Resident Evil Village dials back horror, makes room for action

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

Resident Evil Village has massive shoes to fill. Its predecessor, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (RE7), was a return to form of epic proportions, rescuing the Resident Evil franchise from its action-centric rut by dialing up the horror and reviving the original games’ roots.

A direct sequel to RE7, Village again follows Ethan Winters, who, after the events of the previous game, has settled down in rural Europe with his wife Mia and newborn daughter Rosemary. Ethan’s peace is shattered when former series protagonist Chris Redfield suddenly raids the home, executing Mia and kidnapping Rose. What follows is a descent into madness as Ethan sets out to save his daughter, arriving at the titular mysterious, blood-soaked village.

Ethan soon finds that the village is under siege by mutant creatures — though while most previous Resident Evil games featured zombie antagonists, Village changes gears. Village sees Ethan fight werewolves, vampires and indescribably grotesque fish-monsters. It’s a new theme that feels enough like Resident Evil while successfully developing its own personality.

Though Village is not nearly as unrelentingly scary as RE7 — a deliberate decision by developer Capcom, which balanced the game according to feedback that RE7 was “too scary to play” — Village triumphantly proves that RE7 was more than an anomaly. 

Many of RE7’s survival horror sensibilities do filter through to the sequel — Village shares the immersive first person perspective, imbuing it with just as rich and chilling an atmosphere. Gameplay-wise, however, Village empowers players almost to a fault. Ammo scarcity, previously a staple of the series, barely factors into Village and the campaign continually ratchets up the intensity with each successive environment by increasingly emphasizing combat, which dissipates the fear. 

The first quarter of Village, which pits Ethan against Lady Dimitrescu, a 9-foot-tall vampire countess who rules an eerie, wonderfully designed castle that evokes classic gothic horror, is the game’s most frightening — and best – segment. Though the remainder is far more action-oriented, Capcom manages to retain the tension from the excellent first act by polishing its gunplay. Village undoubtedly sports the Resident Evil series’ most fluid and satisfying combat to date, and the campaign has no shortage of new and exciting weapons for players to experiment with, or horrifying foes to try them out on.

In addition to the campaign, Village features the return of Mercenaries mode, absent from RE7, which doubles down on combat, repurposing story environments into arcade-esque challenges. In this mode, the higher players score, the better weapons and bonuses they unlock.

Resident Evil games have always played with the balance between horror and action — and in its 25-year run, the series has not shied away from experimentation.

The earliest Resident Evil games, with their labyrinthine environments and fixed camera angles, placed greater emphasis on horror — players start out overwhelmed and underpowered, surrounded by abject terrors that at first seem undefeatable. As players survive one trial and tribulation after another, however, they slowly empower themselves, until they can finally answer those terrors with a bazooka blast to the face.

Resident Evil 4 (RE4), however, marked a massive departure. Instead of fixed camera angles, RE4 upped the pace by using a third-person over-the-shoulder camera and brought combat to the forefront of gameplay. Village is a clear send-up of RE4, eschewing RE7’s claustrophobia for RE4’s sprawling openness and striking a similar balance between the horror and action elements. Village sorely misses RE4’s cheesy personality, though — Ethan, first introduced in RE7, continues to be a charisma singularity, especially in contrast to RE4’s charming, quippy Leon S. Kennedy.

In itself, RE4 was a fantastic action-horror game. But, it also started the franchise down a path which led to the over-the-top, Michael Bay-esque, incredibly unscary Resident Evil 6 — the very reason RE7’s return to form was necessary in the first place. Though Village doesn’t tip the balance too far, it begs the question, “where do we go from here?”

Such dark forebodings aside, however, Resident Evil Village holds up as a worthy successor to one of the greatest horror games ever made — even if it works better as a tribute to the more action-oriented RE4.

This review is based on the PC version of Resident Evil Village.

Contact Neil Haeems at [email protected].