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Resident Evil Village’s Lady Dimitrescu stands in her castle, with the number five imposed over her Image: James Bareham/Polygon

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Resident Evil Village is a greatest hits of video game horror

Village never pulls the same trick twice

2017’s Resident Evil Biohazard changed Resident Evil with its swap to first-person. It made an ancient video game series, which had gotten out of hand in its most recent third-person entry, new again. This year’s Resident Evil Village, the eighth Resident Evil, builds on Biohazard’s success, but without the benefit of a fresh perspective. Instead, Village builds on the series’ formula while using a new setting and structure to give players a tour through the greatest hits of horror.

Resident Evil Village is Polygon’s No. 5 game of 2021
For our 2021 game of the year coverage, Polygon is celebrating our top 10 video games with a collection of essays. You can see our full Top 50 list here. Throughout December, we’ll also be looking back on the year with special videos, essays, and more!

Village starts with a similarly linear opening to its predecessor, albeit with a gorgeous, animated version of a gothic children’s story preceding player control. Ethan Winters, the hero from Biohazard, is now living in a vague European country with his wife, Mia, and their new daughter, Rose. Because it’s Resident Evil, things go horribly wrong within the first 10 minutes. Mia is killed, Rose is abducted by usual-good-guy Chris Redfield, and Ethan is placed in the back of a mysterious van.

After a crash, Ethan wakes up on the outskirts of the titular town, and the game begins to take shape. The village becomes an ever-evolving hub that Ethan needs to navigate numerous times on his adventure to save his daughter. Rose is hidden around the village in four square jars — labeled “legs,” “head,” “arms,” and “torso” — and thus begins the most disgusting Zelda game ever made, as Ethan attempts to collect the jars from four distinct dungeons so he can face the final boss. It’s in these unique dungeons that Capcom revels in the vagueness of Village’s European setting, connecting five unique areas to a single hub in a way that ensures everyone can find an area they love.

A werewolf-like beast prowls around a wooded area at sunset in Resident Evil Village Image: Capcom

The castle of Lady Dimitrescu, the tall vampire woman who had the internet reeling for much of this year, is the classic Resident Evil 2 police station turned gothic. It trades a weapon armory for a literal dungeon filled with rotting corpses and medieval torture devices; a lumbering man in a trench coat for a Big Lady. The act of stomping through the castle and finding special keys to open mysterious doors should be familiar to any Resident Evil fan, but the new setting and its giant matriarch transform its familiarities.

Resident Evil Village doesn’t pull the same trick twice, and as soon as you’ve felled Lady D, you’re on to the next dungeon. But instead of another castle with keys to collect, Village takes players’ weapons away and throws them into a doll-filled puzzle box. If Castle Dimitrescu was adventure horror, Village’s doll house is atmospheric horror, playing with lighting and changing the scenery when the lights flicker off, while forcing you to run from a disgusting baby monster that you cannot damage.

After spending a few hours slaying gargoyles and killing vampire ladies, Village slows down and removes combat as an option entirely. I much prefer Lady D’s castle to the horror baby show, but I know other players who felt the opposite. What makes Village remarkable is that these shifts in genre never feel jarring. It’s all a cohesive vision — one that’s odd and disturbing in the way Resident Evil games always are — that satisfies each player’s horror appetites without ever isolating those who prefer a different approach. Which areas speak to you is a matter of taste, and the game moves fast enough that I never get bored of trying something new.

In its second half, Village transforms into more of an action game, with platforming sections through a flooded area of town, and a chase with a giant fish monster. The following area sends waves and waves of werewolf villagers into an elaborate Stronghold — testing how disciplined I’ve been with my ammo conservation. It all culminates in a more action-oriented dungeon set in a giant factory, filled with bizarre, mechanized enemies.

A giant villager holding a hammer faces the player in a screenshot from Resident Evil Village Image: Capcom

A less confident game would crumble under such a rolodex of horror experiences, but Village flips through them with ease. It’s still a monster-filled game where you shoot disgusting creatures until they crust up and blow away in the breeze. But for such a big game in a storied series, Village is nimble. It’s quick to be weird and funny, genuinely horrifying and silly. A normal game couldn’t tell a touching story about a man attempting to fight hordes of monsters to find his daughter and show that same man gluing his entire forearm back together, jacket and all. But Resident Evil isn’t normal, and it never has been; it’s outlandish, now more than ever.

Village could’ve played it safe. We could’ve seen Ethan continue his adventure through America, into secret laboratories and through another family infected by the mold. And with the Resident Evil team’s adept skill, that game still probably would’ve cracked our top 50 list. But Village gets weird instead, and whisks players away from the series’ usual world of zombies and secret labs into one with giant vampire women, werewolves, killer dolls, and ritual sacrifice.

Resident Evil Village is like a carnival of different horror experiences. Each direction you head in leads to a hall of mirrors or a Ferris wheel-like grand spectacle, in that special way a carnival can make a single field feel like multiple worlds. I’ve played scarier games than Resident Evil Village, but I’ve never played one with such varied dungeons. Village’s success isn’t in how scary it can be, but in all of the different ways it tries to scare you.

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