Genre: Survival Horror
Original Release: May 7, 2021
Platforms: PC (Steam), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Stadia, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Played on: PlayStation 5
Yeah, I’m not gonna lie, this is a game that I was looking forward to from the moment it was announced. I loved Resident Evil 7, though there were several years in between my first playthrough and my 100% marathon leading up to the article I wrote a little over a month ago. I don’t tend to get particularly excited over big-name releases anymore, but in those rare instances I do most everything I can to keep myself in the dark about the game in question. I don’t watch trailers, gameplay reveals, virtually anything that has to do with the game prior to its release. I’m the kind of person who likes to find out everything about the game myself to keep it as fresh as possible.
So! Resident Evil Village. Where do I start with this one? It’s the eighth main installment in the Resident Evil series, and just like with 7 it chronicles the misadventures of Ethan Winters. This time around, Chris Redfield shows up right at the start and murders Mia before kidnapping Ethan and their six-month-old daughter Rose. I swear, this family has been through the ringer in the short time that they’ve been part of the Resident Evil series, especially compared to Chris, Jill, and Leon. None of them ever got their hand cut off within the first hour of their debut game like Ethan did, for example.
So before I talk about the game proper, I want to shine a light on the opening cutscene. In my notes (which I’ve started taking as of this project), I wrote that it feels as if Tim Burton had directed James and the Giant Peach. What I didn’t realize at the time was that Tim Burton was, in fact, a producer on that film. Still, I stand by the idea that it has a very classic Burton-esque feel. This opening movie tells the story of a young girl who wanders into a forest and gets separated from her mother while looking for berries. There, she meets a wide variety of creatures who provide her with gifts to keep her going until she takes something without it being offered, at which point a witch appears and tells her that she must be punished accordingly.
It’s eerie, but it also feels like a story your parents might tell you when you were young in the (misguided) hopes of imparting a lesson and instead scarring you for life. Kind of like what a lot of Don Bluth films did to me, or what Watership Down might have done to children before I was born (note: I have not seen Watership Down myself at time of writing, but it is on my list) and yet we love those films to pieces. It’s a great way to set the tone for the game while also serving as a departure from the introductory segments of the previous games.
Now, to the game itself. As was the case in 7, it starts out slow. You’ve woken up in the middle of nowhere in the dead of winter, all alone. The only way to go is forward, though it is dark. Very dark. Like what you would expect winter in the middle of the night to look like dark. I found it a little hard to figure out where to go, but I try to keep the camera trained directly ahead of me as well so I can catch movement because I tend to be on edge in these situations, despite experience telling me that nothing will happen in these games until I’m properly armed. However, the path is pretty straightforward and so long as you just keep moving straight ahead you won’t get turned around. It feels sinister, but also compelling. Like you know there’s danger up ahead, but you want to dive in headfirst.
I can’t honestly say that I found Village particularly scary. There was one specific part that left me unnerved and genuinely scared, but I wasn’t quite as on-edge as I was the first time I played 7 or even 4, but that isn’t a bad thing! In truth, Village plays very similarly to Resident Evil 4, but builds off of the groundwork laid by 7. You’re still playing in first-person, but the crafting system and inventory management have been refined a lot. The grid-based attaché case inventory system from 4 makes a return at long last, allowing you to lay everything out as you like best, and even includes a button to automatically stack items together if they can stack and there’s space in said stack. I have missed this inventory system something fierce and I’m very happy to see it being utilized in Gloomwood as well as a game that I only know under the name of MFN by John Szymanski of Charlotte’s Exile and the currently in-development Kyle is Famous and Evomorphs. It lends a sense of immersion by giving every item its own scale, though I will say that I preferred the 3D models used in 4 to the 2D images used here. The extra depth made everything feel a little more organic. In the grand scheme of things that’s a minor gripe, so take it with a grain of salt or just shrug it off as my being the old man in the room.
On the subject of immersion though, I want to take a moment here to share something about the PS5’s controller that I didn’t realize immediately: Depending on your choice of weapons or recent actions, the left and right triggers will provide different levels of resistance. For example, the right trigger will push back against you if you’ve hit something with the knife. Or you’ll have to press the left trigger harder than normal in order to aim with the sniper rifle. On top of that, cycling through weapons via your shortcuts will trigger a mechanical switch somewhere inside of the controller that moves with different intensity based on your weapon choice. The knife and pistol are noticeable, but light, whereas the shotgun is a very intense click. You’ll also feel this if your crosshair pans over certain characters that Ethan will not shoot. It was a very pleasant surprise.
On the subject of pleasant surprises, once you have the map it will show you which buildings in the village you have yet to fully explore (or rooms in various cases), so you’ll know where you’re missing things. On top of that, drawers requiring a lockpick to open will be marked on the map, as will other points of interest like mechanical doors, or doors that require a certain key to open. It’s a big step up from the map in Resident Evil 2 where the locks were color-coded based on the requisite key, but they’ve also had a lot of time and so many games between then and now in order to try new things and figure out what works best.
