Resident Evil Village - review
All images captured using the PS5 share feature.
Resident Evil Village is the latest entry in the Resident Evil series, with this being the eighth instalment in the main-line string of games. Just under two months ago the franchise celebrated its 25th anniversary, with it now being a quarter of a century since we all first stepped foot inside the Spencer mansion for the first time! Since then the horror icon has dipped its toes into various genres in gaming, with varying success. The original trilogy on the PS1 are classics that are deep-rooted in gamers the world over, with it pioneering survival horror as we know it. The fourth entry revolutionised both the Resident Evil series and third-person games simultaneously, making it a landmark title for that generation of games/gamers. It ramped up the action and from the first encounter it was clear the game would see many, many more bullets being fired. The fifth and sixth entries delved even further into the action. The high-octane thrills were abundant, and the already ludicrous story completely began to jump the shark with… well, Chris. R punching a boulder should sum it up. The seventh game mixed things up again and delivered a first-person entry that revived the horror aspect fans were missing, making for arguably the most frightening adventure yet. Not to mention the countless spin-offs, prequel and remakes and it is safe there has been a lot for fans to sink their teeth into.
RE Village was my most anticipated game of the year, as well as many others, I’m certain. I have played every title in the franchise (even Gaiden on the GameBoy Colour, I’m glutton for punishment) and couldn’t wait to jump back in. Several weeks ago, I waited for the sun to set, had my headset fully charged and then booted up the game. But was it an S rank, or something lower?
Winter’s is coming
(I will be speaking about the first 30 minutes of gameplay in detail so spoilers for that period of gameplay are ahead)
Village begins calmy, with the warm Winter’s residence being offset by the remnants of their past as notes are scattered around the house detailing the Baker incident. The event is still plaguing their lives years later, with it leaving all manner of scars. Like various other introductions in previous RE games, the opening is the calm before the storm, so everything quickly falls into disarray. We are briefly shown a glimpse of Ethan, Mia and their baby daughter, Rose, living a somewhat ordinary life. The intro also gives the player an idea of what to expect visually, with the house filled with detail and care. If you have played any other RE game, then the notes you find will be an immediate reminder that you’re back in this universe. Not everything is sunshine and Rose’s, of course, and so within minutes, the house is lit up by an excessive number of bullets, seemingly being fired by soldiers with the accuracy of a Stormtrooper. Chris appears and fires another five bullets into Mia, immediately making me question why the Winter’s family can soak up so much damage, that being a question that is indeed answered in this game. Ethan and his daughter are then captured and given no explanation whatsoever. But if that didn’t escalate fast enough, what follows is complete mayhem, with just as much mystery involved for good measure.
Ethan later awakes beside the wreckage of the transport vehicle, now on its side in a snow-covered forest. The next twenty minutes of gameplay made me feel as if Village would be similar in its scares and atmosphere to RE7. The forest was incredibly dark, allowing me only to see a few feet in front. Branches snapped in the distance, something would scurry past on occasion, and it was clear I wasn’t alone. I entered an abandoned house and had to go into the poorly lit basement. I opened the cabinet with blood smeared over the front to then hear an almighty crash from back upstairs. This entire segment was the horror experience I wanted. Capcom had expressed that Village would not be as scary as seven, but I assumed it would still be fairly frightening. And, to its credit, it was… at times. When I emerged from the house, the darkness had lifted, and although I was only in there for about three minutes, it must have been about three hours according to the time of day. Nit-picks aside, now I was able to see the beautifully horrid world around me. Just over the hill is the Village I would frequently be visiting, as well as a gorgeous example of cinematography in video games, with the shot of Castle Dimitrescu tantalising me in all its glory. And, here is where Village bears its strengths and weaknesses.
Wearing its inspirations on its blood-soaked sleeves
Village seems to take a lot of what has worked in the past and implement much of it here, with the fourth title clearly being the main inspiration. Barely fifteen minutes after first entering the main village, the game unleashes a horde of enemies at you and literally asks you to survive. At this point, you will only be equipped with a pistol, shotgun and naturally, a limited supply of ammo for each of them. Obviously resembling RE4 and the introduction there, it throws arguably its most challenging section at you early on. Village has an inventory system straight out of RE4, with Ethan needing to store his items in a briefcase just as Leon did back in the day. Later you meet a character known as the Duke, who will sell his goods for the currency known as Lei. As well as being able to trade items such as gems and one-of-a-kind items for additional Lei, the Duke will also upgrade your weapons and help Ethan become the equivalent of being Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando. The Duke will even reference the iconic merchant with a line of dialogue, in which he says, ‘What’re ya buyin’. Veterans of the franchise will surely find themselves grinning as old memories resurface while playing through Village.
