Genres: Survival Horror, Action
Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series S/X, Xbox One, PC, Stadia
What’s the background?
Well, Resident Evil is one of video gaming’s most revered franchises, starting way back in 1995 on the PS1. Resident Evil Village is the eighth mainline title in the series and is a direct sequel to Resident Evil 7, which was deliberately positioned as a clean slate for the franchise after Resident Evil 5, and to a much greater extent Resident Evil 6, started gaining pushback from critics and fans for deserting the series’ survival horror roots and instead becoming massive action set-piece roller coaster rides which even Michael Bay would be left flustered by.
Resident Evil 7 mostly divorced itself from the series’ sprawling storyline with a legion of characters to focus on a much more claustrophobic horror story. This change was undeniably a breath of fresh air, even for someone like me who did still really have fun with the cheesy action of Resident Evil 5 & 6. Resident Evil Village continues on from where 7 left off, has a similar formula to how it presents itself and gameplay-wise doesn’t take any major leaps forward. However 7 was a strong enough title that a return to that formula still leaves great results.
How’s it play?
If you’ve played Resident Evil 7 then you’ll be able to easily slip right back into things here. The first-person viewpoint is still great for immersion and while this game doesn’t end up as scary as 7, the moments where it does aim to ramp up the terror work well. Our protagonist and player character, Ethan, isn’t particularly mobile and lacks an effective dodge, making some encounters, especially with the big boss battles, a bit cumbersome as you are left to helplessly sprint out of harm's way. Compared to 7 the balance of survival horror and action is definitely skewed in the direction of action. Especially after you’re done with the first third of the game, you’ll already have a decent arsenal of weapons and there aren’t really many new minor threats sent in your direction. Gunplay is decent, it’s deliberately a bit shaky to provide tension and force you to really line up shots in order to get the most out of somewhat limited ammo counts. Though playing on regular difficulty you’re not likely to worry too much about conserving ammunition this time around, especially with the introduction of a mysteriously charming merchant character who you can sell treasures to, in return for ammo, weapon upgrades and other helpful assets.
Mostly though the prime thrills of Resident Evil Village come in the form of its constant set-pieces. The amount of puzzles are reduced, I can count the number of them on one hand which require anything more than basic attention to solve. But there are lots of scripted blockbuster moments that really are exciting. Starting with a sequence where early in the game with extremely limited weaponry and ammo counts you are bombarded in the village with a never ending stream of werewolf enemies to fight. This is a recycled idea from previous titles in the series, but it feels particularly effective here as you are pushed to a point of helplessness before being bailed out by luck. The most pure horror portion of the game takes place in House Benevito, as you find a particularly unnerving opponent in the basement. This part strips back the action and delivers a very well crafted horror scenario.
Is the plot of any interest?
Mostly it’s serviceable, it feels like a natural sequel to 7 while deciding to lightly start tying things back into the overall series mythology with the return of Chris Redfield from previous titles, and some new revelations that expand on things from earlier titles on the series. Thankfully though for those who aren’t clued in on the whole saga, Ethan Winters’ story stands on its own and also his character is made a bit more likeable than the deliberate blank slate of 7. While still not being particularly compelling, the amount of excessive sadism Ethan endures at the hands of the game’s villains (and just the hazardous environments) combined with the fact he still manages to let off a cheesy quip after overcoming the insurmountable odds of defeating these insane monsters, does make him lightly charming.
I would’ve liked more time spent with certain villains, maybe to find out a bit more about some of them before they were mutated and transformed into the antagonistic forms they appear as. Though I would say only the second villain encountered, Donna Beneviento, lacks any particular compelling draw. Generously proportioned and very tall vampire Lady Dimitrescu is a commanding presence (and distractingly sexy), Moreau is surprisingly pitiful and Heisenberg exudes villainous swagger.
Though the most frustrating part of the game’s plot comes in the return of series veteran Chris Redfield. Opening the game up with the “hero” gunning down Ethan’s wife Mia, Chris then proceeds to just not explain his actions, despite having ample opportunity to do so, which obviously makes him look a bit crazy. Throughout the game you have periodic encounters and it’s only until the writers of the game decide that the “twist” is to be revealed that Chris thinks “oh maybe I should explain what I’m doing to Ethan”. It’s an instance of poor writing in an otherwise very streamlined and satisfying plot.
Any disappointing moments?
The biggest has to be a late-game detour into pure Call of Duty esque first person shooter gameplay. It’s an isolated sequence where you play as a separate character and are loaded up with ample weaponry, ammo and healing equipment. On paper, plowing through enemies that you were struggling to deal with earlier in the game would be a cool moment, but it felt unearned and not particularly enjoyable here, especially due to the controls not lending themselves to such pure action.
