The first half-dozen or so hours of Resident Evil Village might just be the best of the entire series. Its opening is a blend of horror, action, exploration, and puzzle-solving that pays tribute to – and frequently surpasses – its predecessors. In a more unfortunate Resident Evil tradition, Village doesn't maintain that momentum through its second half, but the highs of Capcom's rollercoaster make this a ride that's well worth taking.
Village picks up a few years after the end of Resident Evil 7. Ethan and Mia have escaped the nightmare of the Baker family and moved to eastern Europe to build a happy life for themselves and their new baby girl. But faster than you can quote John McClane in Die Hard 2, Chris Redfield shows up, kills Mia, takes off with the baby, and Ethan finds himself as the same guy to whom the same shit is happening – twice. Once again you're lost in backwoods terror, but this time, it's the gothic horror of the snowbound village and its cultish inhabitants.
Where Resident Evil 7 reimagined the fundamentals of the original through a modern, first-person horror game lens, Village does the same with Resident Evil 4. It almost feels like the RE4 remake that's been rumoured for years: there's cash to collect, weapons to upgrade, inventory Tetris to manage, a mysterious merchant to chat with, and a cast of surreal villains. Certain similarities are even more specific, such as a lake encounter with a monster fish and an unwinnable battle with an overwhelming horde of enemies, which serves as your introduction to the village.
As in RE4, all of those elements make Village a far more action-oriented game. With some exceptions, you’ll be able to kill every monster you come across, and those dead enemies will usually drop money that you can use to buy more ammo or more powerful weapons. Your resources are limited, but while that will force you to carefully consider which guns you use in each encounter, Village generally provides you with just enough bullets that you don’t have to worry about leaving any zombies behind.
Or, in this case, lycans. Village works because its enemies are satisfying to fight, and the core of its cast of monsters are fast-moving, humanoid creatures with lupine tendencies. You have to take aim if you want your shots to count, which severely reduces your movement speed. Combat, then, follows a satisfying rhythm of finding a secure position from which to fire at enemies, taking a few shots, and then sprinting away to a new position before you get cornered. Don’t fret, there are still shambling zombies to pump lead into, but they’re not the main threat in Village.
Each micro-encounter becomes a mental exercise in its own right. I put two shots into one beast, and three into another – the one on the right is closer, so I need to land another shot to stun it, then I can probably kill the one on the left with what I’ve got left in the magazine before I need to find a new position and reload. Miss either of those shots and I’m screwed, which begins a fresh inner monologue: ‘How many first aid items do I have again?’
That rhythm changes ever-so-slightly throughout the game thanks to the Duke, a merchant who pops up in increasingly bizarre locations – just like in Resident Evil 4. You can spend the money you’ve collected from fallen enemies on items and weapon upgrades at the Duke’s store, and while it’s impossible to get every upgrade in a single playthrough, you won’t find that it matters much. I just kept buffing the pistol and shotgun’s power and ammo capacity, and by the latter half of the story I had more than enough cash to max each gun out as soon as the upgrades became available.
Village isn’t overly challenging on its default difficulty (especially if you’re playing with a mouse and keyboard), but the enemies are just unpredictable enough, and your bullets just scarce enough, that combat retains its tension despite your improved arsenal. And, smartly, the higher difficulty settings don’t just make monsters absorb and deal more damage – they actually get faster, more unpredictable, and harder to hit.
The titular village essentially serves as a small hub area to which you’ll return throughout the game. Most of the action takes place in the outlying areas – a castle, a manor, a factory – where you’ll search for a grotesque MacGuffin. This entails a few hours of action and exploration, a boss fight, and then it’s back to the village with a new key that unlocks some optional locations as well as the next chapter of the story.
Some of the optional areas are as basic as a room with a few shotgun shells guarded by a lycan, or maybe there’s a chicken inside that you can kill and bring back to Duke for a small health upgrade. Others include entire boss fights with unique enemies, and valuable treasure as a reward.
