The Third Act. Act Three. The Climax. The Worst Part of the Horror Game. The part where the scares are tired, the action overwrought. Resident Evil Village’s biggest revolution to the genre might just be going out very near its highest point. “Sandwich your worst,” as my middle school english teacher would say.
Ethan Winters, the most boring Resident Evil protagonist, is back, and he’s ready to underreact to every situation he’s put in. Ethan grew on me over the course of the game – in his quest to save his infant daughter he becomes increasingly tired of this type of thing. He’s almost quaint in his blandness, and though I wish his voice acting lived up to the rest of the lively performances, I feel like this is his breakout moment in RE history.
So, what’s the goal? Kill the four Lords of the village, save Rose, and get out. Chris Redfield is here somewhere, but most of his time is spent off screen punching Lycans to death, presumably.
The layout of Village is probably the gamiest thing about it. You are quite literally going to each of the four Lords’ Sonic the Hedgehog-esque “zones” and murderizing them. Between each outing, you’ll revisit the titular village, touring the homes of resident babushkas for bullets and leftover borscht.
The biggest strength of Resident Evil Village is also a weakness. Having four distinct areas allows for expert pacing and some seriously mind-blowing environmental variety, but it also means a lot of the meaty backtracking and environmental transformation that went hand-in-hand with locations like the Raccoon City Police Department (from Resident Evil 2) is missing. “But,” you’re likely thinking, “Village isn’t trying to be like RE2, it’s trying to be like 4!” And while you’d certainly be right, I believe that after so many iterations of the series, we’re ready for the best of both worlds.
That isn’t to say there isn’t any trace of old-school exploration here, though. Where the Baker manor from 7 was a bite-sized taste of the free-form exploration the series was known for, Village has a few platefuls. The first and third acts are sprawling, classic areas with plenty of secrets and well-placed enemy encounters. The middle slab of the game, meanwhile, consists of a haunted house simulator and a shooting gallery.
Looking back, I’m grateful that these in-between sections were as short and sweet as they were, but they fall a bit far from the standards set by the other two, larger areas. Barring spoilers, I think the issue with these segments boils down to a failure to pay off in the first, and a failure to set up in the second. Granted, that “haunted house simulator” had me wrapped in the cold blanket of abject terror for the better part of an hour, so I think it earned its place in the game.
In being the Resident Evil 4 of Resident Evil 7 titles, Village has a hearty helping of combat. Unlike 4, however, the combat isn’t very fun. It’s actually largely unchanged from 7 and was far and away the worst part of that game. Guarding is still the defense of choice, unless, like me, you opt to simply turn 90 degrees and awkwardly sprint out of the danger zone. There’s no auto-aim, and controlling the crosshair feels stiff. Enemies react deliciously to being shot, but doing so always felt like more of a struggle than it should have. To summarize: the combat can be satisfying, but not very enjoyable.
Bosses, paradoxically, are actually quite well designed. The arenas are claustrophobic, leaning into Ethan’s lumbering movement speed and lack of agility. Everything feels very deliberate in these encounters, allowing for some fun scripted attacks and lots of spectacle. I’d actually say these are the most well-designed and visually interesting bosses the series has ever seen, subpar combat be damned.
Enemy variety is, mercifully, also quite good. Gone are the two enemy types from Resident Evil 7, replaced with plenty of varieties and sub-varieties of zombies, werewolves, and other non-human Spirit Halloween rejects. These all have their own weaknesses to exploit and are always thematically appropriate, usually appearing at expected intervals without ever feeling tedious. The encounters, like the story, are very well paced.
The Duke, meanwhile, gets his own paragraph. I love this bastard. He’s an enormous, pudgy man who nonsensically appears in various safe rooms and other areas to buy your loot and grace you with words of encouragement. After facing the harsh winter wasteland of the village, seeing his gigantic babyface and hearing the utter delight in his voice upon Ethan’s return warmed me right up. He’ll also sell you weapon upgrades, inventory space, and other goodies. Oh, and he cooks! Bring him enough ingredients and he’ll share a delicious meal with you that boosts your stats. His presence in the game elevates its score by one point.
While I wished more of Resident Evil Village took the player back through previous areas, there’s still quite a bit of exploration to be had. Nothing is going to have you scratching your head while perusing the map, but it’s fun to revisit an old house with a new key to cop a fresh gun or some treasure. There are also a bunch of excellent mini-games I’ve dubbed Monkey Ball: Umbrella Edition. I spent quite a lot of time (probably too much) trying to ‘clear’ maps and I still didn’t find all those damn balls.
As much as I gripe about the combat, I find myself itching to get back into Village for another playthrough. The completion point system from previous titles returns, so I’d love to get my hands on some new weapons and go blast some Lycans and try my best to overcome a few of the more challenging achievements. Like any good Resident Evil, this 10-hour romp is built for repeated playthroughs and further dissection. I loved the story, and lore-heads are going to be thoroughly satisfied with a number of the revelations found here.
We don’t get good horror games very often, and while Resident Evil Village might be more action than horror, it doesn’t slouch on the scares when it’s time to get serious. It easily ranks among the best titles in the series, even if it fails to reach the outstanding heights of the one game it emulates most. Still, the average combat is easily propped up by the perfectly paced and varied campaign.
One last thing: If this title is ever adapted into a film, for the love of God, cast Nicolas Cage as Heisenburg. You’ll know what I mean.
This review is based on the PlayStation 5 version of the game. A code was provided to us by Capcom.
Resident Evil Village is at once terrifying, exhilarating, hilarious, and beautiful. Its crowning achievement is that it’s a horror game that’s not only perfectly paced, but it also has an explosive third act and ends on its highest note. It isn’t enough to dethrone Resident Evil 4 as an action title, but it’s a marked improvement over 7’s solid foundation.