The Resident Evil franchise is a series that hasn’t been afraid to push itself into new directions. What started as a survival horror game with minor action elements was turned around with the arrival of Resident Evil 4, and then pushed out into action-adventure territories even more so with RE5 and RE6. This was followed by a harsh pull back into almost pure survival horror with the critically acclaimed Resident Evil 7. It’s been four years since the last major release for the franchise, and March this year saw the 25th Anniversary for the series' inception. In that time, Capcom has made a lot of strides, and Resident Evil Village is the ultimate culmination of what Resident Evil should be, hand-picking the greatest aspects of the series into a single, well-oiled machine.
Resident Evil Village puts us back into the shoes of Ethan Winters and his frankly disturbing ability to survive an ungodly number of life-ending injuries over the course of just 24 hours. Set several years after the conclusion of RE7, Village introduces us to an Ethan that is still trying to recover and come to terms with what happened. This is made no easier as he tries to raise a daughter and navigate through his grief with his wife Mia, who seems a little bit too happy to just forget about it all and move on like it never happened. This not-so-idyllic life is made even-less-so-idyllic when series regular Chris Redfield smashes through Ethan’s door like he mistook it for a boulder and proceeds to separate the married couple and take off with their baby daughter, Rose. Ethan is taken also, but when trouble on the road causes his transport to spin out, Ethan is once again thrust headfirst into a whole world of crazy that he must quickly adjust to if he wants to get his daughter back.
To say Capcom’s marketing of Village has been efficient would be an understatement; ignoring the widespread fear-boner the entire internet has for Lady Dimitrescu, Capcom was able to generate an insane level of hype by revealing next to nothing about what the game actually entails. Being able to sell your game without spoiling it is great, but I was worried when it came to how the game would spin its narrative (and how effectively/quickly it could do that). Village doesn’t mess around with easing players into the game. You’re thrown right into the action and are barely even given time to let out your safeword before the game forces you to bend over again. It doesn’t waste time with it and it doesn’t have to. I was concerned at first that it would be difficult to gain any investment in what was happening to Ethan and the occupants of the village due to the pace of the initial action. Thankfully, Capcom managed to expertly structure the first section of the game into a perfect stop-and-start; a push and pull that shoots you full of a nearly lethal dose of fentanyl and allows you to recover just enough before letting the panic set back in by waving the needle dangerously close to your face. Whenever you think the mania won’t stop, it does, and whenever you think you have a moment to breathe, you’d best hope you can keep holding your breath. This hectic narrative and dynamic pacing of the first roughly two hours is complemented by the rest of the game being able to solely focus on gameplay and level design without too much worry about adding new narrative threads. Village generally keeps players confined to a single set piece for each ‘questline’, giving them just enough time to play around in it before offering them a new one to keep things interesting. Frontloading a lot of the narrative tension early in the game was a gamble, but one that heavily pays off in the game’s service.
Resident Evil Village’s gameplay takes favours from almost all the series titles and combines them in the best way, from its gameplay mechanics to even its level design. The famed Castle Dimitrescu serves as a sort of tutorial/opening sequence for the game, and takes clear inspiration from the earlier games of the series, with big winding corridors, grand hallways, and an indomitable figure hunting your every move. The eponymous village acts as a sort of central hub, and feels very RE4 in its aesthetic design. There’s a mansion level that finds Ethan totally defenseless in a reminiscent feeling of the early stages of RE7. There’s a section where you assault a stronghold in a level that feels akin to RE5’s action-packed sequences, and there’s even a clear split in the game’s finale where Village goes from a survival-horror puzzle with action sprinkled in, to a pure FPS, taking a step away from pretty much anything the series has done before outside of side-entries or DLCs.
These changes in tone are noticeable but, apart from the endgame Call of Duty Zombies-esque sequence, none feel like a stark contrast to each other because each section stays grounded in the game’s story and every area still feels like a Resident Evil game. Village is a game that refuses to confine itself to one genre or gameplay tone, and you have to commend them on their success with this. Even though I knew it felt weird to go from skulking around an old mechanical factory, to sprinting through a village guns-blazing like I was playing Left 4 Dead, it felt like a natural progression for the story and I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it every time the game took its own formula and changed it to fit the setting. If the game had been nailed and riveted to a single recipe it wouldn’t have worked in the grand scheme; being totally defenceless before Dimitrescu wouldn’t have been an adequate display of her terrifying power; trying to stealth around the waterlogged caves to evade Moreau wouldn't have worked as well as it did in the castle; having your weapons in the mansion would have made it feel like any other section of the game. The gameplay adapts as the story demands it, and each section feels developed enough to earn its place within the game.
