Horror

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Horror games thrive on being able to surprise the player. AAA horror games occasionally believe they need to artificially extend their length in order to justify their price tag, which can lead to a more repetitive experience. By the end of the game, you’ve been doing the same thing long enough that you are no longer surprised, and thus no longer scared. Resident Evil: Village managed to get around that by creating a theme park of horror, constantly moving between completely different areas, with wildly different tones and gameplay, in order to keep you from feeling safe.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

After a story-focused intro, the game drops you in the titular village, providing a classic RE-style compact space that slowly unlocks and loops back on itself as you progress. For fans of Resident Evil 4, the setting feels familiar, as does the opening set-piece where you have to survive an onslaught of enemies, giving you a chance to get used to the game’s combat mechanics. The village area acts as your hub, and keys or items you find in other areas will unlock new places to search for secrets. Each time you return, the village acts as a palette cleanser before letting you sample the next flavor of horror it has to offer.

The subsequent main locations are all given a unique tone, each reflecting one of the four lords that reside there. While the series isn’t exactly known for its subtle villains, the four lords seem a lot more over-the-top and cartoonish compared to the relatively grounded Baker family from RE7. Much like Metal Gear Solid antagonists, they each have a strong visual language that communicates their character, with a matching powerset to further differentiate them. It’s a bold strategy that gives the rest of the game a segmented feel, while still managing to act as a cohesive whole.

The first of these themed areas is Lady Dimitrescu’s castle, which plays out like an opulent version of the RE2 police station. This area is meant to appeal to people who may have recently played the RE2 Remake, as it is the only one that features an unkillable, Mr. X-like stalker character, the aforementioned Lady Dimitrescu. The gameplay fits perfectly in the new setting, with a few miniboss fights sprinkled throughout the standard key collection and light puzzle solving. It’s a perfect way to ease you into the game and lull you into a false sense of familiarity before pulling the rug out from under you.

After a brief stop in the central village, you head to House Beneviento, which is easily my favorite section of the game. Upon entering, your weapons are taken away, immediately shattering the expectations from the previous area, letting you know you’re in for a complete change of pace. Here, the game switches from the standard RE-style exploration to a more dream logic, puzzle-focused gameplay, echoing the found footage escape room sections of RE7. The surreal puzzles all have a surprisingly emotional focus on Ethan’s family, giving the game a much-needed emotional grounding while still managing to creep the hell out of you. I’m not sure RE: Village could survive completely on this type of gameplay, but it’s a perfect diversion after the more standard opening level.

At the end of each of the first two areas, you find one of four plot-important flasks, but in the third area, the Reservoir, you find it immediately and spend the rest of your time trying to escape. Rather than constantly searching for keys and doubling back to unlock new rooms, this section focuses more on figuring out how to navigate the area and unlock it in a more linear fashion. While it’s not as big of a departure as House Beneviento, it is another welcome change of pace, and once again brings to mind RE4 with its choice of set dressing. The linearity of it is appreciated, especially when it comes to the chase with the giant fish monsters in a flooded portion of the map.

The final few areas switch things up to a more action-heavy focus, with a change of scenery each time. First, you have a large-scale battle in a Stronghold, fighting off wave after wave of werewolves. It’s a tense exercise in ammo management that leads nicely into Heisenberg’s Factory. Here, you face off against strange mechanized experiments, an entirely different type of enemy than anything you’ve seen in the game. Even though it’s very action-heavy like the Stronghold, the enemy types change how you play, asking the player to target specific, often challenging to reach, weak points. This all climaxes in a guns-blazing showdown in the central village, where you’re tearing through monsters as a well-armed Chris Redfield. After all the more measured gameplay of the first half, it’s a little disappointing that the end becomes so action-oriented, but it feels like an appropriate escalation of the story.

If RE7 proved anything, it’s that the series could be malleable with its content while still feeling like it belonged with the other games. Rather than the traditional zombies we got unstoppable cannibals and strange mold creatures. With VIllage, the RE team stretched the premise even further, incorporating vampires, werewolves, creepy dolls, and mechanized monstrosities, all without shattering the world they’ve created over the last 25 years. While RE7 succeeded because they scaled it down and focused on the basics, Village succeeded because they took the revamped gameplay of 7 and blew it up with a kitchen sink approach to worldbuilding. The sheer variety of horror tropes that are thrown at you without feeling overwhelming makes for one of the most thrilling experiences of 2021.

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