrous as they are terrifying, with ‘tall vampire lady’ being merely the tip of the iceberg. The similarities to Bloodborne in both vibe and aesthetic are striking and, dare I say it, there were a few occasions where I was reminded of the eternally mysterious demo for Hideo Kojima’s cancelled Silent Hills project: PT. Thankfully, Village goes far beyond just aping other properties, managing to merge its influences beautifully together and creating something entirely unique.

I did encounter some minor annoyances the first of which are specific to the PC version. The options menu is frustrating to navigate, with weird key bindings like having to use right-click to back out of each menu (instead of ESC or just using the mouse to click out of the sub-menu), ‘F’ to confirm each graphical setting instead of just being able to click and, perhaps most annoying of all, having to cycle between every resolution (my monitor going black each time) to get from the default to my native resolution. Similarly, the in-game inventory screen is set up bizarrely for PC, with you having to hold shift and then click to move items around instead of just clicking and dragging. I did eventually get used to this but it really shouldn’t be a thing at all in a modern PC port.

The discussion around the game’s difficulty will be particularly interesting once it has been released. I played on standard difficulty and while there were a couple of moments in the latter half of the game where I was running low on ammo and healing items, for the most part, I never really felt like resource management was essential. I was exploring every nook and cranny and playing with a mouse (where I assume it’s harder to miss and waste ammo) so that may be part of it, but I would recommend that series veterans who want to be challenged start on hardcore.

The last detriment is largely due to Ethan. Poor Ethan. He’s the only piece of the new Resident Evil puzzle that doesn’t fit. They even go out of their way to hide Ethan’s face in cutscenes which, while weird in RE7, is straight-up awkward here due to the improved production values. Both his performance and dialogue are consistently irritating and illogical. They try to make him the grizzled survivor, vengeful father and cheesy action hero all at once and he fails to do justice to any of them. A Jack-of-all-cliches.

This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the game wasn’t so determined to pin the entire narrative thread on Ethan and his family. Whenever I emerged victorious from an encounter with yet another fantastically designed and performed villain only for Ethan to limply decry the continued absence of his child or make some quip with all the charisma of a post-it note, I was immediately reminded how little I cared about him and his plight. Because of this disconnect the ending as a whole, unfortunately, fell flat for me. I’m obviously not about to get into details, and admittedly the ending is fine, but it was undeniably disappointing for such an otherwise superb game to not totally stick the landing.

Ultimately, these small issues shrivel away in the blinding light that is the bulk of Resident Evil Village. This game is a triumph. Its clarity of vision shines through every moment whether it’s the inspired design of the various lycans and of Mother Miranda and her cronies, the sublime, intricate level design, the pitch-perfect pace of progression and exploration, the punch of shotgun blasts or the joyous panic of being hounded by some unknowable horror. The confidence and skill with which Capcom has expanded upon the new formula laid out by Resident Evil 7 is so genuinely impressive that it completely outweighs any complaints I may have. Resident Evil is in the best place it’s been in over 15 years and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

Rating: 9/10

Resident Evil Village was reviewed on PC with a code provided by Turn Left Distribution.