Picture, if you will: lost in a freezing forest, somewhere in eastern Europe. Pitch black, with only a handheld flashlight illuminating a few feet in front of you. Eerie silence all around, only the crunching of snow beneath your feet. As you trudge on, something runs past into the bushes. Another figure is barely visible for a moment: large, covered in fur, but almost human shaped. Soon you see a dead crow, torn to bits. Afterwards another, and another, some are tied up in branches, others strewn on the ground. You find a small shack, and as you duck inside, something lands on the roof. In the chaos, the wall is torn open. As you wonder what could’ve done this, you stumble out into the dawn and see, while standing on the ridge, a village. Stretching outward, there is a castle overlooking the peaceful hamlet, an old stone fort to one side, a set of windmills near a reservoir, and in the distance, a large factory with smoke coming from its towers. This is where your worst nightmares are about to come true. So strap in, it is going to be a rough ride! Resident Evil: Village is a tense, engaging thrill ride that balances the DNA of both Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and Resident Evil 4, crafting a unique experience that has both lots of disturbing, unnerving moments and heart pounding action. Let’s dive in!
Welcome to the Village
The game starts with Ethan and Mia Winters, the protagonist of the last game and his wife, who he had to rescue from the psychotic Baker family in Louisiana, settling into a new life in Europe, thanks to Chris Redfield, Resident Evil’s premier hero. Well, at least, until he coldly guns down Mia in front of her husband and absconds with their infant daughter Rose. Ethan soon wakes up on the side of an old road, outside a forest, the truck carrying him wrecked, and Rose nowhere to be found.
The opening paragraph of the review is what you experience shortly thereafter, and what a scene opener it is! The tense horror feel of RE7 is on display here, as every sound, every shadow seems to hide a monster about to strike. There are numerous times throughout the game that, even after playing it several times, will still get a jump out of you. From there, you head into the village, where things are not right: there are slash marks in the homes, blood everywhere and more than a few bodies, but mostly animals. However, after a brutal encounter that sees Ethan get mutilated, we meet one of the main enemies of the game: The Lycans. No slow zombies, but also different from the Ganados or Majini of 4 and 5, these werewolf-esque monsters are fast and vicious, quickly sidestepping and rushing you relentlessly. While some will just attack from the front, there are several times they can surround you, as their superior agility and leaping abilities make them a nightmare to fight if you are in the open. Your first encounter with one and the subsequent all out assault are very reminiscent of RE 4, though with less space to deal with the horde. And much like the RE 4 beginning, the only thing that saves you is a bell, drawing the monsters away. Though if they are going to play Bingo, we don’t know.
From there, you quickly discover what has become of Rose: Mother Miranda, an almost God-like figure has taken her and has surrounded herself with her 4 children, the Four Lords of the land: Lady Dimitrescu, the most prominent figure in the marketing, a 9’ tall buxom lady, who has scythe like nails and a taste for blood; Donna Beneviento, a mysterious young lady who talks through her VERY creepy doll, Angie; Moreau, a disgusting, mutated man who is more fish than mammal; and Heisenberg, a cocky, cigar smoking, Magneto-esque show off, who has plans of his own. To save your daughter, you will need to fight your way through all 4 of these miscreants, on their turf. The story itself is, well, more than a little confusing, and there are points where I have to ask, “Wait, why is X doing this?” or “Why is Y going about it this way?” If anyone says in defence of this, “Well it’s Resident Evil, it’s not supposed to make sense” I will retort with a very harsh, “NO! STOP IT!” Resident Evil games usually go out on a limb, but there is at least some internal logic that works. Here, I am getting less of it. Some sense is here, but less than other RE games.
At least Ethan’s motivation is pretty self explanatory: He is rescuing his daughter, and after what he went through with the Bakers, he doesn’t want to lose the good that he has found in his life. Although you will be pitying Ethan A LOT in this game. You thought his luck was bad in RE 7, well the trend continues! And while I won’t say that Ethan is a compelling character, he does show some surprising moral fiber, even in the face of impossible odds. His line delivery in spots is iffy, though, and he seems to be out of breath a lot.
However, one interesting aspect of the game’s story is seeing the impact on the titular Village. Unlike RE4, where the villagers had been turned for a while, and the stagnating state of everything was evident, this village had been inhabited until just a day ago or so. You run into some survivors, but the desperation that has set in is evident. People shoot first at strangers, point guns at friends and have practically given up hope. The village also has signs of life as it normally should be, but now, ravaged by the Lycans, it is a ghost town. You will return to the village several times throughout the game, as more of it opens up. Exploring it, finding all of its secrets, and getting everything that is hidden is sure to offer a few hours of time, at least on the first playthrough. I won’t say too much in terms of story, but what you find out intrigues and hints at what is to come. Though one thing is right: the tagline “His story comes to an end” is most definitely true.
