‘Resident Evil Village’ review: an open-world theme park of pure terror

Capcom twists the design hallmarks of Resident Evil to deliver something fresh, freaky and fun

More than any game in the series, Resident Evil Village feels like a horror movie. It begins with an eclectic animated fairy tale before plunging you into another one: three years after the events of Resident Evil 7, the Winters family have started a new life in Europe, and Mia’s cooking dinner in their quaint new home. They’re searching for peace after their disastrous detour to Dulvey, Louisiana, but tragedy quickly descends on the house.

This time, it isn’t the Baker family but an old friend that causes the chaos. Chris Redfield hustles into the house with his team, killing Mia in cold blood before kidnapping Ethan and his newborn Rose, taking them to a remote Romanian village brimming with unknown horrors. Not before I can take some photos, though…

The recent shift to a hyper-realistic style certainly suits Resident Evil’s distinct brand of gruesome horror. But it was the stitching on a lounge chair and the cloth that swaddles Ethan’s then-soon-to-be-stolen baby that first made me tap the Share button on my DualSense. This is a beautiful game, easily the most eye-popping I’ve played on the PlayStation 5 so far, and it quickly builds in visual intensity as you’re carted off to the village with just seconds to mourn your deceased spouse.

Resident Evil Village
Resident Evil Village. Credit: Capcom

As if the kidnapping wasn’t enough, a crash leaves Ethan alone in the dark, with Rose nowhere to be seen. Narrative stakes still ringing in the player’s ears, they’re first introduced to this folk funhouse via a nightmarish trudge through crunchy snow. You brush past mutilated bodies, constantly aware of the presence of something inhuman lurking off-screen. The lighting here and throughout Village is immersive – it’s a constant source of terror. And in a dark living room, there are few barriers between player and protagonist, especially if you’re sporting a 3D audio-capable headset.

You’ll soon make it from the outskirts to the mainland, and then the game widens its lens, offering an open-world hub area that changes over the course of the game. The eponymous village is a smart expansion of the dynamic police departments and mansions that had so much character in early Resident Evil games.

Flanking this open-world area, laden with secret treasure side quests and legendary pigs to hunt, are the game’s four main boss territories. Theme park comparisons are easy to make here – it’s as if Capcom decided to make its own Disneyland of phobias and worst nightmares. You can hang with Lovecraftian merman Moreau in Aqualand or, if dolls freak you out, you’ll hate Lady Beneviento’s house of haunted puppets.

These unique nightmare factories ensure that Resident Evil Village has some fantastic must-see moments, but it also makes the game quite inconsistent as you bounce between its major beats. I have to admire the ambition – the game is constantly trying to vary the way you play – but I didn’t find all of the shifts compelling.

There’s a particularly dull late-game section where the game becomes a werewolf wave shooter. And then there’s an action movie set piece on a giant lake that feels disjointed. These sections are certainly novel, but they’re also a considerable departure from what the game is best at: intimate horror.

Resident Evil Village
Resident Evil Village. Credit: Capcom

If you read my Resident Evil 3 Remake review, you’ll know that I bemoaned the game’s arcade shooter sections, which replaced the tense survival horror the series excels at. Village is leagues better than last year’s remake, but it does occasionally dip into this design school, like an old flame it can’t resist.

It’s so noticeable when it happens, because combat is sluggish in Resident Evil Village, and purposefully so. It’s clear the combat has been built with some clunk to make the player feel helpless and vulnerable as they scramble for ammo or throw up their hands to guard against nasties. In that sense, it achieves its goals when you’re engaging with the game’s survival horror sequences. So why throw in so many fast-paced combat action sequences that don’t fit this mould?

You can get away with it in a third-person over-the-shoulder game like Resident Evil 4, but when the player is looking out of Ethan’s eyes, it’s quite the reach. We’re not exactly trying to be Destiny here, so it feels wrong to try and shoehorn in sequences that feel so distant from the close-quarters terror we know and love. And as a result, after you hit the midpoint of the game, Resident Evil Village isn’t scary enough.

Resident Evil Village
Resident Evil Village. Credit: Capcom

Thankfully, its opening hours are. I was trembling with fear as I mastered the layout of the open world. Each house feels like a terrifying puzzle that you unravel up-close, and the scares lying in wait are tasteful, augmented by superb sound design. The sound of a twig snapping or a door creaking were enough to jolt me into a stiff posture.

It’s when the game gets psychological with its scares that Village approaches horror masterpiece territory. It predicts when and why you would cower, and uses that to trick you into dropping your guard when you need it most.

Castle Dimitrescu is a fantastic example, with Lady D’s goth vampire girlfriends nipping and gnawing at you as they aberrate between forms, giggling and leaping into rooms to force you into mini-boss battles. The big woman herself also turned out to be quite the formidable opponent, with some stellar quips and unusual twists cementing her already beloved character into the Resi canon.

But beyond a staggering final act that shouldn’t be spoiled, the game’s finest hours take place in Lady Beneviento’s mansion. I’ll have to be light on details to preserve it, but it’s a claustrophobic tango and the only section in which the entity pulling the strings isn’t front and centre. As a result, the terror is dialled to 11. It easily evoked Kojima’s P.T – and it rumbled me to my very core.

This is where the game really excels, so when some sequences in the late game started to feel like Call Of Duty missions, I would quickly lose interest. The main redeeming factor is that the rich characters, performances and general aesthetics are more than enough to smooth the peaks and valleys over its 10-hour runtime. Despite the few drawbacks, Resident Evil Village is memorable and fiendishly fun, like any new spin on a franchise should be.

‘Resident Evil Village’ is out May 7 on PS4/5, Xbox Series X|S and PC.

The Verdict

Resident Evil Village sees Capcom reinvent its hallmark horror series once again. It successfully grafts the franchise’s knack for puzzle box environments into an open-world format, complete with sinister sound design, remarkable graphics and morbid new monsters. It does sadly dabble in tame action shooter tropes in spots, but the overall experience makes up for it with its nightmare fuel set pieces and compelling characters.

Pros

  • Remarkable graphics and sound design create a new immersion benchmark for the series
  • A face-twisting horror plot with some seriously sinister sequences
  • Open-world Resident Evil works well and is complemented by fun optional content

Cons

  • The story looks the part but doesn’t explore its most interesting ideas
  • It noticeably drops the ball when it shifts away from pure survival horror
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