When Resident Evil Village was officially announced last year it looked to draw upon past themes and elements of the series’ history while also pushing it into the revitalized “true horror” game category that was its predecessor, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. While the game certainly succeeds in being a sort of “best hits” compilation in many regards, it fell a little flat in the horror aspects for me (aside from one very uncharacteristically disturbing section) and safely landed in that horror-action mix where many Resident Evil games reside. That statement isn’t meant to be a criticism of the game but rather an observation of what it actually ended up being; I actually believe that this particular entry and its setting were all the better for it.
The parallels to Resident Evil 4’s European, gothic community as a setting are not only obvious but proudly worn by Village. It is a testament to the quality of Resident Evil Village that I believe it stands nearly toe to toe with it in atmospheric tension. The game also features an oddball character named The Duke, who is an obvious attempt to recreate the mysterious merchant of Resident Evil 4. Many reviewers out there have said that this game is a “spiritual successor” to RE4, and while I don’t necessarily disagree with that statement, I do believe there is more to be said about this game than simply that.
Let me break down for you exactly what this game is and how well it succeeded within one of the best gaming series of all time. First I will discuss the meat of the game in its Gameplay and Mechanics, then its Graphics and Visuals, followed by its Story and Narrative, and lastly its Music and Voice Acting.
Gameplay and Mechanics
The core gameplay of Resident Evil Village hasn’t changed too much from that of its predecessor, especially in the area of the shooting mechanics. The gunplay does feel a bit more refined and less floaty than that of Resident Evil 7 more than likely due to the fact that a significant portion of combat encounters happen in larger outdoor areas this time around. Resident Evil Village also features a vastly larger enemy count than most of the games in the series, especially in the waning hours of the experience.
The Lycans, which one could say are the main enemy of Resident Evil Village, have exceptional AI, are well animated, and are particularly hard to get headshots on, especially the first few times you face them. I often found tensions soaring as I fired round after round into nothingness as they dipped and dodged in an attempt to flank me, succeeding too often for my liking.
Many of the other enemy types are fairly typical tropes that can be found in other similar experiences, with none of them necessarily being too frightening on their own. I often found myself more afraid of the situation that an enemy had put me in than of the enemy itself, which I suppose is good in its own way. There is a good amount of variety to enemy types however, with nearly every shooter standard trope present. (shambling, flying, fast, armored, etc.)
The boss fights of Village are fairly well done, with no real let-downs but not really anything to get excited about either. The fights are varied and each have their own unique flair and solution, but it isn’t anything that hasn’t been seen in every similar style of game for the last twenty years. I did find the final boss battle to be one of the best of the series, but again, that isn’t saying too much since I don’t find the bosses to really be the strong suit or selling point of any Resident Evil game.
One gripe I do have against Village is the decision to steer away from the “limited inventory” that so many other games in the series feature. While many gamers might take issue with having to scavenge resources or plan inventory space around carrying important items, I actually find that to be one of my favorite parts of Resident Evil as a whole and not seeing it return here was a bit of a disappointment.
I do understand the decision to make this game about the combat encounters and diverse areas/ bosses instead of the puzzles of previous entries, it just wasn’t to my personal preference. This will not play any part in my overall review as preferences never should. Many of the elements of this game feel implemented to encourage a larger player base and I could never fault a developer for making those types of decisions.
The puzzles that are present in this title can be described as adequate because while a few of them did delight, they are mostly there to be a temporary distraction from combat rather than a real reason to play the game. Compared to the extremely well-done puzzles of the Resident Evil 2 remake, these are pedestrian at best. There is however one non-combat section in the first half of the game that is more focused on psychological terror and true puzzles to solve so the itch is still scratched for those who enjoy the teasing of the brain.
Collectibles are present here as with every Resident Evil game, with destructibles (which are small wooden goats this time), files, and secret treasures to be found by all the “completionists” like me out there.
One standout addition to Village is the “Village of Shadows” difficulty setting which is unlocked upon completion of the game on the Normal difficulty setting. Not only does it make the game incredibly punishing in terms of enemy speed and damage, but it also puts more difficult enemy types in unfamiliar places, as well as in entirely new places that catch you off guard just like your first playthrough. It is just a little but of extra detail and love from the developers that I think goes a long way to making a relatively short campaign (6-7 hours) feel fresh and new again.
The best way I could boil down the mechanics of Village is to say that this game is a “greatest hits” compilation of what has worked well in the series past. You have the invincible, patrolling entity that chases players from one corridor and room to another. You have the psychological torment of a non-combat, puzzle oriented section. You have an action heavy segment that makes you feel like a super-soldier mowing down waves of previously terrifying beings.
In theory that should have resulted in this game being the best of the series, but sometimes the systems and style of play can feel so different that they become disjointed and take you out of the experience a bit. If there is “a little something for everyone” it can sometimes result in players not enjoying the rest. I found each part to be enjoyable in its own way but some players may have a completely different experience.
Many players may expect Village to be a direct sequel in style to Biohazard just simply from the same main characters and camera perspective, but that is genuinely all that Capcom seemed to want to copy from the tremendous outing that was Resident Evil 7 for better and for worse.
Graphics and Visuals
I played Resident Evil Village on the PS4 as I believe many people will be in the days ahead because of the pandemic induced scarcity of next generation console options. That being said this game still shines bright in the area of graphic fidelity with Capcom’s custom RE Engine still impressing even in its fourth game. (RE 7: Biohazard, RE2 remake, RE3 remake, and now Village) Lighting is especially impressive in Resident Evil Village and although it isn’t too large of a jump from the last main game, it does make me excited for what future games will able to look like with next generation hardware.
