I feel like I want to give Resident Evil Village a running commentary of scores, such is the range and variety of its sections: 8, 9 (...Jesus, maybe a 10?), 8, 7, 6… There's so much going on but it chops and changes from beat to beat in such a way you can almost see the line between sections. Most noticeably it feels like there's a real difference between the first and second half. The opening is strong, clever, and fun - full of atmosphere and intrigue as you explore (and features a part that's probably one of the best stand-alone horror levels of the year). While the latter half veers into 'okay' territory, with some combat slogs, a boss fight that's a bit of a stretch even by Resident Evil standards and, while it's still good, it lacks the same spark and craft as the beginning.
New in town
Release date:May 7, 2021
Platform(s): PS5, PC, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One
To be clear, I enjoyed Resident Evil Village, as when it's great it's on fire. Characters are entertaining, there are some lovely 'holy shit what?' twists and turns, while exploring and unlocking the titular village is satisfying. But it does feel like a mishmash of directions. Early rumors suggested this started life as Resident Evil Revelations 3, before being reworked and upgraded to a Resident Evil 7 sequel, and having finished it I can believe that. The change between the first and second halves feels like a gradual drift from the sinister tone of the last game, to Revelations' louder, fun action movie vibe. That said I'm going to have to try to explain as much as I can without spoiling anything, because Capcom has impressively managed to keep about 90% of the game secret and only shown off the first maybe three or four hours. Almost everything I could mention that isn't Vampire Mommy or a werewolf will be a surprise I don't want to ruin.
It opens strong as you explore the village via a dark forest full of things just out of sight. Something terrible has happened, with body parts and blood scattered like gory narrative confetti. This 'what the hell is going on?' stage is great, as the world does most of the talking and it's a beautiful place to explore. Even the most mundane bits of table crap and floor detritus in the village are incredibly crafted - I spent far too long just looking at clutter. 'Monsters? Yeah, there's a bunch out there somewhere but just look at this dirty table with a rusty pot on it.' The level of detail is never less than impressive - Castle Dimitrescu alternates between the fading finery of its halls, and crumbling dank cellars and dungeons. I don't think I passed a single shelf in the game without looking it over.
It's these opening sections that feel the most well crafted and balanced. The monsters in the castle besides Dimitrescu and her daughters are the ghoulish female Moroaică (Dimitrescu eats men and enslaves women apparently). They're creepy, lumbering, and slow - the threat mainly coming from your own mistakes. The ability to guard against attacks and follow up with a kick to push back enemies adds an interesting dimension to combat and means it's not just about deciding between shooting and backing off. The Lady of the house and her children, when they appear, are more of a set piece adding brief, intense, structured encounters to vary the mix.
Like the best Resident Evil moments the castle is a sort of danger-filled puzzle box you crisscross and backtrack through to open up new areas and progress further. For most of the game this is true of the village itself too. As well as the story push to new places, there are plenty of secrets and extras to find off the prescribed path as you expand the map. I spent a good deal of time exploring and retreading roads with new keys and tools, and was usually surprised with additional monsters, resources, cash, or crafting materials. Resident Evil games are always about backtracking to open up locked areas, but this is the first time it's almost dabbled with an open-world feel. It's not strictly free-roaming but the village is a constantly expanding hub you return to.
Without spoiling anything, there are several areas you have to visit to progress the story, and each is a finite, self-contained section in its own right. Castle Dimitrescu, and a location that comes after, are amazing, incredible high points - clearly lavished with attention and love that shines through as you play. The second place you visit is amazing, and hands down one of the best horror moments I've played in a long time. After this, however, things get a little more perfunctory. The third area is fine, although it's a bit light on any real depth and oddly paced so that it feels like it's over fast and skipped bits without telling you. The fourth area is good, and features one of the more interesting characters, but it gets a little monotonous with its 'thing'. There's more after that, obviously, but I'm not going to say anything.
The constant shifting of styles and ideas, while inconsistent, works well, and creates constant excitement about what's coming, even if it doesn't always hit the high notes reached elsewhere. The pacing does feel inconsistent though - depending on how much you explore between sections, key beats can feel weirdly short, or artificially extended. It's worth noting that it isn't the longest game however you play - even scouring for secrets, collectibles and completing just about everything on the map, my save only clocked in at 13 hours. I know someone else that took a more direct story route and completed it in six.
Oddly, for a series known for its puzzles, it's the one area where the quality is consistently… low. Bar one brilliant set piece sequence most of the challenges feel phoned in - there's a treasure map that leads you to an obvious, completely unhidden locked gate you previously passed during a scripted sequence, while one puzzle literally has the solution next to it; not some enigmatic hint you have to decrypt, just the answer, next to the buttons you need to press. Most of what passes for puzzles boils down to finding something later you then take back to somewhere you were earlier.
It's also a shame (for me at least) that this is one of the 'not a horror game' Resident Evils. There are scares and some lovely creepy bits, especially at the start, but Resident Evil Village is mostly a big shooty action game. After Resident Evil 7's creepy tension, Village's extended gun battles with crowds of werewolves feel brash and occasionally fumbling. Less is more works best: a few Lycans becomes an interesting and tactical tussle to survive - a massive pack of them is a pain. Later in the game, you'll end up fighting waves of Lycans. It's meant to be escalating a midpoint towards a sense of climax, but the incessant barrage is more wearing than anything else. The Resident Evil combat model has always been about feeling weak in the face of danger, so throwing you in what amounts to a furry Call of Duty section doesn't play to its strengths.
There are also a few boss fights that don't feel like they were designed for first-person - there's a lot of running out the way of big telegraphed attacks in large open spaces where you're battling your limited movement more than the monster. Sprint is basically a light jog and doesn't have the zip to really get you clear of danger. Plus trying to avoid things means turning away from the threat, guesstimating when you're safe and then whipping the camera around to see what's going on. For one key battle in particular I spent most of my time with my back to an enemy because of the timing required to get clear of a near insta-kill attack.
Despite some of the issues I've mentioned I enjoyed Resident Evil Village, I'm on a second playthrough already and it's still good. If I sound like I'm down on it in a few places it's only because the excellence of some parts only highlights some of the more ordinary moments. The first half is great, the characters are interesting throughout, and exploring and unraveling the location never gets old. It's only in the latter half where things start to alternate between some good bits, some fumbles, and at least one moment of 'oh my God, what?!' shark-jumping excess that wouldn't look out of place in a Fast and Furious trailer... It feels like a fun but flawed mix between the camp excess of older games, and the more modern feel of the last installment.
One thought that kept popping into my head while I was playing was just remembering how good Resident Evil 7 was. I recently completed another playthrough in preparation for this (along with some Revelations and Veronica, just because) and number 7's reverse home invasion slasher terror is still up there as one of the greatest horror games of all time. Resident Evil Village is an enjoyable, occasionally silly, monster hunt that's entertaining but almost completely resets all the incredible work Resident Evil 7 did to reinvent the series.
Reviewed on PS5 with code provided by the publisher.