Release Date: May 7, 2021
Platforms: PlayStation 5 [Played], PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, Stadia
The “Resident Evil” franchise has experimented with almost every variety of horror during its 25 year history. Early entries were classic zombie horror stories, which evolved into globe-trotting adventures where heroes fought mutated bioweapons, which evolved into cannibals from Louisiana. “Resident Evil Village,” the eighth mainline entry in the franchise, brings players to a European village infested with werewolves, overlooked by a castle ruled by vampires.
“Village,” stylized with the roman numeral VIII in the “Vill,” is a direct sequel to 2017s “Resident Evil 7: biohazard,” a first for a franchise in which entries are generally pretty far removed from one another. While references to the larger history of the franchise were few and far between, I was surprised just how frequently the events of the last game were mentioned, and total newcomers may find themselves alienated despite a brief recap video at the start of the game. The recap is short, and not quite sufficient at relaying everything from the previous entry. Ultimately, the biggest draw of the game is its horror experience, and all of the scares and setpieces function perfectly fine even without knowledge of previous events.
Three years after Ethan Winters saved his girlfriend Mia from the Baker family in Louisiana, the two have been moved by the government to an unspecified location in Europe, where they are beginning to raise a newborn daughter, Rose. Monsters steal the child. Ethan has to descend into the village and its surrounding areas to endure new horrors and rescue his daughter, while Mia is benched very early on.
As far as protagonists go, Ethan is very bland, severely lacking in character traits, development, and even a face despite headlining two full games. Fortunately the other characters and villains of “Village” pick up the slack. Chris Redfield, one of the protagonists of the original 1996 “Resident Evil” appears throughout the game, well-acted and wearing a very dashing peacoat.
The content of “Resident Evil Village” is cleanly segmented into different discrete sections surrounding each of its five main villains. The village itself becomes almost a hub for Ethan, where he can restock before striking out and taking on one of the big threats. Ethan returns from each of these encounters with new tools and keys that allow him to explore more of the village for treasure and resources like medicine and ammunition.
To save Rose, Ethan has to contend with Mother Miranda and her four monstrous children. Each of the five villains is interesting, and their sections are surprisingly distinct. Lady Dimetrescu was featured heavily in the game’s marketing, where Capcom made a splash revealing her staggering height, nearly 10 feet tall. The vampiric lady of the castle isn’t as large of a presence within the game as the trailers might have suggested, but she certainly makes an impression.
The first two locations Ethan visits, Dimetrescu’s castle and a mysterious house in the woods, are spectacular, much more horror-focused experiences compared to the more action-heavy latter half of the game. The castle harkens back to the original “Resident Evil” games, where the player has to navigate a large space while solving puzzles, conserving scarce resources, and facing off with enemies that are better avoided than confronted. The house in the woods removes Ethan’s weapons entirely, for an incredible closed horror experience, completely devoid of combat.
I felt later sections, which were more focused on action, were weaker compared to the game’s very strong opening. Gunning down hordes of monstrous lycan with an arsenal of weapons and nearly limitless ammunition is a very different experience than racing down a castle hallway pursued by one of Dimetrescu’s daughters, hoping the next left turn isn’t a dead end. There were still plenty of surprises and scares to be found, but I was disappointed that the answer always seemed to be more bullets.
Throughout the game, the player can upgrade their weapons as well as some of Ethan’s stats by visiting the Duke, a traveling merchant intended as a homage to the iconic “Resident Evil 4” merchant. Players can obtain money from defeated monsters or by selling treasures to the Duke, which can be spent on weapon modifications. Stats are upgraded by trading meat from chickens, fish, and pigs found around the village.
The Duke is generally characterized in an interesting way, a kind man amused by and helpful to Ethan. I enjoyed the role he played in the story, especially the game’s finale. Unfortunately, the Duke reads as a problematic caricature of obesity, his belly hanging bellow his shirt, with ambient voice lines like “food is life,” and of course the method of upgrading stats by bringing him food.
Taken as a whole, “Resident Evil Village” is a very strong big-budget horror experience. As a long-time fan of the series, I would have appreciated more development given to the larger story of the franchise, though there were some interesting details sprinkled throughout and a post-credit scene that teases a potentially very different ninth chapter to the series. The game also has a fairly short run-time, taking me fewer than nine hours to finish. Players looking to start their summer off right with a quality horror experience need to look no farther.