When the “Resident Evil” mainline series went into first-person perspective with 2017’s “Resident Evil 7: Biohazard,” some ‘RE” purists were less than pleased with this. Previously, the franchise had tried this approach with the spin-off titles “Gun Survivor” and “Dead Aim” to less than stellar effects. But prior to 2017, the long-storied survival horror series was not in good shape.
2005’s “Resident Evil 4″ will go down as one of the greatest games in video game history. It reinvented the formula for the franchise, and revolutionized third-person action shooting. It also pushed “Resident Evil” as a genre, from survival-horror to action-horror, with more emphasis on the action. This continued in the next two numbered installments, to the point where “Resident Evil 6″ is considered by many to be the series low point. Something was needed to reinvigorate everything, and switching to first-person while shrinking down the scale of the locations seemed to be just what the Umbrella Corporation doctors ordered.
Even from the beginning of the franchise though, “Resident Evil” has a history of making things bigger and more intense with subsequent games. But sometimes, they don’t know when to quit. Just look at the first two games in the series, and remember how huge of a leap was made from the content in “Resident Evil” to “Resident Evil 2.” While “Resident Evil 3: Nemesis” is fondly remembered, that too increased the amount of action in the main story, and even introduced the Mercenaries mode to the franchise.
So, now the cycle repeats again in 2021. Capcom’s latest installment. “Resident Evil: Village” takes what worked from the previous title and adds in more enemies, guns, bullets, and set pieces to make a title that is once again more action than horror. To be fair, it actually sprinkles in elements that worked from previous games to beef this one up a bit, with most of the additions coming from “Resident Evil 4.”
SPOILER WARNING FOR STORY CONTENT–
Regarding the story, this may be the first “Resident Evil” title where playing the previous installment is pretty vital to understanding the plot and character developments that occur. Just like in “7,” you play as Ethan Winters, an everyday guy who was previously thrust into a nightmarish situation when his wife Mia went missing. It’s now a few years after those events, and Ethan and Mia have a recently new-born baby, Rose. Unfortunately, Ethan’s misery never ceases to end as he and Rose are effectively kidnapped and separated. Now, Ethan must track down his daughter and try to survive an all-new level of hell.
“Village” looks gorgeous. It’s remarkable how efficient and effective the RE Engine is that Capcom created. Even on a standard PS4, the game looks wonderful and runs without a hiccup. While the gameplay of “7″ took place in dreary mansions, secluded caverns and dark swamps, a lot of “Village” takes place in daylight in an open village. So, we get to see things come to life with a bit more vibrancy. And- the change of environment is welcome.
That openness also means that the sound of the game is important, as enemies can be coming at you from all sides. Given that you’re limited to a first-person view, being able to hear where things are coming from has a renewed importance played on it. There were several occasions where my fear and nervousness about going into a new area were intensified by the guttural growls I heard emanating from somewhere close-by.
The music is effective at this too; while there aren’t really any ‘scare chords’ so to say, there are some musical swells that ratchet up the intensity. In addition, moments of silence can go from reassuring to unnerving given the circumstances. It’s one thing to hear threatening music quiet down and let you know the danger has passed, it’s another for the ambiance to fade into nothingness when things seemed perfectly fine just a few seconds ago.
The aesthetics are all in place to make the game enjoyable. That is to say, if you have gripes with “Village,” it’s not likely to be based on the presentation. Whether you enjoy the game or not is largely going to be based on how you feel about what happened to the franchise after “RE 7″ and how much you enjoyed “RE 4.”
I won’t go into spoilers just yet, I’ll save those for later and give you fair warning, but I’m going to start discussing some of the mechanics and gameplay features that “Village” offers. Basically, it handles just like “7.” You move, shoot, aim, crawl, run, etc, in first-person. The blocking mechanic from before also returns, allowing you to substantially minimize the damage you take by throwing your arms up in front of you as an enemy lashes out at you. The crafting mechanic also returns, allowing you to make more ammunition for your guns or create healing items on the fly.