As for the gameplay itself, if you have played RE7, it is almost unchanged. Several new mechanics have been added, like the aforementioned inventory system. But the core gameplay is still through a first-person perspective, with much of the combat using firearms, and it handles about as well as you’d expect for a first-person shooter in the RE universe. By this, I mean it will not be as fluid as Call of Duty but is entirely serviceable for what it needs to be. From beginning to end, the core loop of exploration and combat kept me coming back. Gameplay is not that complex, other than managing your inventory sometimes. The absolute joy and thrill is discovering new items and parts to your weapons, with the feeling of becoming more powerful being very well-paced throughout. It is paramount that you explore every nook and cranny the world has to offer, as valuable items like herbs, scrap, upgrades and ammo are littered amongst the corpses, sometimes illogically so (the occupants of Castle Dimitrescu love to store shotgun shells in expensive-looking vases). It would also be tempting for players to press on with the main objectives, but revisiting old areas with new items offers many rewards, as well as more formidable enemies guarding them. Village keeps the crafting system used before, and it remains very simple and easy for newcomers to get to grips with.
As is par for the course with Resident Evil games, there are also many notes to read and some puzzles to solve. Personally, I enjoy reading in games when it is short and intriguing, and Village does this very well. Notes do not ramble on (much like me in this review) and will provide a snippet of lore and backstory to the already expansive and convoluted plot. Reading the last words of a dying husband, knowing his wife did not get to read them before her demise, or more details about other infamous locations we have explored before never failed to interest me. Unfortunately, the puzzles were perhaps a series low point in Village. These are harsh and bold words for a franchise such as Resident Evil. Puzzles are a staple of the series, yet they are either incredibly easy or simply frustrating in RE8. The piano puzzle is nothing short of a joke in which all of you have to do is press each key from left to right, and you will effectively work out the solution with no thought needed. The special chambers puzzle is a test of endurance if you intend not to use any ammo, having to awkwardly use the game's physics to light each brazier off of one another. The Benevieto house is a more puzzle focused area, with this being where the puzzles are at their best. There are also puzzles in the form of Labyrinth’s, an occasional diversion that requires the player to rock a structure in all directions to allow the ball to roll its way to the end. These were slightly too easy, but no doubt was more engaging than most of the other puzzles the game had to offer.
Enemy variety is certainly not lacking, and while some enemies are just stronger variations of previous foes, it still kept me entertained and on the edge of my seat. Village introduces Lycans that are werewolf-like foes. These are much more ferocious and nimbler compared to the usual zombies we have faced before. Their attacks are devastating on higher difficulties and will tear Ethan to shreds in moments. Some foes are airborne and swoop down once you have their attention. Larger enemies arrive later than can all but kill Ethan in one hit. Knowing that every enemy poses a significant threat to the player is a massive part of what keeps the tension high. I would recommend playing on the regular difficulty at minimum, with the easy difficulty slightly hindering the whole experience with how forgiving it is. Undoubtedly there are many boss battles as well, as you unload countless bullets into the giant walking sponges. Boss battles have always varied in the series, as they do here as well. On regular difficulty, only on the last boss was I close to running out of ammunition. And while I was mesmerised by the design of some of these monstrosities, some were easy to exploit and conquer once I realised running around a structure was my enemies undoing.
Mercenaries’ mode also makes a return and is as strong as ever. The mode has always done away with the horror portion and instead emphasised all-out-action! The mode has never really been of much interest to me. However, the mode adds even more replayability which is rarely a negative point.
Expect the unexpected
The last time a Resident Evil game had a straightforward story was… yeah, the story has never been simple. Twists and turns are so rampant that you would be forgiven for not being able to keep up. Village sets Ethan with a primary mission that anyone could follow, save his daughter and take out the big bad in his way. But, as is the tradition at this point, the plot will go off on fifteen tangents, introduce several side characters and have a few familiar faces return, as well as dangle the exact item you need in front of you, to then provide another reason as to why you’re not allowed it yet.
Now, the marketing for Village would have you believe that Lady Dimitrescu is the main antagonist. Sure, part of the reason for this is the internet’s infatuation with sexualised characters in video games and so Lady. D has become a central talking point. However, let it be clear that she is not the main villain, with many horny teenagers presumably being bitterly disappointed. I cleared the game in nine and a half hours on my first run, thoroughly exploring each area, and Lady. D was around for less than half of that time. Village quickly introduces the four lords and the overarching leader of them all. The four lords are Lady. D, a nine-foot-tall vampire-like woman who can extend her razor-sharp claws and is almost impervious to your weaponry. Donna Beneviento and her doll Angie can release chemicals that result in violent and terrifying hallucinations to those affected. Salvatore Moreau is a mutated husk of a man who will transform into an enormous fish-like creature. Karl Heisenberg has the power to control metal, wields an oversized hammer, and is easily the most cunning of the four lords. Their leader, acting as a mother figure to them all and manipulating each one for her own gain is Mother Miranda, who wants Rose to revive her daughter.
