(Belated) Resident Evil: Village Review — An Almost Perfect Action-Horror Hybrid
For a long time, ResidentEvil has been somewhat of a divisive franchise. Resident Evil 4 brought sweeping changes to everything the franchise had been so far, yet garnered widespread critical praise. Its larger focus on action and introduction of quick-time events eventually spun out of control, with Resident Evil 6 collecting mixed reviews at best.
Resident Evil 7 was more or less Capcom’s response to this criticism, recapturing the essence of the original Resident Evil and reintroduced it in a modern style. In this sense, Resident Evil: Village could be thought of as the modern formula’s take on the widely successful Resident Evil 4.
While the game starts out with a tense trawl through a dark forest, it doesn’t take too long before the game’s more action-oriented focus becomes apparent — the protagonist, Ethan Winters, ends up in a wide-scale Lycan attack within the first few minutes of the game. I’m not saying that Resident Evil: Village isn’t scale, but it certainly does become less psychologically frightful as it goes more and more over the top.
That being said, this isn’t anything new for Resident Evil. Village’s influencer, Resident Evil 4, was arguably one of these “not-a-horror-game” Resident Evil games, but that isn’t a flaw in and of itself. Where Resident Evil 4 stripped away the atmosphere that came from the original trilogy’s fixed camera and tight settings, it amped the tension up by creating a tactical shooting experience where creative gunplay was key.
This DNA is thoroughly evident in Resident Evil: Village. The game quickly equips you with a full array of weapons consisting of your usual handgun, shotgun and rifle. Enemies often soak up a fair chunk of bullets and shotgun shells are relatively rare, so while it may be more action-oriented, you’re constantly incentivised to make smart use of your ammunition and surroundings to get through each encounter somewhat unscathed.
Changes such as being able to attack while guarding and kicking enemies back after a successful block give Ethan more leeway in tight situations, and Capcom has made some good alterations to Village’s menu system: the game no longer continues in real time when you’re in the menus like it did in Resident Evil 7, and the developer has also redesigned the inventory, turning it into something strikingly similar to Resident Evil 4.
Not only does it carry the same attache case motif, but with key items being kept in a separate screen, they don’t fight for space amongst your arsenal and supplies. This somewhat flies in the face of Resident Evil’s survival horror roots, but it’s ultimately a matter of personal preference as to what kind of game you prefer. Given it’s a decision made to support a more action oriented focus, it’s a welcome change within the context of Village.
That said, there is more reason to critique the inventory’s size. While it starts off somewhat small, you’re able to unlock more space by purchasing upgrades from The Duke, Village’s equivalent of the famous Resident Evil 4 merchant. Unlike in Resident Evil 4, though, I never found myself running out of space. In 4 inventory management was a pseudo-Tetris mini game in which you could stockpile more resources through clever placement. Unfortunately, I spent most of my Resident Evil: Village experience with my inventory half empty, making those upgrades I purchased basically redundant.
With a new-game-plus mode, Village is certainly a game made with replayability in mind so it’s not to say that the extra inventory won’t ever come in handy, but it certainly feels strange. Luckily, other areas of the Village experience benefit from new-game-plus runs. You can upgrade and customise Ethan’s arsenal of weapons, granted you have enough coin to fork over to The Duke, and those upgrades and customisations carry over between runs allowing you to continue progressing on repeats. It’s not massive, but it’s enough to keep replays feeling unique, allowing you to experiment with different load-outs and tactics.
The idea that “more is less”really is key to Resident Evil: Village’s best moments. Battling a small pack of Lycans can be a tactical skirmish, and that’s actually fun; unfortunately, as the game wears on, the volume of enemies it throws at you stops being intimidating and just becomes overwhelming — and not in a good, “survival horror” kind of way. This flaw is limited to small sections of the game, though, and combat sequences are a major highlight of the rest of the experience. Resident Evil: Village easily boasts one of the most diverse varieties of enemy types in the series’ history, a major improvement from Resident Evil 7’s limited scope.
The village’s Lycans are quick and aggressive, keeping pressure mounted on. The shambling Moroaică of Castle Dimitrescu move slowly, like the traditional Resident Evil zombie, but have a nasty habit of surprising you as you turn around a catacomb corner. The flying Samca can be overwhelming but keen-eyed players will take them out with a careful rifle round before giving them the chance to. Village’s enemies certainly are diverse to impress, but they’re all carefully employed to make the most out of their own unique traits.
