Ahead of the Village demo going live on PlayStation this past weekend, we had a chance to watch over an hour of Resident Evil Village gameplay footage containing lengthy gameplay sequences from the Village area, Castle area and so much more.
Everyone knows I’m a devout Resident Evil fan, but there’s always a cycle that I go through leading up to the release of a new game. Resident Evil 7: biohazard had me concerned about so many things in the lead-up to its release. But as I began to play more and more of it, that all fell away. With Village, things seem to be going in the opposite direction of 7 – ramping up the intensity of pretty much everything to the point where I was worried again. Worried that history would repeat itself and that Resident Evil would become a schlocky action game again.
After some time with the game, it’s clear that Village is a bold new direction for Resident Evil once more. But it’s not entirely abandoning the strong foundation laid by biohazard, and I’m excited to delve deeper into the mystery it’s offering up after considerable hands-off time with the game.
Our preview begins as Ethan wakes up in the middle of the cold hard night. His transport has crashed, and his armed escort seems to have perished. The phones on his escort’s dead body rings, and Ethan answers, furiously asking where Chris Redfield is. The voice on the other end of the line asks him about a package. Ethan is confused, hangs up, and begins trudging through the wilderness. He eventually comes to a hut, with blood on the doorstep, of course, and enters.
It’s here that some of my fears about Village started to fall away. Most of the pre-release media has thus far focused on moments in the daylight. Moments where things feel a little bit too open and a little bit too light. As Ethan slowly trudges through the snowy and dark wilderness, I was tense. Even better – absolutely nothing happened in the hut as Ethan explored it. We could’ve easily been subjected to a cheap and lazy jump scare, but we weren’t. It’s a small moment of my long time with the game, but one that instilled a little bit more confidence in me that the team will keep the horror of the previous game intact.
But when we shift to the daylight, things change. Walking up to the Village for the first time, there’s a very palpable atmosphere. It’s different from when Ethan was walking into the dark of the outskirts, but it’s still a tense mood to set. The Village feels very lived-in as if it has been abandoned at the last second. It’s this section where I notice that weather is used to great effect in Village – wind blows doors open and closed to really bring the world to life. It was one of my favourite things about the last demo, so it’s nice to see it used here too. Eventually, Ethan is faced with a battle against what I can only assume is the main enemy in the village area of the game – the Lycans.
The Lycans are fast, but they’re also pretty smart. For one, they can (and will) surround Ethan if he holes himself up in a house for shelter. You can block entrances off with furniture to help better control the crowds, which is a lovely touch. Still, often I’d felt like it’s worth trying to avoid them altogether. In the recent playable demo that was released over the weekend, I loved how they were used to great effect with the environment – you can see them coming at you as they rustle through vegetation. Both invisible but in plain sight.
In Village, Lycans hunt in packs. This is best illustrated in the rather flashy battle that Ethan finds himself in with multiple Lycans. There’s still a degree of horror to them – the way they stay still on rooftops and in dense vegetation before springing to life if you get too close is a nice touch. But this is where the game begins to feel a little bit too much like Resident Evil 4. There’s a lot of shooting, a lot of action, and even a bigger Lycan in the mix that’s so comically hairy that I couldn’t find him intimidating in the slightest.
Channeling one of the highest-rated video games ever is certainly nothing to scoff at, but it’s just in stark opposition to what was established in Resident Evil 7. It is a testament to how much the series can consistently reinvent itself, perhaps. However, it’s still a direction that some might find issue with. But for now, Ethan is cornered and a bell rings in the distance, the Lycans leaving him alone. Where’s everyone going? Bingo?
Between the Village and the Castle, we meet with The Duke. A bizarrely designed character, he behaves similarly to the merchant from Resident Evil 4. The Duke allows players to not only buy recipes to craft with but also actual ammo too. Buying ammo in a Resident Evil game is unheard of, so I’m interested to see if this is all balanced correctly. Besides that, The Duke can also upgrade your weapons and buy treasures that you collect from you. It’s all, as I’ve already said, very Resident Evil 4.
But halfway through the demo, one of my major concerns rears it’s ugly head. Ethan is captured by Heisenberg and brought to a procession of sorts, where Mother Miranda hears out the villains of the game as they decide who will kill Ethan. It’s here that we see the characters we already know – Dimitrescu and Heisenberg. But we also get our first look at Moreau and Beneviento. Moreau strikes me as fairly unremarkable, to the point that I assumed he or she was an assistant to Miranda. But I have it on good authority that they’re an utter creep – and Moreau looks after the Village reservoir which already taps into a weird fear of water in video games that I already have.
