As soon as I arrived in Resident Evil Village’s sinister rural setting, its Resident Evil 4 influence reared its snarling head. Almost immediately surrounded by rabid Lycan locals, I scrambled for shotgun shells and bookshelves to block doorways as the horde closed in, only to be saved a split-second away from death. It’s an intense welcome that serves as a fantastic flashback to the opening of Shinji Mikami’s magnum-toting magnum opus, and one made all the more frantic in first-person perspective. Resident Evil Village might not break much new ground in its own right, but it successfully grafts Resident Evil 4’s best action elements onto the series’ more modern form established in Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, making for a genuinely engrossing and increasingly combat-heavy continuation of the Ethan Winters story.
It’s a story that – unfortunately for poor old Ethan – goes from dire straits to dire wolves. Dragged to hillbilly hell and back in an effort to rescue his wife in Resident Evil 7, he subsequently finds himself dropped into a distinctly Transylvanian type of terror in Village. This time it’s his infant daughter who must be saved after she’s kidnapped by a wicked cabal of monster maniacs: Lady Dimitrescu, a vampire tall enough to play center in a Space Jam sequel; Donna Beneviento, a dollmaker with a walking, talking Bride of Chucky sidekick; Salvatore Moreau, a thoroughly repulsive merman; and Karl Heisenberg, a magnetically powered lunatic who runs a factory assembly line of Frankenstein’s monsters.All four report to the mysterious head witch, Mother Miranda, and although admittedly none of them managed to coax out the same kind of genuine scares as the southern-fried psychopaths in Resident Evil 7’s Baker family, I found the lot of them to be entertainingly twisted in a slightly cartoonish, Batman villain kind of way. Each presides over their own visually distinctive domain that you must survive, from the opulent gold-trimmed interiors of Castle Dimitrescu to the grungy mechanical works of Heisenberg’s subterranean facility. There are noticeable shifts in mood between each setting, with one demanding a more stealth-driven approach while another leans more into psychological horror than combat. Delving into the darkest corners of Village’s world and uncovering the real reason these fairytale freaks have come into existence in the present day made for a compelling mystery that hooked me throughout my 10-hour playthrough.
The Wolves of Maul Street
Aside from the aforementioned Lycans – which come in multiple forms – there are zombie ghouls, flying gargoyles, full-on werewolves, and more waiting to ambush you at every turn. Their onslaught feels like an aggressive response to one of Resident Evil 7’s most notable shortcomings in the lack of variety in its enemy types; its handful of lumbering monsters were referred to as the ‘Mold’, an appropriate name, since they quickly grew stale. Village remedies this by throwing a significantly broader set of nasties into your crosshairs; in fact, the last time there was a line-up of village people this diverse they were singing disco songs about the YMCA.
This expanded roster of bloodthirsty beasts doesn’t just make for a more interestingly evolving series of combat encounters, but it also adds some welcome new depth and decision making to the bolstered crafting system. Should you spend your scarce supply of scrap to cobble together a landmine that will blast the armour off one of the tank-like Lycans, or fashion it into sniper rifle rounds so that you can eliminate nesting gargoyles from afar before they have a chance to swoop down on you?
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Granted, most of these enemies aren’t particularly clever in their own right – the genetically modified mutants of Heisenberg’s factory might have deadly drills for arms, but they’re far from the sharpest tools in the shed when it comes to outmanoeuvring you one-on-one. Still, what Village’s variety of grunts may lack in smarts they certainly make up for in sheer numbers, and although I rarely encountered clusters of more than a handful enemies at a time for the first few hours (outside of the initial overwhelming village reception), at somewhere around its midpoint the size of these enemy swarms started to swell substantially. By the story’s end I was gleefully indulging in chaotic levels of carnage that reminded me more of a run-and-gun Call of Duty campaign than a slow-paced horror game.
That’s a big change from the considerably more vulnerable version of Ethan from Resident Evil 7 – particularly in its first half – and a throwaway reference to military training in the prologue is used to explain why he feels substantially more combat ready this time around. He’s able to smoothly hurdle over fences and through open windows to stay on the move during a scrap, and – much like Leon could in Resident Evil 4 – he can even shoot down flaming arrows launched by Lycan archers if you’re quick enough on the trigger. Certain location-specific environmental features also help to further even the overwhelming odds, such as heavy machinery traps in Heisenberg’s headquarters that enemies can be lured into, and a zipline that can be used to create some breathing room when you’ve stirred up the evil residents of Village’s Lycan nest.
What’re You Buying?
The Duke – a tubby trader who can be conveniently found in various locations around the map like a Transylvanian 7-11 – allows you to buy weapon add-ons and upgrades as well as limited amounts of medkits and ammunition. What I appreciated the most about Capcom effectively resurrecting Resident Evil 4’s merchant is that the Duke’s stiff prices forced me to pore over every square inch of Village’s stunning scenery in search of treasures to trade for spending money, which had the knock-on effect of leading me to a number of surprises – both pleasant and malevolent.
