Review: Resident Evil Village (PS5)

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Resident Evil Village is more than just a bold new gothic horror-influenced direction for the series; it’s a reflection on horror as a whole.

Resident Evil has traversed a few different horror subgenres over its years. What started as a B-movie survival horror turned into high-energy, science fiction-infused action horror, before Resident Evil 7 turned things into a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-inspired slasher. We’ve fought and run from zombies, human experiments gone wrong, murderers, nosferatu, scheming masterminds, serial killers, and plenty of other monsters besides.

With Resident Evil Village, Capcom turns its attention to European folklore and Gothic literature. A Brothers Grimm-esque fairy tale opening about a child lost in the woods paves the way for a story of werewolves and vampires, witches and occult rituals, all set against the backdrop of a quaint, almost medieval little village in the shadow of the impressive, ominous Castle Dimitrescu. Three years after surviving the Baker House ordeal in Resident Evil VII, Ethan Winters can’t catch a break—the kidnapping of his daughter sends him head-first into this new nightmare.

But Village is more than just Resident Evil‘s take on a timeless, always captivating school of horror that it’s mostly ignored until now. It’s also a reflection on horror narrative itself, and all the many subgenres, traditions, influences, and philosophies that drive it. That European fairy tale horror premise, enchanting as it is, is just a starting point; Resident Evil Village is a horror anthology, a journey through the history of the genre—far from exhaustive, but fascinating in how it navigates the many different threads in the wildly varied tapestry of what we call “horror”.

It’s survival horror, like the Resident Evils of old: where weapons are a way to protect yourself, but scarce resources and ammo mean killing everything that crosses your path is rarely the goal (or even a good idea). It’s stalker horror, where even the biggest, baddest guns you can find are useless, and the only option you have is to run and hide. It’s psychological horror, where immediate danger is rare but always a possibility, and the threat of the unknown is a source of constant dread. It’s pumped-up action horror, with big guns and bigger explosions, hordes of monsters and the mad scramble to keep moving and keep from getting overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

It’s gothic horror, with its grand, eerie castle, its fascination with vampires and werewolves, and its juxtaposition of elegance and opulence with morbidity and death. It’s body horror in the vein of The Island of Dr Moreau, in its hideous biological experiments and transfigurations of human form into something monstrous. It’s psychological horror—this time in the sense of narrative rather than game design, though they’re obviously closely linked—in the way it makes you question what’s real and turns its protagonist’s own mind against him. It’s industrial horror, with claustrophobic factory floors, a cacophony of gears and grinding machinery, and hybrid man-machine abominations conjure images of a Tetsuo: The Iron Man.

This mashup of so many different influences works because of Resident Evil Village‘s anthology-like structure. It’s all of the above, but not all at once; rather, each different chapter takes you through a different horror theme, with set design, enemies, and game systems to match. When you’re exploring Castle Dimitrescu, Village is a gothic survival horror with a dash of stalker as you hide from Lady Dimitrescu, with the elaborate sprawl of a huge castle as the perfect place to play hide and seek with everyone’s favourite Tall Vampire Lady.

But she’s just one of a handful of villains in Village, and as you turn your attention to the others, the tone of the game shifts to match: a frenetic action game more akin to Resident Evil 6 or even Doom as you fight your way into the werewolves’ den; or a strained battle of resource attrition as you make your way through the old factory patrolled by half-human, half-machine experiments in order to deal with the mad engineer who oversees it; or—my personal favourite—an especially unsettling adventure game as you explore a seemingly abandoned old mansion with plenty of terrifying secrets.

As much as each chapter changes things up, it’s a seamless transition. The core of Resident Evil Village is a constant: part first-person shooter, part exploration, part puzzle-driven adventure game. All that changes is how much each part gets emphasised, and how that plays into the level design of the place in question—it’s not the deliberately abrupt genre change ups of a Yoko Taro game, but a fluid shift in focus and perspective. That Village can traverse such a wide array of horror styles so elegantly, and while never feeling bloated or like its trying to do too much, is impressive.

More than that, it means you can never really get too comfortable, at least your first time through. Even the best horror games eventually start seeing diminishing returns as players get familiar with the ebbs and flows of its game loop. But that’s rarely an issue for Village because as soon as something starts to get too familiar or your approach to the game gets too reliable, it changes up. One section will train you scavenge for all the ammo you can hoard—and to find safety and comfort in knowing you’ve got the firepower to deal with whatever comes your way—before funnelling you into a subsequent chapter where guns are useless. Maintaining a sense of tension and dread is one of the hardest things for a horror game to do well, but Village‘s horror anthology lets it regularly create comfort zones just so it can push you out of them.

That said, pacing suffers a little from Village‘s scope, especially towards the end of the game. As a collection of short stories tied together by the common thread of Ethan and his unlucky place at the centre of all of them, Village works wonders. But when its forced to tie everything together, and then tie it into the frankly unwieldy lore of Resident Evil as a franchise, it falters. As much as it stands apart, Village is still Resident Evil 8, still a direct sequel to 7, and still part of the Resident Evil universe and all the baggage that comes with that. That’s not an inherently bad thing, but it does mean some of Village‘s more unique qualities fall away towards the end, and how much you get out of its shocking late-game revelations will depend largely on how much you care about Resident Evil lore as a whole.

But its ties to Resident Evil‘s roots are a good thing, too: it’s a game that, once the story-centric first playthrough is out of the way, you can enjoy trying to speedrun and play around with fun unlockables in the way that Resident Evil does so well. It’s not an arcade game, but you can sort of play it like one, and that’s where a lot of the fun of this series lies. There are plenty of optional challenges to complete, things to unlock, and ways to shave time of your quickest run. There’s also the pure adrenaline of Mercenaries mode when you want to just murder hordes of monsters en masse.

It also looks truly incredible, especially with the power of PlayStation 5 behind it. It’s lifelike and detailed and runs as smoothly as you’d expect, but more than just raw graphical power, it uses that to really build the atmosphere, to create a world that’s convincing in its horror and also beautiful in its way. I can’t think of the last time I pulled up photo mode so frequently just to snap moments of scenery—not necessarily stunning picturesque views, but just the details and composition of a world created to enshroud you.

A Resident Evil that moves away from zombies in favour of gothic horror and European folklore was always going to be something unique and impressive, and Village certainly delivers. But it’s so much more than that, too; not just a new take on Resident Evil, but a reflection on the series’ genre-defining history. And with its anthology-like structure that so effortlessly traverses so many different horror subgenres and styles of storytelling, it goes one further: it’s a reflection on horror itself. In that, Resident Evil Village is magnificent.

Score: 4.5 stars

Title: Resident Evil Village
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom

Platforms: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC (Steam)
Release date: 14 April 2021

A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.


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About Author

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.