Beneviento, however, seems to be a little bit strange. She seems to be a cloaked figure in a chair, but she speaks through a puppet of sorts that looks straight out of a kooky Tim Burton movie. Her voice, too, was more comical than intimidating. I’m excited to see just how this character will be made to be intimidating or even just the mystery of who is sitting in the chair, but I also worry it’s just a little bit too cheesy for the tone that Village is going for. Up until now, I can see everything in Village being explained by an infection, an outbreak, or experimentation. But not this weird link this woman seems to have to her puppet.
It’s at this point that the session pivots firmly into a different territory. Ethan escapes and enters the Castle. Castle Dimitrescu is both opulent and garish, a far cry from the dilapidated Village, but we already knew that from the Maiden demo. The Castle seems to be channelling my favourite bits of Resident Evil. The exploration and puzzle-solving harkens back to the Spencer Mansion of the original game, or even the main Baker house in Resident Evil 7. It’s here that the now ubiquitous Alcina Dimitrescu resides, and it’s her and her daughters that you’ll have to deal with when you’re in the Castle.
There’s some plot revealed that I won’t spoil here, and we’re eventually given free reign of the Castle. It’s a large, empty, and quiet location that is absolutely dripping with atmosphere. It has all the hallmarks of a classic Resident Evil game – winding corridors, big open spaces, and intimidating enemies to avoid rather than engage in combat. My favourite room in this section houses a very Resident Evil-esque puzzle. It’s a spa or jacuzzi type of bathtub filled with blood with statues that need to be adjusted based on a piece of writing on the wall to progress.
While I’ve spent half of my time in this session in the Castle, not a whole lot is shown off that we haven’t already seen. What we do get to see is how intimidating Lady Dimitrescu can be. She’s become somewhat of a meme in recent months, so I wasn’t sure if she could adequately be perceived as a threat anymore. Thankfully, due to a mix of things, we get a better look at Dimitrescu and how she plays into things. From files found in the session and how she speaks, she’s a much more interesting character than you’d think. Even better, the whole experience of her chasing you is pretty sublime.
Following a critical point in the plot, Lady Dimitrescu will become one of your main stalkers during your time in the Castle. Not only is she tall, but she also flexes a massive claw as she speeds toward you. Even better, in all her elegance, she wears high-heeled shoes for the duration of her time in the Castle. This means that no matter which room you’re in, you can hear her walking around her Castle, looking for you. Even when you’re spending time on menus or solving a puzzle. It’s a simple little aspect to her implementation that makes things tenser and helps to sell me on the idea that Village might still be as tense as previous games.
Ethan travels through the Castle, is thrown into one of its dungeons, and eventually finds himself on the balconies of the highest floors. It’s here that he discovers a sniper rifle, which I’m told is handy for more than combat, as well as another enemy type. These strange ones – humans with wings and massive gaping tongue holes for faces – highlight just how committed to enemy variety Village is. We’ve already seen more enemy types in this hour-long demo than in the entirety of Resident Evil 7, and it’s encouraging knowing how much we have to go.
So, with the session ended, do I still have concerns? I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t. Village has already done wonders in assuaging the issues I had with Resident Evil 7’s enemy variety. But it’s simultaneously pivoting to a style that’s more indicative of Resident Evil 4, which I’m still on the fence about. Inventory management has taken a back seat – treasures and key items now are handled separately from everything else. You can also buy ammo which makes me think this will be removing the “survival” elements of survival horror from Village. But that’s the purist in me talking.
On the other hand, I can’t deny that Village is shaping up to be one hell of a game. We’ve really only seen a little bit of two locations, and at a very modest estimate, there are at least three more to be revealed when the final game hits. But from what I’ve seen so far, it’s hard to deny so many things.
Resident Evil: Village is fantastic looking, has an intriguing story with so much mystery, and is doing its best to emulate the best bits of both Resident Evil 7 and Resident Evil 4. I’m excited to see how it all comes together when it launches in two weeks.
Resident Evil Village launches for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Google Stadia on Friday, May 7th 2021.
The second of two timed exclusive demos will go live this weekend. You can get all those details HERE.