Resident Evil has certainly had its ups and downs over the years. A groundbreaking trilogy and utterly reinventive fourth entry were followed by a haphazard period of mostly misfires and poorly judged efforts that saw the survival horror franchise struggle to stay true to its beating, undead heart.
2017’s Resident Evil 7 was the Hail Mary that managed to reanimate things, adding a fresh perspective - literally - while still being very much an RE title at its core.
New instalment Resident Evil Village builds on some parts of RE 7 while paying homage to its forebears. Some of these elements are ratcheted up to 11 but at the cost of losing a small part of what made its predecessor so refreshing.
Village continues the story from the previous game (using only one of its endings as canon), with returning protagonist Ethan Winters and wife Mia having moved to an unnamed central European country.
Three years on from their horrific experience with the Baker family in Louisiana, the couple have had a baby named Rose and are living a peaceful life, although the emotional scars of their past trauma are still not fully healed. This delicate peace is shattered when the family is attacked and Rose is taken, forcing Ethan to head out into a nearby creepy village and track her down.
Events take Ethan beyond the winter gripped hamlet to a castle occupied by the freakishly tall Lady Dimitrescu and her daughters, all of whom appear to be some form of vampire at first glance. As you advance through the story, you’ll head to different locations and discover more characters who’ll either help you, stand in your way or simply wish to kill you in spectacularly gruesome fashion. To say any more would risk spoilers, but there is certainly more to the towering matriarch and her cohort than meets the eye.
Gameplay isn’t too dissimilar to RE7. There’s a first-person perspective for ramped up tension and you’ll forage for ammo, healing items, currency and crafting materials. As is the usual Resident Evil way, progression involves solving esoteric puzzles and finding strange relics that act as keys for specific locked doors. Among the lumbering regular enemies you’ll also encounter special foes that require a bit more effort to take down, typically along the lines of discovering a vulnerability that you can exploit.
On the whole, RE Village does indeed feel like a bringing together of classic Resident Evil elements. The decadent interior of Lady Dimitrescu’s castle harks back to the original RE mansion, while the village locale - and indeed the set-piece pacing of the initial gameplay - is ripped straight from the opening portion of Resident Evil 4. The Tetris-style inventory management from RE4 returns, and an NPC called the Duke even makes explicit references to RE4's Merchant character.
Graphically, the game is a delight on the PlayStation 5 version tested. Facial animations are incredibly emotive, and environments are richly detailed. From the decrepit wooden shacks of the village to the castle’s swanky boudoirs and the game’s other locales, everything has a palpable texture and weight to it.
When it comes to the narrative, things have moved away from the more intimate, claustrophobic and grounded (relatively speaking) Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe of RE7 to a melodramatic style that feels more outlandish than even its boldest predecessors. At times, there are dashes of a 1970s Italian horror movie, while other moments bring to mind the OTT torture porn of films like Hostel.
It makes for a wild ride, but one that sometimes veers so close to ludicrousness that it pulls you out of the story. On more than one occasion I found myself furrow-browed at what was happening on screen.
It’s never anything less than entertaining, but it’s hard to escape the notion that Village gets a bit too carried away with itself every now and then.
Like Ethan Winters and his bloodstained arms, RE Village wears its Resident Evil DNA on its sleeve. There’s almost a ‘greatest hits’ rhythm to it thanks to the familiar elements from various parts of the franchise’s history. It cares very much about scaring you, and it achieves that with aplomb throughout.
Sometimes things get a bit too far fetched even for a Resi title, which has the unfortunate side effect of momentarily undermining the otherwise well-crafted horror atmosphere. However, Resident Evil Village remains an outstanding slice of survival horror that carries the series’ torch in grand fashion.
Resident Evil Village is out on May 7 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, Windows and Stadia