The Village People
If all of Resident Evil Village was as strong as its first half, it would be one of the best horror games of all time. From the opening that bursts to live with intrigue and mystery, to the genuine sense of terror built in the opening trek to the Village, the atmosphere is incredibly unsettling and stunningly effective. However, through diversions that do more to frustrate than scare, and a puzzling late-game change of pace, a game that could have been classic of the genre is left deflated.
Resident Evil Village follows Ethan – the protagonist from Resident Evil 7 – as he attempts to rescue his daughter Rose from a cult of horrific, otherworldly creatures that inhabit the mysterious village. Immediately, the game sets up a multitude of questions. Where am I? Why does the village seem like it’s from the mid-20th century? Where is everyone? And what happened?
This is when the game is at its strongest. It feels like the start of a prestige drama, with each new tiny bit of information adding momentum towards answers you’re desperate to find out. While, as is often the case, those answers weren’t as interesting as the questions, I was seeking out more information about the world right up until the end.
Village is a first-person survival horror game in which shambling, malformed creatures lurch towards you and it’s your job to take them down, or run. Unfortunately, Ethan is equipped with a gun so weak you’d be better pushing the bullets into the rushing lycans than shooting them. The shooting isn’t very good; it’s heavy and never feels like you can be as accurate as you want to be. This certainly ramps up the tension, as bullet scarcity and a slow, lumbering movement speed mean you’re often backed into a corner with no option but to knife your way out.
The game is split between time exploring the village and attempting to take down the four lords that inhabit the area. Included in this supergroup is Lady Dimitrescu, the tall vampire woman that dominated much of the prerelease coverage of the game, becoming its unofficial mascot.
Like Mr. X from Resident Evil 2 Remake, the WNBA star will stalk you through the halls of her castle, always appearing at the least opportune moments to get your body sliced to bits. Her performance is theatrical and creepy, exactly the tone I enjoy. For all the hype surrounding her, her impact on the overall game is much smaller than I think most will expect. Far from the focus, she serves as the threat for the opening of the game, before being sidelined for much weaker characters.
Each of the four lords has their own environment you travel to and explore in search of an item crucial for Ethan’s quest. While 2 of the four are rather weak, a swamp section that feels very Resident Evil 5 and a factory section that needlessly pads the last quarter of the game, one of them is one of the best levels in any horror game I’ve ever played.
I’m explicitly not allowed to tell you what happens in it, and I wouldn’t want to. Firstly, because if you’re picking the game up it deserves to be experienced first hand, and secondly, I’m not eloquent enough to describe the level of horror and genuine fright I experienced travelling through it. Beyond jump scares and creaky doors, there was a moment when I literally had to take my headphones off and wheel away from my desk. A mixture of disgust, shock and utter admiration for how repulsive the thing I was looking at overcame me. It’s a moment that people will be talking about for years, and represents modern Resident Evil perfectly. While Village shakes off a lot of the visceral horror of 7, the moment I’m referring to is on a par with or more frightening than anything in that game.
Sadly, following this section the game begins a rapid decline in quality, with multiple boss fights that are boring, predictable and plucked straight from the lesser regarded titles in the franchise. Not only this, but a late game change forces players into an action sequence that is not only dull and annoying to control, absolutely evaporates any of the tension the game has built. It’s completely antithetical to everything the game is about in the opening half and the sense of fear just vanishes. I couldn’t believe how badly it fell apart towards the end and I was incredibly disappointed. While the story conclusion is fine, everything in the last hour will make you wonder if you’ve suddenly turned on a different game.
Resident Evil Village is visually immaculate. The environments are incredibly detailed and the game’s lighting gives everything a sense of such realism and atmosphere. From the valish, gold adjourned halls of Castle Dimitrescu to the rotting fields of the village that remind of films like The Witch, there are so many moments I had to stop myself and take in the sights, even if they were mostly horrific.
This is aided by wonderful sound design that heightens even the smallest movement in the other room, ramping up the sense of tension as you attempt to escape with your life. I recommend playing with headphones as the virtual surround sound is extremely effective, especially when Lady Dimitrescu’s size 23 heels after stomping up behind you.
The first half of Resident Evil Village is a wonderful horror game that combines the best part of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 7. Fun, clever puzzle solving an exploration, all housed in a genuinely frightening and unnerving world. The second lord’s section is something I’ll be talking about for the rest of the year, and for the rest of my life if the nightmares don’t calm down. It’s so sad to experience the game going from those lofty heights to sequences that would be barely passable by Resident Evil 6 standards. It feels like two completely different teams made the game. If there is to be another, and it certainly seems like that’s the case, I hope they double down on what’s special about Village; an incredible atmosphere, immaculate visuals and horrors beyond that you thought could be in a video game.