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Resident Evil Village review: Franchise’s highs, lows crammed into one package

resident evil village review viallage closeup
Resident Evil Village
MSRP $60.00
“Resident Evil Village boils all the best and worst parts of the franchise down into an eclectic, though uneven experience.”
  • Creative worldbuilding
  • Memorable set pieces
  • Rewarding exploration
  • Compactly designed village
  • Uneven structure
  • Weak action
  • Lacks tension

If Resident Evil 7 was a return to form for gaming’s most iconic horror franchise, Resident Evil Village is a full-blown identity crisis. Not content to simply repeat the success of its predecessor, the new installment crams 25 years of history into eight hours. It’s not the best Resident Evil game, but it might be the most Resident Evil game.

That’s both good and bad news for fans of the shape-shifting franchise. Everything that players loved about classics like the original game and Resident Evil 4 is present in the new game’s DNA. That’s just as true in the opposite direction, too, as Capcom has put together a big, bold franchise retrospective that doesn’t cover up the warts.

Resident Evil Village works best when it’s serving up atmospheric exploration that cleverly expands on the franchise’s puzzle box roots. It’s less fun as an action-packed first-person shooter. That clash of styles represents the entire series in a nutshell.

A horror anthology

Resident Evil Village picks up three years after the events of 7. Charisma black hole Ethan Winters has settled down with his wife, Mia, and baby, Rosemary, following the whole Louisiana incident. His domestic paradise crumbles when Chris Redfield makes a shocking entrance. Ethan finds himself looking for his family in a creepy European village that’s infested with lycans, vampires, and more (oh, my!).

Resident Evil Village - 3rd Trailer

Like many elements of the game, the story is a little all over the place. It offers up some excellent scares early on as Ethan is overwhelmed by vicious werewolves that make the franchise’s old zombies seem sweet. The tone quickly becomes sillier as the game introduces its colorful cast of characters. Structurally, it’s a horror movie anthology where each character headlines their own monster flick.

Sometimes, that flow really works. The Lady Dimitrescu (“the tall vampire lady”) section of the game plays like a mini version of Resident Evil 2 where players creep around a big castle, solving puzzles and running from vampires that persistently stalk the halls. It’s a self-contained B-movie that packs a ton of intriguing worldbuilding into a concise two-hour stretch.

One particular section, which I won’t spoil, serves up both the best horror and puzzle work the series has ever done in the same breath. The focused brevity only makes it that much stronger.

It’s a gleeful exploration of genre clichés that gets to spread its grotesque wings and play with something other than zombies.

Other vignettes aren’t as successful. One later section invokes 1990s horror-action flicks like Lake Placid, and mostly manifests as a chase scene that trades in tension for simple platforming puzzles. Push a crate, press some buttons, avoid some obvious scripted death traps. Ironically, the more it leans into action-horror motifs, the less exciting it is to actually play.

While some ideas match the game’s mechanics better than others, it’s nice to see the series’ horror nerd roots on full display here. It’s a gleeful exploration of genre clichés that gets to spread its grotesque wings and play with something other than zombies.

Making my way downtown

Resident Evil Village may look like a departure for the series on its surface, but most of its new features are a clever iteration of the franchise’s design staples. That’s most apparent in the game’s titular village. It’s more open than a standard Resident Evil mansion, but it quietly functions the same way. The village is one big puzzle box that players slowly unlock as they progress.

Some of the game’s best moments simply come from atmospheric stretches of exploration. There are so many little rewards tucked away in different corners of the map. It’s not quite a sprawling open world, but that’s why it works. It’s a compactly designed village where each little hut is worth exploring.

In a game full of instantly iconic characters, the village itself is the real star of the show.

Every new feature serves the village. A Last of Us-style crafting system acts as a clever evolution of item combination and gives more reasons to scavenge. There’s a traveling merchant (a deliberate nod to Resident Evil 4) who sells weapon upgrades and ammo in exchange for pillaged valuables. There are even a handful of small side-quests, which encourage thorough scavenging while telling some micro-stories that explore the history of the decaying town.

Resident Evil Village
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Some ideas feel like light experiments that are auditioning for a full role later on. Take the new cooking system, which rewards players with health boosts when they hunt down animals hidden throughout the town. With only a small handful of recipes to complete, it feels like Capcom is only testing the waters for a sequel. In general, Village plays like an anniversary survey that’s designed to help the studio figure out where to take things next.

It’s not the best version of what it could be, but every little piece helps create a Resident Evil game that emphasizes the strengths of previous locations. In a game full of instantly iconic characters, the village itself is the real star of the show. Sorry, Lady D fans.

