If imitation is still the sincerest form of flattery, Resident Evil Village is the sincerest of all Resident Evil games. It wears its inspirations on Ethan Winters' battered sleeves and doesn't shy away from what came before it, though those faithful representations of Resident Evil memories yield mixed results. Resident Evil Village is at its best when it strikes out on its own and innovates, but those who are well-versed in the ways of Resident Evil will at least have plenty of dots to connect.
Comparing one game to another is rarely a worthwhile method for describing a game's inner workings (the "it's like Dark Souls" comparison comes to mind), but it's difficult to divorce Village from games like Resident Evil 4. The marketing for the game played a part in that, with the developers themselves constantly referencing the fan-favorite Resident Evil game as a prime source for inspiration, but even if you hadn't heard about that previously, you'd see the influences just beyond the main menu. Winding trails leading to decrepit villages, being beset by ghastly enemies, and taking refuge inside buildings only to have threats whisked away by the toll of a bell are moments that mean well, even if they're a bit on the nose.
Given how many Resident Evil games there are, you could take literally any singular point from Village and find something from the past to connect it to, but it's evident when Village takes measures to step out on its own and come up with truly innovative scenarios for players to engage with. It owes a lot of that to its act-like structure comprised of the core villains revealed before release. Segmenting the game the way Village does allows for distinctly different experiences and locales to all be bundled into one eclectic package that'll guarantee at least one or two satisfying segments for all kinds of players.
Ironically, it was Lady Dimitrescu's castle which was personally the least enjoyable part of the game. The towering vampire has been the face of Village – literally and figuratively overshadowing even Ethan and everyone else – but everything to do with her felt so formulaic and safe compared to what the rest of Village held. Looking back on those piecemeal components of Village now, it's exciting to imagine which areas the community will remember most fondly after experiencing them.
One thing Village does do better than most Resident Evil games is blending two core components: horror and action. Resident Evil games seem to constantly be in flux between those two ends of the series' spectrum, with Village finding itself closer to the middle of that spectrum than most games do. It's quicker than Resident Evil 7 with more enemies for Ethan to fight, yet it's never unrelenting like Resident Evil 6.
If anything, it's Ethan who's failed to keep up with the tempo of Village. While the first-person perspective and Ethan's methodical movements worked well in the Baker house, he's a bit out of his league here in Village's open environments. The quick nature of the Lycan and other foes is clearly intentional, though Ethan often feels sluggish and outpaced. The guarding and pushback mechanics offset that to a degree, but tanking a hit in a horror game is rarely as rewarding as nimbly maneuvering around one. Because of the first-person perspective, you're often forced into running in one direction while turning your back on an enemy and hoping they don't hit you out of sight.
Changing the settings and sensitivity to make Ethan's movements snappier helped to a degree, but it was disappointing to see the hunting and cooking elements do little to improve the situation. Ethan can concoct dishes with the help of the merchant known as The Duke after he's collected the right ingredients to do things like raise his max health, block more damage, or move quicker. Since Ethan doesn't have a traditional health bar, those health-based upgrades felt largely underwhelming since you can't clearly see their effects, and the extra movement speed felt negligible at best. It was a decent attempt to inject some new systems into Village that never felt worthwhile.
Whether they're outmaneuvering Ethan or not, the enemies of Village deserve applause for their designs alone. We've got the creepy basement dwellers beneath Lady D.'s castle, honest to goodness out-of-the-ground zombies, and diabolical engines of destruction that make chainsaw wielders look like toddlers.
The same goes for the bosses, for the most part. Some have gimmicks, as you'd expect from Resident Evil, while others are more straightforward. All are meticulously choreographed with each boss distinctly different from the last, though the gimmicky ones are more entertaining. They provide clear goals for players to accomplish with superb feedback accompanying successes while some bosses mostly feel like bullet sponges and wear out their welcome after the first few minutes.
Another commendable part of Village is how well it manages to pull together Ethan's story and even greater remnants of Resident Evil. Introducing a new character to a series already filled with fan favorites is no easy task, and Ethan faced an uphill battle right after his introduction in Resident Evil 7. He still quips like he's bewildered by everything and acts supremely underwhelmed in the face of imminent danger, yet through tribulations and events that delicately toe the line between the outlandish and Resident Evil-y, he evolves into a capable and believable vehicle for Village's story.
With as far as Village reaches and as much as it tries to incorporate into one short experience – one playthrough lasted just under 11 hours – it has more successes than shortcomings to show for its efforts. It's not perfect, though it shows how Resident Evil can grow outside of its comfort zones while still managing to pay respects to history and satisfy all types of players.0comments
Rating: 4 out of 5
Resident Evil Village was reviewed on the PlayStation 5. A review code was provided by the publisher.