Three years on from their ordeal at the hands of the Baker family in Louisiana, Ethan and his wife Mia have relocated to Eastern Europe. Their joy at being new parents is cut short, however, when an attack on their home sees Ethan forced to make his way around an isolated village that seems suspiciously empty…well, once all the werewolves have ran off.
After the nadir of 2012’s Resident Evil 6 – the one where action overtook the aspects of survival horror the series basically created – something miraculous happened for Capcom. That something was Konami cancelling Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro’s gnarly, sublime coulda-been-a-masterpiece P.T. It was absolutely no surprise that Resident Evil VII not only returned to the single-location-with-unexpected-depths of the first game, but also switched to the first-person perspective P.T had proven could up the fear factor, especially in a, well…residential setting. With evil in it.
RE VII was therefore something a Resident game had never truly been: consistently, oppressively scary. Yet questions would undoubtedly have been raised when it was announced that the next game would be titled Village. This signalled a return to the rural creepiness that dripped all over Resident Evil 4, but also pointed to the switch from horror-action to action-horror that the fourth game brought in and in turn led to the hollow bombast of the sixth instalment.
Yet any doubts are quickly assuaged after a chaotic opener – yes, like Resi 4’s opening villager assault, but with more close-ups of fingers being chewed off and spat out – sees Ethan wandering around the eponymous Eastern European rural setting. The usual series hallmarks slowly roll themselves out: a weirdo family feud, a scarcity of resources, backtracking through previously locked areas, and a steadily building arsenal of weapons (in stark contrast to the previous entry’s respect of survival horror’s lack of ways to fight back, this pretty much throws a shotgun at you from the get-go). Although it’s a shame to report it isn’t as terrifying as VII – bar one area, where it briefly becomes the scariest in the entire franchise – it is still very much a Resi game, and a very good one at that.
One thing that at first deflates but then uplifts is the return of a certain kind of schlocky camp missing from Louisiana. Early on, it is established Ethan will have to battle four lords, each with their own mutation. There’s the rebellious Heisenberg (who can control metal, and is apparently played by like Nic Cage playing early Keanu Reeves playing mid-period Jeff Bridges), the fish-like Moreau, and the withdrawn puppet master Donna Beneviento. Plus, of course, there’s the 9-foot vampiress Lady Dimitrescu, who you’ll know from the internet collectively discovering the phrase “step on me mommy” around the time the first trailer dropped.
Each of these lords has a specific area that shouldn’t work, but somehow do. Castle Dimitrescu sees the Spencer Mansion fused onto the stalker gameplay of the Resi 2 and 3 remakes, whilst Heisenberg’s factory brings in a tonne of Wolfenstein vibes. And although hopping around Moreau’s half-submerged village area in search of a crank to start a windmill isn’t the most interesting gameplay, it is a relief after what comes before it.
House Beneviento begins with the player walking into a quiet mansion beside a waterfall, and ends with frantic recollections of a Chucky movie. Yet in between is the most psychologically intriguing and intense stretch of gameplay the series has ever offered. To say more would spoil the horror, but suffice to say that if you crossed P.T with Alien Isolation, it still wouldn’t be as f*cked up as what’s in the basement waiting for you. For years gamers have been wondering how P.T would have played out had Konami and Kojima not had the mother of all HR disputes, but director Morimasa Sato and his team have answered it, and in the most terrifying way possible.
Yet despite these individual bits of excellence, Village can feel a little too patchwork. By the time a later stage introduces CoD-style gunplay, you might start to feel the game has an identity crisis. And, judging by comments made before launch that Capcom wanted to make the game less scary (what?), that is understandable. Yet overall, it’s a good Resi game that sucks you into its world while leaving you wanting more – and that’s not just a comment on the excellent replay factor. Let the speed runs commence.
Reviewed on PS4