Friend merchant from Resident Evil 4 also returns, though not the merchant himself. Rather, your vendor this time around is a fellow by the name of The Duke. He buys pretty much anything, including any and all treasures you come across during your exploration of the village proper. He sells ammo, healing items, guns, and even custom parts for each of the guns to increase their capabilities! On top of that, he can also upgrade your preferred weapons to improve their capabilities. I personally went ham on the sniper rifle and shotgun for my first playthrough and there are few things as satisfying as watching a lycan’s head explode with one scoped shot. Of course, the sound design also helps. That’s another strong point in Village, all of the guns sound much stronger than they did in 7. The handguns in particular have a much more satisfying impact when you pull the trigger. So much deeper and powerful, especially the M1911. I’ll leave it to you to find your preferred firearm combination if and when you play. And in my grand tradition of not spoiling things, I won’t talk much about the story of the game proper. However, there is one part that I can discuss at least a little bit given a certain tall lady’s presence on the internet and in the trailers.
Lady Dimitrescu is fantastic. So tall, so deadly. I lived for every moment that she was on screen. Her daughters are just as great, honestly. You’ll learn a lot more about them as you explore the castle and find notes, but honestly I was just happy to see how Ethan handled their presence after playing through Maiden prior to release. And if you ever have the chance to look at the behind the scenes photos and videos, you might get a good chuckle over how they handled her being 9’6″ while her mocap (and voice) actress Maggie Robertson was very much not that height.
I’d also like to take a moment and talk about the environmental design in Village. By nature, the game is much more open than 7, considering that you have an entire village to explore rather than a Louisiana farm, and yet it still feels so run-down. Yes, a majority of the villagers are now lycans, but the village proper feels like a ghost town, like everything was just abandoned in the middle of a typical day. It’s isolated by the surrounding geography and so disconnected as a result. The imagery on the walls and in the homes feels to me as if it were pulled directly from Eastern European villages, particularly those closely connected to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. It’s just close enough to my own childhood to feel uncomfortable, but also distant enough to feel alien if that makes sense. And yet the village is also littered with collectibles! Outhouses to open for goodies, animals to hunt, and wooden goats to smash.
For me, Village strikes that nice balance of open-ended exploration and linear without being littered with pointless collectibles. Animals give you meat that you can hand in to the Duke to create meals which improve your health and defenses or even your movement speed, treasures can be sold for money, and the outhouses serve a purpose by containing various items, be it crafting materials or photos of where to find certain rare animals. It’s honestly worth your time to explore the village as much as you can at any given point. You might find something handy or something silly.
I could continue to gush about the design of Village, but I should stem it here because I would hate to spoil anything for people who haven’t played it yet themselves. Just know that in the nine days since release at time of writing, I have played and beaten the game five times across all difficulties, and my most recent run was knife-only and about as ridiculous as you would expect. My first run took just over eleven hours, and that was with me being incredibly thorough and combing over every inch of the houses just to make the map completely blue, or at least as close as I could get to it.
If I were to provide tips for newcomers, the biggest ones would be: take your time, and play it like you would Resident Evil 4. If you’re missing something in a house, look at the walls and ceiling. If you see something glinting, shoot it down and pick it up! I think you’ll be pleased. It reminded me that I am basically a magpie and my goblin brain is pleased when I pick up shinies. This was something I missed a lot in 7.
There’s still some stuff that I haven’t finished in Village. Mainly the Mercenaries Mode and the stages therein. You’ll unlock that after completing the game for the first time, but you don’t need to play it if you don’t want to. Would I recommend it? Absolutely! If you get at least a SS rank on all eight stages, you get a sweet lightsaber for use in the main game. Or you can just spend your challenge points on infinite ammo for your fully upgraded weapons and concept art if you want.
Resident Evil Village is a love letter to both Resident Evil 4 and the classic monster movies of old. It’s a delightful game that hit my nostalgia bone while also treating me to some new experiences and helping me hone my notetaking skills a little bit. A lot of folks have said that Village is ranked near the top of their list of favorite Resident Evil titles and while I haven’t played every installment (maybe someday), I’m inclined to agree. Man, this is making me want to revisit the older titles and their respective remasters. I think that’s the mark of a good game. Well, that and the honest desire to replay the game immediately after finishing it (and three more times after that). It’s a rare game that gives me that feeling anymore. So I think I can give Village a sincere recommendation.
No matter what system you have, I would argue that Resident Evil Village is a worthwhile addition to your library. Capcom did a great job with it. Don’t just take it from me though, The Sphere Hunter released a spoiler-free review just prior to release and it’s incredibly comprehensive.