In a word, the Resident Evil series is turbulent. Although it began as a horror-driven franchise, the games took a sharp turn towards action beginning with the fondly remembered Resident Evil 4. However, while RE4’s success may have been good for the franchise at the time, no one could predict the ripple effect it would have on its future.
The mainline Resident Evil games that followed tried to replicate RE4’s action-oriented gameplay, but with limited success. RE5 and RE6 pale in comparison not because they aren’t scary, rather, they just aren’t fun. Following the series’ return to horror in RE7, it seemed like Capcom had given up hope on trying to make another game like RE4. Given the success of RE7 and RE2’s remake, perhaps it was for the best; maybe RE4 was an anomaly all along.
While last year’s underwhelming RE3 might’ve supported that hypothesis, this year’s entry, Resident Evil Village, defiantly rejects it. Village strikes a nice balance between heart-pounding horror and high-octane action, but above all else, it’s simply a great time, and it might be the best the series has been since Resident Evil 4.
What Is It?
A little over three years after escaping the Baker family in Resident Evil 7, Ethan Winters and his wife, Mia, have settled down and started a family in Europe, far away from the horrors they witnessed in Louisiana. However, wherever Ethan Winters goes, trouble seems to follow. During a quiet night in, long-time series protagonist, Chris Redfield, busts in, kills Mia, and kidnaps Ethan’s daughter, Rose. Ethan’s quest to get his daughter back and some clarity behind his spouse’s sudden death takes him to a village filled with all manner of werewolves, monsters, and one nine-foot-tall vampire woman with whom the internet is smitten.
Why Should I Care?
Village is all about action, and one of its greatest strengths is its combat. Oddly enough, this area is generally one of the series’ shortcomings. Prior games had slower enemies that provided players ample amounts of time to line up headshots, leg-shots, and the like. If you had to use a bullet, you wanted to make sure it was used as efficiently as possible, and the game was more than happy to accommodate you.
But in Village, enemies are a hell-of-a-lot faster than before. Couple that with the limited field of view compared to other games thanks to Village’s first-person camera, and it’s significantly harder to play marksman. As a fan of the series, I was taken aback at how fast this game is; I easily spent more time running around during combat encounters than any Resident Evil game before (except maybe RE4). During combat, I mostly only ever stopped moving to pull a quick 180-degree turn, pop off a few shots, and then start the cycle anew by taking off in another direction.
The quickened pace of combat makes it more intense than in prior games, and that feeling is accentuated by how good it feels to fire weapons in Village. On the PS5, the DualSense’s adaptive triggers offer varying levels of resistance based on the weapon fired. This little touch gives every weapon, even the dinky little pistol Ethan finds early in the game, the feeling of being powerful, which in turn, made me feel empowered even when I wasn’t.
And that feeling of apparent power does eventually translate into real power, but it’s not exactly fed to you on a silver platter. Rather, it’s purchased, courtesy of the Duke, Village’s resident merchant from who players can buy weapons, items, and upgrades. I was able to procure upgrades at a fairly consistent rate, allowing for a pretty constant sense of progression throughout the game. If you ever acquire a valuable treasure or a large amount of Lei (Village’s in-game currency), there’s a solid chance one of the Duke’s shops are nearby, so you never have to go out of your way to see him, either.
Resident Evil is only ever as good as its level design, and fortunately, most of Village’s eponymous setting is superb. The village boasts a wide variety of areas that all fulfill different purposes along Ethan’s journey. Locales like Castle Dimitrescu have a layout reminiscent of the Spencer Manor or the police station from RE1 and RE2, respectively, allowing for some nostalgic thrills. Meanwhile, the home of Donna Beneviento allows the game to fully flex its horror muscles by hosting one of the entire franchise’s most horrifying setpieces. Village is also paced pretty well; I never felt like I was spending more time than was necessary in a single area until the very end.
For all that it does right, Village can’t quite escape the series’ trend of having a weak late game. Fortunately, while some Resident Evil games fall apart as soon as halfway through the game, Village stays fairly strong up until its final area, which is a harshly linear, visually uninteresting conclusion to the game. In spite of this, I can’t deny how enjoyable the journey itself was, and upon rolling credits, I almost immediately started a new game to relive it.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
While last year’s Resident Evil 3 was a little too short for its own good, Village feels like the perfect length for a Resident Evil game. I explored roughly three-quarters of the map while searching for treasures, weapons, and other secrets, and spent a total of about 10 hours on my first run. Like other games in the series, loading a completed save file starts a new game, allowing you to start over with all of the weapons, upgrades, and treasures you’ve collected before.
The game is clearly designed for multiple playthroughs. Circling back to what I said before about the game making you feel powerful, being able to go into the village while armed to the teeth and ready to rumble turns every subsequent playthrough of Resident Evil Village into an incredible power trip. Being able to mow your way through enemies that proved frustrating the first time through is a simply gratifying experience.
The game also marks the return of the Mercenaries minigame, which tasks players with eliminating a set amount of enemies within a time limit. Not only does it further add value to an already complete package, but it’s also a good way for players who don’t feel like dealing with puzzles, setpieces, and the like to satisfy their craving for combat by doing nothing more than just popping a few heads.
After a few rough goes at it, Capcom has finally recaptured the magic of RE4 with Resident Evil Village. In some respects, it even feels like a spiritual successor to the commonly revered title. It’s certainly the most fun I’ve had playing a game this year, and not only am I looking forward to exhausting this game of all of the content it offers, I also can’t wait to see how Capcom follows up Resident Evil Village, which is the best the series has been in a very long time.