Monday, April 19, 2021
Resident Evil has never hewed anywhere close to the serious or straight-laced end of the horror spectrum – Capcom's series has always revelled in the outlandish and bizarre, but Resident Evil Village could potentially be the most unhinged, strangest instalment to date. Having witnessed more than an hour of fresh gameplay from the game's opening segment, zombies seem rather quaint after the onslaught of supernatural weirdness thrown into the path of returning protagonist Ethan Winters. This time around, Ethan is on a search for his missing infant daughter, Rose, leading him to the eponymous village, where freakish folklore is brought to startling life, and Resident Evil 4's backwater community seems like a beautiful idyll by comparison.
It turns out that awakening in a pile of garbage in the biting snow is the best thing that happens to Ethan during the early moments of Resident Evil Village – what follows is a sequence of increasingly horrific events that see him repeatedly attacked, bludgeoned, bitten, strung up, and prodded with pointy things. It's all the more amusing that upon reaching an unassuming wooden hut on the village's outskirts, Ethan is startled by a mouse. After everything he experienced in Resident Evil VII, you'd have thought his mental resolve might have hardened, but then, nothing could really prepare you for the procession of unbridled oddities that Village conjures within its first hour or so.
From snarling 'lycans' (werewolf people, essentially), things lean further towards the occult as you progress, and even before Ethan fumbles his way to the opulent interiors of Lady Dimitrescu's looming castle, its Gothic spires piercing the mist on the horizon, the game engenders a palpable sense of unease. “Where am I?” Ethan asks himself as a bell tolls in the distance. Beyond a mountainous corner of Eastern Europe, we have no idea - it's been mere minutes, and already Resident Evil Village has established an intensely oppressive atmosphere and a sense of total alienation. As you explore the village's edge, abandoned shacks are furnished with traces of the people who've fled in a hurry, and, as is RE tradition, you can rifle through it all, searching for clues and examining objects by spinning them around.
Dispatching lycans often dispenses useful resources, like crystals or small amounts of Lei, the game's coin-based currency. Both can be traded for items with the Duke, the game's rotund merchant, where you'll find weapons, weapon mods, upgrades, supplies, healing salves, and other treats for sale. Ammunition will likely be a permanent fixture at the top of your shopping list, as combat encounters against packs of slavering lycans are perilous and unrelenting. Thankfully, Ethan can throw up a guard, crossing his arms in front of his face to reduce incoming damage from chomping teeth and swiping claws; and you can hole up in houses, moving furniture across doors to barricade yourself in and buy time, but nowhere is truly safe. Even human survivors are suspicious of 'outsider' Ethan; a temporary sanctuary at Luiza's house, which you hear barked out in a radio message, soon errs towards cult-based weirdness, as the house's inhabitants mutter out a prayer of thanks to a mysterious 'protector' known as Mother Miranda.
Fire and fury soon ensues, leading Ethan to punch the window frame, as he escapes out the back of Luiza's house. “Nothing but blood and death,” he laments before dropping to the cold hardened snow below, following a route to Dimitrescu Castle. Once inside, you'll fall afoul of Heisenberg, the shaggy, bespectacled little brother to Lady Dimitrescu, seemingly gifted with telekinetic abilities that enable him to lift lumps of rusty metal. Yes, Resident Evil Village really is deeply odd. Turned loose to be hunted, like Van Damme in Hard Target, Ethan is confronted by crucified bodies lining the castle grounds: presumably captured subjects in Heisenberg's previous hunts. Lycans are joined by winged humanoid creatures with lashing tongues and Lady D's three bloodsucking daughters, one of whom is able to transform into a voracious swarm of insects, which makes fighting her an absolute bloody nightmare.
Puzzles within the confines of the labyrinthine castle involve manipulating statues, setting masks into recesses, popping gems into sockets, lighting braziers, and a tilty model castle maze, all imbued with a sense of urgency by footsteps, groaning, or other hair-raising sounds in the not-distant-enough distance. It's instances like these that feel distinctly in keeping with classic Resident Evil – that and the inventory management, reinstated with the return of the attaché case, making RE Village akin to RE4, albeit with the heftiest dollop of macabre insanity.
And when obtaining a sniper rifle doesn't provide cold comfort in Village's mad mad world, everything seems precarious, especially when you're pitted against an eight-foot tall vampire woman with retractable steel claws and enough strength to hurl a dressing table across a room in anger, screeching “I will hunt you and I will break you!” When that eight-foot tall vampire lady might be the least of your problems, it's more than apparent that Resident Evil Village is upping the ante, promising to keep you teetering on a knife-edge from beginning to end. We don't know what Ethan did to have his daughter kidnapped, why he's being hounded so relentlessly all over again, and what Chris Redfield has to do with it all, but, make no mistake, we're intrigued to find out.
Resident Evil Village launches for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, PC, and Stadia on 7th May.