Resident Evil has taken many shapes since its inception. Survival horror, light gun shooter, third person adventure, online cooperative game, and, with 2017’s Resident Evil 7, first-person horror. This latest shape was fitting, in a way: the very first Resident Evil was conceived as a first-person game, before the limitations of the PlayStation forced Capcom to abandon it. At the time of Resident Evil 7’s release, though, it was a return to the survival horror that once defined Capcom’s multifaceted franchise.
And it was quite good.
Now, after two years of remakes, we at last have the eighth instalment – Village. It, too, is good. Very good, actually.
We’re back as Resident Evil 7’s Ethan Winters, three years on from the horrible events in Louisiana. He’s living with his wife, Mia, and their newborn daughter, Rose, in Romania. It’s all domestic bliss until masked operatives suddenly assault their home and kidnap Rose. That’s a bummer, but it all gets much weirder when it’s quickly revealed the operatives are led by none other than one of Resident Evil’s steadfast heroes, Chris Redfield, now older, gruffer, and sporting nothing less than one of the finest jackets to ever grace gaming.
Ethan’s search for Rose takes him to a snow-swept village that’s shielded from the world by great sierras and dense pine forests, overlooked by a dark castle that you just know bodes ill; let’s hope he doesn’t have to go inside! The whole village, rotten and dilapidated, is strangely absent of its inhabitants… At least, human inhabitants. Soon enough Ethan is assaulted by hordes of canine-like Lycans, and the game is on.
But he does have one friend amidst all the blood and mayhem: the genial if mysterious Duke, who is on hand to sell supplies and upgrade your arsenal. He’s a tremendously effective character, and I always enjoyed seeing him; like the village itself he’s an anchor for the player in-between all the crazy.
I talked at the start about Resident Evil’s experimentation with different genres, and naturally some turn out better than others. To my delight Village is an assured and explosive combination of two of my absolute favourites, namely the original Resident Evil and the genre-defining Resident Evil 4. Both are two of the best games ever made, so I was super curious as to how they’d blend together.
The result, at least for the most part, is that the blend works beautifully. Where Resident Evil 7 was a more cautious tale that dripped tension as you ventured farther into the Bakers’ house, Village is keen to strike a balance between slow burn horror and all-out action.
The opening sequence sees the players beset on all sides by Lycans, dashing between houses and barring doors with closets for a temporary reprieve. Scrambling up a ladder to the roof once the deluge overcomes the meagre defences, the player is met with Lycans firing flaming arrows across the rooftops, gnashing their teeth and calling for your death. It’s mad and frantic and nail-biting, until at last some unknown event calls them off, and the cacophony of howls gives way to the shrill wind and the trickle of a shallow river.
It’s no mistake the opening resembles Leon’s arrival in rural Spain back in Resident Evil 4; Capcom mean to forewarn players that further gunfights lay ahead, and so should arm themselves accordingly. I enjoyed the first-person shooting that runs through the game, although it’s arguably less graceful and intuitive than Resident Evil 4. There’s a certain clumsiness that comes with the first-person perspective, especially when your enemies rarely used range weapons and want to get up close and personal.
I know some players found the game’s final stages the weakest – when the guns come out and the survival horror takes a back seat. But that wasn’t my experience of it; all the madcap shooting felt like a suitable payoff to everything that had gone before it, changing gears at just the right moment.
The Lycans, as with the zombies of old, are only the beginning; there are crazier, nastier monsters lurking in the darkest corners of the village, a few of which manage to be genuinely creepy. A visit to Donna Beneviento’s house, for instance, is guaranteed to shake even the hardiest of players. Lynchian in its inspirations, it amplifies the game’s themes of parenthood and loss, successfully eliciting the existential dread of it all in horrifying fashion.
The narrative itself, in which Ethan has to locate four vials containing his daughter (don’t ask), is surprisingly decent for a Resident Evil game. Sure, there’s plenty of abysmal lines and corny acting, but I feel like the series is at long last starting to mature. It may be at a snail’s pace and rife with clichés, but we’re thankfully a long way from the pure trash of old. Village does start taking itself a bit too seriously by the end, but even that, in all its weirdness, seems like an improvement.
Village does have a protagonist problem, though. I didn’t like Ethan Winters in the last game and I liked him even less here. He’s a generic, whiny twit, who literally starts the game reprimanding his wife for reading Rose a spooky fairy tale, then goes on to aggressively whine at everyone else he comes into contact with. He’s the bland white hero of many a mediocre horror film, treating each new encounter with tiresome incredulity.
I kept wishing I was playing as Mia instead, who had successfully won me over by the end of Resident Evil 7. The women in this series are always better than their male counterparts. Always. Capcom should take that to heart and adjust their priorities accordingly!
Before rounding off I’d like to credit the superlative RE Engine. Whether you’re skulking through Lady Dimitrescu’s haunting castle (yes, it, and she, are as good as you hoped), wading through the village or just admiring the snow-capped peaks, Village is a stunning game, laced with detail and oozing ambience. I didn’t have any performance issues on my AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT, keeping most of the settings on high without eating into performance. I did have some trouble getting the brightness right, but I reckon that may have been user error.
Judging from the closing scenes there’s plenty more of the Winters’ story to come, and I’m genuinely looking forward to it. Village might be one of my favourite Resident Evil games, even if some of that is surely down to my love of isolated, snowy settings and baroque castles. But more importantly here is a sequel that broke the series’ curse, which often saw a truly great title followed by a shallow and uninspired imitation (see Resident Evil 4 to Resident Evil 5 or Resident Evil (2002) to Resident Evil Zero). One step forward, two steps back – that’s usually Resident Evil’s MO.
Gratifyingly that’s not the case here. Village takes what was great about Resident Evil 7, expands it, and creates a terrific new title of its own. Hooray. More please.
Verdict: Red Mist
Platforms Available – Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Platform Reviewed – PC
Review based on Steam media account copy. Please read this post for more on our scoring policy.