Set just three years after the events of 2017's superlative Resident Evil 7, Resident Evil Village rejoins perennial whiner Ethan Winters and his wife Mia as they struggle to come to terms with the ordeal they suffered at the hands of the hillbilly Bakers in the Mold-infested swamps of Louisiana. Although the family has now been whisked away to the safety of a secret Eastern European location by everyone's favourite boulder-punching lughead, Chris Redfield, it isn't long before disaster strikes once again, with Ethan forced into a desperate fight against all manner of freakish nasties in order to rescue his newborn daughter, Rose.
Where its predecessor was a laser-focused thrill ride that did a top job of ratcheting up some real tension over a good three quarters of its running time - and successfully returned the series to its slow-burn survival horror roots in the process - Village feels like a much more action-centric mish-mash of old and new ideas by comparison. This is a real kitchen sink effort in places, in fact, an often completely bonkers game that certainly manages to keep things entertaining but is also, undeniably, a slight step down in form when compared to its properly petrifying precursor.
Of course by now everyone will be familiar with certain elements of Resident Evil Village's premise, with Castle Dimitrescu, and in particular one of its rather tall inhabitants, having produced a real buzz online in the build up to the game's release. However, if you're expecting this latest entry to stick to a strictly Gothic theme, to the hot vampires, creepy castles and crazy werewolves of its demos and trailers, you're in for a little bit of a surprise. Without wanting to give too much away about the plot, this is a game that blasts off in several directions once it gets going, crowbarring in all manner of twists and turns, bad guys and beasties, and it does so with varying degrees of success.
The game's early hours, mostly taking place in the wonderfully atmospheric Castle Dimitrescu itself, are actually highly reminiscent of the recent Resident Evil 2 Remake, in particular the parts of that game set within the confines of the Raccoon City Police Dept. Lady Dimitrescu assumes a similar role to Mr X here, stalking you through the corridors of her twisted abode as you once again find yourself attempting to unlock a laughably complicated door mechanism in order to escape to the outside world.
From here Resident Evil Village begins to really mix things up, flinging you into a handful of ludicrous situations where you'll square off with a succession of outrageous freaks, whilst the tempo continues to shift from the slow-pace of its opening hours to what eventually becomes a pretty much all-out action fest. This is also the point at which things become surprisingly open plan, with plenty of places to wander off and explore around the impressively large and atmospheric world map. You're pretty much free to hunt around the central village area for loot at this stage, fending off the local lycanthropes and grabbing bits and pieces to add to your arsenal or treasures to sell to the game's twisted merchant character before taking off down one of the marked paths on your in-game map that leads you towards some campaign critical action.
Regardless of whether you're a fan of the more high-octane nature of proceedings here or you prefer your Resident Evil slow and desperately short of ammunition, there are some undeniably great moments packed into this campaign's running time that everyone should get a kick out of. A P.T. style visit to a wonderfully creepy house that really cranks up the terror factor is a sustained bit of clever horror that's a real game highlight. There's a great big water-based battle that throws in some decent environmental puzzles and an action-packed shootout with a wild pack of fire-wielding werewolves that gives you an opportunity for some satisfying Resi 4 style sniper headshots. These set pieces, alongside that opening hour or two inside Castle Dimitrescu and the simple delight of wandering around the gorgeous hub area are where Resident Evil Village is at its strongest, but there are some problems here too, a handful of niggling issues that hold the whole thing back from fully reaching its potential.
As the story trundles on towards a typically bonkers Resi climax, things definitely start to take a bit of a nosedive, with an increasingly muddled narrative - one that eventually has its holes plugged by some good old-fashioned exposition dumping - as well as some uninspired late game locations that feel lacklustre, unoriginal and a tad lazy in comparison to the titular village area and the majesty of Lady Dimitrescu's fortress abode. Big showdowns too, across the board, feel weirdly janky and unsatisfying. We can't go into any details due to embargo restrictions but pretty much every major boss encounter in Resident Evil Village feels like a bit of a let-down. It's not really an enormous problem, they don't make up much of the entire running time (and they're always our least favourite part of Resident Evil anyway) but they really do feel like strangely scrappy and unpolished affairs for a game that, in every other department, looks and sounds pretty spectacular.
We also have to admit to being rather unfond of poor old Ethan as a protagonist. He's got much more to say for himself in this outing too, unfortunately, and almost all of it is either incessant whining or embarrassingly cheesy tough guy chatter. To be fair he has upped his combat game here and feels much more capable during the game's action heavy sequences, able to defend himself, push back enemies and craft all manner of helpful bits and bobs with which to shoot and explode his foes - he's just not a very interesting or likeable guy when all's said and done.
Speaking of the game's action too, although the vast majority of what's on offer from moment to moment is the usual punchy Resi stuff that absolutely benefits from the decision to stick with its forebearer's shift to a first person perspective, there are areas - outside of those boss battles - where things do feel a little rough around the edges. In particular, scraps with flying foes that tend to clip through any and all surrounding scenery feel like they could have been excised completely.
However, let's not be too negative. For all of the rather disappointing boss bits, embarrassing protagonist banter and a couple of late-game misfires on the locations and story front, Resident Evil Village is still a very good time indeed. There's tons of atmosphere within the impressive semi-open world on offer here and a cast of delightful oddballs to meet, greet and blow to pieces to go along with it. This is a spectacular looking game too - turn Ray Tracing on and your eyes are in for a real treat - and its Eastern European setting is a highly evocative and engaging labyrinth in which to get lost, a real series highlight that recalls the best parts of Resident Evil 4 in its creepy village and surrounding wooded areas. There's also plenty of the franchise's trademark puzzles to get stuck into, with lots of backtracking around areas, unlocking of doors and creeping around to grab treasures and secrets - and, as usual, completing the game first time around is only really the beginning of your adventures.
Indeed, upon completion of the roughly nine hour campaign, you'll unlock a super tough Village of Shadows difficulty mode, which we can confirm absolutely raises the need to conserve ammo and make full use of the game's crafting system to keep on top of enemy mobs. You'll also gain access to the returning Mercenaries mode which is, rather disappointingly, a single player only affair this time around - albeit one we've been having plenty of old-school arcade fun with so far. There's an extra content store where you can buy high powered weapons and all-manner of trinkets with the CP you've earned in Mercenaries and an extensive laundry list of challenges to tick off in repeated runs through the main campaign.
Overall then, while Resident Evil Village may not quite capture the highs of its thoroughly chilling predecessor, it's still a very enjoyable and completely ludicrous romp through one of the series' more spectacular and memorable settings. There may be a few duff boss confrontations here and there, some fans may be put off by the late-game shift to all-out action and Ethan is still a tremendous pain in the backside, but this is, for the most part, another entry in Capcom's long-running franchise that's well worth your time.
Resident Evil Village may not quite live up to the highs of its terrifying predecessor but it's a still a solid entry in the long-running series that's well worth checking out. Eastern Europe makes for a fantastically atmospheric and surprisingly open setting here, it's chock full of delightfully oddball characters and features a handful of properly entertaining set-pieces to blast through. There may well be a few rough edges, with a rather painful protagonist and some duff boss battles to contend with but, overall, this is one truly messed up village that's well worth a visit.