Review: Resident Evil Village - Rely On Horror

Review: Resident Evil Village

Resident Evil Village

After 25 years, Resident Evil mutates and evolves, just like the bioweapons the series is beloved for. It’s been fascinating to see this series grow and change, from the quiet ambiance of the classic trilogy to the bombastic combat of subsequent titles prior to the second to last console generation. The series means many different things to fans across multiple generations, and now we see Resident Evil evolve yet again, with what is arguably one of the most creatively ambitious entries since Resident Evil 4 over 15 years ago. Resident Evil Village, the eighth numbered installment in the series, takes the opportunity to celebrate those 25 years while also leaping the series forward into a new direction that’s sure to dazzle fans and newcomers alike. In what way, you ask? In nearly every way imaginable. 

Resident Evil Village

Unlike previous numbered entries, Resident Evil Village is a direct sequel to Resident Evil 7, following up immediately on those characters and events without switching over to a different hero (so much so, it requires a short “previously on” video before playing). We again play as Ethan Winters, who barely survived his encounter at the Baker mansion several years ago; he has since settled down with his wife Mia and their daughter, Rose. Just as their life seemingly returned to as normal as one could imagine in the world of Resident Evil, tragedy strikes. Classic Resident Evil hero Chris Redfield puts an end to their idyllic existence, emptying a gun point-blank into Mia’s face and thrusting Ethan back into the nightmare he thought he’d left behind.

Following his world once again turning upside down, Ethan arrives in a strange village seemingly lost to time, with architecture and customs dating back centuries. The townsfolk live in fear of vicious creatures that stalk the landscape, and they pray to a mysterious figure they call Mother Miranda for salvation. Peace never comes, and soon Ethan finds himself alone in the village, surrounded by evil with a single goal in mind: find Rose and get the hell out. 

With this thrilling set-up laced with intrigue, and the promise of Resident Evil Village’s naming convention being that the world itself has character and life, I was eager to dive headfirst and experience everything this location had to offer.

Resident Evil Village

As I suspected initially, Resident Evil Village adopts a mild open-world design, with the village itself consisting of multiple interconnected hubs that are open to explore and pillage. Each new area offers plenty to comb over and unique treasures and weapons to discover. I was blown away by the staggering detail and scope of this world, with no two areas sharing neither aesthetic nor tone. The village’s sprawling design offers the ability to backtrack to already explored locations with new tools to access inaccessible areas. Zero “dead air” areas take up space to increase the size of the world artificially, though with an aesthetic flair. 

Every inch of the village is teeming with content, whether monsters to fight, treasures to collect, weapons to acquire, and more. On top of that, Resident Evil Village is one of the most beautiful games in the series since the days of pre-rendered backgrounds, with environments starting to pass over into flat-out photoreal territory. I can see why Capcom chose to highlight the setting of Resident Evil Village above all else. 

As Resident Evil Village branches out with a massive amount of ambition and determination to be new and fresh, it never forgets its roots either. It often pays homage to the titles before it, with visual and tonal illusions to multiple entries (numbered and unnumbered) throughout the franchise. Some are more overt (the castle’s thematic combination of Resident Evil 4’s Castle Salazar and Resident Evil Remake’s Spencer mansion). Others are more subtle (such as a cute nod to moments from one of the earliest entries). This peppering of winks and nudges results in a game that seems to celebrate and revel in its history. 

Resident Evil Village

Resident Evil Village is perhaps one of the most puzzle-heavy games in the entire series, with brain teasers and mysteries hidden around every corner. It comes very close to sharing 50/50 gameplay time with combat, creating a pillar to the game’s foundation that delighted me. The massive variety in the puzzles was a joy with each new gimmick lock or complex machine blocking my path — and not all are story-based. Scattered across the landscape, puzzles act as roadblocks to progress the story as well as optional diversions that hide special rewards that are more than worth pursuing. 

Suppose you found yourself fatigued by Resident Evil 7’s over-reliance on the shadow puzzle. In that case, you’ll be happy to hear that this game takes inspiration from puzzles from throughout the series, as well as several that are entirely new experiences for this title. Exploration has never felt this rewarding in a Resident Evil game, and I’d be surprised if many players were able to see everything that this game had to offer in their first playthrough. 

Fans may have noticed that Resident Evil Village has re-adopted a few mechanics from Resident Evil 4. The most obvious being the attache case inventory and the implementation of a merchant (a new character known as the Duke), along with the return of hidden treasures you can find and sell. While these returning elements are familiar for sure, they’re altered drastically to accommodate the horror-centric direction of Resident Evil Village. Leon’s beloved journey through Spain slowly shrugged off horror in favor of high-octane action by its later portions; comparatively, Resident Evil Village makes a concentrated effort to keep the horror at the forefront of the experience. Enemies no longer drop ammo and health but instead crafting components that require you to create what you need.

