Resident Evil Village feels like a balancing act between a finely-crafted evolution to 2017’s scary and paired-back Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and a constant, nagging impulse ringing in Capcom’s ears, calling them to return to the ridiculous excesses of Resident Evil 6 which saw Leon Kennedy fight America’s National Security Advisor, who had turned into a T-Rex. However, for the most part Capcom have done a great job tuning out that voice in their head, as they deliver an expanded vision for the first-person gameplay established in RE7 in a sequel that delivers satisfying results the more you play. But it also can just get really weird.
In Village, you once again play as Ethan Winters, the faceless protagonist of RE7 who has relocated to Europe with his wife and newborn daughter. Unfortunately, Resident Evil protagonists never get left alone for long, as their domestic bliss is quite literally torn apart by Chris Redfield, the original RE hero, breaking into their home to riddle Ethan’s wife with bullets and abduct his daughter. Soon, Ethan finds himself searching a nearby village for his daughter, running into new monsters, villains and statuesque women.
The new location and story provide an opportunity for the RE developers to touch on different kinds of horror imagery not seen before in the series, like werewolves, vampires, and even influences from Tetsuo The Iron Man, so it all gets pretty wacky, especially when you remember that the series has to ultimately explain everything with either a virus or a some biohazardous material. When you scrutinise the details in Resident Evil Village, not a lot really makes any sense, and indeed there are moments where things get straight up dumb, as the game really starts to lean into the inherent silliness of the series’ premise.
Maybe the best way to describe the game’s narrative is that it’s a definitely a roller-coaster. The designers are clearly aiming to constantly excite and shock players with new enemies – BIGGER enemies – more intense chases, and hordes of monsters to fight through. It’s definitely entertaining much of the time, but as for atmospheric and scary, it didn’t quite work for me, at least not as well as the Dulvey family and their decrepit home in RE7 did.
That willingness to keep changing things up does make for an interesting progression from RE7’s gameplay. There are four ‘lords’ of the titular Village, each of them having their own unique area which must be explored and conquered before progressing to the next. While the first and fourth adhere to the more classic Resident Evil formula of exploring a larger complex’s rooms, killing zombies, and combining items for puzzle solutions, the second and third get a bit weirder, and play with your expectations. Again, I was never necessarily that scared, but by going straight-up bizarre in some of these encounters, the developers make for a memorably varied experience.
Of course, fans of enormous women who could grind men into a fine paste will be familiar with the first ‘lord’, the Lady Dimitrescu, who is by far the game’s most popular character as voted by the internet’s collective erection. She also makes for a fine stand-in for Mr.X/Nemesis from the RE2/RE3 remakes, as she stalks the halls of her castle, forcing you to navigate and plan routes for exploration around her. Unfortunately she’s in the game for far too little time, and there’s never really as good a replacement among the rest of the roster, both narratively and in terms of her gameplay presence.
The village, itself a clear reference to the much-loved Resident Evil 4, becomes the hub for your explorations as you return to it after every lord, unlocking more paths around it and more interestingly, more clues for its various treasures. These treasures form some of the major puzzles in the game, and solving them one-by-one is one of the most satisfying aspects to the game, especially as some reveal further insight to the (silly) lore. For all of these puzzles, the payoff is inevitably something gorgeous and meticulously detailed that you can flip for cash to buy guns.
Resident Evil Village‘s focus is definitely squarely on action. There’s a large array of pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles and grenade launchers to get your paws on, all of which can be upgraded thanks to the prodigiously-sized ‘Duke’, replacing RE4‘s merchant. Gunplay is feels tighter than RE7, and enemies smarter as they duck and weave and anticipate your attacks. On PS5, each of your guns has a different weight to it as well, thanks to the DualSense’s special triggers, which make a pistol much easier to fire than, say, a rifle. While some of the haptics feel kind of odd, this is a very cool use of the controller’s tech that adds to your immersion.
Strangely, the further you get into Resident Evil Village, the more the disparate elements and approaches start to groove together. The collectible-finding optional objectives fill in the lulls between the action-packed on-rails story segments. The wackiness of the story becomes more enticing, as you get curious to just how much weirder things can get. And, the mechanics are solid enough to make it all feel satisfying and fun, enough for multiple playthroughs, which are encourage by unlockable bonuses, varying difficulties and a Mercenaries mode. I must admit I started Village fairly dubious at the amount of action the game was throwing at me, but by the end the game had well and truly won me over, enough to look forward to subsequent replays.
If we’re putting it on a scale (and we are) of Resident Evil-ness, Resident Evil Village doesn’t have quite the focus or scares of Resident Evil 7, nor the tight design of the Resident Evil 2 remake. However, it’s a far more meaty and memorable experience than last year’s Resident Evil 3 remake, and it leapfrogs action-heavy slogs like RE5 and 6.
At its best, Resident Evil Village is an intense, action-packed thrill-ride that also provides plenty of satisfying survival horror exploration and puzzling. But, at the other end of the spectrum, it can also get pretty weird, stupid and on-rails. Most of the time, this does all somehow culminate into a crazy but creative entry in the series. But I can still hear that voice in Capcom’s head, daring them, “You know, this horror scene is working quite well but what it really needs is a DRAGON.”
-Evolves and expands RE7's take on the franchise -A roller-coaster of action that provides plenty of spectacular set-pieces -Plenty of puzzles in the form of the various treasures around the village -Satisfying action and collecting
-At times falls victim to embracing the series' worst excesses -The story can get indeed get quite dumb -Not enough Lady Dimitrescu