Love/Hate: Resident Evil Village

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! In this entry we’re looking at Resident Evil Village, the most recent entry in the franchise thus far. After the successful resurrection of the franchise with Resident Evil 7 and then the blockbuster hits that were the Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes, everyone was excited to see what direction Capcom were going to go next. Their answer was Resident Evil Village, a game which (thankfully) looked to push the bounds of the franchise with vampires, werewolves and a gothic aesthetic that looked more than a little inspired by Resident Evil 4. Could Capcom keep the series’ revival going? Read on to find out…

Also, just before we get into the meat of this article, I played this game on a base PS4. The game still looks and runs fantastically on old hardware, I didn’t really notice any issues in my playthrough. I’m sure it looks absolutely stunning on current-gen systems, but don’t feel like you have to wait to get the full experience.

Love

  • Great Characters – Most Resident Evil games have one or two really compelling leads and maybe a good villain, but Resident Evil Village has one of the most compelling casts in the whole franchise. There’s at least three top-tier villains, two solid heroes, a top-tier side-character and nearly every other major player has a ton of personality that makes them memorable. The four lords in particular are all fantastic, having more in common with a Metal Gear rogues gallery than they do Resident Evil, which works in their favour. Alcina Dimitrescu makes for a very compelling, haughty antagonist as she stalks you through her castle with her daughters and toys with you, believing you to be below her attention. Donna Beneviento is just creepy, the way she messes with your mind during her level tells you more about her than any exposition could. Salvatore Moreau is a pathetic momma’s boy, you feel a lot of pity for him as you put him out of his misery. Karl Heisenberg is really interesting, a truly chaotic force within the plot whose performance nails the “Nicholas Cage” energy it was going for. Mother Miranda has less personality than any of the four lords, but the game builds up an appropriately intimidating atmosphere around her character which keeps her from falling flat. As for the leads, Ethan Winters has so much more personality here than he did in Resident Evil 7, reacting appropriately as he tears his way through the village to save his daughter. As for Chris Redfield, this was honestly the first time a Resident Evil game has made me interested in him. His heel-turn is definitely contrived, but the portrayal of Chris here is one who is supremely confident and weathered, actually feeling like a proper soldier for once. Perhaps the biggest surprise has to be The Duke though. I was expecting him to be a second-rate Merchant, but he manages to be interesting, mysterious and strange all at once, allowing him to stand on his own merits.
  • Variety – Going into Resident Evil Village I expected this game to just be a ripoff of Resident Evil 4. While it is clearly drawing some inspiration from Resident Evil 4, Village is very much its own game. Perhaps the most interesting way that Village differentiates itself is in how wildly it shifts tones and gameplay in each section. The village is reminiscent of the early hours of Resident Evil 4, then Castle Dimitrescu feels like the original Resident Evil with a gothic coat of paint, House Beneviento goes full-on P.T. with its psychological horror/escape room vibe, Moreau Reservoir has lots of puzzle/environmental hazard gameplay in a Lovecraftian fishing village, the factory plays like a slow-paced Doom game and then the last stretch of the game goes from tank-battle, to full-bore shooter and then to an almost Souls-like final boss. It’s a lot of different styles and tones across a 8-12 hour playthrough and while some work more than others, there should be some levels that catch your interest.
  • Some Great Level Design – Compared to Resident Evil 7, Village is a more linear and expansive game. However, it still does work in some looping areas as it goes along. The most obvious example of this is the main village area, which you can nearly fully-explore in your initial visit, but as the game progresses you will be able to return to areas you couldn’t open at the time, and after nearly every major event some new enemy type or secret area will open up, encouraging you to explore the world as much as you can. Castle Dimitrescu also feels like classic Resident Evil level design as you trek out from the one safe room to find keys, solve puzzles and dodge the pursuer enemies looking to drain your blood. House Beneviento, as I’ve stated, feels like the fulfilled promise of P.T., utilizing frequent backtracking and escape room-like gameplay to mess with the player and build tension until unleashing it all in truly terrifying fashion.
  • Secrets Everywhere! – While I’m mildly disappointed that Village doesn’t have deviously well-hidden items like Resident Evil 7 did, it makes up for it with all the hidden secrets it backs into its levels. Whether its the hidden areas full of rewarding gear, tough bosses off the beaten path, or the iron balls you can use to unlock the rewarding (and fun) labyrinth puzzles, there’s always something new to do in the village after you complete each level. In fact, I know for a fact I missed a few of these secrets in my playthrough and it almost makes me want to go back to find them again.

