Resident Evil Village is the latest title in the Resident Evil franchise and a direct continuation of the events that transpired in Resident Evil 7. It takes people to an unspecified location in rural Europe, with new enemies drawing clear inspiration from various European myths. While it seems to invoke more fantastical elements, a more sinister plot unfolds to reveal and expand upon narratives that have remained essential to the series. However, while Resident Evil Village starts off incredibly strong, it begins to quickly lose its luster.
Resident Evil Village is a game that if I think about it for too long, my opinion begins to sour. It is by no stretch of the imagination a bad game, but it isn’t a particularly great one either. It expands on the Resident Evil formula in roughly the same ways as Resident Evil 7 did. It brings back things like inventory management and engaging with a shop vendor to create some variety or potentially placate fans that felt alienated by the sudden shift in the franchise. However, it feels more or less like a response to what AAA horror narratives have pivoted towards. It is less something wholly “Resident Evil” and like an amalgamation of trends from the mid to late 2000s of horror gaming. It feels self-referential in a way that almost feels gratuitous without treading any new ground.
There isn’t anything about Resident Evil Village that feels particularly brave or groundbreaking when compared to its predecessors. It pulls on threads of nostalgia to create a generally good experience for players who are more than familiar with gameplay mechanics or lore from previous titles in the franchise. I will admit that it definitely drew me in the first time around, and it wasn’t just the meticulously crafted environments in Castle Dimitrescu that had me sucked in. There was something familiar in the way that Resident Evil Village felt that extended beyond the general atmosphere these areas provided, and it was more than just the return of the attache case that had me invested in what the first four or so hours of the game had to offer.
The notes scattered through the dungeons and libraries in Castle Dimitrescu felt reminiscent of various files that I had acquired in previous Resident Evil games that pre-dated even Resident Evil 5. Nothing was truly elaborated on in any great deal, and there were suggestions of the horrible experiments that bore Dimitrescu’s daughters that kept my mind racing. It felt comparable to the files in Resident Evil Remake specifically that concerned Lisa Trevor. This was the kind of fear I was missing, and Resident Evil Village truly felt like a return to that—less of a show and tell affair like Resident Evil 7 had been. However as the game went on, I found myself less interested in what the narrative had to offer, though there were pockets of information that occasionally pulled me back in. These were mostly plot threads around the Four Lords and how they came to be, which ultimately ties into the core narrative of Resident Evil Village.
Family takes centerstage in Resident Evil Village, to both its benefit and detriment. Motivations are watered down for both Ethan Winters and Mother Miranda to some extent. Ethan is finally given some kind of motivation and identity, but it doesn’t extend beyond him being a father—which feels symptomatic of the state of video games and a response to recent trends and the “dadification” of games. Ethan’s voice actor carries the story with his performance, huffing and panting, with desperation thick in his voice. However, his motivation is singular and he lacks any real characterization outside of being a dad. He remains somewhat flat, which is an issue that largely persists from Resident Evil 7.
Everyone is arguably more interesting than Ethan, either due to their ties to Mother Miranda and the titular village or their connection to previous games. And Mother Miranda suffers from the same lack of characterization and charisma as Ethan. While the game offers some fairly weak commentary on the relationships forged between parents and their children—be it by blood or by choice—and how toxicity can affect said relationship, it just doesn’t hit in the same way as the series’ previous overarching story of destroying the fragmented remains of a corporation founded by a eugenicist that continues to exist because of global capitalism. The game does, unfortunately, veer into ableism in relation to a few of the characters. While horror is a genre that is capable of exploring these avenues and topics, it isn’t done particularly well in Resident Evil Village.
Chris Redfield appears in the story, though the character reads less like any version anyone familiar with the series has seen previously. It was a bit jarring to see him interact with Ethan in the way that he does, but mostly because coming off of Resident Evil 3 Remake, it is extremely clear that he now shares a voice actor with Carlos. There is barely any distinction between these performances, so it’s hard to not draw the connection. Either way, Chris’ return brings up long buried plot threads from Resident Evil 5 that now show a potential to finally be elaborated on some ten years later.
And in this way it is extremely hard to talk about Resident Evil Village without talking about almost every game that has come before it. It’s full to the brim with Easter Eggs harkening back to Resident Evil 4 and digs up old plot threads that were otherwise left forgotten or dangling for upwards of a decade. It’s simultaneously full of fanservice, but also tries to differentiate itself just enough to expand on the mold-based virus from Resident Evil 7. But it doesn’t do enough in either direction to be truly satisfying. You have your run of the mill boss fights where you fight impossibly huge B.O.W.s (or Bio-Organic Weapons), there are visual references to the Tyrants from Resident Evil Remake and Resident Evil 0 in some enemy designs or areas where you traverse elaborately designed mansions that feel as though they could be the centerpieces of their very own game. Yet at the same time, there isn’t enough of it to feel satisfying. Either it deviates too much or doesn’t differentiate itself enough to find a nice, even middle ground.