However, before you dive in, there are a few issues to be aware of. On PC, I ran into some inexplicable framerate drops, sometimes around Lady Dimitrescu, sometimes around fires, sometimes for no reason at all, and sometimes during cutscenes, to the point there was audio desyncs, where the audio ran ahead of the visuals by at least 3 seconds at least. When I lowered my graphics a bit, it helped, but then I realized that some of these were not just framerate drops, there was also stuttering! Hopefully Capcom actually gets on it and patches it, because there are times that the game runs beautifully, in all its gory glory and other times it just chugs for no reason, even if the same area caused no problems earlier! It can be frustrating.
Lootin’ and Shootin’
With the village laid out in front of you, and 4 psychos in your way, you set out to save Rose. This is where the game definitely shows off its blend of RE4&7. The First person perspective is definitely back from 7, but with improvements to the gunplay that make it feel much more actiony than before. Enemies come at you fast, and thanks to the ammo provided, you can deal with everything that comes your way. Soon, though, you realize that enemies are dropping money and sometimes gems (in the form of crystal skulls!) and RE4 shows its DNA.
Not far into the game, you meet The Duke, a morbidly obese merchant that offers his wares, from new guns, ammo and First Aid Kits, to gun upgrades that allow you to hit harder, shoot faster, have more ammo in the mag and reload faster. Not only that, but you can also sell your treasures, supplies and even weapons themselves for some cold hard Lei (the currency). A little later, he also gains the ability to cook you foods, from meat, poultry and fish that you hunt to give you permanent bonuses, like more health and taking reduced damage when blocking. Like the Merchant from 4, and he is referenced as an “Old friend” of the Duke’s, you will be coming back to him a lot, as you drain your wallet to upgrade your weapons and sometimes buy attachments, like extended mags and foregrips, which in turn have bonuses. There are also inventory upgrades for sale, as this game brings back the much celebrated inventory system of 4 (you see a pattern?), allowing you to have a crapton of weapons, ammo and health kits.
As for your arsenal, you start with a knife and a pistol, but quickly find a shotgun (for close encounters). You eventually find a bolt action rifle, a grenade launcher and a magnum, along with proximity mines and pipe bombs. With these, you are ready to take on any foe that gets in your way! Unless it is Lady Dimitrescu, then RUN!!!! Each weapon’s ammo comes in varying degrees of availability, from the plentiful but low impact Handgun ammo to the scarce but hugely powerful magnum rounds. Thankfully, you should always have enough to take on the tougher enemies that show up. There are also some broken walls that can be blown up, which often reveal treasure behind it, so make sure you have some explosives on hand at all times. Going through the game, you should have enough money to upgrade your starting weapons all the way, but you can also find or buy more powerful weapons, which in turn are far more expensive. So comes the question: do you simply stay with the weapon you have and try to max it quickly, or do you cash it in for a weapon that will be more powerful but take longer to get there? Though the good thing is, if you decide to sell your weapons, they will stay in the Duke’s stock, with all the upgrades and attachments still there, should you go back to buy and upgrade again! Makes maxing all the weapons that much easier, and for good reason: maxing out a weapon allows you to unlock unlimited ammo for said weapon!
But not everything can be bought: sometimes you need to make stuff on the fly! That is why RE:Village also has a crafting system. By finding materials in the world, like herbs and chem fluid to make med kits, gunpowder and rusted scrap for ammo or a combination of all of them for the really impressive products, it allows you to bolster your supplies on the fly and can keep you alive in a pinch. The amount of times I was saved by crafting a few med kits in the middle of a fight is impressive, and it helps to be able to make what you need. Though it can be annoying when you want to make a certain type of ammo, but you have more of the supplies you don’t need and not enough of the ones you do. Also, you can’t buy the crafting supplies themselves, but some enemies do drop them in the world, so that helps. It can also help to make some of the harder to find ammo, like Magnum rounds, right before a boss fight, to give yourself that little extra kick to secure victory!
