2017’s Resident Evil 7 was one of the greatest gaming comeback stories of all time. After the series lost its way over the years with unwieldy blockbuster aspirations, Capcom’s horror team wiped the slate clean and scaled everything down to a creepier, tighter, personality-driven scope.
The resulting 2017 game is still a series highlight—which is likely why Capcom hasn’t yet let go just yet. Its direct sequel, this week’s Resident Evil Village, earns serious “direct sequel” stripes. The same protagonist returns to contend with zombies, monsters, and creeping dread. His tribulations are once again framed within a first-person perspective, and they’re once again controlled by a certain set of moves and weapon types.
Sequels like this sometimes turn out well—ain’t broke, you know the rest—but that’s often because the game maker in question uses lessons learned from the prior game to make something bigger, badder, and crazier, or executes concepts that couldn’t quite fit into the first attempt. RE Village is not that sequel. The more I think about its elements, the more I’m left wondering what got cut, changed, or compressed to get this game out the door, because it largely fails to surpass RE7‘s scope.
RE Village is still a solid experience, and at its best, it doubles down on RE7‘s “front-row seat to horror” twists in terms of giddy, silly horror-violence entertainment. (Think ’80s cheese, not ’00s torture porn.) But as both a video game and an interactive horror film, RE Village is best served by lower expectations.
Four plus seven equals eight?
I say this because it’s easy for well-versed series fans to look at RE Village promotional materials and make up a great-sounding math equation: Resident Evil 4 plus Resident Evil 7 equals… Resident Evil 8? (In the newest game’s logo, “Village” has its letters mocked up so that “VIII” appears in bold. But it’s not RE8. Whatever you say, Capcom.)
The newest game’s titular village certainly resembles the downtrodden Spanish villa from 2005’s RE4. Various homes and shacks appear in a countryside (this time snowier and more mountainous), connected by fields of tall grass, ancient architecture, creepy gothic stuff, and rubble left behind by the town’s once-thriving population. Ungreased metal doors squeak, spooky sounds linger in breezes, and monsters and zombies snarl in various hard-to-discern directions.
The RE7 influence is most evident with its first-person traversal and combat (more on those in a bit), but it additionally seeps in during an early plot sequence where various villains argue about the fate of protagonist Ethan Winters. Like RE7, this is a family affair, with a matriarch named Miranda apparently calling the bad-guy shots. (No, Miranda is not the “tall lady.”) Unlike RE7, this sequence hints at a larger gameplay scope: five significant villains in all, each with their own lairs full of monsters, puzzles, and frights.
RE7 revolved around a single Louisiana-bayou estate with smaller splinter locations, and it felt like a callback to the original series’ intricate mansions. Puzzles and new items forced a significant amount of re-traversal through various floors, hallways, and basements—and heaped on the sense of terror about what might come next, should you return somewhere you’ve been before.
This review’s first spate of bad news comes from how Capcom fails to execute on this plot point and broaden RE Village‘s scope. Sure enough, the game’s central village connects players to a network of lairs, unlocking one at a time for Ethan to explore in a journey to save his daughter. But those lairs are terribly uneven.
Opulence in the observatory, bloodstains in the basement
RE Village‘s best lair is its first one, controlled by the fiendish, charismatic Countess Alcina Dimitrescu and her three vampiric daughters. Capcom has been bullish about featuring this lair in previews and demos, since it’s the opulent stuff of corset-bound dilettantes traipsing around castle estates with neoclassicist flair. Opulence in the observatory contrasts violently with entrails and bloodstains in the wine cellar. (Whatever they’re bottling down there, it’s red.)
Dimitrescu’s castle is indeed a picturesque showcase for the series’ modern, first-person mix of action and puzzles, even if it wraps up too briefly and with little in the way of memorable puzzles. This is saved in part by an ongoing struggle to piece together exactly how to take down the members of the Dimitrescu family—finding their weaknesses and exploiting them in cleverly designed battle chambers, all while each family member taunts and cackles. (Some of them have a great trick of dissolving into swarms of locusts, which means Capcom can mess with your first-person perspectives when a ghoul “flies” through your view.)
The remaining “lairs” and sequences can’t maintain the same momentum, even if the central village connecting them continues to generate surprises, scares, puzzles, and discoveries every time you pick through its corners and find new paths and doorways. From a classic Resident Evil series standpoint, the biggest breakdown between these various lairs is one of plot and stakes. Lady Dimitrescu captivates with her mix of charisma and apparent centuries of life, and her voice actor revels in owning every scene. Plus, battling through her castle while solving puzzles is the gooey stuff of great video game storytelling, because its chambers and secrets tell her life’s story in delightfully organic ways.
But the other lairs feel divorced from this design philosophy. The most intricate one, owned by a dollmaker, is also the smallest, and it leaves zero trace of how its owner lived and suffered up to the point where she became a villain—a fact that becomes glaringly apparent when a text document at the segment’s end tells her story in roughly four paragraphs. Instead, the physical location revolves around hallucinations and creepy dolls. That’s all well and good if we’re talking about a horror film, but since this house’s puzzles rarely surpass the threshold of “follow a trail by the nose until a scary cut scene plays out,” it feels like it blows some trippy opportunities, either with lore or gameplay (let alone both combined).
Do you lycan what you see?
Additional lairs fall into the same rut: abrupt conclusions, underwhelming puzzles, and last-second dumps of lore that hint at a more involved and interesting relationship with the village’s looming Miranda character. These lairs’ copy-and-pasted geometry makes their respective rooms look too similar, whether they’re in a boggy, swamp-like biome or a pipes-and-concrete refinery. In the latter, retracing steps to solve puzzles or use newly discovered items becomes an utter chore of cross-referencing a built-in map to figure out where the heck to run to next.
Maybe a producer made some hard calls midway through production to get the game out the door—and there’s no telling what kind of compromises the global pandemic choked out of Capcom’s best intentions. But the end result pales compared to RE7‘s impeccable execution, and RE Village‘s increased emphasis on combat doesn’t make up for the game’s shortcomings.
Some classic RE games have made combat more intense by forcing players to run away from fights to save their ammo. RE Village hints at a similar philosophy in its very first battle—and it’s an absolute series highlight, thanks to its insane odds, nastily designed zombies (dubbed “lycans” here), and path through various houses where players must quickly use built-in explosives, barricades, and dust clouds to outlast a timer.
This opening conflagration also makes clear that dead foes drop coins, and the hardest ones drop lots of coins. The storefront concept from games like RE4 returns, and players can routinely buy ammo, items, storage space, new weapons, gun upgrades, and more, in addition to the copious supplies found throughout the game’s buildings and catacombs. Plus, a few of the game’s earliest fights are simple and manageable enough to give you time to breathe and notice those coins. Surviving RE Village comes down to this: you can run, but maybe you should stay and fight.