Draw distance on the PS4 was a notable downside in the area of visuals with textures noticeably and sometimes painfully popping in and out at certain distances as well as during “cutscenes” (Although every cutscene is in-engine and this happens quite frequently when games do this) Many games at the end of a console’s life cycle are guilty of this, but even close texture popping occurs with frequency here.
A lot of this probably has to do with the density of environmental objects scattered throughout the game’s interiors, which is quite a lot. The areas are full of unique assets which helps make the game better from an artistic standpoint but sometimes causes small graphical glitches or tears. It is a tremendous looking game but with a cost if you aren’t playing on next-gen hardware.
From an artistic standpoint the game also excels, with a myriad of lived in and fleshed out areas that make even the most impossible scenarios of the game’s ludicrous story feel plausible. The village itself is a great piece of visual storytelling, where many areas bearing the marks of previous battles and activity remain for eagle-eyed players to scope out what happened…. or what is to come around the next corner.
The only downside to the areas of Village might be that they also seem all too familiar for a game like this: a castle, sewers, swamp land, and of course the village itself. The only standout location (from an artistic viewpoint) in my mind is the factory that the player encounters at about the three quarters mark. Even after my fourth playthrough on my journey to that all important Platinum Trophy, I still found this last major area to be my favorite, both in enemy design and difficulty, and in overall aesthetics.
Story and Narrative
Without spoiling anything that isn’t already in the trailers for Resident Evil Village, our story finds Ethan Winters, the hero of the previous game, looking for his kidnapped baby daughter Rose in a mysterious village overrun by horrifying creatures. All of that also takes place after watching his wife be killed by his supposed friend and series’ regular Chris Redfield. I would love to tell you that from there the story gets better and deeper and shakes off the cringey and campy nature of the series inability to convey realistic human emotions in the face of unspeakable horror but sadly I cannot: it is one of the worst offenders on that front in Resident Evil’s history.
Although the story ends up being full of questions rather than answers and the characters are purposefully weird and off-putting in their dialogue, it is the character of Ethan Winters (the protagonist of the story) that ultimately leaves a horrendously bad taste in your mouth. Ethan literally asks more questions in his dialogue than anything else and it annoys the sensible minded player to no end. He will ask vague things like “What is going on?” after literally seeing ten or more villagers ripped to shreds by lycans. “Well, what does it look like is going on Ethan you stupid moron.” is something that I found myself saying out loud quite literally several times in my first campaign.
That isn’t even the worst offense though, as his non-inquisitive dialogue is just as unimaginative but one hundred times more cringey. The series is kind of synonymous with campy quips and comebacks in its dialogue, (see Leon Kennedy in RE4) but this game takes it a whole new level of childishness with statements like “no you”, “we’ll see about that”, “bring it on”, and “i’d like to see you try”.
I thought Ethan’s dialogue was a bit dry and infrequent in Biohazard and I found myself wanting more from the character. Now that I have seen more meant a cross between a dumbfounded idiot and a bunch of third grade playground comebacks, I find Ethan’s Biohazard dialogue to be Shakespearian in comparison. This game would literally be several points higher in my mind if Capcom had left the player silent instead. It might seem harsh to ridicule a horror/ action game for its dialogue but for a game to be truly great it must be great in all ways.
As far as the rest of the tale is concerned, most of the story beats are painfully obvious in their attempt to send you to all corners of the village in search of your daughter. The game boils down to what many modern single-player games become: a giant fetch quest that ultimately was unnecessary in nearly every way. Do yourself a favor: just enjoy shooting scary, furry, and slimy things and don’t think too much about it.
Music and Voice Acting
Other than the aforementioned dialogue of Ethan Winters, most of the rest of the the game is adequate in the area of voice acting with the only exception being that of Maggie Robertson’s turn as the towering Lady Dimitrescu. It is a shame that her area is one of the first in the game as it is the standout section of the entire experience. Honestly, the entire game could have been set in Lady Dimitrescu’s castle and it would have been all the better for it.
The music of Resident Evil Village is the unsung hero of the game however, with excellently timed and ominously building strings and horns at the forefront. It took me a playthrough or two to realize how effective it was at getting my heart pumping even when nothing scary was on the screen in front of me. Lady Dimitrescu’s warning music in particular is perfect in my ears as it immediately invokes a sense of panic and dread without you having even seen which direction she is coming from yet.
There isn’t anything too bombastic or crazy like in Doom or Halo, but the music does its job perfectly: instill fear and hold it throughout a terrifying encounter. Many of the tracks and sound design will be in my mind and memory for quite a while.
Resident Evil Village proudly wears its inspiration from past entries on its sleeve. While it does not really introduce any new or meaningful mechanics to the core gameplay, it does almost everything that Capcom made it to be well enough. Many of the aspects of the game are great, including combat, sound design, tense atmosphere, and memorable encounters. Ultimately, however, a few of the game’s glaring flaws (main character’s dialogue, nonsensical story, and lack of gameplay cohesion), keep it from being the best Resident Evil that we have seen.
Resident Evil Village is still a must-play for fans of the series in particular as well as for those just looking for a scary good time. I believe that it would serve as a great place for series’ first timers to jump in at as it has many “horror game” tropes but ultimately falls into the “action game” category in my mind, much like the classic Resident Evil 4 did.
The series has been set up well for a great ninth installment and I can’t wait to see where they take it from here.
Game Voyagers gives Capcom’s Resident Evil Village an 8.9 out of 10.