Resident Evil Village (Xbox Series S) Review

With a wild shift in tone and an increased emphasis on action over horror, does Resident Evil: Village capture the essence of Resident Evil 4 without losing what made its predecessor – which all but revived the stagnant IP – great?
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If Resident Evil VII looked to lure back fans of the PlayStation originals, Resident Evil Village is aimed at those whose first experience was Resident Evil 4. It’s also one of the rare games I want to criticise for what was added, rather than what was missing from the experience.

Set three years after the Baker Incident, Ethan, Mia, and their 6-month-old baby Rosemary have been relocated to a safe house in rural Europe by Chris Redfield. After barely 10-minutes, in which you experience a snippet of their seemingly idyllic life, everything goes to hell. Ethan finds himself trudging through a snowstorm, only to emerge in the titular village, and discovers Rose has been kidnapped by “Mother Miranda”, leader of the isolated community.

You then spend the next 8-10 hours exploring, shooting, and puzzling your way through the domains of her four “Lords” in an attempt to expose Mother Miranda and save Rose. It’s a great setup that gives you several sub-villains to defeat, each found in distinctive locations, with unique enemies, and a specific gameplay focus. Unfortunately, the overall experience can feel inconsistent.

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The village slowly evolves each time you pass through. Hunting down treasures and scavenging for supplies helps familiarise yourself with the location – essential for when you find yourself fighting inside cramped houses or on the narrow paths between them.

When it comes to the plot, no Resident Evil game has had a truly compelling or complex story. They’ve always been reliant on cliched archetypes and nefarious corporations. However, their narratives usually have good pacing. The notes you find typically document the unfolding disaster, unexpected betrayals can catch you off guard, while the predictable twists are stupid but still entertaining (just think back to the Matrix-inspired Wesker). In contrast, the overarching narrative in Resident Evil Village can feel disjointed and lacking in detail for the bulk of your playtime.

The identity of the main villain, their motivations, the creation of the titular village, the link to classic Umbrella, the connection to the Baker incident, an explanation for Ethan’s recovery powers, Chris’ mission, and the fate of secondary characters – all these reveals are crammed into 30-minutes of heavy reading and poorly-directed cutscenes leading up to the final battle. This is in stark contrast to the lavish and well-paced opening half. After the credits had rolled, it was hard not to feel that Capcom is veering back towards the convoluted mess that resulted in the scattershot Resident Evil 6.

More than ever, I wish they had ditched their historical baggage with Resident Evil VII, so they didn’t have to double down on it in Resident Evil Village.

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There are hints as to the motivation of Mother Miranda but so much is left to the final moments. You simply have to accept the weirdness of the village and the presence of its Lords for 95% of the game.

Now if you feel I’ve been too hard on the story and you’re just here to shoot the latest iteration of parasite-ridden monstrosity, you’ll be happy to hear Resident Evil Village takes several steps forward when it comes to gameplay. The basics are still in place: think sluggish movement, lacklustre aiming, and inventory management. However, Ethan is a more capable protagonist this time. He has a clear motivation for pushing forward and comes across as far less surprised, and only rarely terrified, by the creatures he encounters.

To facilitate both this shift in tone and the larger, branching environment, Resident Evil Village has inserted several gameplay elements straight out of the acclaimed Resident Evil 4. You’ve got a mysterious merchant that you can purchase items and upgrades from, using currency dropped by enemies or gained by selling treasures. Those treasures are scattered throughout most locations, including high-value items and powerful weapon upgrades that require some light puzzling or challenging encounters. In addition to weapon modifications, you can upgrade the basic stats like fire power and clip size (which, just like ye olde days, means free bullets!).

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With weapons, supplies, item crafting, and treasures to consider, you’ll spend a healthy amount of time juggling your inventory.  There are far more weapons and supplies to find, but also far more enemies that stand in your way.

The return of these “gamey” elements makes for a far more entertaining minute-to-minute experience. There’s now plenty of reason to scour every location and they give you a little more agency in how you play. Those upgrade choices – either for your weapons or cooking recipes that permanently buff Ethan – allow you to focus on your preferred loadout and combat style. It’s worth noting that combat – especially against larger groups – plays a more prominent part in Resident Evil Village, so financing these upgrades by hunting for treasures and animals is vital on higher difficulties.

Once in combat, things settle into a familiar routine. Unlike the molded enemies in Resident Evil VII, there is both a far greater number and variety of foes, most of whom are nimbler than Ethan. Basic combat doesn’t deviate too far from the prior game: Headshots for humanoid enemies – check. Shooting obvious weak spots on mutated beasts – check. Segments in which you’re stalked by an unkillable monster – check. Several scripted chase and trap sequences that result in too many trial-and-error attempts – check. Shifting to a lab-type environment that’s likely to explode during the finale – check. 

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Despite their human-ish appearance during your early encounters, it doesn’t take long for the Lords to mutate into monstrous forms that defy conservation of mass laws.

What keeps things fresh is the unique environments and enemies you’ll encounter as you traverse each of the lord’s domains. Lady Dimitrescu and her daughters are the most fleshed out, with their convoluted castle and stalking sequences feeling most like the classic Resident Evil games. A weapons-free trip through House Beneviento focuses on puzzles, stealth, and Silent Hill-esque psychological horror. Moreau’s reservoir is primarily a chase sequence and timing puzzles, wrapped up by a classic mutated boss fight à la Resident Evil 4 through 6. Heisenberg is the rebellious sibling and battling through his grungy factory, taking on hi lethal biomechanical monstrosities with tiny weak points, had me thinking of The Evil Within.

