One of the trickiest hurdles to creating a sequel is how to make it feel fresh, like it’s a new project instead of an expansion pack. That’s the issue facing Capcom after it brilliantly revamped its flagship franchise with “Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.”
Making a move to first person and developing an innovative narrative design kept “Biohazard" players guessing. It threw them off balance, forging a new vision of survival-horror. With the novelty gone, “Resident Evil Village” attempts to disorient and upend players in the opening act.
The follow-up once again puts players in the shoes of Ethan Winters. His seemingly perfect life is torn asunder after his acquaintance Chris Redfield storms his home, shoots it up and takes him and his baby, Rosemary, into custody. The beginning whiplashes back and forth like a roller coaster as Capcom deluges players with information. The transport carrying Ethan and his child is attacked, but Ethan survives and finds himself in the Eastern European woods, eventually stumbling upon a mysterious village that’s going through a crisis of its own.
Werewolves are attacking it, and Ethan quickly learns that the siege is tied to the kidnapping of his daughter. The enigmatic figure Mother Miranda captured Rose, and Ethan has to battle her four minions in order to save his baby. That quest begins in Castle Dimitrescu where “Village” lets players gain a footing and the campaign feels more conventional.
COMFORT ZONE AND BEYOND
Ethan wanders the building unlocking doors and solving puzzles while being hunted by the vampire-like Alcina Dimitrescu and her three daughters. He’ll come across contrived and ornate puzzles (a “Resident Evil” staple) that are punctuated by moments of combat. It’s somewhat close to the vibe of the previous entry but “Village” has more of a focus on combat and a new approach to item management.
Different types of guns, such as grenade launchers, sniper rifles, shotguns and pistols, shine, depending on the enemy and the circumstance. Slow-walking minions are easily dispatched with a handgun or better yet, outmaneuvered and filleted with a hunting knife. Tougher adversaries require shotgun blasts or clever uses of exploding barrels or electrical devices.
This time around, players won’t have an item box to store things. They’ll have an inventory case and they can upgrade it. There will come a time, though, where they’ll have to sell old weapons to make room for newer ones. That puts pressure on how players handle weapons and use ammo and distribute their resources. They’ll have to be efficient and accurate, especially if they want to explore everything “Village” has to offer.
Players will spend most of their time at the four major houses with each of them having their own take on horror. The Beneviento estate eschews most combat and is focused on inventive puzzles and running away from monsters. Ethan faces traversal issues and a grotesque monster in the water-dominated Moreau section. These two parts are the shortest of the campaign, while Dimitrescu and Heisenberg dominate most of the game with elaborate death traps and combat sequences.
While Dimitrescu feels like vintage “Resident Evil,” Heisenberg’s section is the most challenging and forward-thinking with narrow corridors and tough creatures that players have to outthink in a factory’s mazelike environment.
EFFICIENCY IS THE KEY FOR SURVIVAL
Between these sections, players will encounter optional bosses and secrets from exploring the expansive map. If the four houses are the bones, these extras and side quests are the campaign’s sinews and tendons. Players can hunt animals that offer permanent power-ups if players give them to the Duke, the corpulent and strangely ubiquitous merchant of the game. They can find treasure, which lets them upgrade guns, but players should be aware that the optional content puts pressure on them later in the campaign.
If they’re wasteful with ammo trying to bring down a giant ax-wielder, they’ll find themselves struggling for ammo in later missions. “Village” puts a premium on those who can efficiently dispatch monsters with headshots and smart uses of the environment.
The narrative in “Village” is strong enough that players will want to venture through every nook and cranny of the campaign. Secrets areas shed light on character backstories and history of the locale. The villains themselves are intriguing while Ethan himself raises questions that have to be answered.
With the Mercenaries mode and unlockable extras, “Village” has surprisingly high replay value. It’s especially fun to go through the game with a powered-up Ethan toting beastly weapons. Capcom does a great job of enticing players to stick with the game after the credits roll.
With that said, one of the biggest reasons to play “Village” is that it’s one of the few games that highlights the power of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. The developers performed some black magic coding, adding ray tracing with smoother-than-expected frame rates. The spatial audio also elevates the experience, heightening the fear and tension along with the excellent score. Even the haptics work well, as the controller rumbles when a lumbering enemy nears players in a pitch-black hallway or behind a door. Capcom leverages the new technology to create a more terrifying horror game and one of the defining experiences for this new generation of consoles.
‘RESIDENT EVIL VILLAGE’
Platform: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, Stadia
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