For combat, you have the ability to block an incoming attack to take less damage and if you time it, push back the enemy, giving you space and time to react. Don’t worry about Ethan’s arms, they are tougher than they look, even when getting hit by a sword or a monster’s claws! The best way to handle it, of course, is not to get hit at all, though given the limited mobility in the game, that is not always an option. All in all, the gunplay is solid and most of the time, the enemies are just plentiful enough to give you pause, but not be overwhelming. But there are some areas where the enemies will flood in, or you are trapped in tight spaces, where it becomes a balance between finding ways to give yourself space, using explosives and some tactical retreats in order to deal with the enemy.
I will say, however, that, although the enemies can be intimidating, ultimately the minibosses and even some bosses themselves are not very memorable, especially when compared to other Resident Evils. I also found that the number of enemies, most of the time, was on the low end, and I would’ve preferred more enemy encounters and greater enemy diversity. But all of it is worth it, as long as you get that sweet sweet loot!
All that glitters
While fighting Lycans certainly can give you a thrill, there are also plenty of treasures to find in the world that require a keen eye, not an itchy trigger finger. Searching in rooms will show up on your map, with red being that there is still some item in the room and blue is cleared. While some rooms are fairly easy and straightforward to clear, there are some rooms where I have gone insane trying to clear it, going inch by inch trying to find everything and for the life of me I can’t! Sometimes, however, it is a tiny jewel, hidden on the ceiling or wall (again, RE4 style) that you have to shoot down. While I did enjoy this return (again, big fan of 4), it would help for it to be a little more obvious at times. There are also some treasures that you need to assemble, as their pieces are worth little when apart, but worth so much more when complete (the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and all that). I enjoyed finding those, as it makes me feel so smart that I found the parts.
The funnest treasures, however, were the Labyrinth puzzles. To access these, you need to find one of 4 metal balls, all with the symbols of the four houses, and then take them to a model of the area. A minigame starts where you roll the ball and by tilting the model, roll it down to where it is supposed to go. And once you reach the end, confetti shoots out and you are rewarded with a colored crystal skeleton which is worth a fair amount. Sometimes it can be a little frustrating, as there can be holes or missing rails that can cause your ball to fall off and you have to restart at the top, but there is something charming about rolling a ball around a model, like an old style arcade game and having a little celebration afterward. But that is nothing compared to the brain teasers that are in store!
A puzzling development
Like any Resident Evil game, there are puzzles to be had, and are quite enjoyable for the most part. In fact, one area of the game, against one of the Lords, is just one big puzzle, with no gunplay involved at all. This was intriguing, as you are forced to work through a mystery, piece by piece, until you have the solution and each new clue opens the way to more of the intrigue to unfold. That is until you run into a… Well I won’t say what, but it will give you nightmares, so I’ll let you see for yourself. There is also a fun series of puzzles involving a foundry machine in the factory, as certain items require different molds, and it allows you to forge different pieces as you need them (though sadly Doug Marcaida is not included in the game). One puzzle in particular is a little obtuse in its description, which may result in you simply trying everything you can just to make it work, but thankfully they aren’t that many variations, so it is not too bad. There are also some puzzles that lead to treasure, and while most involve lighting torches, there is one that is very clever and earns you a nifty achievement as well!
One interesting puzzle, however, centers on trying to fight Lady Dimitrescu’s (shudder) “Lovely” “Daughters” (shudder). Bela, Cassandra and Daniela are all creepy, blood thirsty and made of bugs, so shooting them is fruitless, especially in the halls. However, you soon learn of their one weakness, and in each fight, it is all about exploiting it! Though rest assured: once one of them dies, Mama is VERY angry and will stalk you like Mr. X from RE2. Though she is faster and has long, scythe-like claws, so not good. Thankfully, the fights are straightforward enough that you are never lost on how to beat the big bads (unlike RE3, that had one of the most baffling situations and made me mad at the game for being obtuse).
On the whole, I thought the puzzles were mostly well done and more than once I found myself saying, “Oh now that’s clever!” A little more variety in puzzles would’ve been nice, and one puzzle had me scratching my head, not how to solve it, but how the solution worked as it was supposed to: you push a box into the water, go around the area, come back to where you came from,and now there is a new box that you needed to bridge the gap. WHERE DID THAT BOX COME FROM?!!? I NEED TO KNOW WHERE THAT BOX CAME FROM!! AND WHY ARE THERE WORMS?!?!?!
