Released: May 2021
Rating: 18 (Strong bloody violence and Gore)
*Disclaimer: Resident Evil Village review code was provided by Capcom for the purposes of this review. That being said, all opinions expressed in this review are entirely that of the author.
**This is a non-spoiler review- only light details and gameplay already showcased in trailers will be discussed within this review
Resident Evil has come a long way since its debut in 1996. We’ve had great games, we’ve had some rough games, and we’ve had just about everything in-between. But none had really managed to capture the attention of the masses since those first set of PlayStation One horror-blockbuster hits. That is, until 2017’s Resident Evil 7: Biohazard dropped into players’ hands. Using much of the momentum created by the then-recently-cancelled Silent Hills, RE7 managed to provide a new type of AAA horror game experience. By transposing the traditional Resident Evil formula to a first-person, mostly naturalistic setting, RE7 became fairly successful, achieving critical and commercial success that the series hadn’t seen for quite some time.
It is fair to say, then, that Resident Evil Village had its work cut out for it. As is the case with every contemporary release of a well-established IP, Village had a lot to live up to. A grounded, naturalistic setting like RE7, a tongue-in-cheek tone reminiscent of fan-favourite Resident Evil 4, and graphical fidelity worthy of a next-gen console’s £550 price tag. All of this and more was expected of Capcom’s latest foray into the 25-year-old franchise that practically kickstarted the Survival Horror video game genre. And, oh boy, does it (mostly) live up to that legacy.
“Elegant Yet Horrifying”
Resident Evil Village follows our returning RE7 protagonist, Ethan Winters, as he tries to track down and rescue his baby daughter from a village filled with horrifying other-worldly monsters including, but certainly not limited to, lycans, undead, women made of insects, and an incredibly tall vampire lady.
Let’s start things off by getting into the crux of what makes Resident Evil Village a spectacular game: its presentation. This game looks phenomenal. Now, for full disclosure, I played this game on a base PS4, and I was consistently stunned with every technical aspect of this game’s presentation. Character models are unbelievably detailed, enemy animations are frighteningly fluid, and the lighting plays such an integral role in building atmosphere that I’m dedicating most of the next paragraph to it. I can only imagine what this game looks like on next-gen consoles. The ray-tracing alone must be worth the price of admission.
The environmental design in Resident Evil Village is unlike any other horror game I’ve played. The unique blend of dark, gothic architecture with stark-white snow and bright, natural lighting creates an eerie atmosphere that is truly difficult to describe. The sheer amount of detail in each environment is enough to make The Witcher 3 jealous. Every shack, every room, every cave feels just as claustrophobic as Capcom no doubt intended. The lighting of Village is a particular technical standout. The warm orange glow of candlesticks in the Dimitrescu Castle’s Main Hall works simultaneously to create a realistic, lived-in setting while also remaining just dim enough to keep you constantly wary of what’s through that next door. Resident Evil Village‘s noteworthy semi-realistic tone owes a lot to the superb lighting. As every environment flows between each other in a naturalistic way, the lighting is always there to ensure that that transition is smooth and immersive. I know it’s beyond a cliché to bring it up in any form of writing now but, I haven’t felt this connected with a game’s environmental design since Dark Souls… but more on that in the next section.
One other key aspect of Village‘s core game design that plays an integral role in setting this game apart from other horror titles out right now: the sound design. Sound design, to a horror game, is what air is to humans…pretty goddamn important. We tend to notice sound design more in horror games as it often features so prominently in the experience. Hearing for footsteps and listening out for the opening of doors becomes an ingrained part of our horror gameplay experience. Thankfully, Capcom’s been at this for quite some time, and they definitely know what they’re doing.
Every sound that comes out of Resident Evil Village has a purpose. For example, Lady Dimitrescu’s echoing footsteps act both to build the tense atmosphere of the sequence while also expanding on the player’s minimal arsenal of weapons and techniques, allowing you to plot your movements accordingly and giving you that slight hope that you can make it through to your next objective, encompassing the very essence of a Survival Horror game. And this is the case for every sound effect in Village. Guttural moans and high-pitched wails immediately set the tone of some areas, and actively build the tension surrounding an upcoming enemy encounter. The sound of a shotgun blast shattering a lycan’s head is so much more satisfying when you’ve been unloading ammo into its body for a minute and hearing nothing but light squelching.
As one (extremely spoiler-heavy) item description perfectly summarises, Resident Evil Village is “Elegant yet horrifying”.
An Improved Spin On a Classic Formula
Resident Evil is a franchise that has largely stayed the same in terms of gameplay mechanics, with a few obvious exceptions (RE4, 5 and 6′s more action-focused gameplay). And Village isn’t going to reinvent the wheel, nor is it trying to. Resident Evil Village sets out, instead, to refine and improve upon that much-beloved Resident Evil gameplay formula.
The moment-to-moment gameplay of Village will be more than familiar to fans of the series; timidly make your way through an unsettling environment, find a locked door, find a key, unlock the door, fight some monsters on the way, repeat. But this repeated gameplay loop remains far from tedious. Thanks largely in part to the outstanding presentation of the game, Resident Evil Village keeps every moment of gameplay engaging. While you may be repeating the same general objectives throughout the game, every environment, enemy encounter, and puzzle offers more than enough variation to keep the game engrossing over the course of its otherwise short 10(ish) hour runtime.
That classic Resident Evil sense of progression is back in full-force in Village. Over the course of the game you’ll begin to develop a natural sense of direction as you traverse between and through each environment. You’ll start to remember the layout of Castle Dimitrescu, the dilapidated shacks of the village, and the twisting paths and roads that connect it all. I’m not usually a fan of back-tracking in games (who is, to be fair?), but Resident Evil Village manages to develop a deep connection between the player and the environment by making you travel carefully through each environment several times, each time returning with more firepower, and more confidence.
