Resident Evil Village, at least on next-gen consoles, is an essential horror experience that dances between genre tropes and comes together like a compilation. Capcom flirts with many different subgenres in its 10-hour holiday to Europe’s most cursed village, but never does it lose focus – or shy away from that rotsome, repulsant heart forever beating at the core of Resident Evil’s weird identity.
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A wisp of smoke rises from your gun and you can hear protagonist Ethan Winters’ exhausted pants in your ears. That was your last bullet, and you planted it right between the eyes of a feral werewolf, or something – you can’t quite tell. It’s dark, you only saw the thing lit via your muzzle flash, and you can just about catch gimlet light glinting off its teeth. You curse to yourself, heave in a breath and push on.
That’s right at the start of the game, and things don’t really let up from then on, for a good 10 hours. In Resident Evil Village, Capcom has concocted a twisted, breakneck story that weaves together a rotting smorgasbord of survival horror that doesn’t let up for as long as it's got its claws in you. Sometimes stupid, sometimes funny and sometimes genuinely galling in its perverse sadism, Village is a triumph of survival horror – let down only slightly by the batshit absurdity that comes with the territory of being a Resident Evil game.
It takes a Village to raise a child
It all starts with you, Ethan Winters – the peculiar and reluctant hero of Resident Evil 7 – relocating to Europe to get as far away as possible from the seemingly unreal events in Louisiana. Things seem calm; you’re tucked away in a bucolic maisonette somewhere in a miscellaneous European mountain range, raising baby Eva with your (understandably) traumatised wife, Mia. But one unassuming night, Chris Redfield kicks down the door to your house and executes your wife, point-blank. His team of hired goons cuff and bind you, ferry you into the back of a car with the corpse of your dearly departed wife and extract you. And that’s when Capcom’s sadistic playtime with Ethan Winters starts getting nasty.
From here on out, Resident Evil Village refuses to slow down. From an Outlast-style trek through the woods to the eponymous village to the bizarro, all-out action of the final act, Capcom has orchestrated a frenzied narrative that’d give even Hideo Kojima pause for thought. Village doesn’t so much ask you to suspend your disbelief as crucify it, then shoot at the infected remains as they wriggle like grubs towards you. It’s held together, loosely, by the central narrative: get your daughter back. This seemingly simple task gets more convoluted and more galling as time goes on, and as you learn more about the nature of this fey village and Winters’ connection to it, your heart sinks in your chest as you piece together what you need to do to snatch her back from its damned clutches.
The Carbine in the Woods
Village’s most divisive element is sure to be its variety: the game is not the same all the way through. Far be it for us to ruin anything here, but suffice to say you’ll be tiptoeing around the titular Village and treating it like a survival horror in the first few hours and then learning – very quickly – that Capcom demands something else from you entirely as you push on.
Throughout, the sadistic puzzle design, commitment to squirrelling away secrets, and sense of effort versus reward is constantly played with and teased – you can uncover a wealth of secrets for very little work, or go out of your way only to have your carefully managed resources stretched even further for no discernible reason. You can never shake the feeling that somehow the game, and its developers, are laughing at you.
Flashes of inspiration from Outlast, Layers of Fear, Silent Hill and even STALKER manifest at certain points, whilst facets of Resident Evil 4 punctuate the whole thing from time to time, too. But it’s composed so artfully that you’ll barely notice the gear shifts. Director Morimasa Sato and his team have managed to weave a breadth of styles and segments together with deft artisanship. The result is a series of interconnected vignettes, each as unique and detailed as any Resi puzzle item.
They slot together to form some sort of impossible contraption, addictive and inspired, resulting in something unhinged and intriguing. If Resident Evil 7 took its inspiration from The Shining, we’re going to have to say Capcom had The Cabin in the Woods on repeat when it was drafting this latest moonstruck experience.
Outbreaking with tradition
The moment-to-moment experience of Village is nothing short of perfect; its shooting, its systems, its AI, and the RE Engine powering it all under the hood make the world as much of a character as any of the peculiar inhabitants of the Village proper. Gorgeous little animations, some beautiful motion capture and a commitment to a pseudo-realistic art style give the game and its dungeons a complete sense of place – lessons learned, no doubt, from the indomitable success of the Resident Evil 2 and 3 Remakes.
The world (and your agency within it) are only let down by a few occasional flaws: some of the voice acting – especially Ethan’s – feels amateurish contrasted against the production values of practically everything else. Some of the pacing towards the latter half of the game (when things lean a bit more into action, rather than survival horror) bloats the game a touch, too, but that can be forgiven once the climax starts pulling all the loose threads together. With a series throbbing with as much history and personality as Resident Evil, it’s hard to get everything right for everyone – but if you’re all-in on Resident Evil 4 and loved the tone and approach of Resident Evil 7, you probably won’t mind the erratic, arrhythmic latter portion of Ethan Winters’ tragic tale, anyway.
Resident Evil Village is an essential horror experience that shows off what Capcom is capable of when it doesn’t compromise its vision in any way. The developer uses subgenres like puzzle pieces, clicking them into place on a grid to reveal the bigger picture: a survival horror collage, realised with remarkable production values and a deep love for its extensive roots. Resident Evil Village will be held high by Lady Dimitrescu and her peers for years to come, to rest head and shoulders above its genre rivals.
Review copy provided by Capcom
Reviewed on PS5