Game name: Resident Evil Village
Release date: May 7, 2021
Available on: Steam
Genre: Survival Horror
When Capcom revealed that Resident Evil 7 would be a first person game, I feared that they were chasing the Outlast crowd and going for a script-heavy jump scare fest. The pre-release demos didn’t help much, but once the game was fully released, I was pleasantly surprised, as the game was still very much Resident Evil, with all of its quirks, imperfections, and above all, charm. I didn’t find it particularly scary, but apparently others did, so when in the lead up to Resident Evil Village‘s release, one of the game’s producers said that this new entry in the long-running franchise would be “less scary”, I was once again a bit concerned. I’ve now spent an inordinate amount of time playing Village, and without spoiling too much, I can confidently say that my concerns were unfounded. Other than that, if you want to know what I thought about the game, you know what to do!
Resident Evil Village is a direct sequel to Resident Evil 7, so of course we are again playing as Ethan Winters, a reluctant hero who doesn’t have a big resume when it comes to facing off terrifying bioweapons. Due to circumstances that I don’t wish to spoil, Mr. Winters finds himself trapped in a particularly downtrodden area of Eastern Europe, fighting werewolves, zombies, tall vampire ladies and other very aggressive enemies out for his blood. Anyone who has played the seventh mainline Resident Evil title will probably remember that Ethan’s personality is mostly defined by two traits: his ability to react in a surprisingly believable way for a RE protagonist, and the fact that his family members get kidnapped a lot. This time we won’t be chasing after our wife, but rather our baby daughter Rose. Still, same difference, Ethan has been through this already, and he’ll go through Hell if that means being able to save his kin. As you might expect, this is not going to be an award winning story, but I was hooked for the duration of the ride, and I’m very happy to say that there are a lot of nods to earlier titles in the franchise, and connections with the overall mythos of the series that I wasn’t expecting, since Resident Evil 7 seemed to go on a far less involved path in that regard. If you are a RE fan, Village‘s story will definitely stay in your memory, in spite of its imperfections.
Of course, the real reason most people gravitate towards Resident Evil is the survival horror experience, and there is a lot of that here. The game’s first person perspective restricts our vision, making certain sequences extremely effective at creating a deeply unsettling atmosphere at first, and, as the story goes on, plunging us into outright terror. The RE Engine provides an excellent tech base for this, with its ability to display photorealistic scenarios that feel plausible (and are even more horrifying because of that) as well as excellent audio design work, where the music and environmental sounds conspire to make exploration a nerve-wracking proposal. As it’s been the case with previous entries in the franchise, even though we can take care of the monsters we’ll face on our journey, they are quite tough, and will require a significant ammo expenditure, which isn’t always a good idea (or even a real possibility, as an early nail-biting clash with the Lycan hordes taught me). This isn’t the kind of game that sells one thing through its atmosphere and overall tone, while going a completely different way gameplay-wise, and I’m very glad for it.
Interestingly, most people’s first impressions of Village will probably make them think that it’s a far more action-focused title than 7, since we get into a fight pretty much at the beginning of the adventure, and we are even handed a shotgun during the first hour. From my experience, that’s mostly the game trying to make us feel in control before brutally unleashing a frankly massive amount of vicious Lycans on us, and creating a situation, that while reminiscent of Resident Evil 4‘s opening act, ends up being a real fight for survival on Ethan’s part, and not just a vehicle to showcase his heroic abilities. Leon Kennedy might have faced off against the Ganados in a fight that seemed desperate, but by the end of it, he was definitely closer to Jean Claude Van Damme than the every day guy with a gun represented by Village‘s protagonist. He also walked away unscathed from that encounter, which is far more than I can say for poor Mr. Winters.
This does not mean that Resident Evil Village‘s combat is not up to par though, especially considering that its predecessor is 7, a title where the majority of our foes were slimy creatures that looked mostly identical to one another. Village does away with this idea (and I couldn’t be happier) as we’ll face very distinct enemy types who behave in a far more erratic way, requiring carefully aimed shots in order to take them down without wasting too much ammunition. Combat here is a frenetic affair, punctuated by desperate reloads, quick switches to the shotgun in order to stagger approaching foes, and if all else fails, careful use of the blocking function (though I have to say that I’m horrified at the amount of damage Ethan’s hands take, and forcing him to put up his appendages as the only available shield against sharp toothed creatures and blade wielding zombies felt wrong every time I did it). As the adventure progresses we’ll get access to more tools to keep enemies at bay, and I also found a good amount of help in the form of explosive barrels, bags of flour (which act as flashbangs, in a way) and other things that can be used to turn the tide in our favor.
Stealth also plays a big part in Village‘s survival horror experience, since the game follows a similar structure to 7‘s “stalker” scenarios where a big baddie will hunt us down before we are tough enough to take on them in a battle to the death. This isn’t Splinter Cell level stealth, to be precise, but I found the experience varied enough to enjoy the tense game of cat and mouse borne out of the necessity to get to specific rooms in order to get more items and access previously closed off areas. Just as it was in the previous game, we will not have to engage in scripted stealth scenarios with easy to trigger fail states, so anyone discouraged by that possibility should rest easy knowing that this is not the case here. If all else fails, we can shoot our way out of some of these scenarios, though a certain tall vampire lady won’t care much for our puny attempts at removing her hat from her face, sadly.
