Can Resident Evil Village live up to its own hype?
The latest in Capcom’s venerable zombie-shooter franchise invites comparisons to the most beloved installment of the series, 2005’s Resident Evil 4, and its acclaimed predecessor — 2017’s Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. With the latter, the series returned to its survival horror roots, shifting to a first-person perspective and confining the story to just one location: the Baker family residence. It paid off in spades and was widely applauded by fans and critics.
Village successfully blends the setpiece combat and eerie settings of RE4 with the slow, anxious atmosphere of RE7. The result is a unique, if surprisingly short, experience that doesn’t manage to set a new standard for the series but offers plenty of reasons to come back for more.
New story, familiar ground
Village sees RE7 protagonist Ethan Winters return to rescue his baby daughter from a cult led by Mother Miranda, a figure worshipped by the villagers who wants to use Ethan’s daughter for nefarious means. This time around, Ethan has much more personality, with meaty dialogue during cutscenes replacing a litany of grunts from the previous game. He’s more passionate in Village, yelling profanities at bosses right before a fight and sympathizing with townsfolk who lost loved ones. It’s a stark contrast to the minimal conversations he had with his wife and the Baker family in the previous game.
The gameplay retains the first-person perspective of its predecessor but ditches the claustrophobic environments in favor of a more expansive village setting. Ethan also has access to a sniper rifle, which recalls that of RE4 protagonist Leon Kennedy and really helps with long-range encounters. Village’s open environments also make better use of weapons like pistols and shotguns, allowing the combat to feel more open-ended and dynamic.
The enemy variety is a step up from Biohazard, which only featured the Molded. But it’s still a little lacking relative to other recent action-adventure games considering the bulk of the baddies are just lycans (i.e. werewolves) and some zombie-like creatures. In a new wrinkle to combat, your enemies can wield weapons like swords and hammers. You also have the ability to shoot them out of their hands, which adds an extra layer of strategy.
In addition to dropping items like ammunition and medical packs, enemies will also drop Lei, the in-game currency inspired by Romania’s real-world cash. The currency can be exchanged at the Duke’s store for consumables, new weapons, upgrades, and ammunition blueprints. Like Resident Evil 4’s Merchant, the Duke pops up at certain locations in the game to help provide you with supplies.
The scenic route
The story follows Ethan taking down each of the four lords, which lends an almost Metroidvania-like structure to the gameplay. The village becomes a hub-like area, and you can gradually explore more areas as you progress through the story.
Village captures the thrill of its predecessors — and the Metroidvania subgenre — by consistently incentivizing you to revisit mysteries you stumbled across a few hours prior. Just when you’ve forgotten, you’ll obtain a key item needed to open that single locked door you came across in the village two hours ago. Little rushes like that encourage you to explore and go off the main path every once in a while to uncover every possible treasure.
Each of the paths to the four lords offer a satisfying mix of puzzles and combat encounters — especially the first one involving Castle Dimitrescu and the final dungeon. While the wide-open village segments lack the series’ hallmark scares due to how big the area is, the dungeons offer a heart-pounding experience. Tight hallways and corridors ramp up the tension and stakes as you’re trying to solve a puzzle while being chased by a big, scary enemy.
Village’s pacing stumbles towards the middle of the game, with too-simple puzzles making it easy to blow through major sections and encounters far too quickly. It was a bit of a letdown that some of the lords got comparatively less screen time than others, and that resulted in them feeling underdeveloped and underutilized.
It doesn’t help matters that Village’s runtime is surprisingly short. That might be a disappointment to some, but the game is meant to be played through multiple times. Village offers more incentives to revisit the story than a typical Resident Evil game, putting it on par with 2019’s Resident Evil 2.
A repeat visitor
You’ll earn CP, or completion points, by racking up accomplishments on the game’s achievement list, such as finishing the game on a certain difficulty or spending less than 10,000 Lei in a single playthrough. These unlock special weapons and perks, like infinite ammunition for your fully upgraded weapons.
Resident Evil 4 embraced replay value with New Game+, which makes its return here. Almost everything except key items carry over to your next playthrough, including guns, Lei, remaining ammunition, and consumables. The Duke’s shop prices are prohibitively expensive on your first run, but that’s offset by repeated playthroughs. Bosses and some regular enemies drop “crystal” items to sell to the Duke for large sums of Lei, which helps alleviate some of the high costs. These crystal items carry over to the next playthrough, so there’s no reason to hoard them.
With each subsequent playthrough, your arsenal will become increasingly powerful. Eventually, you’ll feel brave enough to tackle higher difficulties with your upgraded weapons or start a fresh playthrough without bonuses to test your skills. The bonuses and higher difficulties always add something fun and different for each run.
The time-trial Mercenaries mode can be unlocked via a tiny CP cost once you’ve cleared the game once, and it’s similar to previous iterations. The goal of each stage is to take down as many enemies as you can before the clock expires. Buffs scattered throughout the areas will grant perks like restoring health after killing an enemy or making long-range gun attacks inflict more damage. It’s a gratifying addition for those who are looking for a bit more action.
Resident Evil Village is a good — but not exceptional — middle ground between the action-oriented RE4 and the horror thrills of RE7. While the game has some pacing issues and the campaign seems a bit shorter than previous entries, Village offers plenty of reasons to play through multiple times. It doesn’t quite live up to the sum of its parts, but it’s a satisfying survival horror romp that won’t disappoint fans of the series. 7/10.
Resident Evil Village comes to PlayStation, Xbox, Stadia, and PC on May 7.
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