'Resident Evil Village' Makes It Clear – No One Knows What 'Resident Evil' Is Anymore

What even is Resident Evil Village? What even is Resident Evil anymore? The franchise has suffered an identity crisis since Resident Evil 6 (which resembled a Michael Bay movie with zombies more than anything else), consistently shuffling around protagonists, embracing a first-person perspective, and introducing super-powered human beings in the vein of Paul W.S. Anderson's divisive film adaptations, only to do nothing with those characters in subsequent games, unsure if it wants to go in a new direction untethered from its original plot or not.

All of this was racing through my mind after my first Lycan encounter in Resident Evil Village. The series has been shying away from zombies for years now, so it's to be admired that a group of creatives would come along and shake things up to such a puzzling but awesome degree. The various viruses over mainline entries and spinoffs have caused all matters of monstrous transformations, so when you're on the eighth numerical game still with no clear direction, the real question is why not resort to drastic measures and make a werewolf game? You might as well throw in an interpretation of vampires. And how about using the template of Resident Evil 4 (a village of crazed locals, Gothic castles, merchants inexplicably existing to sell items and upgrades) to justify placing the game within this franchise.

That's the approach here, as Resident Evil Village brings back Resident Evil 7's Ethan Winters, having survived the incident at the Baker home (there is a recap video available of that much more focused and terrifying game for those coming into this blind) and now living off the grid somewhere in Europe at the request of glorified special forces operative Chris Redfield. He lives with his wife Mia and newborn daughter Rose, giving players some short-lived peace walking around with the baby and exploring their home. Through some lazy writing telegraphing a superbly predictable and lame twist (oh, it continuously gets way worse), tragedy strikes, leaving Ethan stranded in the snow on the outskirts of the titular village. The only way to save Rose is to investigate.

There's one consistent issue from the start: Ethan is just plain boring, even when the game strives for an emotional payoff. Early on, we are also reminded that he is special in ways that deflate the tension and terror of a horror experience. Although, I'm guessing the developers know that because the final third of the game is a jump button away from being something as action-centric as Doom Eternal. Certain scenes here (especially involving a severed hand) are unintentionally laugh-out-loud funny, breaking all immersion. There is a clear disconnect between the ludicrous narrative set-up and the seriousness of Ethan's personal mission, with none of the self-aware humor and purposefully awful dialogue that gave Resident Evil 4, the game it's trying to mimic, charm.

It doesn't help that the first-person shooter gameplay experience streamlines things, further eliminating what made Leon Kennedy's battle against the Las Plagas feel so fresh and special, and most importantly, like an installment of a series that was organically evolving. Gone are the goofy wrestling moves (why introduce Lycans if you aren't going to let me German Suplex them?), which, in addition to being entertainingly silly, were necessary to the gameplay – let me conserve ammo! Bullets, healing items, crafting ingredients (one of the game's only new features), treasures to sell to Duke (your friendly merchant this time around), and livestock (you can now use cooking recipes to create permanent upgrades to your health and damage taken upon impact); all of it is everywhere, removing a great deal of fear and suspense. Yes, this game is only being reviewed in Standard difficulty, but the alternative of raising it to improve the scarcity of ammunition and consumables does not offset enemies taking a ridiculous number of bullets to kill.

However, there is one bright spot for nightmare fuel, and that's the castle of the much-advertised and marketed Lady Dimitrescu, a towering presence with vampiric overtones. The atmosphere is often filled with dread, there are plenty of notes to come across detailing the twisted lore of how she and her three daughters came to be (each of them also functions as a mini-boss trying to halt your progress).Tthe scale of the building, coupled with an abundance of locked doors and some puzzles (they are all very easy) is the closest the game comes to a satisfying survival horror experience. There is also a problem; that section is only 3-4 hours of the 12-14 hour game, meaning that Resident Evil Village peaks early with a terrific boss fight (in the game's defense, there are a couple of pretty good ones here).

The rest amounts to a rushed tour through the far less elaborate domains of other freaks; a creepy doll that looks like something out of a Tim Burton movie, a rotund amphibious creature lacking in personality, and a Magneto knockoff that's more obnoxious than interesting (during a boss fight, he refers to a villainous female antagonist as "that bitch" multiple times, exemplifying how atrociously "edgy" the dialogue is). Then there's the final baddie, who turns out to have motives more fitting for a Silent Hill game, who is nonetheless one of the more positive spots. The scattershot nature of these areas and battles suggest Resident Evil doesn't know what it is anymore, and Resident Evil Village definitely doesn't know what it wants to be. Just wait until the game gives you control of another character and becomes Call of Duty featuring Lycans. Also, that segment follows a factory level where you fight off mechanical monsters.

The fact that all of this is fairly stupid doesn't mean it couldn't have worked because, again, the real problem is there are no scares beyond the occasional loud noise/sudden enemy appearance, and if you want to analyze it as an action game, it's elementary. The initial presence of a Lycan is thrilling, but the novelty wears off, as does mowing down undead servants and mechanical mutants. If anything, the final few hours are exhausting to play. I would say the game becomes a shell of its former self, but it didn't have a shell to begin with.

Even the usual compliments – this is a AAA game and it certainly looks exceptional – are backhanded here. Ray-tracing capabilities do wonders for environments such as Dimitrescu's Castle. Still, there are a startling number of areas (especially the outdoors of the village itself) rendered in a low resolution. Technically, the game is functional despite having no difficulty setting that feels right. Completing the game also unlocks a harder difficulty and the usual Resident Evil bonuses (new weapons, a challenge mode, a store to purchase various collectibles using in-game currency). There's also a half-baked version of the Mercenaries mode with additional online modes on the horizon, but for the first time in my life, I'm done with a Resident Evil game after playing it once. There's no need to frustrate oneself, admiring the potential and excitement of the first few hours before it plummets and becomes a chore. Resident Evil Village is a place not worth staying in.

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10