Resident Evil: Village – High-Class Horror
PS4/5, Xbox Series/One, PC
It’s not often that we begin a horror game ready to root for the villain. Of course, Resident Evil’s roster of villains are normally known for being either physically grotesque zombies, mutated creatures, or clearly morally reprehensible humans, so when the early trailers of the latest game in the series, Resident Evil Village, depicted a new kind of villain, it was clear that this entry was looking to do something different. With Lady Dimitrescu capturing the hearts of many and regular series cool guy Chris Redfield seemingly murdering someone in cold blood right out of the gate, the rules of the series are thrown out the window from the beginning. As a direct sequel to Resident Evil VII (Biohazard) that takes the inspiration for its essence from Resident Evil 4, does Village manage to live up to its predecessors while offering something new? The answer is a resounding yes – and not just because of its uniquely charming villains.
Three years after the events of Resident Evil VII, protagonist Ethan Winters and his wife Mia are living in a new house, trying to raise their baby daughter Rose as they deal with the traumatic and unforgettable events they experienced in the Baker House. Things have been (understandably) tense, and it turns out they aren’t likely to get any better. One night, as the couple is finally about to open up to each other and talk through some feelings, bullets come piercing through the windows and Mia is no more. Chris Redfield enters the house, fires off a few more bullets from his gun into Mia’s body, and Ethan and his daughter are swiftly kidnapped from the house, leaving our protagonist with a whole lot of questions and a new mission: save his daughter. Just like Ethan, we are left with nothing but questions, with each new discovery seemingly only leading to another mystery, right until the very end. The answers are provided, but not until we’ve joined Ethan on his frightening journey, and had some complicated feelings about classic mythical creatures.
Ethan’s journey to find Rose soon takes him to the snowy village that serves as the centrepiece to his mission. The village, overlooked by the imposing Castle Dimitrescu, is one of five distinct locations in the game, each tied to a unique villain that he will have to face. It acts as a semi-open world, and though the areas are very distinct, they are tied together effectively by the ‘hub’ of the village, with new areas unlocking as you obtain new keys (in true Resident Evil fashion). The castle, as heavily discussed in the game’s promotional material, is inhabited by the towering Lady Alcina Dimitrescu and her three daughters, all of whom are out for both his blood and as they so eloquently put it, ‘man-flesh’. The other areas – the reservoir, the Beneviento mansion, and the factory, are home to the less-promoted but equally intriguing Dr Moreau (a somewhat grotesque fish being), Donna Beneviento (the “puppet master”) and Heisenberg (a sort of steampunk cowboy). Each of them has their way of inspiring fear in the player, whether it be through their ability to stalk you silently through the halls of the mansion, or to crash through environments, or to literally control dolls in front of you (which is obviously the worst), and it’s soon clear that the villains are at the heart of this story. They manage to be terrifying in their own unique ways, and their environments complement them perfectly. There is always a sense of vulnerability and urgency, and Ethan is never safe, but the way in which this is implemented meant that each area felt new and interesting to explore, while not overwhelming the player with new mechanics in order to achieve it. It was all atmospheric. One of the areas in particular clearly drew inspiration from other giants of the genre, like Silent Hill, but each one either brought something new to the table or presented a polished version of what has been seen before – which is, to me, what games should strive for.
While the characters all feel new and exciting, the gameplay all feels very familiar – in a mostly good way. Though danger lurks around every corner, taking the form of a variety of enemies – some more threatening than others – ammunition is scarce, and it only gets harder to come by as the difficulty level grows. Running away, as it was in early Resident Evil games, is often the best solution, and though Ethan is able to put his hands up to block attacks, it isn’t particularly effective. While you can collect a variety of weapons and equipment to help you on your journey, a limited amount of inventory space means you might not get to keep it all, so you have to make some hard choices about where to focus your resources. Bullets, health drinks, and even weapon modifications will take up space, and while you can craft more of them, you can only do it if you have the room. Your space can be upgraded, but you’ll have to make the decision to use funds to purchase it instead of upgrading your weapons, which on an easy difficulty wasn’t too much of a problem, but on harder difficulties will pose some extra challenge. Either way, the game strikes the perfect balance between giving the option to flee and fight in a way the previous few entries in the series have failed to do. It was a welcome return to form.
