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The RPS Advent Calendar 2021, December 21st

She's not even in it for most of the game, you know

This door on the Advent Calendar is probably locked with a needlessly complicated key split into several pieces. Also, it is very, very tall, as if for someone who is already taller than average and then wears heels.

Yes, it's the scary tall lady's door! Welcome to Resident Evil Village

Ed: I don’t like scary games. I don’t like being scared. Wait, hang on, I do? Before I paid a visit to Resident Evil Village, I’d convinced myself horror wasn’t for me. I mean, I watched the Woman In Black starring Harry Potter and nearly had a heart attack. But having set foot in a big lady’s mansion, I realise that I like the tension. That prolonged clench of the glutes. Although I’d say I like Village’s brand of horror more. Too much clenching is bad.

Resident Evil Village sees you step into the hands of Ethan Winters, an unintentionally hilarious bloke who’s just had a really tough time fending off a crazed family in Resident Evil 7. After said fending, he’s finally happy, settled, and his hands look soft. That is, until things happen and he awakes in a snowy village filled with snarling werewolves. This man literally cannot catch a break.

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But it makes for good entertainment as Ethan stumbles into the warm, yet unnerving embrace of a mansion. It’s not long before you meet its towering owner Lady Dimitrescu, who isn’t thrilled that you’re trampling all over her expensive rugs. What ensues is puzzle solving and monster slaying, sandwiched by frantic escape sequences where Lady D is actually just walking at you slowly - but it’s proper intimidating as a result.

After you burst out of Dimitrescu’s clutches, the game opens up. The village becomes a hub space that evolves as you explore. One that’s filled with hidden treasure and locked doors that hold secrets. Werewolves and golden fish. Jump scares and bush rustles. Suddenly, multiple paths lead to eerie new locations, each with their own theme.

One of which was a doll’s house that had me whimpering in a corner. In this section Resident Evil Village morphs into a psychological terror-fest that toys with you for a couple of hours, and I reckon Katharine best sums it up as a monstrous lovechild of PT and Resi 7's Testing Room where that lunatic Lucas hangs out. Village's other areas aren’t nearly as frightening. In fact, the game devolves into Call Of Duty: Village as you reach its conclusion. In my review, I struggled to get to grips with the tonal shift, saying, "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."

The grand staircase in Castle Dimitrescu in Resident Evil Village with ray tracing switched on

But now that time has passed, I realise that the game’s shift was kind of genius. I still maintain that it’s a bit jarring going from slow-build horror, to intense psychological stuff, to action. Yet in hindsight, it was exactly what I needed. An entire game bouncing between doll houses would’ve been incredible, but I doubt I would have survived. Instead, the game strikes a great balance between horror and action. The whole time it knows it must cater for fans and newcomers alike, and this self-awareness extends to how seriously it takes itself. The way you pick up objects and how music clangs. The boss fights. The collectibles. Just the slight zaniness of it all. It’s not afraid of just being a good video game.

Speaking as someone who never thought they’d get through such a thing, Resident Evil Village is easily one of best games I’ve played this year. I’ve been introduced to a series and a story I want to explore further. And above all, I’ve lived to tell the tale.

Alice Bee: Shout out to Ethan's hands, though. Between this game and what happens in Resi 7, they're the real MVPs.

Ethan Winters guarding with his hands up in Resident Evil Village

Hayden: I’m sure Resident Evil Village will go down as a modern horror classic. Ethan Winters collects a bunch of boomsticks as he explores the titular village, but tension still permeates every room you enter. You’re always aware that, no matter how many shotgun shells you’ve saved, some towering feral beast could come crashing through the wall and mess you up at any second. Even when armed to the teeth with guns galore, I can’t help but cower in the corner and pause the game to take one more anxious breath.

Resident Evil Village is filled with horrors. It delights in making you squirm and squeal as you explore every nook and cranny. As Ed mentions, locales like the grandiose halls of Castle Dimitrescu and the dark depths beneath House Beneviento are locked, loaded, and ready to scare.

Yet, beneath the horror, Resident Evil Village is a sight to behold. As I gaze upon the silent village from a castle window, I can’t tell whether I’m glued to the beautiful vista ahead, or just trying to bask in the momentary escape from heart-pounding fear. Even the blood-stained snow glistening beneath the moonlight is eerily enchanting. But, like the mystifying woods that surround Castle Dracula or the lush landscapes of Midsommar’s rural Sweden, the beauty lulls you into a false sense of security.

I am a pistol at two werewolves as they stagger towards me in the village.

Of course, it isn’t all jump scares and screams. You do get to use those guns a lot, especially as it picks up pace in the second half. But, where Ed felt at ease in the chaotic action-thriller that Village becomes, I found that the true horror always claws back out. When it does, it is oh-so-scary, even more so because of the pseudo-bravery you develop while fighting.

Occasionally, you’ll find yourself kicking ass and ploughing through hordes of werewolves or soldats. You’ll start to feel confident. Barrelling through corridors, you blast foes at every turn. Then, as you approach the next door and burst through, nightmares leap from the shadows and bring your inflated, horror-defeating ego crashing to the ground in a startled panic of sweat and shivers. With that, you’re back to hiding in the pause menus as you convince yourself to keep playing. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one.

Katharine: Like Ed, I've never really been one for horror games, but Resident Evil Village is just the right blend of daft, over the top scares. I love a good power curve, and that transition from full-on fright fest to an unstoppable, shotgun-pumping action man is something I crave and hunger for in a game like this, almost as much as Lady D loves a good, full-bodied glass of the red stuff.

The village itself is a fantastic location, too, providing some much needed relief after the claustrophic corridors of its main levels. Despite being ravaged by werewolves and goodness knows what else, I can totally see it as a functioning town, with its winding streets, reservoir, factory and local manor houses, and I hope its mysterious, upcoming DLC will take us back there to a time before everything starts to hit the pan. This wider, overarching sense of place is something I've missed from more recent Resident Evil games, and gives it a creative freedom you just don't get from some of its single-setting entries. It's also a fantastic-looking game in its own right, too, and is easily one of the best ray tracing games I've seen so far. The extra technical effects just exude atmosphere, and the best part is it's not a complete beast to run either. An incredible achievement all round.

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