And all of this self-referential design bleeds into the environmental and level design of Resident Evil Village. It has all of the strengths and weaknesses of Resident Evil 4, in particular with a phenomenal start that eventually leads into forced encounters in the late game that require you to trudge through uninteresting areas, wasting ammo on enemies that feature irritating gimmicks. Specifically one area of the game is extremely guilty of this, with some enemies requiring explosives to weaken to then hit their most vulnerable spots. I did not attempt to use the knife on these enemies, as even being within striking range was extremely punishing on anything above Standard difficulty. The shotgun worked effectively enough, but I would be happy to never see these enemies again as it requires less finesse to take them down and more brute force that requires the player to invest in specific items. You can, of course, go without using the grenade launcher or powering up your weapons for the most part, but it isn’t advised beyond the Standard difficulty as it just becomes an extremely frustrating affair. Another issue I found with the pacing was some areas being extremely short, more than likely to compensate for the heavy backend of the game. I completed my first playthrough in roughly seven hours, but it felt much longer than that.
The arsenal in Resident Evil Village, at least during an initial playthrough, is limited but functions well enough for the most part. You get a small selection of a few handguns, shotguns, and a singular rifle that does open up once you beat the game. They mostly feel good to use, with some animations carrying a satisfying sort of weight. You can almost feel the shot of every round fired from your pistol, and the recoil from using the sniper rifle is impossible to miss—unless you have certain attachments. Shotguns don’t carry the same “umph,” but headshots are satisfying nonetheless. Unfortunately, if you upgrade your reload speed too quickly with some weapons, reload animations specifically begin to look unnatural. Other weapons can only be redeemed through points collected either playing the main scenario and completing challenges.
The Mercenaris makes a return in Resident Evil Village as well, which adds bit of extra content to the game. This minigame has been something of a staple throughout the Resident Evil series, having largely been a single-player affair until Resident Evil 5. Players are tasked with killing a set amount of enemies before a timer runs out to try and reach the highest rank possible, which is an SSS in Resident Evil Village. However, this iteration of The Mercenaries adds some new gimmicks and tricks. Players can obtain passive skills by breaking blue orbs found on the map to enhance their abilities and focus on specific builds to better obtain points based on their individual playstyles. Additionally, each stage in The Mercenaries is now anywhere from three to two levels long, as opposed to just being a single level with upwards of one hundred enemies for players to chain together kills. It was easy to slip into this new style of gameplay, and I began to enjoy it once I memorized maps and understood which weapons to prioritize and how to spend my money during the brief intermissions between stages.
Regarding accessibility features, Resident Evil Village’s are fairly stock and standard. Players have access to subtitles and an aim assist feature, which continues to be a great addition to the series. However, if you do not adjust your brightness properly you will hardly be able to see anything in the game. This needs to be done almost perfectly or you’ll risk environments being too dark or being completely washed out. I fiddled with this one or two times throughout my playthrough, as in the beginning it was too dark to actually see anything and on a second playthrough I then noticed I had missed a few tension-building moments as a result.
Additionally, Resident Evil Village played surprisingly well on a base PlayStation 4. I say base, because I was playing on the first line of PlayStation 4 models to be released. Loading times were sometimes a bit long, lasting upwards of maybe twenty-five to thirty seconds depending on the area I was in. Another issue was the game sometimes pausing outright to load if I was running through Castle Dimitrescu too quickly. This happened a few times on the stairs in the main hall. Other than that, I didn’t have any other issues regarding loading times with the game. Visually, it was fairly impressive that the developers were able to retain the general atmosphere of the game without any real issue or glitches. If you were worried about how Village would hold up on the PlayStation 4, it’s entirely playable and I would suggest giving it a purchase if you don’t have a PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, or a PC capable of running the game.
Walking away from Resident Evil Village leaves me with mixed feelings. It wasn’t a game that I immediately disliked, and I can’t say that I didn’t have a lot of fun playing it. But a second playthrough made me more aware of pacing issues, and on harder difficulties the general spike that otherwise feels somewhat artificial. It feels more like a proper continuation of the series than Resident Evil 7 ever did, but at the same time it manages to still feel somewhat lackluster. Either way, it makes for a decent horror game, and if anything it’ll captivate players the first time around.
Resident Evil Village will be available for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PC, and Google Stadia worldwide on May 7, 2021.