Resident Evil Village is a blended smoothie of horror, one that covers a spectrum of flavours to suit various tastes. Those first couple of sips are delightfully complex. Dark and brooding. But as you drain the glass, it begins to taste a bit too fiery, a bit too wild, until you can't taste anything. In fact, it's spilled all over your shirt. Again?! Urgh, this happened last time.
In Resident Evil Village you play as Ethan Winters, the same surprisingly tough, perpetually confused protagonist from Resident Evil 7, who has a habit of waking up in less-than-ideal places. This time he's really outdone himself, though, as not too long after the events of the previous game he finds himself with not only another case of severe bed-head, but in a snow-swept village where there the ambience has less sounds of kids playing and more snorts of werewolves tearing flesh from bone.
Action wrestles with fear throughout Resident Evil Village, but I'd say they jostle nicely in the first half of the game. After a hair-raising intro, you creep through a village that's as much of a monster as its furry residents. Everything is quiet - too quiet - as you skulk around ransacked rooms and bristle at every twig that snaps or door that creaks. Ammo is scarce and your firepower limited in these early hours too, which makes you extra cautious as fights feel particularly dangerous. It's a violent crime scene that's beyond your comprehension at first, but you know that you'll be back to unpick the truth. This is Resi 8 at its patient best, letting you gradually unfurl its beautiful, broken world with a disquieting stillness.
One of the earliest locations you'll visit is Dimitrescu's Castle, an imposing fortress, home to a big lady, her fiendish daughters, and some classic Resi. But most importantly, the village's unsettling atmosphere has suffused the castle's twisting halls too. I thought it was paced wonderfully, and I became totally absorbed in untangling its puzzles and hidden passages, all while I tried - and failed - to ignore the horrible silence.
Dimitrescu's castle felt like one of the most intense tutorials I've ever played. Like a Resident Evil escape room, it taught me how to comb objects for clues, to check my map, and to pay attention to spots I might want to revisit later. When I'd wrapped up proceedings, I felt a pang of surprise at not seeing the credits roll because I'd become so enveloped in its world of gilded halls and chandeliers. When I emerged from the castle grounds to a blast of icy air, it felt like I could finally breathe again.
That's not to say it's flawless, though. There are moments where action tackles fear to the ground, with boss fights that felt like dress rehearsals as opposed to fights for survival. This rings true for the majority of the game, where each significant tango feels heavily choreographed. If you don't follow, if you don't pick up on the cues, you fail - go again. A shame, really. But there's one location that doesn't fall victim to this pattern and is all the better for it.
Once you've emerged from Dimitrescu's clutches, Resident Evil Village shifts gears. The village itself becomes a hub world which splinters off into four different zones, each of which is a baddie's dwelling. And it's the area you venture to straight after escaping the castle which really blew me away, though I'm not allowed to tell you anything about it.
Suffice it to say, it's nightmarish because it toys with you, tricks you and manipulates you. Guns won't work in this claustrophobic space, but being on high alert will. It's the most vulnerable you'll ever feel in the game, and by far the most inventive with its jabs and prods from the dark. If I felt thankful leaving Dimitrescu's, I couldn't have been happier to have prized my way out of this second location's shadowy jaws.
Each return to the hub world remains fresh, too. I liked the way the village itself morphed to reflect my absence, but in subtle ways that were difficult to pinpoint at first. Maybe the weather had changed, or a passageway had crumbled. I'd check my map, and oh, treasure chests! And wait, when did chickens get there? Often I'd emerge from frightful escapades with new tools; a key, for instance, and it felt great to revisit and unlock spots I'd clocked earlier, especially as the rewards were meaningful. A lockbox might have concealed the sparkle of a new gun, or a mysterious ball etched with swords.
Everything from the castle's hallways to the objects you inspect are rendered with brilliant detail. From start to finish, it was nothing short of stunning. Only once did I experience a crash during a cutscene, but this was early in the review build, when new drivers and an update for the game hadn't been released.
"This is Resi 8 at its patient best, letting you gradually unfurl its beautiful, broken world with a disquieting stillness."
And for the most part, Resident Evil Village ran beautifully on my rig, which sports an RTX 2070. I played at 1080p on the Balanced preset, with V-Sync on. One thing that puzzled me - and ultimately made me go down the preset route - was the Image Quality setting, which started at 1, then moved up in increments of 0.1. I don't think I'll ever really understand how it works (though thankfully hardware editor Katharine is going to be posting more about the best settings and ray tracing).
Unfortunately, the best performance in the world wouldn't be able to smooth out the jarring change in the game's tone. Action positively suplexes fear once you hit the latter half of the story. Those weapons you find? Plenty more where that came from. Plus, there's a fella called the Duke, who runs a shop that lets you trade treasures you've collected for supplies and gun upgrades. While I enjoyed scavenging for riches, it did feel very silly when I rocked up to the final couple of zones with bullets basically falling out of my jeans.
While some will find the switch to explosions and triggers more fun, I felt it pulled me out of the world. Gone was the unpredictability and the chill of the unknown, and in its place, a fear of simply running out of ammo. I found this inconvenience far less frightening, especially given the aforementioned surfeit of bullets.
The last few hours were defined by routine. I'd encounter one powerful enemy or a group of enemies, then engage my defense protocol like a robot, not confused family man Ethan Winters. I'd comb through my bulging arsenal, select the appropriate tools of destruction, and dispense them automatically. While shooting felt weighty and punchy and satisfying, it also seemed deliberately engineered to feel cumbersome. The thought process, I presume, was to make each encounter feel awkward and intimate, a declaration that combat should be an unnatural, last resort. Yet by the end it's very much the first port of call.
Just when I thought Resident Evil Village couldn't become anymore chaotic, it proved me wrong. It went berserk, with sequences plucked straight out of Call Of Duty. I fended off hordes of enemies like a supersoldier; at one point I fully expected Covenant dropships from Halo to warp in. I never thought I'd need to while playing a surival horror, but I had to pinch myself - was I still playing the same game? I just couldn't understand why Resident Evil Village was leaning on shoot-outs with enemies, when it clearly knew it wasn't really a shooter. What was once a thrill had flatlined. But then Resident Evil 7 unravelled in the same way, so maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised after all.
I was still onboard with the story, though. From the very start, I felt compelled by Ethan Winters' predicament, and this never changed. Even when everything was on fire and in disarray, I still thought the end, when it came, concluded things quite nicely. Yes, it was a bit messy, but it surprised me, tied things up, and opened up the floor for more questions, which is tough to do in a series thats been going this long.
Resident Evil Village felt like it wanted to provide something for everyone, but to its own detriment. Those early bits which serve horror fans more were so, so good, and it was such a shame it lost sight of what made things engaging as it careered towards the end. I still had trouble putting it down, though. Even in its most absurd moments.