Resident Evil Village finally sees Capcom’s most popular – and arguably iconic – franchise come full circle, taking inspiration from across the entire series history and simmering it down into one tall, loud, ostentatious brew.
Say what you will about Resident Evil, but the series has never shied away from risks. From pioneering third-person action shooting in Resident Evil 4, to drastic changes in scenery, game feel and tone, Resident Evil has shown that a central mixture of action, survival and horror can be pulled in every which way, producing success, failure, and the truly special along the way. 2017 saw the series start down the make-good path with fans, with Resident Evil 7 returning to the series’ horror roots and, more importantly, critical and commercial acclaim.
You’d be hard pressed to find a franchise – outside of perhaps Silent Hill – that ignites more feverish debate about its ‘best’ entry than Resident Evil. There are those that die on the hill of tank-controlling their way around the iconic Spencer mansion, and many that think headshotting infected villagers in rural Spain was the best the series got. Resident Evil has repackaged its approach to survival horror action in so many different ways that to call yourself a fan of the series tends to raise more questions than it answers. On the 25th anniversary of the franchise, Resident Evil Village grapples with the central question of “What is a Resident Evil game?” more than any previous entry, ultimately feeling like a summarisation of everything the series has attempted and established since 1996.
You always know things are about to go sideways when you start with a scene of domestic bliss.
In an undisclosed location in Europe, three years on from Resident Evil 7, Mia and Ethan Winters live in relative ease, raising their daughter Rosemary and continuing to grapple with the bizarre events that transpired at the Baker plantation in Dulvey, Louisiana. Before you know it, the bliss is shattered as Chris Redfield arrives to unload a clip and a half of bullets into Mia, Ethan & Rose are kidnapped, and the ensuing chaos finds Ethan isolated and defenceless in the titular village – nestled within a valley ringed by mountains, sat in the looming shadow of Castle Dimitrescu – one that seems to be experiencing something of a Lycan problem.
“You always know things are about to go sideways when you start with a scene of domestic bliss.”
We’re hesitant to give too much away about the nature of the village itself, where its denizens went, and the ultimate goal of the beasties that wreak varieties of havoc on the village and Ethan’s general wellbeing, but suffice to say the chainsaw wielding, bug spewing, Saw-esque antics of Resident Evil 7’s Baker family are positively dwarfed by the big bads on display here. The bosses faced throughout Village are each the masters of their domain, and you’ll be trekking out of the usual village surrounds in order to meet them on their own turf, with the village serving as a hub linking each area. There’s no choice in terms of what order you tackle them however, and Village remains a largely linear game.
Returning to Ethan’s first-person perspective, the environments of Village are one of its greatest pleasures. You can just feel the age and histories of some of these places. The village itself feels equally lived in and utterly dilapidated as you climb through shattered windows and search for crafting supplies in overturned living rooms. The halls of Castle Dimitrescu are at once imposing and breathtaking in their ornate, gothic splendour, drawing clear cues from the now iconic world of FromSoftware’s Bloodborne, an overarching influence that can be felt beyond the castle and throughout the game. The inspirations don’t stop there though; as Village keenly draws on the tones of games like P.T. and Amnesia: The Dark Descent for particular sequences, testing your suspension of disbelief with glee. There are even touches of house invasion, science fiction and body horror, rounding out Village’s greatest hits-esque run of horror tropes that have all played a part in the series’ history.
Similar to the game’s heady mixture of horror sub-genres comes Village’s approach to gameplay. Action is often ramped up to something more akin to Resident Evil 4, with large numbers of enemies – usually Lycans – that duck, weave and orbit you with frightening coordination. You’ll drag bookcases in front of doorways to buy a little more time from the werewolf hordes, and clamber up to rooftops to gain an advantage. However, Village also folds in elements of Resident Evil 2’s Mr. X system as the internet’s favourite vampire mistress Lady Dimitrescu pursues you through the mountainside castle, her heels clacking ominously down its hallways. At times, threats are largely non-existent – not that you’ll know that – forcing you to bathe in the impressive sound-design while your mind plays tricks with the shadows.
Puzzles are present, but have taken a backseat, with the majority of them requiring you to simply put the right item in the right receptacle. Inventory management also has a massively reduced focus. We never had to choose between one item or another, and inventory upgrades are easy to purchase. Combine that with your ability to craft ammunition on the fly or the speed at which you gain your arsenal of weapons, and Village is able to pull the big red lever that reads ‘action set piece mode’ whenever it wants.
It all coalesces into making Village feel like one big reminder from Capcom of just how flexible these games can be, and the kind of tone you can strike after 25 years of experience in the push/pull between horror, action and humour. While the overall experience lacks the back to basics and efficient horror of Resident Evil 7, the wide-ranging tonal ambitions of Village are clear. Resident Evil may have started with tank controls and zombies in a big spooky house, but the franchise has become so much more.
Resident Evil is available now on PS5, Xbox and PS4.