Not all monsters hide in the shadows. Ethan Winters discovers this within minutes of setting foot in this isolated village at the foot of a medieval castle. The sun has barely burned off the morning mist when ravenous, fang-toothed horrors attack him. Resident Evil Village’s opening hour establishes an incredibly tense tone, weaving together moody, atmospheric horror with rollercoaster firefights that leave Ethan within an inch of his life. And, like an ultramarathon runner, Village maintains this thrilling pace until its closing credits.
Ethan’s journey forces him to explore a ramshackle shantytown, blood-soaked wine cellars, and a creepy mansion littered with animated porcelain dolls. These locales are perfect backdrops for a series of blood-curdling encounters. My stomach lurched as a deformed baby-like mutation chased me through a dimly lit basement, and I had to stop and catch my breath after a harrowing shootout with a snarling truck-sized hound. Village’s environment and enemy design are superb, making it one of the scariest Resident Evil games to date.
Ethan slowly amasses the usual assortment of shotguns, pistols, and grenade launchers to combat this assortment of otherworldly horrors. Village’s arsenal doesn’t hold many surprises, but the overall gunplay is more polished than what we had in its predecessor. Running from Village’s slow-marching enemies isn’t difficult, but navigating their flurry of fangs is still a thrill. Staying calm long enough to line up a series of headshots while these hordes bear down on your position is the true challenge, and I walked away from most encounters with a rush of adrenaline. A handful of other adversaries – such as a meme mistress Lady Dimitrescu – relentlessly hound Ethan throughout the game, much like RE 2’s Mr. X. You never know when one of these villains will stroll around a corner, which creates a palpable tension, but these sequences always eventually resolved themselves in an epic, resource-draining boss battle.
When I wasn’t battling tooth and claw for my life, I was scanning every room from floor to ceiling, looking for more ammo, healing items, and other valuable tools. Like previous Resident Evil games, Village’s map does a stellar job communicating which rooms have been cleared out and which still contain a few hidden treasures. However, some items are better hidden than others. On the one hand, Village encouraged me to pour over its intricately detailed environments with a fine-toothed comb; I enjoyed most of these scavenger hunts, and checking a room off my map was always satisfying. On the other hand, a few items remained stubbornly hidden even after several minutes of scouring, so trying to find every item in every room became a little tedious. Fortunately, even a cursory search of each room yields enough gear to get you through the trials ahead.
Developing a keen eye for detail is also vital for solving Village’s handful of environmental puzzles. I love how these puzzles offer a much-needed tension release, and most of Village’s puzzles left me feeling clever. Unfortunately, a couple of puzzle solutions are obscured by fuzzy logic. For example, I had to brute force my way through one puzzle that involved rotating statues, because its clues were misleading. Even after I’d stumbled into the solution, it still took me a while to work out the underlying logic. Fortunately, Village doesn’t throw many puzzles your way, and most of them are satisfyingly simple, so speedbumps are rare.
Resident Evil Village’s narrative is more compelling than I expected. Ethan is still a bit of a bland everyman, but his journey to rescue his daughter is full of wild characters and a handful of surprising moments. Village’s narrative was never the main thing driving me forward, but I’m glad to see that Capcom actually put some thought into this world, and a few of the late game twists have me genuinely excited to see where the series goes next.
Resident Evil Village is an impressive package. I loved the recent remakes of Resident Evil 2 and 3, but I’m excited to see Capcom push the series forward again. Village expands on Resident Evil 7: Biohazard’s approach to first-person combat, offering a series of white-knuckle encounters that perfectly complement Capcom’s unnerving environmental design. Thankfully, Village’s amplified action doesn’t diminish its horror. If anything, Village maintains a sense of dread that few games can match. If you have the intestinal fortitude for intense terror, playing Resident Evil Village is a great way to check your pulse.