Oh, if you think you’re spotting a pattern then yes, Resident Evil Village is another dysfunctional family drama – just like all of the Resident Evil lore.

When it comes to the finale, Resident Evil Village follows the time-honoured tradition of going off the rails in a series of gameplay sequences that are as spectacular as they are stupid. Unlike the plot, however, this provides for some great entertainment (if you can stomach heavy combat). It’s just unfortunate that not all locations and villains feel as if they received the same attention.

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The Mercenaries mode lacks the pacing and intensity of prior games, but there are still weapon unlocks, higher difficulty modes, and achievement challenges to entice you back for a second run.

House Beneviento is fantastic, and Moreau’s reservoir is fun enough, but they’re brief and their presence as Lords barely discussed. There’s also a tedious gauntlet you must tackle before you can enter the final act, which pushes the scrappy group combat to the forefront (personally, the first-person RE Engine games still feel best when tackling one or two tougher foes, managing your movement, blocking blows, and finding the right moment to fire). All these sequences feel like they were added in to pad out the experience late in development.

Once you’ve completed the campaign, there are several modes to keep you busy. A points-based store allows you to unlock gear – think new weapons and infinite ammo – for quicker or harder runs. The Village of Shadow difficulty adds a few unexpected enemies and turns them all into hard-hitting damage-sponges (though, sadly, it does not change your route or shuffle item placement). The Mercenaries mode returns with some new roguelike elements – think random perks you can unlock during the run and a shopkeeper to visit between stages – but it felt unsatisfying as the sluggish movement, combined with large environments, makes for a slower-paced experience than in prior games.

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The blood-soaked cellars of Castle Dimitrescu are a highlight with ray-tracing turned on. Unfortunately, Xbox Series S owners are better off disabling them to prioritise a fluid framerate.

What never failed to impress me was the presentation, in terms of the art direction, soundscape, and technical performance. Environments are stunning, atmospherically lit, and extremely detailed (both in terms of geometry and textures) making them feel like real places despite their gothic fantasy inspiration. Much like Resident Evil VII, any ambient music is subdued so that groans, creaks, footsteps, and distant screeches keep you on edge. The writing and voice acting are equally impressive at first, though it becomes increasingly overwrought and ham-fisted in the second half.

The game runs brilliantly, with both the Series X and Series S providing high resolutions and a stable 60fps with ray-tracing disabled. Unfortunately, the Xbox Series S is hit particularly hard when enabling ray-tracing, whereas the Xbox Series X only has rare heavy dips in select scenes. It’s not unplayable for Series S owners, but the impact of ray-tracing is relatively minor in most scenes, so I’d recommend you disable it.

Wrapping up, Resident Evil Village does far more right than wrong and had me hooked from beginning to end. However, it can’t escape its narrative baggage and the lingering sensation some areas received more polish than others. It’s still a fantastic sequel that enhances every gameplay element and provides incredible variety across its relatively short length. For fans of Resident Evil 4, you’ll find plenty of its DNA in this game and you should consider it essential. For fans who started with Resident Evil VII, this is a very different game in tone and pacing – despite sharing the same characters and technical foundations – but there’s still plenty to love despite the action-packed trajectory.

A review code for Resident Evil Village was provided to Gameblur by the publisher

Resident Evil Village (Xbox Series S) Review

Resident Evil Village (Xbox Series S) Review
8 10 0 1
Resident Evil Village is an impressive sequel on many fronts. It expands on many gameplay elements while offering incredible variety despite its short length. The central village and the peripheral domains of the four Lords are a joy to explore, with each offering distinct environments, puzzles, enemies, and challenging boss fights. However, the excellent opening and penultimate act bookend an inconsistent middle and rushed finale that is dragged down by too much historical baggage. It’s a great experience overall, but still an inconsistent one.
Resident Evil Village is an impressive sequel on many fronts. It expands on many gameplay elements while offering incredible variety despite its short length. The central village and the peripheral domains of the four Lords are a joy to explore, with each offering distinct environments, puzzles, enemies, and challenging boss fights. However, the excellent opening and penultimate act bookend an inconsistent middle and rushed finale that is dragged down by too much historical baggage. It’s a great experience overall, but still an inconsistent one.
8/10
Total Score
  • Story
    6/10 Normal
    The premise and setting are fantastic, introduced by lavish cutscenes during the first half. Unfortunately, the second half rushes to a conclusion, dumping a ton of exposition on the player in the final 30 minutes.
  • Gameplay
    8/10 Very Good
    The basic first-person gameplay remains intact, but the environment and enemy diversity, coupled with a myriad of elements straight out of Resident Evil 4 - think currency, a merchant, treasure-hunting, more upgrades - keep you hooked throughout.
  • Visuals
    9/10 Amazing
    Ray-tracing can look incredible in certain scenes, though it comes with a performance cost on all consoles, most notably the Xbox Series S. That said, if you disable it, every console provides an experience that still looks great and runs at a rock-solid 60fps.
  • Audio
    8/10 Very Good
    The quality voice work, gruesome combat sounds, ambient audio, and infrequently-used backing tracks work effectively to generate atmosphere and tension.

The Good

  • Environment and enemy variety
  • Treasure hunts and upgrades that’ll keep you exploring and secret-hunting
  • Thrilling boss fights – some unusual, some insane
  • Plenty of incentive for replays
  • Amazing visuals with solid performance

The Bad

  • The narrative feels disjointed, rushed, and carries too much baggage
  • Not all areas and encounters appear to have received the same attention and polish as others
  • The Mercenaries mode is too slow-paced
Total
25
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