In 2017, Resident Evil once again reinvented itself with Resident Evil 7. The shift to first-person gameplay not only brought the series back to its horror roots but drew inspiration from Hideo Kojima’s ill-fated P.T. on the PS4. Now here we are four years later with the debut of Resident Evil Village, the eighth game in the mainline franchise, and the official follow-up to the gameplay introduced in Resident Evil 7.
There has been a considerable amount of hype surrounding the game’s release ever since the reveal. Great marketing and a tall vampire lady awakening something in horny fanboys will do that. However, how does the game stack up to its stellar predecessor? Well, Resident Evil Village is a fun but peculiar game that tries to infuse some of the lessons it has learned from the previous entry, yet it still falls back on some of the elements from earlier games in the series that don’t exactly work.
“Ordinary Man” Ethan Winters
I think it’s about time we admit that Resident Evil’s stories are about as bonkers as they get and that’s alright, which is par the course for Capcom games. There’s some charm to the “style over substance” aspect of the narrative. Ultimately, it’s the quirky villains and over-the-top characters who become the stars of the story. That’s no different here. Resident Evil Village picks up three years after Resident Evil 7, once again following Ethan Winters. After their ordeal, Ethan and his wife Mia have settled in Europe with their newborn baby, Rose. It isn’t long before their new family life is interrupted, and Ethan finds himself once again facing monsters, this time to save his daughter in a remote European village.
Unfortunately, the story and mystery surrounding the village don’t hold as much interest as the mysterious case of the Baker family did in the previous game. I found the main plot to be a little too simplistic and predictable. Despite the game’s attempt at intriguing players with why Ethan’s daughter has been kidnapped or Chris Redfield’s role in it all, none of the red herrings really work out and the payoff is weak. There is also the fact that despite Capcom and the Resident Evil team’s intentions, Ethan Winters has kind of shed that everyman persona from the first game. His abilities alone make it impossible to see him as the fish out of water type anymore, especially with the punishment this game puts him through.
Thankfully, the obstacles and antagonists are compelling enough that players will want to journey through the game’s many set pieces despite the weakness of its main story. And compelling these characters and set pieces are. Yes, the Tall vampire lady, Lady Dimitrescu, will be remembered in the halls of classic RE villains. However, she is just one of four other interesting main bad guys that make Ethan’s life a living hell. Each presenting themselves as bosses with their own unique areas in the game. You’ll explore everything from the aforementioned village areas to large Victorian mansions, dark catacombs, swamps, and factories. With each setting, the atmosphere changes, providing different aspects of the horror genre all in one game. Some work much better than others.
Pick a Lane
Resident Evil Village wants to be a love letter to everything the series has ever done in its past, and I think that’s my biggest problem with it. Thankfully, the game sticks to the newly introduced first-person perspective, adding to the immersion and intensity. The core mechanics of the gameplay remain the same. As always, ammo is limited, there’s an odd merchant with weapons and plenty of well-crafted puzzles surrounded by unexpected dangers. Where the game veers off course is that it ultimately feels like a patchwork of different games. There’s a little atmosphere from Resident Evil 4, the action of Resident 5 and 6, and even the focused horror of Resident Evil 7.
While I wished they all worked well together to make a cohesive game, they don’t. As you progress, it feels like you’re playing very different games at times with the early half of Village being more successful than the latter. In those early sections of the game, it leans heavily into horror with much success. Lady Dimitrescu’s castle feels like most of what made Resident Evil 7 and even the RE2 remake so good, with the player having to outmaneuver an unstoppable predator while trying to discover how to progress. There is a later section of the game that is probably one of the most unforgettable horror sequences in a Resident Evil game.
The latter half of the game doesn’t do those strong opening parts justice. It focuses more on the action, and it begins to feel like the game is just throwing hordes of enemies at you instead of doing something interesting. It’s a common pitfall the series always seems to find itself in, falling back on action instead of providing an atmosphere and gameplay that adds to the horror. There is one particular section in a factory setting that is just a chore to get through. The enemies are interesting though, and there is definitely a better variety than there was in Resident Evil 7. In fact, it seems like every kind of horror creature imaginable makes an appearance in this game. The only downside is that the game loses the sense that every one-on-one encounter could end deadly, which the previous game did so well.
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
I don’t want this review to sound like I hate Resident Evil Village. I enjoyed my time with it. The puzzles are still masterful, and the core gameplay of the series still holds up. Sticking with the first-person perspective is still effective as well. I also like the way the game has a semi-open world, with each section correlating to a boss. Those sections try to give the player different experiences so that they don’t know what to expect. Once again, those different sections can be hit or miss but as the player, you’re always wondering what’s next.
The Resident Evil series is always in a constant state of change for a reason. The series evolves (moving from fixed camera to over the shoulder, as well as moving from third-person gameplay to first-person) in order to stay fresh. Going back to the same mechanics or pacing of old games doesn’t work anymore, which is why the latter half feels less enjoyable than the early sections of the game. I want to be all in on Resident Evil Village’s brand of horror, atmosphere, and gameplay, but there are moments where it works and more where it doesn’t. At the end of the day, it feels like the series still needs to find its groove.