Village‘s sense of progression doesn’t stop in its level progression. As you enter a new environment, your map starts to fill out. With each new room you encounter, a new box is added to your bird’s-eye-view map. These boxes are initially coloured red, which indicates that you are still searching the room. Only once you have found everything in that room does the box’s colour change to blue. This miniscule change flipped every compulsive-collector switch I have in my brain. Nothing reinforced the spectacularly detailed environmental design quite like spending twenty minutes in one room searching for anything that would help me against the horrors outside.
As is the case with every good Resident Evil, Village also manages to fuel this constant sense of progression by providing you with continual upgrades; but no Resident Evil has done it quite so well as Village. After you’ve gotten through the first hour(ish) of the game, you meet “The Duke”. Essentially, this is Village‘s answer to RE4‘s “The Merchant”. Duke is your go-to for any supply-purchasing or upgrading needs. Where upgrades in prior games relied on what you found through exploring the environment, Village‘s systems are far more time-friendly. Duke allows you to spend in-game currency on weapon parts and direct weapon upgrades such as firepower, reload speed and rate of fire. On top of this, Duke also provides upgrade recipes later on in the game, which are fulfilled by handing over meat and fish that can be harvested from wildlife in the environment. These recipes act as permanent upgrades to your health and blocking.
If you adore minute progression in video games like I do, then you are guaranteed to love this upgrade system. Through this system, every aspect of Village‘s gameplay has a direct and immediate cause and reward. Exploring the environment a little more, defeating more enemies than you normally would, and facing bosses head-on with minimal equipment are all experiences that provide direct rewards for your engagement.
If there’s another core gameplay aspect that Resident Evil is known for, it’s puzzles. Simply put, the puzzles in Resident Evil Village are some of the easiest in the franchise, and perhaps some of the easiest in horror games in general. Most of the environmental puzzles can be solved within mere seconds after first entering the room and taking a cursory glance around. Unfortunately, this is one area in which the naturalistic environmental design lets Village down. As the settings tend to look as naturalistic and real as possible, it stands out like a sore-thumb when luminescent numbers are painted across a wall. But while you may not get much of a thrill out of solving these puzzles, they hardly detract from the entertaining experience overall.
In terms of plot, there certainly is one…just. Again, Village follows in the wake of its ancestors, providing a barebones plot that would be right at home in a 90s B-movie. As previously mentioned, you play as Ethan Winters, who is tasked with rescuing his child from the clutches of the Village’s other-worldly leaders. While it won’t win any awards (with plot twists that can be predicted a mile off), Resident Evil Village‘s plot is entirely serviceable, and acts as a decent backdrop for the intense action of the gameplay.
A good Resident Evil game wouldn’t be without its replayability. Thankfully, Resident Evil Village has plenty to do after you survive its main story, provided you liked it the first time round. Mercenaries Mode is the most expansive post-game content, giving you a wave-based arena mode that pits you against the enemies you’ve faced over the course of the story. It won’t satiate your longing for a new Resident Evil game, but it will give you a few more hours of engaging action-focused content.
Lady Dimitrescu (And Friends)- The Height of Horror
While the moment-to-moment gameplay and presentation of Resident Evil Village is what you’ll spend most of your time revering, the boss encounters are likely what you’ll remember long after those credits roll. While I won’t discuss any specific encounter in detail as to avoid spoilers, it would be a disservice not to mention how engrossing and intense these boss fights are.
The surprisingly frequent boss/mini-boss encounters occur at the perfect moments in the game, often arriving after an hour or so of consistent and effective build-up and delivering a lengthy battle that gives you just enough resources to keep you on your toes while still making you feel as though you can come out on top.
The boss fights of Village are the game’s true set-pieces. During these sections, environments will undergo drastic changes, bosses will feature the most fluid and unnerving animations you’ll have seen so far, and the sense of accomplishment and relief gained from defeating the boss is practically unrivalled by anything else in the game.
Some Scary Tonal Dissonance
There is, however, one part of Resident Evil Village that consistently broke my immersion and pulled me right out of the game: the voice acting and script. As mentioned earlier, this game won’t be remembered for its incredible plot, but that didn’t mean that the voice acting and script had to be this rough.
Ethan Winters is a character that I cannot relate to on any level. Despite Capcom trying their best to show him in a relatable and intrinsically human light, nothing he says could be described as even resembling human speech. During one of the game’s first real tense set-pieces, in which Ethan (and us by proxy) witness a whole host of characters die right before our eyes, Ethan loudly exclaims, “Why is everyone dying on me?!…This is too much”. Yes Ethan, yes it is. This kind of tonal dissonance was something that I really struggled with throughout the game. While every inch of the environmental and sound design would be trying (successfully) to build a tense atmosphere, Ethan would open his mouth, I would laugh, and my immersion in the scene would be instantly broken.
The perfect summary of this was the scene in which you just discover the whereabouts of your daughter and how you can go about rescuing her. As you present Duke with the grim evidence you’ve found from your utterly nerve-wracking time within Castle Dimitrescu, Ethan, rather triumphantly, screams the line, “What kind of sick medieval shit is this?”. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced such tonal whiplash from a AAA video game before.
Despite Resident Evil Village‘s somewhat confused tone and its penchant for easy environmental puzzles, it still remains one of the best games of the year so far, and provides a truly unique and incredibly polished Survival Horror experience. An experience that is staring to become synonymous with the Resident Evil brand again.
Final Verdict: 8.5/10
Resident Evil Village is available now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC, and Google Stadia.
Words by Cameron Swan
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