Combat in Village feels like the lovechild of RE4’s unending hordes and RE7’s unrelenting and erratic combat encounters. Poor planning and use of the environment in Village will get you killed, a lot, and the game does not shy from demonstrating this to you by having your head get bitten off by the same horde of lycans 10 saves in a row within the first 20 minutes unless you make effective use of destructible and vault-able parts of the environment. Thankfully my brain is permanently in Dead by Daylight mode and offers me a microdose of dopamine everytime I see a window I can jump through, and Resident Evil makes these motions easy by making a majority of them automatic as you approach the interactable object. Whether it be a door to open, a ledge to climb up or a ladder to climb down, Village’s automatic interaction system is an almost seamless feature that encourages very mobile gameplay in a fun manner, and rewards the player for this by making them not dead. The only times this failed me was with going down ladders (which you will scarcely find present in combat encounters anyway), and thankfully it seems Capcom prepared for this by making falling from the top of a castle tower just one of the many things that make Ethan Winters go ‘eugh’ before he gets up and walks it off like nothing ever happened.
The puzzles in Village stay pretty much consistent with what we experienced in RE7, which was mostly either ‘find X number of MacGuffins’ or ‘use Object A to get Object B that lets you get to Object C’. It’s a clear case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and the puzzles in the game are usually difficult enough to make you use your second brain cell, but not so hard that you stare at your monitor like it’s just asked you whether you think birds are government spies. General tricks of level design will usually point you in the right direction, and this can be picked up quite early by noticing that yellow stripes seem to be a colour code for important/interactable objects. Players who make this link will then be told that they are an idiot after shooting the big barrels with a yellow line on them or slamming themselves into a suspicious-looking yellow stripe on a wall for the fifth time expecting it to move. Either the use of yellow as a sort of waypoint motif was decided after the majority of levels/assets were finalised, or Capcom wanted to see how many stupid people would run into walls. Either way, it’s a minor setback that didn’t really take away from the overall experience but rather a nitpick that bothered me when I first noticed it and I felt it should be pointed out.
I wanted to lead more into this next point, but there’s not really a way to adequately build up just how downright gorgeous this game looks, even without all graphic settings cranked up to the maximum. Not only this, but it runs like a beauty at the same time. This remained consistent after knocking everything to high-quality. I did notice my framerate started to chug a little when I enabled ray-tracing, but I found a quick work-around for this that didn't affect my game experience at all, which was to disable ray-tracing. The motion-capture of characters sculpts each and every one, even the minor ones, into their own personality and paves the way to incredibly effective characterisation in even the shortest of scenes. The game's photo mode only accentuates how good this game looks, giving users the option to mess with camera settings and even remove characters from a scene in order to get the perfect shot — every image in this review was taken by myself in-game. Although on the subject of how the game looks, there is currently no way to change your Field Of View through normal means in-game (but you can in photo mode which just feels like a cruel joke). It might not be a problem for some, but those who struggle with narrow FOVs (80 and below) will likely find playing Village for extended periods of time difficult without feeling motion sickness or eye strain. I can sit on a single game for a whole day and I’m not particularly uptight about FOVs, but I had to take a break every few hours because of how narrow your FOV was. I can understand why, especially from a horror game perspective, Capcom was hesitant about players messing with how much their camera could see at any given time, but when it can cause actual issues for people in real life, sometimes quality of life needs to come above the developers intentions.
In terms of how well Village fares in other more technical areas, the answer is pretty damn good. Sound design is incredibly well done, and the way it echoes around the more claustrophobic locations such as Castle Dimitrescu can make for some genuinely tense scenes where you’re unsure if you should flee upstairs or remain below. Ambient sound and music do an effective job of setting the tone for each locale. The game controls like a beauty, with each input feeling responsive and engaging, although I did have to turn up my mouse sensitivity to ridiculous levels to deal with how sporadic some enemy's movements are, thanks to the aforementioned FOV issue. There was also a moment where the aim-assist decided to prioritise an explosive barrel that I was standing near, and I don’t think I need to clarify how well that didn’t go. Though I suppose some would consider that karma for not disabling aim-assist in the first place so I feel that one is definitely on me.
From the studio that brought us a QTE of Chris Redfield beating the shit out of a rock in 2009 that haunts me to this day, Resident Evil Village is an expertly-crafted narrative that seamlessly weaves subtle horror into action-driven sequences. Combine that with engaging level design and a memorable cast of characters and you have the components that join together to create an experience that isn’t scared to push itself in new directions even after 25 years as a franchise. Though its average runtime of 10-12 hours may put people off the £50 price tag, Capcom wants to be clear in the fact that they haven’t lost their creative spark, and even if things get a bit off the rails towards the finale, it still has a certain Resident Evil charm to it. Knowledge of Resident Evil 7 isn’t necessary to enjoy Village, making it accessible to fans and newcomers alike and a perfect game to sink your teeth into this summer.
Resident Evil Village (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
Resident Evil Village is an expertly-crafted narrative that seamlessly weaves subtle horror into action-driven sequences and backs it up with an excellent story supported by even better characters. An exemplary merit that Capcom still hasn’t lost its creative spark