Then comes a heap load of stuff from “RE 4.” Unlike the close quarters areas that Ethan explored in his previous adventure, there’s a much larger map with open areas here, filled with items and treasure. And if “RE 4″ taught us anything, it’s that when there’s treasure to be had, there’s going to be someone to sell it to. Indeed, there is a merchant you can sell things to whom you can also buy guns, items, weapon upgrades, and other material from. Money can also be dropped by enemies this time around too. So even if you’re not treasure hunting, you’ll still pick up a good chunk of change from the enemies you’ll encounter, which again like “RE 4″ you’ll spend a lot of time fighting.
In “RE 7″ you could move around the often slow, lumbering, molded enemies and make a concentrated effort to conserve ammunition and avoid confrontation. That’s not so much the case here. While you can still exercise a limited degree of avoidance, many of the enemies here are limber, agile, and aggressive. They can close in on you quickly, flank you, and take you by surprise. Some of them are even armed, once again likening back to “RE 4″ as opposed to “7.”
Not to completely eschew some of the inventiveness of the previous title, “Village” does still have some close quarters spookiness that couldn’t have been achieved without the first-person perspective. There’s also puzzles that have to be solved where being able to look around a room and properly examine things is crux. And if you enjoyed the puzzle solving sequence that Lucas put you through last time, well there’s another sequence akin to that which may prove to be one of the most horrifying moments in the franchise itself.
It’s also worth talking about the character who’s received the lion’s share of the social media attention in the lead up to release- Lady Dimitrescu. In case you’re not familiar with her, she’s a 9’6” tall, curvaceous bad-ass, with a literal taste for blood and the refined fashion taste of a Southern belle. Her raw power and sexual appeal has given her meme status that goes beyond that of “Resident Evil 2″’s (remake) Mr. X.
It’s fitting then that the amazing Lady D acts like Mr. X for a period of time, stalking you around her castle and preparing to skewer you with her massive talons. Whether she’s worth all the attention is entirely dependent upon the player, but it should be noted that she’s just one of several colorful adversaries you’ll encounter along your way, which again, draws comparisons to “RE 7.” There it was the Baker family and their eccentricities that drove most of the conflict forward; here, it’s a different kind of family.
If there’s one particular thing that’s worth mentioning whereby “Village” drastically improves things over “7,” it’s the ending battle. No spoilers, don’t worry. If you played through “7” to completion, then you know that the final battle comes across like a heavily scripted, barely playable cutscene. Fortunately, that’s not the case here. If you’re one of those players who saves up the best ammo for the best weapons until they’re absolutely needed, that’ll actually come into play this time around.
After you complete the game, you’ll have a chance to acquire The Mercenaries mode. You’ll also have the opportunity to go back through the game on New Game Plus or a higher difficulty level. This will also unlock a bonus shop similar to the one you can access at the end of “Resident Evil 3″’s remake. Accomplishing certain in-game achievements rewards with you points that you can spend in the store in order to acquire new weapons and unlimited ammo for them.
So, before we get into spoilers, I’ll leave you with these final thoughts. My first playthrough of “Resident Evil: Village” took me approximately 11 and a half hours. It did leave me feeling like I wanted to go back through the game again, and I’m presently doing so as of this writing. I felt my time was well rewarded in how I didn’t want to put down the controller and that the pacing was mostly spot-on.
My only spoiler-free gripes would be how some areas can wear out their welcome a little bit from spending a tad too much time in them and the way the map works/doesn’t work. That is to say, the village itself can be a confusing maze to where the map doesn’t help you identify a number of blocked pathways that can be cumbersome getting around. Additionally, map areas colored red indicate that an item is lingering around somewhere to collect, but it can sometimes be an absolute ordeal trying to spot where that item is in that location. There’s not enough of a visual clue sometimes and a map indicator could’ve been a huge help in that case.