The pacing of the game is a double edged sword. On one hand its constant location switch ups and set-pieces make it a game that’s hard to put down. It’s rare a location or villain character overstays their welcome. However this sometimes leads to the feeling that they understay their welcome instead. Lady Dimitrescu and her gothic castle are a villain and location strong enough to carry more than roughly two hours of gametime, but the pacing keeps you barrelling forward and eventually out of the castle and into a new location. It’s probably not controversial to cite the earlier parts of the game as stronger than the latter ones, despite Heisenberg and his factory filled with steampunk experiments lending to fun action moments and an amazingly over the top finale, you can’t help but think back on creeping around the castle or even the earlier moments exploring the titular village, where even one enemy posed a threat, compared to the late-game where you can mow down three or four standard enemies with no sweat.
Boss battles were one of the lower points of Resident Evil 7, and thankfully they are improved here. But still a few bosses end up dragging on and feeling like ways to drain you of your ammo ready for the start of a new area. It feels unneeded and the final boss particularly just feels like a shooting gallery that goes on and on until you’ve used up maybe 90% of your available ammo. I will give credit to the boss battle against Heisenberg though for being an unexpectedly over the top moment, in a game full of over the top set-pieces.
How much value for money is there?
Well this is a big tentpole gaming release, clearly Capcom worked their asses off to make a game with such strong art direction, variety of location, lots of detailed character animation and generally the game looks, sounds and plays fantastic. Playing on PC I encountered a couple minor bugs where a set-piece wouldn’t set off correctly, leading me to either die or reset my save. There’s also a couple instances of enemy AI being a bit goofy, but they were a drop in the pond compared to how well this compares to other games. You can't really say you aren't getting a well made and thoroughly tested game.
Its core campaign took me over 8 hours to finish, and that included a few detours to do little side quests. This is the sort of game where if you really loved it I’m sure you’d be down to jump in again on a higher difficulty, though certain heavily scripted sequences of the game, such as the intro or the horror focused House Benevito, don’t lend themselves too well for immediate replayability. After beating the game you unlock the ‘The Mercenaries’ game mode, which offers arcadey shooting, which is good fun if you enjoy the action combat of this game, but it’s by no means a primary attraction here and lacks the co-op and fluid control scheme of what I thought was the best iteration of this game mode in Resident Evil 6.
At its current RRP of £49.99 it’s arguably worth it, despite its modest length and lack of side content. You do get a pretty consistently high quality 8 hours or so and it’s hard not to be impressed with the scope of the game, it does look expensive and often as it pulls off set-piece after set-piece you'll be bound to be impressed. As time goes on and it’s price drops it will inevitably be worth a shot to anyone interested.
Anything else worth mentioning?
Uhhhhhhhh Lady Dimitrescu is hot 🥰, she’s one of the best villains from any Resident Evil game and I swear I’m not just saying that because she has breasts larger than my head... In her limited time in the spotlight she makes for a very exciting opponent to face off against. The fact she roams her castle looking for you is an exciting wildcard which makes navigating her chapter of the game one of the most memorable moments of the game by a long-shot, it’s a set-piece that’s far less scripted and even though Resident Evil 7 also did this with its main villain, it’s still just as thrilling here.
The chapter taking place in House Benevito is a joy, with no combat, just puzzles and psychological horror. While it won’t lend itself too well for repeated playthroughs, it’s hard not to consider it a highlight, especially since it offers one of Resident Evil’s most unnerving moments across the whole franchise. Later in the game when you finally face off against Heisenberg, the boss battle is completely unexpected in how it plays out but an absolute blast. Compared to other boss fights where it seems like they are just there to soak up your excess ammunition, this is a delightful one-off vehicular encounter that feels like a killer b-movie finale, it's endearingly ridiculous.
Generally the amount of detail in this game is a joy. Graphically it’s gorgeous and grotesque, character models are animated well and have incredible detail in how they appear, move and react. Environments are well designed and have a great atmosphere, there’s not really any location of the game I’d say lacks character and it’s great that they have so much up their sleeve regarding different enemies, locations and boss characters.
Sum it up!
Resident Evil Village is another quality Resident Evil title following the renaissance of recent titles like the Resident Evil 2 remake and this game’s predecessor, Resident Evil 7. While some might be a little disappointed at the move away from more strictly horror gameplay, the fresh Victorian era aesthetic, impressive & varied set-pieces, generally exciting gameplay and expansion on the new formula introduced in Resident Evil 7, make this a great and very focused single-player game. While not changing the core formula up too much from 7, this ends up a blockbuster sequel, which drops a lot of the slow-paced horror for faster-paced action, but without losing the soul of the franchise. It’s a bit like James Cameron’s Aliens following up on Ridley Scott’s Alien, going bigger for a sequel works as long as you don’t go overboard.
Consistently thrilling and varied horror-action blend of gameplay
Addictive pacing and a surprising lack of down-time
Engrossing atmosphere and spectacular art design
Memorable set-pieces, characters and locations throughout
What's not so good!
Becomes a bit overly action-focused towards the finale
Fast pacing sometimes feels as if they’re not making the most of their best ideas