Aside from shooting, exploring and sneaking around, we’ll also do a fair amount of inventory management and crafting. The classic herbs from past titles return to let us create healing salves that miraculously close horrifying wounds, and apparently Ethan is a very good tinkerer, as he can make all sorts of ammunition and explosive devices as long as he has scrap, gunpowder, etc. (and of course, a recipe, which can be bought from the game’s best character, the lovable Duke who acts as a far more affable version of Resident Evil 4‘s Stranger). Key items are no longer part of our main inventory though, and the omnipresent storage chests from earlier titles are nowhere to be seen, so we will not have to choose between carrying more ammo or taking this or that key with us. I was certain I was going to hate this change, but honestly, I didn’t really mind it once things got underway. It’s definitely something done with the aim of making the game more straightforward and uncomplicated, but it doesn’t feel bad overall.
And while we are on the subject of key items, I can’t really ignore the series’ penchant for puzzle solving, as it’s in full display here, just as it was in RE7 (though without that game’s fondness for shadow puzzles, thankfully). We got a little bit of everything in Village, from solving easy stuff like playing a song in a piano, to music boxes, to statues, and far more. None of these puzzles are hard enough to make your brain melt, and I don’t think the average player will require a guide to solve any of them, but there’s enough variety so that they never felt as overused as they have felt in past entries. This is a game that, while committed to providing an engaging and tense horror experience, is also trying to be fun, and I for one, am very grateful for that fact.
Going back to the Duke, this affable shopkeeper will show up in certain areas, providing a safe room so we can save our progress and rest our weary extremities, as well as selling all sorts of useful tools. How does Ethan pay for his services? Easy, all birds in this remote location seem to be carrying bags of money, and you’ll also get cash from destroying priceless vases and mowing down zombies. If that wasn’t enough, then you can pilfer valuable items from the evildoer who rules the area you are currently exploring, and then sell them to the Duke, who is only too happy to pay handsome sums for weird stuff like crystal skeletons and expensive lipstick. If buying healing salves and shotgun shells doesn’t feel like a good way of spending your cash (I think it is, but to each their own) then you might want to take a look at the weapon modifications screen, where you can upgrade different parts of your guns (pro tip: if you are out of ammo, increase the capacity of your weapon and you’ll be rewarded with a full magazine for it). Aside from this system (which is pretty much lifted from Resident Evil 4) you can also purchase or find other upgrades for your arsenal, which can be manually attached to your weapons and will change their visual appearance as well as their functionality.
Oh, and while I am on the subject of upgrades, I figured I’d give a quick heads up to anyone expecting to spend a moderate amount of hours playing Village (as I was) since this is definitely the kind of game you keep playing long after you’ve seen the credits roll. Continuing the series’ tradition of offering unlockable stuff for multiple runs, we can get our hands on all sorts of interesting weaponry that can make subsequent playthroughs a completely different experience to the first, and if that’s not up your alley, then let me remind you that the beloved Mercenaries mode also makes a return here, taking full advantage of the improved combat to deliver a great action packed experience.
With story and gameplay out of the way, I feel it’s time we take on the tech aspect of the game, and this is sadly an area where I have some bad news to deliver. While the RE engine manages to deliver truly astounding vistas with a commendable devotion to detail and photorealism, the PC port of Resident Evil Village isn’t exactly great. This is a game that comes with all the bells and whistles of modern titles, featuring real time ray tracing out of the box, as well as some mighty impressive texture work. When everything works fine, it looks gorgeous and performs well. When things go wrong though, framerates will suddenly dip for no real reason at all, and certain areas of the game suffer greatly due to this issue. During my time with Village, I identified at least three different performance-related problems, two of them seemingly directly related to the game, and one that was Microsoft’s fault. The first two are simple to reproduce, for one of them the trigger is simply getting grabbed by an enemy attack (or getting close to the bugs that emanate from some creatures we’ll face), while the other seems to be triggered by specific areas (and can end up affecting your enjoyment of the game a lot more). The Microsoft-related issue I had was apparently triggered by a Windows 10 update (KB5003173) that doesn’t play nice with multi-monitor setups, and it was easy to solve (just uninstalling the update made my problems go away). Once that was done, I went back to having close to 100 fps for most of the time, but with noticeable slowdowns under the two specific scenarios I described above. I don’t feel this is acceptable in 2021, especially coming from the excellent Resident Evil 2 and 3 Remake ports, which performed admirably even with worse hardware (I’m running a 5600x, 32gb RAM, RTX 3070 rig, so I’m definitely in line with Capcom‘s recommended settings for 1440p ray tracing enabled gaming). Hopefully a patch will hit soon solving these issues, and adding a FOV slider, which is also sorely needed.
Technical issues aside though, Resident Evil Village is an excellent addition to the series, expertly mixing horror, action and exploration for an experience that will stay in gamers’ minds for years to come. This is a title that can easily fit in my top 3 when it comes to the long running horror franchise, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for Capcom‘s RE team.
9.5/10 – Excellent