Similar to its slew of enemies, Village improves upon Resident Evil 7’s strong cast of villians with the four lords that serve over the village. While the towering Lady Dimitrescu and Dr. Frankenstein inspired Heisenberg certainly are the stars of the show, the other two are just as fun and spookily themed.
In general, Village is exceptional in regards to character. There were moments of surprising humour for a Resident Evil game that extended beyond the franchise’s usual “horror cheesiness”,even including a meta-reference to Resident Evil 5’s infamous “Chris Boulderfield”.
Speaking of Chirs Redfield, his reappearance after his cameo at the end of Resident Evil 7 feels deserved and in character, even if this is his third game in a row (or maybe I’m just upset that Leon’s been absent in the timeline since 2012).
While Ethan Winters remains a little more bland than previous Resident Evil protagonists given the return of the first-person perspective, it’s a decision that feels understandable. That being said, Ethan demonstrates a surprising amount of character near the end of the game as he struggles to return his daughter to safety. I even found myself a tad emotional during a certain scene, even if I admit it was quite over the top.
There are still certain drawbacks to the first-person perspective. Items are often scattered on the ground, forcing you to direct your gaze downwards to pick them up. Apart from making certain key items easy to miss, this makes picking up ammo on the run a bit harder than it ought to be. Furthermore, certain jumpscares would end up being more disorienting than anything else as a loud noise would grab your attention, but not necessarily convey what it is.
Luckily, my item-based complaints are somewhat assuaged by the game’s helpful map system. While the map has been toned down from previous entries, showing a more interpretive depiction of your current area, a convenient colour coding system quickly tells you when you’ve gathered all the supplies in a given area. Its skeuomorphic design also brilliantly adds to the gothic theme.
In what’s become somewhat of a joke now, Ethan has a habit of losing his hand through some painful injury. This reliance on gore and body horror was quite evident in the opening of Resident Evil 7 and it continues into Village. I didn’t take issue with it personally, but it’s something I can see coming across cheap for others who aren’t as big of a fan.
What Resident Evil: Village lacks in genuine horror, it absolutely makes up for in atmosphere, being the most visually ambitious entry in the franchise. Aside from the obvious technical boosts available through fancy technology such as ray-tracing, the title goes out of its way to visually impress. In a franchise that has a habit of taking place in small, dark, suburban rooms, the vast, expansive mountainous locales of the village are visually striking and unique. The game also makes impressive use of verticality to thoroughly sell its isolated village feel.
This carries throughout the rest of the game’s locales as well. While certain areas like Lady Dimitrescu’s castle and Heisenberg’s factory might be similar to environments from Resident Evil 4, the level of detail and enough smart changes help them stand out. Certain points of the game even feel like you’re on a Halloween themed amusement park ride, in the best way possible.
The eponymous village is cleverly designed such that there’s always something new to discover each time you run through. It can be a little confusing at first keeping a mental note of which walkways connect to which but as you become more familiar you’ll find yourself taking shortcuts to sneak around. The village succeeds in adapting the complex maze-like design of the Raccoon City Police Station or Spencer Mansion into a more open and naturalistic setting.
Resident Evil: Village’s greater focus on the supernatural, and gothic horror reminds me of an old interview with a designer of Resident Evil 4, Yasuhisa Kawamura. He spoke about how Resident Evil’s horror had been growing stagnant since the original title since its use of “science and forensic fiction”was too predictable. Originally the aim was to employ more supernatural elements in Resident Evil 4, as seen in the title’s infamous “hook-man” demo in 2003, but obviously this didn’t properly occur until now.
Ironically, the supernatural elements, while less predictable, made the game feel less genuinely scary. It’s a byproduct from having to further extend your disbelief, and while not necessarily a flaw, it’s still worth mentioning. Even though the gothic elements do have a typical Resident Evil explanation, it’s perhaps one of the most far-fetched ones in the series history. This could be a complaint, but given that it allows Village to run rampant with a genuine sense of mystery and intrigue, it’s an element I’m willing to fully embrace.
Maybe it’s a little lazy to keep making comparisons to past Resident Evil games, but with a franchise as volatile as this one it feels more than apt. Resident Evil: Village takes what worked best about the action thriller of Resident Evil 4 and appropriates it into the series’ modern first-person formula, doing so excellently on all fronts.
It may be a bit more action oriented than genuinely frightful, but Resident Evil: Village still manages to deliver on an extremely fun horror-themed experience that introduces a new twist in the series.
Ethan reviewed Resident Evil: Village using a PlayStation 5 copy purchased at retail.