Resident Evil Village has somehow managed to feel like a whole new style of game to the Resident Evil series, whilst also feeling very familiar. From its mostly action-orientated gameplay, a change from the classic inventory system, and the introduction of vampire and werewolf enemies – Capcom certainly can’t be accused of throwing out the same game every year. But the big question is: are these differences a benefit to the series or is it heading down a path so unrecognisable that it is no longer as enjoyable for long-term Resident Evil fans?
With the exception of the Resident Evil 3 remake, Capcom has been on a high with the Resident Evil franchise as of late. From successfully experimenting with modernising the series in Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, to bringing back to life the old classics such as the Resident Evil remaster and the masterful Resident Evil 2 remake, they’ve managed to hit the nail almost every time. After the series began to (drastically) go downhill at Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6, it really needed something special if it was going to survive. Resident Evil 7 was exactly that fresh take that the series needed. It introduced Ethan Winters as a brand new protagonist, and found new ways to use the Umbrella Corporation’s manmade viruses and create new and more exciting enemies. On top of this, it seemingly took inspiration from critically-acclaimed first-person horror experiences such as P.T. and Alien Isolation, opting to swap out the over-the-shoulder style the series had adopted since Resident Evil 4. The result was a highly enjoyable game that instantaneously breathed new life into the series, opening up the opportunity for further sequels and drastically appreciated remakes of the much-loved classics.
Three years after the events of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Ethan and Mia Winters are now living happily (mostly) with their newborn daughter, Rosemary. That is until Chris Redfield rolls up to their house, shoots Mia in the face and kidnaps Ethan and Rosemary. The vehicle transporting Ethan to wherever Chris wanted to take him is attacked, leaving Ethan to head into the mysterious medieval village where Rosemary is being held by their attackers. It is here that he discovers its inhabitants are turning into wolf-like creatures, and they are ruled over by four lords who each hold what Ethan needs to get Rosemary back from the menacing Mother Miranda. There are so many questions the player will have when starting Resident Evil Village. Why is Chris murdering people’s wives and stealing their babies? Where do vampires and werewolves come into a series about zombies? How are Umbrella involved? And most of all, how on Earth is Ethan so unlucky?
The opening is probably the most vital aspect of any game. It introduces you to the story, should teach you the basic controls, and your first impression could even impact whether you continue playing or return the game to the store. Resident Evil Village has an awful opening. In fact, it was so bad that I may have put it down and returned it had I not needed to review it. The introduction is rushed; upon arriving at the Village, we’re given roughly ten minutes of brief exploration before being overwhelmed by werewolves with only a handful of bullets to spare. This was the most frustrating start to a game since I tried to play Dark Souls for the first time with a keyboard and mouse whilst the tutorial was giving me directions for Xbox controller buttons. You’re given very little direction, just ‘survive the attack’, and although you’re given the opportunity to pick up more bullets, they’re almost useless due to the sheer number of enemies upon you. In fact, you don’t come across this many werewolves at once again until the very late stages of the game. In this sequence, you’re supposed to wander around for a while, walk into the mini boss, and then walk to a specific spot on the map to trigger a cut scene. This took me half an hour, wondering what I was missing and how on Earth I was supposed to take on a mini boss and hoarde of werewolves at once. Plus, the cutscene wouldn’t trigger the first few times. I must have had at least ten deaths until the game finally progressed itself.
But once you get past this bit and enter Castle Dimistrescu, the atmosphere instantly improves. Here, we’re introduced to the group behind Rose's kidnapping after she was kidnapped by Chris. The mysterious Mother Miranda is seemingly in charge of the group who are the four lords of the village. Lady Dimitrescu is the aristocrat tall vampire lady who lives in Castle Dimistrescu with her three daughters. Donna Beneviento communicates through her creepy puppet, Angie. Salvatore Moreau is a hideously deformed man who can transform into a giant fish. And Karl Heisenberg is the most powerful out of the four, he can manipulate magnetic fields (control metal) and governs his own army of metal-infused minions back at his factory.
Ethan escapes from this meeting and ends up in Castle Dimitrescu, where the game really should have opened in my opinion. This location holds very much a Resident Evil 4 vibe and it’s where the game really kicks off. I loved every bit of this section, navigating my way through the castle as I reluctantly picked off Lady Dimitrescu’s incredibly beautiful daughters one-by-one whilst "avoiding" her chase. Much like Mr X, Lady Dimitrescu is a villain who wanders around the location, consistently searching for you (though not as persistently as Mr X) and is indestructible to Ethan's attacks (if you even want to attack her). As you learn the various routes and passages throughout the castle, you discover all the secrets behind it. From the undead serving women, to the corpse experiments which created Lady Dimitrescu’s daughters, Castle Dimitrescu is my personal favourite section of the game which was just over far too quickly. Even the story behind her lost lipstick brought personality to the location, if you were nosy enough to root through her bathroom drawers. Once you're done being chased after by sexy vampire women, you’re back in the Village where the rest of the game is opened up. Ethan is told he must challenge the other three Lords to get to Mother Miranda and reclaim Rose.