Ultimately, if you’re asking yourself if you should dive into “Resident Evil: Village,” the answer to that lays within how you reacted to “Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.” If you liked “7″ but wanted a bit more action out of it, this is perfect. If you liked “4″ and want that sense of horror-action in first-person, again, this is likely a good fit for you. But if you didn’t care for “7″ at all, and wanted something more survival-horror focused, you’re not going to find that here. Base your level of interest on that, and you’ll likely be happy with the decision you make.
Now for serious spoilers…
Good lord did this borrow heavily from “Resident Evil 4“. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but it’s certainly a noteworthy one. Castle Dimitrescu feels very much like Chapters 2 and 3 from “RE 4.” Then there’s a fight with a giant fish, a cave section with mining enemies, some El Gigante equivalents, grotesque boss transformations, the aforementioned merchant, the acquisition of a shotgun and sniper rifle, enemies shooting flaming arrows at you; it’s a lot when you really think about it. And yes, though some of those elements like the caves have been used in games previous to “RE 4,” the way they’re set-up to be action oriented draws more comparisons to that title than to anything else.
Yet despite all those similarities, I still felt invigorated playing through this adventure. Where “7″ left me feeling anxious and afraid, “Village” left me feeling still anxious at times, but largely motivated to see what would happen next. While it still has its moments and sequences of horror, “Village” does not offer the same sense of fear that was offered by what came before it.
Something that could’ve improved the experience would’ve been to have chopped off some of the time spent in Castle Dimitrescu and Heisenberg’s factory, and created another experience like what we find in House Beneviento. That sequence was perfectly paced and executed in a way that horror games seldom get quite right. Even the game “Amnesia: The Dark Descent” which is often credited for defining the kind of experience you find in Beneviento, doesn’t do it quite so well as it was done here.
Personally, I enjoyed “Village” more than I enjoyed “7.” In general, the environments feel more cohesive and as different as the environments are, they feel like a more natural assembly of locations. Where “7″ faltered in its last third or so, with taking control of Mia on the boat and the descent into the mines with Ethan; those felt out of place with how well done the sequences in the Baker house was and how those horrors revolved around them. “Village,” like “RE 4,” embraces the absurdity and goes all in on it. Going from a beat-up swamp shack to a massive cave complex is a lot more jarring than when you’re going from a castle stalked by a giant who can turn into a dragon, to an abandoned military factory making cyborg zombies run by a hobo vagrant with Magneto’s powers who kind of sounds like Nicolas Cage.
I enjoyed the madness. At times I was a little surprised by the amount of lycans I had to face off against but the rush of action and adrenaline was invigorating. But in that, I can see where some people would have a problem with this game. “Resident Evil” to many, isn’t supposed to be about gunning down and conquering zombies and other monsters, it’s about surviving them. Survival in this adventure equates to killing them before they kill you, and that’s definitely not going to appeal to the fans who more enjoyed the classic style of “Resident Evil” that essentially ended with “RE 4.”
One thing that can definitely be said though is how much more complete this title feels than the “Resident Evil 3″ remake that came out in 2020. Even when taking into account that “Resident Evil” games are actually fairly short and meant to be replayed, the “RE 3″ remake felt incomplete and lacking. “Village” does not feel that way. This comes across like a complete adventure where repeated playthroughs will help you master the challenges in a way that will leave you with a feeling of accomplishment.
This hits just the right blend of action and horror for myself, which is probably a dangerous thing. I was one of the few people who really enjoyed “Resident Evil 6,” even though it’s still a flawed game. Capcom needs to be wary. If the next original title in the series pushes any further, it’s going to put itself right back in the position it was before they had to reinvent things. Here’s hoping that history doesn’t repeat and they manage to raise the bar again with the quality of atmosphere, scares, and puzzles instead of the quantity of guns, bullets, and monsters.