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Resident Evil Village might be the most interesting entry in the series yet. There, I said it. And when I say "interesting," I mean the lofty ambition of mixing survival horror, dark folklore, established action conventions, jaw-dropping design, and hypnotic storytelling into just the one game. It is somewhat straightforward to define what Resident Evil Village is not, yet pinpointing what it might be is much more nebulous. However, that's not a cue for longtime fans of the series to be running for the hills.
Recently, Capcom extended an invitation to us to take us through the snowy wastes of somewhere in eastern Europe, our hero Ethan Winters in tow, and I liked what I saw. Just... bear with me, for some bizarre bits, alright?
So, to the uninitiated, let's bring everyone up to speed with the premise of Resident Evil Village. Ethan, the protagonist of Resident Evil 7, has settled down with his wife Mia and their new baby Rose, putting the trauma of the past behind them. One day, Chris Redfield shows up at their house, shoots Mia, kidnaps Rose, leaves Ethan for dead, and disappears. Right now, I'm not quite sure how but these events take Ethan and Rose to a dilapidated village in Europe that is buried in snow and harbouring a nefarious force at its heart.
First things first - this setting is drop dead gorgeous. Running on the PlayStation 5, the snow and sludge is extremely realistic, and doesn't look like a white layer has been laid over the textures. As Ethan gathers his senses and stumbles along the path, there's a very cinematic sense of trepidation due to how tangible the surroundings are. In the hamlet itself, entering the aged homes that appear to have been abandoned in a hurry, anyone or anything could come storming round the corner. Resident Evil Village isn't afraid to throw its weight about, literally, with sharp cracks of creaking floorboards and blood oozing through the gaps.
With such strong environment design, the difference between this game and its predecessor is practically a chasm. Unlike the sweltering closeness of the Baker homestead, there's a perpetuity to the frozen wildness. Like it doesn't care if you live or die. I'll say that there was a wonderful moment where Ethan makes it to the hill that surveys the village, and the spooky Castle Dimitrescu peeks out behind low cloud. A brilliant summation of the power of the next generation of hardware, and a scene that could have been lifted from a fairytale (albeit a very twisted one).
Ethan, as a regular man with the ability to heal exceptionally quickly, is notable for his tenacity in a fight. In one part of the preview, the player was exploring a cabin when a Lycan launched itself at the structure, swiping its deadly claws. Capcom was clear to set out two options: attack these werewolf-like creatures strategically, or get the hell out of dodge. The former is helped by the ability to barricade with heavy furniture, like bookcases, which will give you time to plan out your move before they get inside. Lycans are fast and deal lots of damage while attacking as a pack, and they're even able to wield weapons themselves. If you're able to take them down, they drop important items and currency, but they do soak up a lot of bullets.
Ethan is able to guard himself from enemy attacks and push them away, but what if your enemy's body turned into locusts? Resident Evil Village, back at it again with the questions no one else is bold enough to ask. Lady Dimitrescu's vampiric daughters will pose a challenge with their strange transformations and the joy they take in the hunt, so we'll get some heart-stopping moments as they stalk Ethan through their home. There are also these hunched over hooded guardians that might be the aggressive servants to the Dimitrescu clan, and the towers are home to gargoyles that swoop down to ruin your day. You've got a knife, a handgun, a shotgun, and a sniper rifle at your disposal - yet, like Resident Evil 7, don't expect to go all guns blazing from the outset. In fact, if you do, you might be scrambling for a lifeline where there is none.
Crafting resources is central to Resident Evil Village, so be prepared to nosy round every nook and cranny. The yellow boxes of Resident Evil 2, 3, and 7 return here to offer helpful items, but they'll need to be broken with a tool. Adding herbs to chem fluid will turn into medicinal first aid and gunpowder and scrap metal will become handgun ammo. I felt there was a real emphasis on scavenging what remains for resources, so pay attention to your surroundings. Even the most innocuous of decorations might have something useful for you.
The structure of the village appears to be delineated into different areas, like the church, stronghold, graveyard, and mill. The game won't be leaving you on your lonesome, however, as these places might be barred with puzzles or necessary items to progress into the next location. As a result, there's a little of the linear aspect of the earlier games, and a little of the freedom of an open world. Saves will be made at typewriters dotted about the village, so weigh up the risk and reward of straying from the path and losing progress if you die. The Duke, a travelling merchant who pops up from time to time, will possess various weapons, ammo, upgrades and crafting recipes for the player to peruse, and the extent to which you explore the surroundings is really up to you.
Based on the preview, Ethan will be spending a lot of time in Castle Dimitrescu, which is music to my ears. The ornateness of the halls, the disarming grandeur of its rooms, and the omnipresent threat of being stabbed by Lady Dimitrescu and her daughters - I get the impression that the team let their hair down here with blood reds, ashen whites, and overstated golds.
Which leads me to my last takeaway from this preview. The characters of Resident Evil Village are undoubtedly the stars of the show here. The alienated inhabitants of the titular village worship the "Great Ones," among them a being named Mother Miranda. This figure is said to have forsaken the village for some reason, leaving those who remain at the mercy of the invasion of Lycans from the forest. "There is wisdom in her devotion," one says, and the arcane symbols etched into the architecture of the settlement intimate that there's something else here.
We've heard oh-so-much about Lady Dimitrescu, but seeing her lose her cool and stroll leisurely about these gorgeous Gothic settings, she's going to be up there as a villain with the likes of Mr. X. And, there's Heisenberg, a guy with very cool shades who seems to be the king of the Lycans - and he's got the power to manipulate metal like Magneto. In one scene, the two squabble over how to kill the captive Ethan as a small doll-like creature and hunchbacked person gaze curiously at the outsider. I didn't know what was going on here, narratively speaking, but I took in the strangeness and charm of these intriguing performances like an opera that was far too highbrow for me.
I'll be straight with you - the cast are obsessed with our hero, knowing his name and wanting him wiped from existence, which is strange seeing as Ethan hasn't got a lot going for him. As aforementioned, he's a regular man with super-regenerative powers, and this lot are like the long lost cousins of the Addams Family. To heap on this comparison further, there's an elderly lady walking about the village, staff adorned with human skulls, utterly unharmed and snickering to herself on the state of things. What's her deal? Why did Chris take Rose? And here of all places? How have they worked in real vampires and werewolves to a Resident Evil game? None of this makes sense with the rest of the series. There are some similar threads, yes, and it will probably be Ye Olde Umbrella Corporation at the end of it all. But the anchor that Village weighs off is still shrouded in a sleek cloth, ready to be whipped away at the opportune moment. That's so interesting to me, and in a setting such as this, Village is throwing all kinds of things at the wall and I want to see what sticks.
Featured Image Credit: Capcom
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