Mixed

  • Story Goes Off the Rails in the Last Hour – Surprise, surprise, another Resident Evil game has a narrative I can’t fully get on board with. In some ways, Village may just have the deepest narrative in the franchise, if only because it actually has a theme that it weaves throughout the entire narrative. Specifically, the story is very much about parenthood, the lengths that parents and children will go to for each other. Many of the game’s strongest and most horrific moments revolve around this very theme. However, the story really falls off the rails in the last hour. Much of this has to do with the game’s opening, where Chris kills Ethan’s wife, Mia, and kidnaps their daughter, Rose, who then gets intercepted by Mother Miranda and brought to the titular village. While this makes for a really intriguing narrative hook, the game undermines it in the last hour when it reveals that “Mia” was actually Miranda in disguise and that Chris was actually trying to save Rose… but didn’t bother to tell Ethan for absolutely no reason. It’s stupid, transparently so, and is the one thing that makes me second-guess whether this is the best Chris Redfield portrayal or not. It also doesn’t help that after all the hyping up, Mother Miranda doesn’t get a lot of opportunity to shine and live up to the hype. She very much suffers from a “tell, not show” approach. If she had some more opportunity to get fleshed out she could have been one of the most memorable Resident Evil villains.
  • Hints of What’s to Come – The closing minutes of Village are perhaps some of the most interesting to talk about. It is revealed that the BSAA, the heroic anti-bio-terror organization which has been a fixture in the series since Resident Evil 5, have become corrupt and are now deploying B.O.W.s to combat bio-terror. Obviously, this is hinting at a future where we may have to take down the BSAA, which sounds interesting to say the least. The other big reveal is that Rose grows up infected with the mold, which has given her powers that the government are monitoring closely (kind of like Sherry Birkin in Resident Evil 6). On the one hand, my gut tells me that these plot threads are going to lead us back down an action-heavy direction for the series like Resident Evil 5 and 6 did. If followed to their natural conclusion, you’d need either a soldier-type like Chris or Jill leading the fight against the BSAA and all their B.O.W. soldiers, or you’d need a super-powered Rose Winters leading the fight. Either way, it’s far away from the intimate, tense, horror-focused gameplay of the best Resident Evil games and I’d hate to see the series leave that behind again right after finding its footing. That said, I really don’t want Resident Evil to have yet another major plot hook meet a dead-end. Jake Muller (who was poised to take over the franchise) hasn’t been seen in 10 years, nothing has been done about Alex Wesker’s personality taking control of Natalia and we still know basically nothing about Blue Umbrella or what Mia was up to in Resident Evil 7. Oh, speaking of which…

Hate

  • Mia Gets Totally Shafted – If there’s one character who truly gets done dirty in this game, it’s Mia Winters. In a rather shocking twist, Resident Evil 7 reveals that Mia is secretly a part of a freaking bio-terror organization, a fact which comes to light over the course of the game. It was kind of expected that this would be explored more in Village, maybe even be why Chris shoots her in the opening sequence… but no, it is never brought up at all. In fact, Mia is relegated to the role of damsel and crying wife. She’s literally just locked up in a cage throughout the entire events of the game, gets rescued by Chris about 30 minutes before the game ends and then cries and freaks out asking where Ethan is. It’s borderline insulting that Mia gets treated this way, she was (and is) a far more compelling character than Ethan is and could have made for a great hero (or antagonist!) in this game if they’d just stuck with the narrative threads they’d established for her. Honestly, I want her to come back for Resident Evil 9. I think the villainous route could work really well for her. Maybe she had Rose with Ethan in order to continue her research, it is implied she knew Miranda and maybe she was working with her as well. This could lead to a F.E.A.R.-like situation if Mia turns Rose evil, which could be an interesting direction that could keep the games from getting too action-heavy.
  • Two Back-to-Back Awful Levels – The second half of this game really soured the experience for me. I know some people don’t like either Moreau’s Reservoir or they don’t like the factory, but I had the unpleasant experience of hating both.
    • Moreau’s area was unfocused and mediocre enough in the mines, but when you have to make your way to drain the sunken village it became an incredibly frustrating game of trial and error. Basically, you have to maneuver across planks before they go in the water, but if you fail, or if you happen to try at a moment when Moreau jumps past you, then you fall in the water and instantly get killed. I must have died here more times than in the rest of the game combined, and nearly every death was total bullshit. You can tell that there were some major cuts made here, a fact which was only recently confirmed. The original concept for the area sounds way more intriguing than what we got and I’m sad that the developers didn’t get more time to make it work.
    • Meanwhile, Heisenberg’s factory is just a slog. You have a fight tons of cyborg-zombies which become stronger and more well-armoured as the level progresses to keep things interesting. While I appreciate the attempts to keep the fights from getting too routine and I like some of the level design, the factory just goes on way too goddamn long and outstays its welcome. The game is also a lot more action-heavy during this time and every enemy feels like it takes too many shots to down them… everything is just “too much” and really should have been scaled back. Cut 20-30 minutes off this level and the game itself would be vastly improved.
  • Exploration Just Suddenly Ends Without Warning – As I headed off to Heisenberg’s factory, I had no idea that, once I went through those doors, the freeform exploration that the game had allowed up to that point was done. I had some puzzles and areas to explore still, but I figured I’d get a chance to clean all that up after the factory and before moving on to whatever area Miranda was in… haha, nope. As soon as the factory’s done the end-game gauntlet begins and goes on for nearly an hour. There’s also no merchant or weapon upgrades during this time either, so I sure hope you made use of The Duke’s services before you fought Heisenberg. Honestly, this is kind of baffling to me, I can’t help but wonder if they had to rush the ending or cut out some more areas, but it really annoyed me that you couldn’t get one last chance to explore the village before the final showdown.

Resident Evil Village was a big of a mixed bag for me. The first half was fantastic all-round, but by the time I hit the mid-point the game really nose-dived in quality and it left me feeling disappointed at how things went. I appreciate Capcom’s willingness to experiment with the franchise, but I definitely preferred the more focused and small-scale stakes of Resident Evil 7 and hope that the series will try to emulate that experience going forward.

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