Resident Evil Village channels the finest flamboyance of famous horror series
Dimitrescu Castle is a simply fabulous abode for the discerning lady vampire. The home of Resident Evil Village thirst trap and breakout internet star Lady Dimitrescu, the European pile features ornate and spectacular hallways bedecked in gold and red, twisting spiral staircases, fetching renaissance paintings and a relaxing blood bath to soak in after a hard day’s work. The resident 9ft lady of the house and her daughters are perhaps not the most welcoming, however, tending to greet guests by impaling their hands with chains and hanging them from the rafters.
The Dimitrescus and the gaudy excess of their Castle, one of several areas of horror you can expect throughout Resident Evil Village, is the unsettling star of this one hour chunk of gameplay and a fine indication of the direction the game is taking. If previous entry Resident Evil 7 was bringing the famous horror series to a first-person perspective by leaning into Tobe Hooper slasher horror, Village is seemingly adding the Resident Evil 4 strain of excess and action. And is looking terrific for it.
Following on from the end of Resident Evil 7, you are surviving everyman Ethan Winters, somehow finding himself stranded in snowy Eastern Europe –most likely Romania– following an encounter with series stalwart Chris Redfield. Quite what our previously heroic STARS member is up to remains a mystery, but safe to say that it is leaving Ethan in something of a bind. Awaking in the frozen wilderness, Ethan troops to the titular village; an Amish-esque sprawl of wooden houses wreathed in mist. The recollection of the first time you reach Resident Evil 4’s own otherworldly village is unmistakable and a theme that runs throughout.
Along the way there are plenty of the first-person chills that defined the early stages of Resident Evil 7, however. Ethan tiptoes unarmed through darkened slat-houses that look like a whirlwind has passed through, chairs and tables scattered, windows smashed and walls crumbling. Squeezing through a blood-stained crawl-space, the inexplicable claret caking his hands. Thunderous and quick footsteps echoing from above, wooden planks collapsing from the ceiling above. Small details put you on edge, like a tin can falling out of sight, clattering on the floor and rolling towards you from under a curtain. Blood drips from the ceiling with interminable soft splashes.
It is all to put you on edge before throwing that curtain back on what-is-going-on-around-here, as you find yourself given a pistol by a terrified old man before being set on by snarling groups of Lycans. The snaggle-toothed werewolves are fast and powerful, whirling around you at a fair clip as you panickedly fire in their direction. Ammo is more plentiful and the combat more intense than Resident Evil 7, again recalling Resident Evil 4 and its tactical, tension-fuelled skirmishes.
You can retreat into buildings and bar the doorways with shelving to give you a moment’s breathing space, or look to separate the Lycans, who look to attack in packs, to take individuals down with well-placed headshots. At one point it looks like you are overwhelmed, a gigantic hammer-wielding ogre crashing down on you and Lycans galloping up on horseback, of all things. Before a distant peal forces the monsters into retreat. A heart-stopping beat that may ring a bell in more ways than one.
But these references to games past don’t seem as much homage as a deliberate continuation of theme. Resident Evil, through all of its many guises, has proved broad and variable in tone without ever losing its Night of the Living Dead roots. There is still plenty of classic puzzling, tracking down discarded emblems that slot into crumbling stone gates. Still cracking crates and gathering herbs, managing inventory and saving at typewriters.
But Resident Evil Village looks to channel the flamboyant excess of 4 and even more outlandish entries into the canon such as Code: Veronica. You are not alone in this curious corner of Europe by any means, a smattering of survivors scattered among the chaos. A devout bunch that seem to worship mysterious matriarch Mother Miranda.
And much like the oddballs that have come to define Resident Evil’s character over the years, Village sees fit to put you up against a supernatural convent. There is, among others, Heisenberg, an arrogant telekinetic cowboy who seems to have control of the Lycans; a terrifying walking baby doll in a wedding dress and, of course, Lady Dimitrescu and her daughters.
Visiting her castle sees another significant shift, as you must creep through its gaudy halls as she stalks you like a saucier Mr X, ducking under doorways to fit under their too-low frame and giving you just a brief second of escape. Her internet stardom is well-earned, a fascinating antagonist that benefits from the RE Engine’s terrific visual prowess and stylish animation. She bellows ‘man-thing’ as she stalks you through the halls, giant claws whipping out as she comes near. Her daughters meanwhile, transform into flittering insects, making shooting them down a tricky prospect.
But what seems clear is that these two snippets of the game are just that. Dimitrescu castle is a labyrinthine thing, full of riddles and physical puzzles (even an ornate, marble run contraption that you must fiddle with while the lady of the house’s footsteps shudder in your ears). But it already looks to be just one terrifying stop on Capcom’s broader European horror tour.
Certainly the game looks to equip you for the long haul, with a curious trader called the Duke, who appears throughout — popping out of his strategically placed wardrobes of guns and healing items. Here you can upgrade your weaponry –including, interestingly, a silencer for your pistol– using money (Romanian Lei, which further suggests Transylvania might not be a million miles away) found throughout the game or given by the Duke in exchange for discovered trinkets. The game also suggests routes off the beaten path you can take to find extra treasure, while certain items can be found to open previously barred gates.
This kind of exploration and backtracking has been another core concept of Resident Evil since the beginning, but I’m not sure it will have been done to quite this extent and with as much variety before. This snippet of gameplay is screeching scale, scares and rather delicious camp excess. All the ingredients for Resident Evil at its very best.