Each of the major areas is presided over by one of the Four Lords – a delightfully campy collection of bickering family members, from a grotesque marionette controlled by Donna Beneviento to the, erm, well… look, there are already too many wildly inappropriate words about Lady Dimitrescu on the internet.
The world’s favourite giant woman would be an excellent antagonist even without the memes, but the real surprise is that the remainder of the villainous cast is just as memorable. The drama of the infighting between the Lords does a lot to make up for the weakness of the hero – Ethan isn’t any more engaging here than he was in RE7, and while the story takes a couple of impressively ambitious twists toward the end, the fact that the bad guys are so much easier to care about than the good ones does rob the final hours of some of their drama.
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The varied powers and interests of the Lords let each section of the game take on its own identity in gameplay terms, too. Castle Dimitrescu, for example, is classic Resident Evil: a largely non-linear space to explore, where you learn and master the location as you dig into its nooks and crannies to find keys and solve puzzles. There’s a surprising encounter through every door, a terrific progression of new tools and weapons as you run into new enemy types, and a constant escalation of action as you discover the secrets of the castle’s denizens and put that knowledge to use in a series of miniboss fights. Then, just as it seems you’re about to escape, Lady Dimitrescu herself shows up as a Mr. X-style unkillable force, ensuring that your stay in the castle remains harrowing even as you round up those last few items.
Castle Dimitrescu is fantastic, both as a segment of Village and as an encapsulation of the series as a whole – a little horror, a little action, a little survival, and some light puzzling all molded together and executed as well as any game in Resident Evil’s past. What’s even more impressive is that the game manages to reset the stakes immediately after, following a thrilling action set piece with the most effective dose of pure horror that the series has ever done.
The second half of the game tries to maintain that variety, but it just can’t match the peaks of its opening acts. There are bombastic chase sequences with fast-paced puzzles, pure action scenes with hordes of familiar monsters, and claustrophobic battles in industrial spaces against entirely new types of enemies. The issue is that by the time you reach these sequences, you’ve already had a complete arc with the mechanics – you’ve got all the basic weapon types, you’ve learned how to beat most of the normal enemies, and the sense of surprise just isn’t there anymore. The mechanics remain satisfying, but the action starts to wear thin.
Convinced? You can buy Resident Evil Village here
That’s despite the fact that, while Village feels larger in scope than many other Resident Evil games, it’s not much longer. With a fair amount of exploration, it took me just under a dozen hours to reach the credits. However, the New Game Plus options have tempted me into a second playthrough. You can bring your upgraded guns into successive playthroughs on higher difficulties – or lower ones, if you just want to steamroll through – and unlock super-powerful weapons and unlimited ammo by spending points earned through achievements.
I’m less excited about this game’s iteration on Mercenaries mode, which sends you through an enemy-filled series of time-limited levels pulled from the main game as you chase a high score. During each run you accrue funds, which you’ll spend between stages on weapon upgrades, and you can get semi-random ability upgrades that can improve your health or make you do more damage at close range. However, playing through these levels just feels like a memory game. There seems to be a more-or-less ‘correct’ order in which to kill the enemies and upgrade your guns, and it’s just a matter of trial and error until you reach a score high enough to unlock the next level and repeat the process.
Village varies from ‘outstanding’ to ‘fine’, but the good parts are so exceptional as to make you forget about the segments where it runs a little thin. It’s a creative take on everything that’s made Resident Evil great over the years, filled with memorable new villains and monsters, and even with its emphasis on action, is still occasionally capable of delivering all-out horror.
You can buy Resident Evil Village here. We’ve got plenty of guides to help out if you get stuck on your way, so if you struggle to beat any of Village’s bosses, solve a mannequin puzzle, or crack a violin house combination lock, then we’ve got you covered.
Resident Evil Village review
Resident Evil Village pulls the best bits from the series’ past and recombines them into something fresh and surprising. It can’t maintain that momentum for its entire run, but Village’s heights are among the best in Resident Evil’s illustrious history.