Resident Evil Village

Unlike the Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes, which simplified crafting into combining different kinds of gunpowder, Resident Evil Village forces you to choose between a dozen different items, which can often come down to the wire. Herbs are no longer a sole health item but a crafting component used to create the all-important health med — and used in several ammunition types. The anxiety of choosing between health and ammunition creates an impressive implementation of survival into what would otherwise drift much too far into action territory. Overall, Resident Evil Village focuses more on being an evolution of Resident Evil 7’s mechanics, rather than either of the two recent remakes. 

That said, I’d recommend veteran fans, or even players already familiar with the way RE7 played, bump their difficulty up to Hardcore rather than settling on Normal. Once I passed by the game’s opening encounter (an obnoxiously difficult horde scene that you can’t simply shoot your way out of), I found that I breezed through, only dying a handful of times despite the game throwing everything it had at me. Compared to the normal difficulty, I found a much more enjoyable and challenging adventure playing on Hardcore. 

While there are, of course, shoot-outs, and lots of combat in general, Resident Evil Village never forgets that it is a horror game at its core. Beyond just a horror aesthetic, it goes out of its way to scare the player at every turn. Years ago, Resident Evil 6 made an effort to appeal to every kind of gamer, from horror and action fans to multiplayer and stealth fans. What resulted was a game that many consider being confused and bloated — and not at all scary. Resident Evil Village follows a similar mindset, but instead of appealing to fans of various game genres, it sets its sights on appealing to a variety of horror lovers. 

Resident Evil Village

Each of the game’s areas focuses on a different concept of ‘horror’ as a genre, creating a horror-themed amusement park-like atmosphere. Each of the four houses brings its own unique take on horror, combining a classical horror influence (vampires, werewolves, and even Frankenstein) with several gaming influences as well.

If your favorite kind of horror mimics Condemned: Criminal Origins, step right this way; if you vibe with the likes of Silent Hill, this other area may peak your interests. Of course, the game doesn’t forget to be Resident Evil at its core, tying all these different interpretations of horror together. I do not doubt that many will end up considering Resident Evil Village as the scariest Resident Evil entry to date. Several sections leave me eager to see fan reactions and the resulting streamer scream-fests. Trust me, it got me good quite a few times, and I am hard to scare at this point in my years within the horror fandom.

Next are the living, breathing characters themselves. The four houses of the village, Dimitrescu, Beneviento, Mareau, and Heisenberg are at the heart of the game’s multi-faceted take on horror. Each of their divisions of the village is unique and alien from one another. The themes these locations embody could shoulder the weight of an entire game on their own, rather than sections of one larger experience. Fans have already fallen in love with Lady Dimitrescu, the incredibly tall and delightfully characterized madam of the castle. Still, the other house heads bring a personality and visual flair all their own. Of course, there’s also Chris Redfield to consider — but the mystery behind his actions and the journey he undertakes is something you’ll have to uncover yourself.

As I pressed on, I was elated to discover that so much of what we’ve seen in marketing thus far merely scratched the surface of what the full game had in store, with nearly all of Resident Evil Village’s best surprises kept secret. Not the least of which is the story itself, which offers twists and turns designed to keep players guessing and the tension high. The core of the adventure, and Ethan’s characterization, is phenomenal, keeping pace with the more dynamic and emotional tone the series has been striving for with each new entry. 

Resident Evil Village

Ethan himself has grown considerably, no longer being merely a player avatar but a fully-realized hero in his own right, coming off as both steadfastly determined as well as charmingly blunt. Rather than simply being an observer that becomes integrated into a story like he was in RE7, Ethan is the star of the show here, and I loved seeing his journey unfold from the events that started in his first appearance to now. That said, long-time fans may find themselves somewhat disappointed by a few choices made with Resident Evil Village’s story. Some fan theories were disappointingly more complex and interesting than what we ultimately get from Resident Evil Village’s dive into the series’ lore. While not deal-breakers that ruin the impact, a few elements didn’t quite stick the landing for me. 