Upgrades and items can be purchased from a character reminiscent of the merchant from Resident Evil 4. In Village, this merchant is called ‘The Duke’, and he has a tendency to pop up just when and where you need him most. His shop usually acts as a welcome safe area with a save point close by, and he is always ready to provide you with the goods you need – at a price. Thankfully, he also pays big for collectible items you can gather throughout the village, found by either unlocking chests or by defeating some of the game’s bigger enemies. In a lot of cases, I completely understood why he would pay so much for them – slightly macabre origins aside, a lot of these items are gorgeous, and it’s been a long time since a game has made me long for merchandise as much as this one did. I want to display these items in my home as genuine works of art, and I was reluctant to sell them to him (the practical choice) because I just wanted to keep them in my inventory to stare at.
I have to admit that I bounced off Resident Evil VII pretty hard, and while I understand the change in camera perspective as a way to make the player feel like they are in the moment, it wasn’t a welcome departure for me. I feel the same with Village, but that’s personal preference – it’s actually used quite effectively here. Because the villains are all larger than life, seeing them from the perspective of regular-sized-man Ethan makes them all extra ominous. Lady Dimitrescu, when she’s standing right in front of you, is not only imposing but can become a near-insurmountable obstacle, especially when she backs you into a corner. Watching one of her daughters get right up in your face is quite confronting, in a way that it wouldn’t be if you were just watching her approach in the third person. It also didn’t make me ill in the way the camera did in the previous game, possibly because everything about this game, even in its tightest, most tension-feel moments feels way less claustrophobic.
There’s a lot to celebrate with this game, and to speak about most of it would ruin the experience. Lady Dimitrescu, while huge and beautiful and prone to making me say “you know what? Good for her” when she attacked me rather than inspiring me to hunt her, wasn’t even the most interesting villain. That title goes to the elusive Mother Miranda – the mysterious deity worshipped and feared by the villagers in equal measure. This game truly exceeds in presenting beautiful, powerful, horrifying women, which is something that many horror games of the past have failed to execute so successfully. The story, while filled with twists and turns that at times had me worried about coherence, fits nicely into the Resident Evil universe. Even the waves of small enemies that you’ll fight, while not necessarily groundbreaking in concept, fit perfectly into the world and were a nice departure from the zombie-filled halls of the past.
Beyond the main game, there is a slew of bonus content to be enjoyed. Once you’ve completed the game once, you’ll gain access to an extra mini-game called ‘The Mercenaries’, which has you ploughing through multiple waves of enemies across various locations, giving you points based on how many you take down and how quickly you reach the exit. Points you earn here, and by excelling at the main game, will also allow you to unlock short videos, an art gallery, and character models, as well as weapons and equipment to be used in a sort of ‘new game plus’ version of the story. And given how beautiful some of the game’s locations and characters are, this extra content seems worth pursuing.
Clearly, while it features the protagonist and perspective from Resident Evil VII, at its heart it is a love letter to Resident Evil 4 – widely considered one of the best horror games of all time. The vibe of the enemies, the setting, even the inclusion of minor elements like a boat and a selection of chainsaw-related encounters, throwback to the previous game that so many people loved. It strikes a perfect balance between fear and beauty and is the true return to form that the series needed. There were some finicky moments with the camera perspective, some moments where the auto-aim failed me, and the occasional moment of frustration in combat – but those weren’t the things I’ll remember. I’ll remember Resident Evil Village as a polished, terrifying horror game that kept tension levels high while also giving me the necessary room I needed to breathe.
Resident Evil: Village was reviewed on PS4 with code kindly supplied by Capcom.