You don’t just play “Resident Evil Village.” You experience it.
The latest go-round in Capcom’s blockbuster franchise completes a stunning transformation for an iconic series. Yes, “Resident Evil” has always had survival horror touches. But it’s never been this serious, and it’s never been this immersive. At times, it doesn’t link as tightly to the franchise as you might want, Chris Redfield appearances notwithstanding, but the end product is still spectacular, drawing you in and never letting you go.
You once again play as Ethan Winters, the protagonist from “Resident Evil 7.” “RE7” represented the start of a new direction for the franchise, and it had been a much-needed new direction, after “Resident Evil 6” had been a bit too action-oriented. “RE7” traded running-and-gunning for atmospheric survival-horror, and in that game, the franchise found a new stride.
“Village” ups the ante, building upon the success of “RE7” but pushing that same survival-horror in a new direction. Three years after “RE7,” Ethan is trying to start a new life, with Mia and his daughter Rose. Then Redfield shows up, and things go haywire. Ethan wakes up and finds himself in a wrecked vehicle, trudges through some snow, and arrives in the village.
Mechanically, “Village” plays much like “RE7,” but Capcom infuses this new title with a very different feeling. The slow-burn survival sensibilities of “RE7” are traded for a unique sense of exploration and dread. You never feel massively underequipped for the lycans and other creatures you encounter, and yet you still feel challenged. You must use your resources wisely and smartly whenever you encounter the massive odds you’ll consistently face, and you must think on your feet.
Ethan does all this in decidedly solitary fashion, and brilliant storytelling reinforces this lonely journey. As he searches for Rose and uncovers more and more about “Village,” you feel the quest for discovery and exploration. But you rarely feel much companionship; instead, you’re frequently completely alone.
Capcom uses this loneliness as a game device in “Village,” elevating things beyond mere survival-horror. The gears in your mind turn as you discover this crest, or listen to your inhuman enemies discuss your fate — and you do it all alone. Silence and background sounds are used to brilliant effect in “Village,” leaving you constantly on edge, but constantly exploring and pushing forward. This is reinforced whenever you meet other characters; they’re stripped away from you in smart ways, just as you start to get to know them.
Sound is stellar, and of great use in this game. Especially when you’re trudging between buildings or areas, there’s a wide-open feeling to Village, and that’s countered by a narrow field of view. This forces you to be hyper-aware of everything, of the lycans you hear nearing you, of the closest building to run back to for safety, of the bullets in your gun.
The atmosphere is complemented by visuals that shine on next-gen consoles. Both on the PlayStation 5 and Google’s burgeoning Stadia, details pop and the expressions of characters draw you in, making the game feel real.
The end result is one of the best titles of 2021. This is not a game for the faint of heart, but that’s not because of a bunch of slasher-film-style scares. It’s because of the depth of Ethan Winters’ lonely journey, a journey that’s satisfying and thought-provoking from beginning to end.