Studying your surroundings for the telltale glint of a valuable gem that can be dislodged with a bullet, or keeping an ear out for the creak of an item-carrying birdcage that can be knocked down aren’t the only ways to uncover rewards for backtracking and exploring off the beaten path. Animals like fish and pigs can be killed, their meat turned into dishes by the Duke that give permanent boosts to Ethan’s health and defense. Actually tracking down some of the more exotic animals requires you to first find photographic clues to their specific locations, and while it’s not particularly challenging to take them down once you’ve found them, I took some dark delight in slashing at a yard full of chickens with Ethan’s pocket knife (it’s the closest I’ve ever come to actually playing a Legend of Zelda game in first-person).Elsewhere, there are countless invaluable story morsels tucked away that provide a clearer picture of ties between the village’s inhabitants and the Umbrella Corporation, as well as mini boss fight encounters that in some instances managed to completely blindside me. One of my favourite face-offs in Village is entirely optional: a close-quarters battle against a towering axe-wielding ogre that I only stumbled onto because I accidentally took a wrong turn on the way to my next story objective.
It’s clear that this Resident Evil isn’t just called ‘Village’ so that Capcom could awkwardly shove the Roman numerals for eight into its logo, but because exploring the village itself is a central part of the experience, and one that really helps distinguish it from any other previous instalment in the series. And although you visit each of the main villains’ lairs in a set order, keys and other tools found along the way unlock new paths and secrets that make your return trips through Village’s main hub a consistently rewarding journey.
However, my trip through Resident Evil Village wasn’t entirely without its missteps. I’m not sure Capcom was prepared for how much of a phenomenon Lady Dimitrescu would become with the Resident Evil fanbase, because despite the horniest hopes of internet perverts her appearance is certainly intimidatingly long-legged, but also disappointingly short-lived. She arrives very early on, is reasonably easy to avoid as far as stalker enemies go, and isn’t as big a presence as you might expect from Village’s billboard-sized poster girl.
Her three daughters, meanwhile, all share the exact same weakness and thus your fights against them all play out in almost identical fashion – though I will give them credit for never failing to jolt me out of my seat with their unpredictable arrivals. In fact, many of Village’s boss encounters come up surprisingly short, in a strategic sense. While they certainly escalate in scale and spectacle as you get closer to the story’s climax, very few amount to much more than circle-strafing and shooting them in their glowing bits until they drop. It’s not that I didn’t find some of them challenging, and certainly my clash with one particularly resilient late-game brute left me with nothing but a single round in my pistol’s chamber and a set of finger-shaped grooves freshly pressed into the underside of my controller, but I would have welcomed a few more epic-sized showdowns that engaged my brain as much as my reflexes and ammo reserves.
While there’s not much to puzzle out when it comes to tackling bosses, there’s just as little thinking involved when it comes to tackling Village’s actual puzzles. As was the case in Resident Evil 7, the solutions to the bulk of Village’s brainteasers are either exceedingly straightforward or, in many cases, entirely spoiled for you by instructional notes left in their immediate vicinity. I can understand the developers’ reluctance to allow our forward momentum through the story and action sequences to stall, but that seems at odds with an experience that otherwise clearly wants you to regularly slow down and examine your surroundings.
The Fast and the Furriest
Once Village’s story has been finished, points earned from completing certain objectives in the campaign can be spent to obtain infinite-ammo weapons for subsequent playthroughs, various pieces of concept art, and more – but for me, the most valuable bonus to unlock is fortunately also the cheapest; the Mercenaries mode. This time-attack arcade mode (which debuted in Resident Evil 3) returns with a few new gameplay tweaks and serves up some high-speed survival-horror shooting against waves of wolfmen that’s only a few distorted guitar riffs away from actually passing as a Doom arena.
Resident Evil Village Review
Mercenaries consists of a multi-part gauntlet run through four stages taken from Village’s campaign. Simply surviving isn’t too taxing, but identifying the optimal path to the level goal and keeping your kill streak combo going is paramount in order to achieve some fairly challenging high-score goals. An extra layer of strategy has been included this time around in the form of special ability orbs, which allow you to activate perks such as more high-powered headshots, boosted movement speed, or my favourite, exploding enemy corpses to clear closely grouped enemy clusters with fewer shots. These abilities can be stacked, and it’s fun to experiment with them to find out which work best with your playstyle and weapon preferences.
It’s admittedly slightly annoying that I have to rebind the shortcuts to my favourite weapons at the start of every run, and the fact that you need an at least an A rating on each stage before you unlock the next makes for a slightly inflexible first impression, but otherwise I’m finding this revival of Resident Evil’s long-dormant Mercenaries mode to be an addictive bonus that I’ve already spent several hours with as I continue to chase those elusive S and SS rankings and their resulting special weapon unlocks.