Resident Evil Village review: campy, tense, atmospheric horror in celebration of an enduring series
“Stupid man thing,” she barks and bellows at me, stomping through her castle. This is Lady Dimitrescu, the internet’s favourite tall vampire lady and the most iconic villain of Resident Evil Village.
Did I run straight to her and let her step on me? Absolutely.
Lady D is emblematic of the game’s campy eroticism. The exaggerated, dominating femininity. The way she laps at protagonist Ethan Winters’ sliced wrist and savours his blood like a fine wine. The delicate tea cup stained dark with gore. Castle Dimitrescu is one of a handful of areas you’ll visit, setting the tone – and a very high bar – early on for what’s to come.
But there’s far more to the game (the eighth mainline game in the long-running survival horror series) than just a tall vampire lady, despite the game’s promotion. Village is a tour de force of gothic horror, giving familiar tropes a Resident Evil twist. This is a world of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, Frankenstein, the supernatural, witchcraft and creepy rituals combined into a gothic fairytale.
Early on, Ethan emerges to look across a dense snowy forest; an ominous old castle looming on the horizon. The view is one of fantasy and wonder more than terror, and feels more like Castlevania than Resident Evil, but it establishes a suitable atmosphere for a game that marks a refreshing change in a series that continues to evolve.
Above all, though, Resident Evil Village is a celebration of the series as a whole. It’s no coincidence it’s been released in the 25th anniversary year. It’s a base of 7, a big heap of 4, and a sprinkling of 1 to create a compilation of Resident Evil best bits. That’s to its credit, as well as its detriment.
Plot-wise it’s a continuation of Ethan’s story from the seventh game, Biohazard. After surviving the events of the Baker family in Louisiana, Ethan and wife Mia, along with their newborn daughter, emigrate to Europe to settle anew. But their comfortable life is soon to be ripped apart.
Taking the first-person perspective and protagonist of 7, the European setting is more akin to 4. There’s a greater emphasis on combat here, with plentiful ammo and upgradeable weapons. Inventory management is done in a briefcase system, while upgrades are done by The Duke – an analogue of 4’s famous “whaddaya buyin’” merchant. That requires currency from downed enemies and trinkets found hidden throughout the world.
The titular village provides a central hub you’ll return to frequently to unlock more of its secrets. And it looks stunning on PlayStation 5. The tiny details in each rundown shack. The delicious-looking food left out to rot. The spires of Castle Dimitrescu towering against the sky. Lycans perching on rooftops, waiting. The heavy silence of the eerie graveyard. Everything sways in the breeze.
Branching off it are different areas that act like self-contained horror moments. The castle sets a precedent for camp and grandeur, and with its non-linear structure, puzzle-solving and mansion-like setting it nods heavily to the first game in the series. Just as it looms over the village, it looms over the game at large.
Later areas focus more on puzzle-solving or combat. One particular spooky section is truly terrifying, while action sequences feel satisfying: from the pop of a headshot, to the haptic feedback in the controller for each weapon as you squeeze the triggers.
Yet while there are some series highs in the game’s setpieces, it doesn’t quite manage to maintain that high bar consistently. In true Resident Evil fashion, Village takes a turn towards the end with some jarring changes of tone.
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Where the opening few hours focus on character-building, the latter half dumps story content on you in soap opera drama that pushes the fantastical limits of the plot. It does cleverly bring the series full circle, but the camp tone is dropped as the game takes itself too seriously. Its final sequences might be cathartic, but they stray too far from the initial gothic vibe.
Village is perhaps the most ambitious Resident Evil yet but it struggles under the weight of encapsulating 25 years of the series. Its fantasy, grounded horror elements, human drama, and militaristic origins don’t quite come together as a cohesive whole.
But what a ride it is. It’s not always scary, but Resident Evil Village is among the series’ best games. It offers spectacle and thrill in equal measure, with a deliciously gothic twist. Now I’m off to be stepped on again…
4 / 5
Resident Evil Village is released on 7 May across PlayStation, Xbox and PC.