REVIEW – The eighth instalment of the legendary horror game series, 25 years old this year, Resident Evil Village takes us to Romania. The game’s main villain, Countess Dimitrescu, is based on Elizabeth Báthory, so it was with great interest that we got to experience the horror world on Xbox Series X, Google Stadia and PS5.
It was a quarter of a century ago, in 1996, that the very first Resident Evil, zombie-slaying survival horror and action-adventure, was released for both PlayStation and PC, in which we had to fight the bloodthirsty undead hunting us in a castle and investigate a viral infection that caused, among other things, transformation. Since then, the name Resident Evil has become a household name in video games, thanks to countless sequels and Hollywood movies starring Milla Jovovich.
With the series having fizzled out by around the sixth instalment, a radical change was needed in 2017, and Resident Evil 7, which took place largely in a single house and gave us an inside view of a brand new hero, Ethan Winters, was a timely blood freshening. Although for two episodes (Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 remakes) the franchise returned to the familiar external view with the old characters, these were also reimaginings of the old games, so it’s not so surprising that the subject of our test was again adventuring from an internal view. The protagonist is the same: once again, hapless Ethan Winters gets involved in some brutal adventures – this time in Transylvania…
The ladies are a bit buggy
Set a few years after the events of Resident Evil 7, Ethan and his wife Mia are looking for peace and quiet after the horrors of their house in Louisiana. Of course, they are out of luck: Chris Redfield, the government agent hero from the beginning of the series, who has returned several times, breaks into their home, shoots Mia, their daughter, the infant Rose, for reasons unknown, and kidnaps Ethan and his men. Our hero is freed from the agents’ clutches in Transylvania, where he immediately goes after Rose, who seems to be held captive not by Redfield and his agents, but by local horrors.
The first of these is Lady Dimitrescu, a powerful femme fatale who lives in an ancient castle with her daughters, her body a human being made of flying bugs.
They are the first adversaries to be confronted in a castle not far from the Transylvanian village, along with a horde of undead servants…
We won’t say much more about the story, suffice it to say that it’s at least as good as the best episodes in the series (Resident Evil 4, for example) – despite the fact that the protagonist himself, Ethan Winters, is still the most boring and uninteresting protagonist ever.
True, there is a function to this: with such controllable characters, the player can often get more involved in the action if the protagonist is not so heavily developed.
The Transylvanian ‘village’ of the game’s title could be a real tourist attraction if it weren’t full of mutant undead, resembling a mixture of cavemen and werewolves, who have already slaughtered the whole community. Ethan would also be mangled into a bloody corpse (they even try a few times in the transition scenes), but fortunately our determined hero still has the drug that was injected into him in the previous episode, which allows his body to regenerate from more serious wounds.
Ethan is much more determined in this episode, and this has an effect on the gameplay. Compared to Resident Evil 7, there’s less running and hiding from others, a much wider variety of weapons to use, a wide range of upgrades and lots of ammunition. Reminiscent in many ways of Resident Evil 4, the Village is also much more action-packed than the previous episode.
This might not sound so good to fans of the series, as Resident Evil is essentially a survival horror series where skirmish is always in short supply and the monsters are overpowered, so you’re often better off running away. This is not so much the case here, but in return, the gameplay is quite varied, with lots of locations to explore, secrets, logical parts, blood-curdling monsters, with an unparalleled horror atmosphere.
This time, there are three difficulty levels to choose from (Resident Evil 7 only had “easy” and “normal” at launch), so if you’re looking for a true survival horror experience, you can try the hard level.
The Countess loves you bloody
Resident Evil Village is in many ways more polished, better developed, and smoother than the previous instalments (including the previous episode), but where the game clearly excels is in the development of the various monsters. The Countess Dimitrescu and her three ‘bug-eyed’ daughters, reminiscent of the aforementioned Elizabeth Báthory, are already more interesting, exciting, terrifying and creatively portrayed than most Resident Evil bosses, but the Japanese developers have been just as professional in their depiction of the other horrors.
The castle is fine, but there’s no rest for the weary in the central village, where a variety of disfigured, grimacing, grunting, roaring, grotesque monsters with twisted heads and grotesque faces come at you in unexpected and unpredictable ways as you wander through the blood-soaked, ruined houses, or seemingly invincible goliaths, against whom we often have to employ some kind of individual tactic to escape from their encounters, if not intact, then at least alive.
The same can be said of the bloody professionalism of the monsters, but also of the more creative puzzle challenges, the solution of which can lead to progress or treasures to be sold. The latter can be passed on to the hideously fat Count for lei (Romanian money), which can then be used to ‘spiff up’ your weapons or buy other extras. This trading, chattering, upgrading part is also much more enjoyable than in any previous episode, and while shopping, the cynical Count, who looks like he weighs 200 kilos, can be amusing to watch.
That’s why we bought a new generation console
Resident Evil Village is a truly impressive game graphically, with the Japanese developers really going all out to create all the locations, which are extremely varied. Starting in a shattering medieval village full of ruined corpses, we are transported to Lady Dimitrescu’s lavish, stately Gothic castle. The upper floors of the Countess’s residence are lined with glittering suites and library rooms, while the lower levels are dungeons full of filthy medieval torture devices. Later, you’ll find yourself in an even more morbid house, where animated dolls reminiscent of classic horror films try to slice you to shreds.
The creative and varied locations are brilliantly rendered by the game’s fourth graphics engine: the RE Engine. The ray-tracing can be admired on Xbox Series X, PS5 and new-generation graphics cards, and its effect is most noticeable in the castle’s reflective, shimmering, gleaming rooms. For those of you who have been left out of this generation, for the time being, Resident Evil Village is not necessarily out of the loop either, as Capcom has finally made the effort to squeeze the latest instalment onto the previous generation. I played through the game on an Xbox Series X (but I also played it on Stadium and PS5), and the visuals were really stunning for the most part, with maybe only the textures in the Moreau swamp section being a little poorer compared to the rest of the graphics.
On the negative side, the boss fights are not very original, creative or challenging in some cases – Resident Evil 7 was not surpassed in this respect.
Best game of the year so far
Apart from a couple of minor glitches, Resident Evil Village is clearly the best game of the year so far, and Capcom really went the extra mile. It’s very difficult to make a horror game that’s both horrifying and entertaining at the same time, but the Japanese still have a knack for it.
+ Excellent graphics
+ Exciting gameplay
+ Scary ambiance
– Boss fights are a bit of a meh
– A bit repetitive in the latter part
– Minor glitches
Genre: Horror FPS
Release date: March 31, 2021