Power struggle

Just about every beloved Resident Evil release has the same problem. While they generally start as frightening horror games that take power away from the player, they inevitably conclude with an inferior action set piece. Village once again commits that sin, but it’s more frustrating than ever. The back third of the game suddenly transforms into a dull corridor shooter that lays the self-serious melodrama on thick (I have to emphasize this: Ethan Winters might be the most boring hero in all of video games).

Resident Evil Village
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The weapons don’t feel built for fast shootouts with dozens of enemies. They’re slow, almost archaic. That works during horror sequences where players struggle to get shots off on a fast-approaching lycan. It’s less fun when blasting away at waves of bullet-sponge enemies later in the game. The same mechanics that are built to instill panic are used to fuel an action power fantasy. It just doesn’t mesh.

That’s apparent in the game’s bonus Mercenaries mode, where players rush to kill a set number of monsters within a short time period. Slow movement and sluggish gunplay just make the mode feel like it’s running at half speed, as if Ethan is shooting while sinking in quicksand.

With each dramatic beat having no lasting impact on the story, any sense of danger is lost early on.

This conflict is a running theme throughout the game; players are meant to feel powerless and powerful at the same time. Those ideas trample on one another, weakening both ends of the spectrum. During the story, we see truly horrific things happen to its characters that are quickly brushed off as “just a flesh wound.” As soon as it starts feeling like any injury can be cured with magic health potions, all the stakes and tension go out the window. Body horror becomes slapstick comedy.

It begins to feel like certain scenes are only there for pure shock value — and that effect wears thin fast. With each dramatic beat having no lasting impact on the story, any sense of danger is lost early on. The fact that players can just pop into a menu and craft ammo mid-fight feeds into that, too; nothing bad ever really happens despite all the gore. With no consequences, risks, or stakes, I played through the entire back half of the game stone-faced with nothing phasing me. That’s the kind of tepid reaction that horror movies fear.

Is Resident Evil a series about puny humans narrowly surviving terrifying situations? Or is it about pseudo-superheroes triumphantly gunning down mutants? Resident Evil Village idles in front of that crossroads instead of choosing a path.

Our take

Resident Evil Village is an uneven anthology of horror movie send-ups. Sometimes it offers a truly exciting vision of the series’ future with imaginative world-building and rewarding exploration. Other times, it’s a fairly run-of-the-mill shooter that struggles to provide any real stakes or tension. Those two tones are often at odds with one another, highlighting all of the franchise’s best and worst instincts in one eclectic package. Chalk it up to a quarter-life crisis.

Is there a better alternative?

A lot of previous Resident Evil games do what Village does, but in a more focused manner. Try 2 for the exploration, 3 for the action, or 7 for the horror.

How long will it last?

The story is around eight to 10 hours long, though there’s a lot of incentive to replay it to unlock new weapons and art. The Mercenaries mode adds a little extra playtime, too. You can also add Resident Evil Village mods to change the game entirely.

Should you buy it?

Yes. It’s a real toss-up of a question. This is still a fascinating entry in the iconic series even if it’s unsuccessful at times. But those who haven’t already bought in should steer clear, regardless of how much they want to meet Lady Dimitrescu.

Editors' Recommendations

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
Resident Evil 4 locked drawers guide: all Small Key locations
Infected villager from Resident Evil 4 remake.

Keys and Resident Evil games are like peanut butter and jelly. If you're not fighting zombies, you're looking for a key to get you to the next room -- where you will fight more zombies. While there are plenty of mandatory keys in the Resident Evil 4 remake, there are also a set of extra keys that you can completely miss. These Small Keys are used to unlock locked drawers you come across, as opposed to doors, and hold some very valuable treasures. Considering how precious money is in this game, the more treasures you can find and sell to your Merchant friend, the better off you'll be. Small keys aren't in your direct path often, and once you leave an area, you can't go back to collect them later in most cases. We'll help you become the master of unlocking by showing you where to snag all the Small Keys in Resident Evil 4, as well as where to use them.
Where to find all Small Keys
Before getting into the locations of Small Keys, note that these keys are not exclusive to a single drawer. Any Small Key can be used to open any drawer, so feel free to spend them as soon as you find a drawer with a key in hand. However, once you leave an area in Resident Evil 4, there's no going back. That means if you left any keys or drawers behind, you won't be able to open them unless you start another playthrough or wait until you begin a new game. There are eight Small Keys to get, and they are all found within the first two zones of the game, but won't show up on your map. Locked drawers won't either by default, but if you buy the Treasure Map from the Merchant, the drawers will be put on your map. Here's how to track all the keys down, and where the nearest locked drawer is in the order you can first encounter them.

