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During the run up to Resident Evil Village's release, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the latest entry in Capcom's 25-year-old franchise (and the middle entry in their modern trilogy of titles) was drawing primarily on Resident Evil 4 as its source of inspiration.
The parallels between 2005's iconic adventure-horror and Village are numerous and deep-rooted, for sure. It wears those inspirations explicitly and proudly on its sleeve. But the reality is that Village is a greatest hits of Resident Evil titles, mixing elements not only from its own ancestry, but from franchises and games you'd least expect, too.
Does it always combine these elements successfully? No. In places it's disjointed, at times paced so as the story feels heavily weighted against the flow of gameplay, and it feels both over too soon and drawn out in its final hours. But it is also bold, terrifying, funny and packed with bombastically absurd moments Resi fans are going to love.
Taking place three years after the events of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (now referred to as The Baker Incident) protagonist Ethan and wife Mia Winters live in a sort of witness protection program in a nondescript part of Eastern Europe. They also have a baby called Rose, and life seems to be on the up and up.
That is until Chris Redfield and his team shatter the familial illusion, murder Mia and steal Rose. The next thing Ethan knows he's waking up in the middle of a frozen woodland in the black of night. It's here that he stumbles into the titular, unnamed Village, with only one motivation in his mind. Find Rose.
First things first, Resident Evil Village is a very good looking game. Playing on a PlayStation 5, the graphics are greater than the sum of their parts, but do suffer from occasional lapses in greatness. NPC models seem to cycle between stunningly detailed, totally inoffensive, and melting waxwork abomination. But if you take in the world of Village as a whole and don't laser focus on these hiccups, then it does look great - especially the gorgeous and grotesque environments.
The Dimitrescu castle is undoubtedly a standout, as volumetric light bounces around its classical European architecture, giving it both a homely and equally unsettling personality. A neat touch is when moving from outside to in, the game takes a few moments to adjust the lighting in the new space, as though your retinas are reacting to the change in brightness. It's nothing we haven't seen used before in other games, but it compounds on the other small details, elevating the overall immersion.
When Ethan heads underground his use of a torch bleeds light into the abyss, with pitch blackness encroaching the peripherals of the screen. It's in these moments that Village feels claustrophobic and genuinely scary. Creeping forward, inch-by-inch, not knowing what detestable beasts are lurking in the gloom, makes for moments that horror junkies will wish they could relive for the first time again and again. Throughout the campaign, the sound and lighting are ever present champions of atmosphere, and offer a welcome glimpse into what can be accomplished on the new generation of consoles.
Speaking of the castle, it's the first experience we have of the game's multiple areas outside of the main village hub. Without giving too much story away, there are a number of different locales Ethan must visit in order, each riffing on either elements from past Resi games or other game franchises entirely. These influences aren't rammed down your throat as such, but it is easy to see where the developers have lifted parts of series like Devil May Cry, Silent Hill (specifically P.T.), Uncharted and even Call Of Duty.
Once each area is completed players are able to revisit them, perhaps with new keys or useful items that allow for extra, if not expansive, exploration. While it doesn't make the game open-world in the strictest sense, it does help build a wider picture of the village and the strange goings on that have led to Ethan's pursuit of his daughter Rose.
While the interlocking areas aren't all fitted together seamlessly, it's refreshing to see Resident Evil still intent on trying new things after the roaring praise Resi 7 achieved for shaking up the formula. The core gameplay deviates enough from its predecessor, that you never feel too comfortable in how fights are being approached. The enemy AI, however, rarely covers itself in glory. Outside of some increased speed of movement on higher difficulties, it can generously be described as both ropey and dopey.
As previously mentioned, the game does suffer from pacing issues almost throughout. The opening hours are a little too 'by the numbers'. The middle portion of the game is fantastic, and features one of the most unsettling segments of gameplay I've experienced in years, while the ending feels dragged out with a repetitive location and bloated story exposition.
But in spite of this, I found myself constantly thinking about going back to play more, to search new areas for treasures or try out different weapons. The challenges that open up after you've finished the first playthrough are varied and rewarding enough that completionists will be occupied well beyond the initial 10 hour or so story run, not to mention The Mercenaries mode that can also be unlocked. Despite some reservations around the way the game approaches its story, I still know this will be a title I'm happy to revisit further down the line.
Part of the joy of revisiting Village is in spending time with the preposterous cast of characters. Though, there's no denying that the infinitely meme-able Lady Dimitrescu and the boy-faced spherical merchant The Duke do a lot of the heavy lifting. Capcom certainly can't be blamed for placing Lady D so prominently in the marketing of the game, but I found myself wanting to know more about The Duke, how he gets around the village, and where he gets his merchandise from.
The Duke's wares can be bought with the game's currency, called Lei, which is scavenged from enemies and spent on things like weapon upgrades, ammo and health items. The new menu system has been overhauled, or rather, underhauled, to be more like that of Resi 4. There's a main inventory where you keep all your possessions, a second screen solely for crafting (crafting components do not take up item space, mercifully) and another for your key items or treasures. This system, by and large, is both easy to use and familiar. What it loses in the way of that classic Resident Evil limited inventory panic, it gains in keeping out of the way of the main gameplay experience.
In the end, all these similarities and influences from Village's contemporaries both do and don't work. It feels in places pieced together, and in others truly exceptional in its genre. But the overarching experience is an undoubtedly fun one that expands on the foundations laid down by Resident Evil 7, and sets up the inevitable trilogy finale being planned for Resident Evil 9. Not all of the risks taken pay off, but when they do, Resident Evil Village is thrilling, spine-chilling and a worthy continuation of the groundwork laid by its predecessor.
Pros: incredible atmosphere, genuinely scary sequences, lots of replayability
Cons: feels a little uneven, story pacing is lumpy
For fans of: Resident Evil 7, Silent Hill, Resident Evil 4
Resident Evil Village is available May 7th for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Steam and Stadia. Code for review was supplied by the publisher. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
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