For me, this is where Resident Evil Village dropped below the rating I would have given Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. For one, Capcom told Axios Gaming that, based on player feedback for Resident Evil 7, they had turned down the scariness of Resident Evil Village to make it more action-based. Capcom seems to have amnesia as I specifically remember the series going down this path for Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6, the result was a ridiculous mess in both parts and the need for a revamp of the series to get people playing it again. So far, this has worked out well with the Resident Evil 2 remake and Resident Evil 7 being huge successes BECAUSE of how scary they were. Resident Evil 2 brought fear and tension back to the over-the-shoulder perspective after most horror games have been adopting a more personal, first-person view to generate a more personalised fear. Resident Evil 7 reminisced the cancelled P.T. game by bringing the series back to a single building location and introducing a type of virus we hadn't seen before with the black mould which created new and exciting creatures such as Marguerite Baker, who could control insects and become a disgusting spider-like creature herself. So why, pray tell us Capcom, are you once again going for the action-orientated approach when intense survival horror is primarily where the franchise thrives? The Resident Evil 3 remake tried the action route, and failed. Hopefully this will be a lesson to bring the next instalment back to basics.
Of course, Resident Evil Village is fun to play. The boss fights are great, and the enemies are much more diverse after one of the major criticisms of Resident Evil 7 was that there was simply not enough enemy variants. Now we have five bosses, several mini boss fights, and many different types of creatures such as werewolves and undead servants. Capcom have certainly shown they're taking player feedback into consideration. The open location is great to travel around with plenty of unique settings to keep it interesting. However, I did find the map very confusing to follow though that may have just been me. As well as the Village, we also have Castle Dimitrescu, the mill, the factory, and a creepy doll mansion. The game as a whole is chock full of loot to come back later and unlock, making it worth backtracking to previous areas just to see if you can open it now. You can pick up valuables to later sell to the mysterious Duke character who acts as the merchant in the game and is always where you need him. On top of this, Resident Evil Village brings back the puzzles and locked doors that the franchise is famous for. I’m glad the series hasn’t lost this at least.
Though, I assume to go with the new action-focused gameplay, the game has scrapped the series’ traditional inventory system. No longer are you struggling to adjust your carry load in order to pick up a new weapon, or being careful about your ammo supply and considering which item you should be picking up and which you will leave to save space. Now, the player has a much larger inventory space which can be expanded to a ridiculous size later on in the game and crafting materials don’t take up any space at all. There is also no storage box to keep weapons or unwanted items in (why would you need it anyway with the abundance of space you’re spoilt with anyway). This, for me, was upsetting as Resident Evil has always been a survival horror franchise. The inventory system is a major part of this and Resident Evil Village has scrapped it for a much more fast-paced gung-ho approach, stripping back all the tension and pushes the series closer to Call of Duty.
Speaking of Call of Duty, I do wish Chris "Baby Snatcher" Redfield hadn’t been in this game, or at least had a better part. It broke my heart to learn that Ada Wong was cut during production, especially as I was looking forward to seeing updates on some of the other characters that we haven’t seen since Resident Evil 6. Chris was in Resident Evil 7, so his place should have been given to Leon, Claire or Jill. On top of this, his presence within the game is pretty insignificant when you consider that he’s all over the marketing material of the game. He appears at the start to shoot Mia in the face, then he only pops up every now and again to tell Ethan to "stay out of his way" (Stay out of what way Chris? You’re not even doing anything!) and then he finally turns up at the end of the game once Ethan has done all the hard bits. Chris’ section is pure action, you’re given an arsenal of weapons and your mission is to basically go A-Team on the whole place and nuke it to hell. A very sophisticated ending. Leon or Jill could have mixed in perfectly with the game as they have as much experience to have dealt with the matter, they also would have matched better with the story of them shooting Mia and taking Rosemary, as Ethan wouldn't have personally known them for it to be annoying that they're not talking to him, yet the players can still have that shock factor.
Speaking of which, the plot relies heavily upon the overused trope of characters not communicating with each other. Chris won’t tell Ethan why he shot Mia and took away his daughter, not until it’s too late. This is so forced, and clearly shoved in to keep the initial mystery around the story line in place until the big reveal is needed. There is absolutely no reason why Chris wouldn’t tell Ethan the truth or even a part of what’s going on. And telling Ethan to stay out of the way is a little pathetic when Ethan’s not even sure how he got there in the first place. Surely he should be evacuating Ethan out if he’s really that concerned about his wellbeing?
One improvement to the storyline would be Ethan’s character. He’s always been the weakest Resident Evil protagonist, being that we can’t see his face and he had little personality in Resident Evil 7 – even to the extent where his reactions to certain things were really underwhelming as he didn’t seem too bothered by what was going on. Resident Evil Village clears up a lot of unanswered questions, such as why it took Ethan two years to get up off his ass and look for his missing wife. And how Ethan has even survived so many injuries. But, to be honest, although these reveals in the storyline were an unexpected surprise, it felt like a very forced excuse to patch up ‘plot holes’ which didn’t really need patching up being how corny the Resident Evil franchise is at times. We didn’t need to know how Ethan survived the injuries, because our protagonists have been stabbed, thrown off buildings, shot, and then waded through all sorts of dirt (and sewage) with these injuries.
All this being said, Resident Evil Village is a good game. It’s just not a good Resident Evil game. Outside of the franchise, this would rank much higher. Unfortunately, it’s a warning that the series is going in the wrong direction again, and I just hope this was a short turn and that Resident Evil 9 will return to the horror roots. Because that’s what we’re here for. If I wanted to play an action game, I would turn to a different franchise. It has it’s fun moments. The baby scene in the doll mansion was seriously creepy (albeit the monster design is suspiciously close to the sink baby in P.T.). On top of this, the boss fights are fun and I loved how this game ties in with the rest of the story lore-wise. Graphics-wise it’s stunning and the level designs are intricate and well-detailed. For this reason, I would actually still recommend Resident Evil Village because most of my criticisms came to me once I had finished playing. I didn’t get the intense survival game I was hoping for, but it was certainly enjoyable none-the-less.