Resident Evil Village, review: Outlandish horror sequel is often more silly than scary

There’s much to admire about Capcom’s intriguing franchise sequel, but as survival horror games go, this sometimes has the feel of Halloween pantomime

Louis Chilton
Wednesday 05 May 2021 16:08
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Resident Evil Village trailer

Platforms: PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Google Stadia. Cert: 18.

Villages can be the scariest places on Earth. Whether it’s remote Transylvanian villages where the air runs cold with whispers of Dracula, or suburban villages in the Surrey commuter belt, filled with the dead-eyed English middle class, there’s often something chilling about a small, tight-knit community living life by its own rules. This is, or purports to be, the terror at the heart of Resident Evil Village , the new game in Capcom’s best-selling horror franchise.

Villageis a direct sequel to 2017 Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, a game that introduced some major changes to the formula, the most glaring being the switch to a first-person viewpoint. Village keeps this change: once again, you spend the game peering out through the eyes of generic protagonist Ethan Winters. Ethan begins the game in something vaguely resembling domestic bliss, living with his wife and baby daughter. Abruptly, though, his wife is killed, and his daughter kidnapped. Ethan wakes up in the middle of nowhere, and stumbles into a village that has been ransacked by terrible supernatural forces.

The immersion of the first-person viewpoint is ideal for horror games, on a purely sensual level. It works less well as a dramatic device, where things like “framing” and “being able to see the protagonist’s face” are often considered useful tools for any budding storyteller. For all its sensual horrors and heart-palpitating shocks (Village does not skimp on the jump scares), this is a game that is interested in drama and storytelling, albeit of the camp, silly variety.

Village starts out bleak, cold and serious, but as soon as you meet the villains, it careens into cartoonishness. Among the various foes strewn across Ethan’s path: Lady Alcina Dimitrescu, an unsettlingly tall vamp with three witchy daughters; Angie, a shrill talking puppet that looks like a cross between Corpse Bride and The Conjuring’s Annabel doll; the Duke, a creepy merchant whose enormous frame seems to loom out of improbable nooks and alcoves; and Mother Miranda, the occult leader of the village, held in religious reverence by the local townsfolk. 

One of the game’s larger-than-life villains

Resident Evil has never striven for realism, but Village is nonetheless a stark departure from its immediate predecessor, and is, by some margin, the franchise’s most tonally adventurous entry to date. However, the broad, fanciful villains all too often undermine the horror, rather than augment it, and the writing just isn’t witful enough to slide smoothly between the game’s human drama and supernatural pantomime.

One can imagine this game being marmite to Resident Evil diehards. There is much to admire: the combat is fun, with a real air of desperate menace, and the design work, both of the village and its inhuman characters, is first-rate. But for those who prefer their horror stern-faced and biting, there’s just no looking past how intrinsically, jarringly daft Village can be.

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