Short and Bittersweet
Now while I did enjoy a fair amount of the game, there is one part I absolutely must criticize: the length of the game itself. While I did spend about 10 hours or so the first time around, this is because I spent a lot of time searching every house, every room, finding everything I could, hunting down every treasure and exploring every nook and cranny of the world. Second playthrough, I was able to finish the game, including collecting all the treasures and fighting every mini-boss, in about 5 hours, since I knew where everything was. In fact, there is an achievement for finishing it in under 3, which is perfectly doable, and I might try it. There are several factors to this:
- Not all areas are created equal. While Castle Dimitrescu and Heisenberg’s factory are fairly substantial (though personally I would say the Castle is actually a little on the small side), both House Beneviento and the Reservoir are both much smaller, both in size and in terms of content. I would say the Reservoir is the most undercooked, as this could’ve been an interesting setting to see aquatic mutations of the infected, but we only get Moreau as an enemy, and we only fight him in the end of the area. Both these areas are straightforward in a bland, uninteresting way, and while there is some tension to be had, more involvement in both areas would’ve helped.
- The Village itself is small. While it is enjoyable opening up and exploring parts of the village, you can explore most of it after the first Lord is down. After that, there is not a lot of reason to come back and explore. So, while the village makes an impression, it is not large enough or substantial enough to warrant more than one look around. This is doubly disappointing given that the Village is the focus of the game.
- The Story’s most interesting villains are wasted too early. Since the closest landmark to the village is Castle Dimitrescu, it is not hard to surmise that the Lady herself is your first foe. While she does make an impression (and plenty of memes have implied other impressions), once she is crystal, none of the other Lords are as interesting. This goes double for Moreau, who is just ugly and pathetic, even when he is a giant monster. Though him pathetically yelling “I’m the best!” is humorous, in a sad kind of way. Heisenburg has some charisma, but not quite enough. Miranda has such little presence in the story, that you barely notice. And when you find out the rest, you have to wonder, “Wait, how does that work?!” And tons of other questions come flooding in.
- Capcom loves its Speed Run achievements. Many Resident Evil games these days have achievements in beating the game in X amount of hours. Usually it is in the ballpark of 3-4 hours. While it is fun to see how fast you can blow through a game, usually it takes someone who knows exactly what they are doing, and using every trick in the book to achieve it. I was able to get 4 hours just collecting everything and knowing how to do everything. Without even trying. If I ignore my Loot Goblin tendencies, I could easily beat this game in 3 hours, or less. This makes me sad. I feel that Capcom wanted to make the game short enough so people could speed run it, at the expense of making a substantial game. RE4 takes much longer to beat, but it felt good along the way, with plenty of areas, enemies and treasure to find. There was a lot to do, and, while you didn’t have to do everything, the game could usually run you, if you are hurrying, about 8 hours (Shorter with the Handcannon, Chicago Typewriter or Infinite Rocket Launcher, of course!). But still, that is nothing compared to a game that you could beat in 3 hours. At that point, why not just make a movie?!
I think what makes me the most sad about this, is that I actually enjoyed this game a lot and wanted to keep playing. But I got deflated when I realized that there is not a ton of game here. It is good, even great, but it is just kind of small.
For those who are able to brave what the Village has to offer, there are several bonuses at the end. One of them is the S.T.A.K.E., a semi-auto Magnum, when fully upgraded, is the most powerful weapon in the game. Combine it with infinite ammo, and suddenly the game becomes a cakewalk. Another is the Handcannon PZ, a magnum in stats identical to the revolver magnum, except it uses sniper rounds, allowing you to use it more often. I leveled this up and used it until the STAKE was fully upgraded. Beating the game on Village of Shadows mode, which ups the enemy damage and health substantially, grants you the Rocket Pistol, a pistol that shoots little rockets that do decent damage. Though honestly: Village of Shadows mode is so much easier with the STAKE, so if you actually want a challenge, don’t get the unlimited ammo for it. You also can unlock concept art, with interesting notes from the art director, and 3D models of everything. There is also Mercenaries mode, where you battle against groups of enemies and try to get the best score. Get SS rank on all of the maps, and you get the LZ Answerer, which is essentially a lightsaber. So I will give the game this: there are reasons to go back and play again. How many times is up to you though.
One thing I am interested in, however, is what happens in the future. Capcom, despite some gripes I had, has expertly crafted a great recipe for Action-Survival Horror, and I just hope they keep going. A tense mix of action, horror, treasure hunting and puzzle solving, taking the best from previous games and streamlining it, producing a satisfying, if all together short offering. Next time, I hope they make the world even bigger, with more enemies, more puzzles, more treasure and more secrets to uncover. We will just have to see what comes next. Until then, go to the Village, and have Mother Miranda pray for mercy! Because you have a daughter to save, no matter what!