On the topic of things that didn’t quite work as well as they should have, Resident Evil Village is not without a small handful of hitches. Much like the previously mentioned story elements, none of these complaints spoil the pot but remain notable issues that pepper the experience. While functionally the same on the surface as RE4’s classic system, the previously mentioned attache case is fundamentally different and objectively worse in several small ways. Small conveniences found in the original system have strangely been left out, such as combining weapons with their customization parts by dragging and dropping (an element both recent remakes use). In fact, dragging and swapping items with each other is inconsistent and limited by the size of the two items. It’s a very strange omission, and I feel that fans familiar with the original version of this inventory style will have difficulty adjusting to the lack of features.

On a much more minor note, the UI is also weirdly “sticky,” with actions (such as combining items) requiring a pause beat between pressing the button and the desired action. This carries over to the Duke’s storefront as well, and it feels off compared to the speed of normal gameplay.

Resident Evil Village carries over Not A Hero’s counter move as well, where successful blocks of an enemy attack will open them up to a counter-attack. Since Ethan isn’t a super-charged melee fighter like Chris was, Ethan simply shoves them away, placing enough distance from the threat to either land a few well-placed shots or at least a reload or heal up. Problems arise, however, as the functionality is based on weirdly precise camera placement. If you’re off by even a little bit, the knock-back won’t work, or worse, see Ethan flailing to complete the knock-back animation without actually connecting, leaving you open to attack. Similarly, the game has implemented a new system where you break boxes and pots by pressing a button prompt rather than manually switching to your knife to break them. A wonderful quality of life improvement carried over from RE6, which I was surprised we hadn’t seen again until now. Still, again, the camera placement problem creates the chance of whiffing on this, with Ethan’s knife swinging well outside of the box’s placement in the world, forcing you to try again. Considering how often you may be attempting this during combat, it can grow frustrating. 

Resident Evil Village

With the release of Resident Evil Village comes the return of the beloved Resident Evil mini-game: The Mercenaries. While I was very excited to jump back in, as I’ve put hundreds of hours into the versions fans are most familiar with, I was very surprised to see that Resident Evil Village takes very little inspiration from past games. Instead, this new interpretation of Mercenaries aims to be an evolution of Raid Mode from the Revelations spin-off games. While a timer is still present, with successful kills earning you more, the characteristic “arena” level-design of The Mercenaries has been done away with, as the map from the main game (which is used unchanged for this mode) is maze-like in design. 

You are also no longer up against an endless horde, but instead a set number of enemies that you can either go out of your way to exterminate or simply complete a handful of kills and then end the level by touching a “complete” point on the map. Another major difference is the lack of a character roster. Ethan is the titular “Mercenary,” which makes me question why the title wasn’t changed to address the lack of other characters. 

Because your load-out in other versions of this mode is determined by the character you select, you now have access to the Duke’s shop, where you can spend cash earned to purchase new weapons and upgrades. While playing, you can also find various power-ups that grant you stackable abilities such as increased speed, shotgun damage, and more. Combined with the Duke’s shop, Ethan quickly becomes a suped-up killing machine, and I genuinely don’t think I’ve died once while playing.

While I have enjoyed playing Resident Evil Village’s interpretation of The Mercenaries, I can’t help but feel that the title is a misnomer. It would have suited it better to call it something else. Even something as simple as changing the title to a singular rather than plural would be more informative as to how different fans should expect this mode to be. I expect that many will find the similarities to Raid mode, and almost none to the Mercenaries, ultimately misleading on Capcom’s part.

For this review, I played Resident Evil Village on PlayStation 5, which offers special functionality using the system’s DualSense controller and the all-new adaptive triggers. Resident Evil Village’s unique DualSense functionality — when activated — requires players to apply variable amounts of torque to depress the triggers depending on the situation. It took me a while to get used to this, but over time I found myself becoming strangely immersed while having the setting switched on, as the ‘weight’ of weapons became palpable through the triggers. That said, players may want to consider turning this off, as the constantly changing trigger weights can throw off timing as you switch between weapons, especially when playing the faster-paced Mercenaries. The game also weirdly supports a gyro functionality, where you tilt the controller to aim the camera. Never turn this on; it sucks

Ultimately, Resident Evil Village is an absolutely incredible entry in this storied franchise. It is simultaneously a wonderful celebration of the core pillars of the series and one of its most ambitious installments in years. While not without its faults, Resident Evil Village makes massive strides towards the happy middle ground the series has tried to achieve for years, successfully blending horror and action into an experience that doesn’t feel like it’s sacrificing either. If you’re a returning veteran or someone who doesn’t know their Evils from their Residents, this game is going to take over gaming discourse for a good while yet, and I hope that we haven’t seen the last of this game’s attitudes.

8.5 out of 10 stars (8.5 / 10)

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Rely on Horror Review Score Guide

PlayStation 5 review code provided by the publisher

               
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