The story tasks Ethan with defeating each threat and saving Rose. Castle Dimitrescu is the first main area you will explore; with the main village acting as a hub area you unlock more of each time to revisit the location. Lady. D’s home is magnificent, from the dark and flooded wine cellars to the grand hall and elegant bedrooms. In terms of design, the castle has to be the standout area in the whole game, which makes it all the more gut-punching when you realise that when it’s over, it’s over! You cannot return to the area, so make sure you stop to smell the roses while you can (I’ll stop with the Rose jokes now, I’m very sorry). I would be remised if I didn’t mention how Lady. D and her daughters can appear almost anywhere and, on numerous occasions, had me suddenly fleeing for my virtual life. Some memorable moments there for sure!
After this, you will explore each other lord’s domain. Moreau’s homeland is suitably grim and vile alongside his design. It will also feel like treading/swimming over familiar ground for RE4 fans. Heisenberg’s factory I found to be an excellent area despite reading many negative opinions about the area. Without a doubt, my favourite area is House Beneviento. There is a reason everyone is talking about this part. It is truly one of the most nerve-shredding, dread-inducing sections I have played since P.T. The less said about the stalking baby, the better. Safe rooms are still precisely that and relieve the player of the stress momentarily. Know Lady. D cannot enter the safe room and instead will wait patiently outside and eventually leave. I like to believe there is a therapy group for Lady. D, Mr. X, Nemesis and so on, with them all discussing their issues with ‘that room with a typewriter’.
Chris appears sparingly throughout and provides some exposition and questionable explanations also. The plot gives more of a resolution to the Baker incident in RE7 and is reasonably entertaining. Resident Evil has always been B-movie fun, to be fair, and so I know not to take it too seriously. But, what didn’t help was the voice acting. The actors for Lady. D, Mia, Chris and Mother Miranda were decent to pretty good. On the other hand, Ethan and Heisenberg felt off to me. Ethan had some bizarre reactions and rarely went too deep into any emotion. Perhaps this was due to the writing, as some lines were quite stilted. Heisenberg was unquestionably the oddball of the bunch. It was as if Nicholas Cage and Gerard Butler became one and decided they hated everything with a passion. For me, it didn’t always work and made me laugh when I don’t think I should have. Having said that, the ending for Ethan I feel kind of worked in a strange way and had more emotion than I ever expected from an RE game.
Surrounded by darkness, death and Lady. D
Resident Evil Village is an experience best played with a quality pair of headphones. Alongside the use of 3D audio and the drop-dead beautiful visuals, you will be entirely immersed in your surroundings. Having Lady. D bellow at you from behind or the Lycans growl from all around puts you in the shoes of Ethan and works so incredibly well. Other than the pistol, the weapons sound powerful and destructive (the starting pistol sounding relatively weak). Village brings yet another perfect soundtrack that delivers on all the excitement, tension and terror needed at each appropriate moment. I feel like no song was as brilliant as ‘Go Tell Aunt Rhody’ from RE7, but it was fantastic, nevertheless. Village isn’t afraid to lift the music entirely, however. Like a broken record, I must mention Beneviento house once again with its complete omission of any music for the most part. Instead, you will hear a tap dripping or a clock ticking, and that is it. Music would have subtracted from the atmosphere at this point, and so Village knows when to use music to amplify the current mood. Hell, even the heavy gusts of wind sounded great!
The visuals are also stunning! You will want to use the photo mode to snap a pic of the scenery and landscapes at many stages. The game unveils itself in a way that shows you what is ahead in the grandest scale possible, making you eager yet dreadful to enter the next deathtrap. The use of light and dark is also excellent, with it adding to the experience and not at all compromising your vision. Never was it so dark that I was lost or struggling to navigate the environment, but rather it would keep me guessing as to what is round the corner or even straight ahead! House Beneviento once again being a perfect showcase for this, making me question what the hell was stalking me (even though deep down I knew what it was). Masterful visuals and sound design are present throughout!
Resident Evil Village is not a perfect game and has a few missteps, primarily the story and some of the voice acting. Despite this, I still had a blast with the eighth instalment of the franchise and have begun a second playthrough on a higher difficulty. The gameplay is solid and will keep you on your toes and frequently checking your inventory. The feeling of becoming more powerful is addictive and satisfying. It also gives fans more of what they loved to begin with, and while it does tone down the horror compared to the previous entry, I feel it provides every fan with a good mixture of action, terror and good old survival horror. It adds more to the overall lore, and while I would have loved to have seen another main character such as Leon, Claire, Jill, Barry and so on, it was interesting to see more of the Winter’s family and how their story is wrapping up.
Now, where was my lockpick?