Resident Evil Village Review: Lycan Or Lump It?
Warning: Major Resident Evil Village spoilers ahead
Lycans and gentlemen, the time is upon us. Capcom has finally unleashed the snarling beast of Resident Evil Village onto the world. Picking up the tragic life of Resident Evil 7's Ethan Winters, Village serves as the middle of a Winters trilogy that will round off with Resident Evil 9. Even though the title sticks with the up close and personal first-person mechanics that made RE7 such a clever reinvention in 2017, it's clear that this is largely a sequel in name only.
Journeying to some distant European realm of monsters and madmen, it's easy to lose yourself in Village's Bram Stoker-inspired backdrop and forget it's actually set in the present day. Following the return of a grizzled Chris Redfield and bloody death for Mia Winters (well, not quite), Village wastes no time throwing Ethan into a hungry pit of werewolves, vampires, and mutants. I battled my way through Village's topsy-turvy tale and just about came out the other side unscathed, so how did Capcom do?
Wish you 'were' here
Within the first 20 minutes, I'd had half my hand bitten off by a werewolf. The opening Village section sets the precedent for what comes next, and with the atmosphere going from zero to brown trousers in a matter of seconds, I know some people who've abandoned the game before they're even made it through the forest. For those who stick with Village, it's a pulse-pounding experience that almost never lets its foot off the gas. Whether you're warding off Moroaica in the blood-flooded basements of Castle Dimitrescu or running away from demented dolls in House Beneviento, there are jump scares aplenty. Even the muscular werewolves you first encounter will have you pumping them full of lead and hoping they stay down.
You'll struggle to juggle your limited inventory and arsenal of weapons, making Village something of a Tetris spin-off if you don't buy more luggage off the Duke early on. I actually loved this touch, as you discard some ammo to make room for the next weapon, only wishing you hadn't when a horde of slow-moving nasties gets the drop on you. Visually, Village is a buffet of the macabre. It's clear to see the Resident Evil 4 influences, but offering much more, Village lives up to its promise of being the biggest game in the series. Each area has its own distinct style, and while the likes of Moreau's Reservoir don't compare to the grandeur of Castle Dimitrescu, new locales throw their own set of challenges and enemies your way.
The Lady is a vamp
Of course, no review of Village could possibly avoid the mention of vampire villainess, Lady Dimitrescu. Taking up a massive chunk of the first half, Alcina Dimitrescu is head and shoulders above the rest of the creepy cast in terms of development, look, and just general boss b*tch status. With callbacks to the Resident Evil's Spencer Mansion, being stalked by Mr. X in Resident Evil 2, and a dash of Resident Evil 4's gothic horror, Resident Evil Village's Castle Dimitrescu is a love letter to the franchise's past. There are puzzles galore, and although most are a little too signposted for my liking, it makes the Castle section more than just besting Lady D's daughter and then heading to the roof to finish off the woman of the hour.
Much like the cavernous corridors of the OG Spencer Mansion, it's easy to get lost here. I found myself referring to the internet to help navigate the labyrinth of corridors and rooms, with my heart skipping a beat every time I managed to open a new section and quickly dash back to the safety of the Duke's chamber before Dimitrescu sliced me like sashimi. Speaking of slicing, Castle Dimitrescu sets a bloody benchmark for Ethan's misfortune. The scene of Ethan losing his right hand in the bowel of the castle made me genuinely squeal and my housemate in the next room to ask, "Are you okay?". With confirmation Village dialled down the horror after RE7 was dubbed "too scary", I dread to think what the game would've been like if Capcom tried to up the horror.
Unfortunately, one of the game's big criticisms is the fact Dimitrescu simply isn't around that long. Moments after you're dodging through her razor talons, you're up on the roof and taking her on in her mutated vampire form. Although I've heard calls for a Lady D DLC, I personally don't think it'd work. The Maiden demo fleshed out some of her backstory, while the various snippets of her diary dotted around the castle filled in the blanks. Capcom presumably didn't realise just how popular (or fetishised) this large and in charge lady of the manor would be, meaning it couldn't anticipate the misstep of killing her off. Then again, this is the Resiverse and miraculous resurrections are nothing new.