The first key you can get is in Chapter 2 in the Valley. After meeting the Merchant, you will be sent into the Valley to find a key to open the gate opposite the Merchant. After clearing out the enemies, drop down to the lowest level on the south end and enter the shack. Inside, take a right and look for a case on the shelf. Loot it, and pick up the first Small Key. The nearest locked drawer is back in the Factory past the Merchant. Go into the room where you retrieved Leon's equipment after it was taken from him and use the key on the desk drawer.

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Leon holding a gun in Resident Evil 4.

Leon clearly wasn't prepared for what he would encounter in the Resident Evil 4 remake or he would have come with more than a middling handgun and a knife. While those basic tools can get you through the opening stages of the game, it won't be long before you will need to call upon some much stronger firepower in order to survive the tougher -- and more grotesque -- monsters that stand in your way. The Resident Evil 4 remake offers a ton of weapons you can collect, such as pistols, SMGs, rifles, and more. However, most will cost a lot of cash -- and even more if you want to invest in their upgrades. You will have to make some tough choices about what weapons you want to stick with, and picking a dud can make your playthrough much more difficult. Instead of investing all your cash in a pea-shooter, check out the best weapons you can get in the Resident Evil 4 remake to blast your way through Ganados and Las Plagas alike.
The best weapons in Resident Evil 4

Where else could we start but with the Red9? Almost certainly the most popular handgun -- or gun in general -- from the original Resident Evil 4 has returned in the remake and is just as potent as ever. Not only can you grab this gun as early as Chapter 3, making it a great choice for investing your upgrades in, but it can be altered and has essentially no drawbacks. By default, the Red9's recoil is the primary point of criticism you could levy at it, but if you spend a few Spinels to give it the stock, you'll be able to basically snipe with this pistol. By the time you unlock the Exclusive upgrade, which multiplies the gun's power by 1.5x, you'll hardly ever find a situation where this handgun can't do the job.
Bolt Thrower
The Bolt Thrower isn't on this list for its high power, accuracy, or anything that you would traditionally look for in a gun. The reason it has to be here is due to the simple fact that you can recover the bolts it shoots into enemies after they're dead to massively cut down on your ammo expenditure. Ammo for it is also crafted using knives, but it even has a secondary firing method where it launches mines, giving it a lot more utility. The Exclusive upgrade isn't game-changing -- it doubles the ammo capacity -- but the less you have to reload, the less often you'll be caught in a sticky situation.
In the rifle category, the Stingray is never going to let you down. This is a semiautomatic rifle, so the firing rate is mostly up to you, plus it has a great clip size by default. If you're hitting those weak points, this baby will also deal 3x damage, and can be outfitted with almost any scope. The Exclusive upgrade boosts your final firing rate by an additional 2x, which shouldn't be too necessary if you're trying to be precise, though can help in a pinch.
LE 5
The LE 5 is a weapon you can easily miss that is kind of like a good version of the Punisher in that it has amazing penetration power. Being an SMG, it also boasts a far greater firing rate and clip size, as well as more power. This is the perfect weapon to rip through any shield-wielding enemies. Again like the Punisher, the Exclusive upgrade allows the LE 5 to pierce up to five targets at once.
Broken Butterfly
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What's the worst part of a shotgun? The firing rate. Well, that is if you're not using the Striker. This semiautomatic shotgun spits out damage like nobody's business. It has power on par with any other shotgun, but way better firing speed, plus a massive clip size so you don't have to worry about running dry out an enemy in your face. If you get the Exclusive upgrade, you can even double the already huge clip size.
Rocket Launcher
This is a big investment both in terms of cash and space, but the Rocket Launcher is too iconic to the series not to be amazing. Yes, this has a one-hit kill on just about everything and will cost more or less depending on what difficulty level you're playing on. It has no upgrades because, well, what is there to make better? Unless you're playing with the infinite ammo for it enabled, you do only get one shot, so make it count.
Primal Knife
While technically not a gun, the knife is so good in the Resident Evil 4 remake that it has to be mentioned. This tool will save your skin more often than you think thanks to the new ability to parry and finish downed enemies, but the obvious drawback is durability. The Primal Knife has to be unlocked by finding and destroying all 16 of the Clockwork Castellans in the game. What makes it the clear frontrunner of all knives is the Exclusive upgrade that makes it completely unbreakable, no matter how much you use it.

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An open wayshrine with a bracelet inside.

In the opening chapters of the Resident Evil 4 remake, you will come across strange shrines erected by a cult. These can be interacted with, but prompt you to use an item. Unfortunately, you won't even have the chance to open the first couple you find since the item required to open them can't be picked up until a bit later -- and only if you know where to search for it. But it's ro say that the treasures you get from them make it worth your time to backtrack and grab all the goodies inside. Here's how you can open all the Wayshrines in the Resident Evil 4 remake, and what each one holds inside.
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How to 0pen Wayshrines

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