- Related: Resident Evil Village Trophy Guide
Winters is coming
Following Castle Dimitrescu, your fingernails remain chewed to the bone in House Beneviento, however, it's after this that things literally take a dive. With Four Houses to beat, there was always going to be a weak link. In Village, it's your boss battle with Salvatore Moreau that just misses the mark. Heading off to Moreau's Reservoir, we get a bit of Lake Hylia from The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time with a dash of RE4's iconic Del Lago Salamander. Unlike the other house heads though, Moreau feels like a damp squib that's thrown into the mix to make up the numbers. As a stop-gap between the beefed-up Dimitrescu and Albert Wesker-esque Heisenberg, Bienviento and Moreau are where Village lacks.
Speaking of which, the trip to Heisenberg's factory sees Village stray a little too far into that dangerous Resident Evil 6 territory. It's no secret that 2012's game threw everything it had at the franchise - and paid the price for it. All that tension and torment that's been built up in the first two-thirds of the game is swapped out for a traditional shooter against Heisenberg and his furry friends. As characters goes, Karl Heisenberg is great, and I've got to admit, his Transformers boss battle was pretty unique. It's just that I was banging at the gates of Castle Dimitrescu and begging to be let back inside.
If you thought RE7 went off the boil with its divisive tanker section, that's nothing compared to Village's swansong. Playing as Chris Redfield is a welcome interlude, but it's also here that we realise Ethan Winters isn't the protagonist we'd hoped for. This leads us neatly to where Village leaves Ethan, players, and the inevitable Resident Evil 9. After it seems like we barely know who Mr. Winters is, he's offed in spectacular style to catapult the story forward. I understand why the writers did this to help set up Rose as the future of the franchise, but in the grand scheme of fan-favourite Resi characters, I don't think Ethan will be winning any awards.
A Rose Between two thorns
Again, copying the RE6 manta of giving it everything we've got, Village gets sometimes lost in the complicated lore Capcom has created. All of this, and we still didn't get a return from fan favourites like Leon S. Kennedy, Claire Redfield, Jill Valentine, or even an Albert Wesker clone. Delivering the biggest gut-punch for those who wanted something tied to games gone by is the fact Ada Wong was originally set to appear in Village but was cut due to "conflicting narratives". Instead, players are left with Village reliving the mistakes of RE5 and going back to the very start of the series with a tenuous link. The whole Mother Miranda/Oswell Spencer nod brought everything full circle, but much like Moreau's bloated corpse, it might've been a segue too far.
Ethan deserves a round of applause (if he has any hands left) for his heroic battle through this neo-gothic nightmare, but as the final credits roll, it becomes clear what the writers have been working toward - rounding off the Winters trilogy with someone new at the helm. The reveal that Rose herself is a Bio Organic Weapon throws up some interesting ideas for Resident Evil 9, and I'm guessing the story will take a leaf out of BioShock's book with Rose wielding her powers. With a time jump adding teenage Rose to the mix, it'll also be great to see a grizzled Chris Redfield take up the role of her mentor. It's clear that the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA) is keeping its eye on Rose and doesn't underestimate her potential power.
Being able to take control of a B.O.W. in RE9 sounds like a great premise, and looking at the two latest games in terms of narrative, hats off to Capcom for reinventing the wheel while still keeping an overall canon. Looking at RE7's Louisana glamour and Village's fairytale frights, I can't wait to see where the story goes next. As Village proves, the long-shuffling series can still do literally anything and keep players surprised some 25 years after we first jumped into action as Chris and Jill. Either way, Resident Evil Village takes a shotgun to its rivals and blows a hole in what we thought we knew about everyone's favourite zombie shooter - in the best way possible.
Images via Capcom