We’re only a few weeks away from the return of Capcom’s survival horror series. Launching May 7 on PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4, Resident Evil Village thrusts RE 7’s everyman protagonist Ethan Winters into a new, horrifying scenario. Torn from a blissful family life by events beyond his control, the once settled husband and father now finds himself lost and alone in a remote region of Eastern Europe, driven by a single goal: find his kidnapped infant daughter.
With the sweltering heat and horrors of the claustrophobic Baker family estate behind him, the snow-laden sprawl of an isolated village and its surrounding areas present new dangers and fresh mysteries for Ethan. Ever since its initial announcement last June, Capcom has slowly teased what those are. Four months ago, the publisher gave PS5 players a first-hand taste of one of the game’s locales and its ruthless inhabitants with the Maiden demo.
Last week, three reveals. First was a new Showcase with fresh gameplay details (including confirmation that bonus game mode The Mercenaries was making a return). Within that was the announcement of a new demo for PS5 and PS4 players (with another on the way April 24). Lastly, we had the opportunity to watch a longer slice of PS5 gameplay taken from across the game’s opening hours. It shows how the franchise’s first-person strand’s mechanics are built upon in both new and series-familiar ways. How exploration is handled. A closer look at the new threats you’ll face. And a surprising hint at, of all things, interfamily politics between the region’s ruling powers.
Here’s what we found out.
Stay healthy, keep saving
Two franchise pillars get tweaked yet again. Your health bar will now fade in and back out at the bottom left of your screen come any change (for better or worse), and be viewable in the inventory menus (like Resident Evil 4, the weapons sub-menu features a briefcase-like, limited space overlay). Village favours ink over analogue saving: RE7’s tape recorders are out, the classic typewriter is back in. No need for ink ribbons though: save as often as you like.
Ethan Winters must have wide pockets. Resident Evil Village collects maps and discovered files in a book kept upon your person. Also contained in its own tab is an evolving diary penned by Ethan (with sketches!), tracking his progress. Great as a story recap and quick guide for your next objective when you jump back into the game.
Things of note: your map is split into three tabs. The first covers exteriors, the third for buildings. The middle tab is listed as ‘Underground’.
A growing threat
Crossreferencing Ethan’s journal with a letter recovered in one of the village’s abandoned houses provides wider context to the game’s story and its timeline. In his diary entry, Ethan dates the in-game day as February 9. The letter talks about lost livestock during that winter, snatched repeatedly by something lurking in the surrounding countryside. Even before Ethan arrives, the threat – whatever it is – is widely known and has been increasing in frequency and ferocity.
They’re called Lycans
The feral beasts that have snarled their way through the trailers to date have an official name: Lycans. They’re the main threat to Ethan and others during our time in the village portion of the demo. Capcom explains these creatures mainly attack in packs, so it’s best to isolate and pick off one at a time. That information is paired with an unsettling image: lone Lycans hunched on the rooftops here and there around the village. Each growls and slowly shifts their position as Ethan passes. It’s incredibly tense. To shoot is to be overrun, yet you’ll never know when they may pounce.
And not content to rip and rend with tooth and claw, these bristling killers of muscle and fur can also carry weapons and – in the cutscene that closes out the village section – ride horses.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
More echoes of Resident Evil 4: that scene ends with a nearby bell calling off the massing Lycans as well as their oversized, hammer-wielding pack leader. They race out of sight. Capcom offers no explanation for the bell, who has rung it or what its ultimate purpose is. They’re probably not heading to bingo…
A variety of creative puzzles are scattered throughout the game.
The village is a dense network of small roads, gardens, backyards and households. Some of those are multi-floored, rooms containing collectables such as currency as well as recognisable consumables. Another parallel to Resident Evil 4: larger items can be shifted across doors and windows to create makeshift barricades. Tactically deployed, these will stack the odds back in your favour when pursued or surrounded.
There’s a suggestion that the village will serve as a hub to pass through as you travel out to other locations, such as Castle Dimitrescu, the exploration of which forms the latter half of the gameplay demonstration. This locale is equally dense and filled with its own unique dangers.
Not unexpectedly, access to certain areas are locked until the correct object – bolt cutters, screwdrivers, keys or special items – is added to your inventory.
The village isn’t empty. Exploring homesteads uncovers what remains of its populace, such as the shotgun-wielding man spotted in earlier trailers who ultimately hands Ethan his first bit of real firepower: a pistol. In a similar vein, you
stumble upon a wounded father and his daughter who refuses to leave his side. This opens up a new mission: escort them to a safe haven nearby. That journey and its fallout gives a great snapshot of Resident Evil Village’s strengths:
multiple showcases (both quiet and explosive) of RE Engine’s visuals. The whip-sharp and perfectly paced shift from slow dread to action horror and back. Combat that’s equal thrills and fright.
Capcom’s photogrammetry technology continues to produce stunningly intricate environments. For example, take a simple dilapidated home in the village: detritus litters the yard, from an abandoned animal carrier to tin cans, each rendered in lifelike details. Arrows stab into a fallen wooden beam, the signs of a past battle. Snow blankets the terrain, with strands of dead grass poking through. The dead calm of the densely detailed environments produces a somber yet compelling atmosphere.
Keep your head on a swivel for hidden treasures, similar to Resident Evil 4.
Shoot, shove, strike, collect, upgrade, repeat
As with previous games, aim carefully to conserve ammo and permanently down enemies as efficiently as possible. Ethan can once again throw up his arms to decrease damage taken, but he can also push certain foes back, even deliver a counterattack. A more aggressive playstyle that could come into its own for the time and points-based Mercenaries mode, but kills earn you currency and items in the campaign as well. Resource management is still integral to your survival, but there’s definite rewards for perfecting your aim: cash (and certain collectables) can be traded for upgrades from local merchant, The Duke.
Knife, pistol, and shotgun were all deployed during the gameplay demo (unused but spotted in Ethan’s repertoire were mines, and trailers have demonstrated the powerhouse that’s the game’s sniper rifle). All have baseline reload speeds, rates of fire, and ammo capacity that can be bettered with a few coins dropped into the Duke’s palm.
You’ve the option to buy ammo from The Duke, find bullets around the world, or combine materials to craft your own. In another apparent nod to RE4, collected treasures like crystal skulls and pendants can be sold for quick cash.
Meet the mysterious Heisenberg
The Duke is far from the only intriguing character you’ll cross paths with. We run into Heisenberg, the duster-coat and dark glasses-wearing stranger spotted in previous clips. He moves to capture Ethan immediately. How he does this is a surprise: in addition to his intimidating, mammoth hammer, he can also manipulate objects in the environment to surprising results. Stay sharp when squaring off with Heisenberg.
Lady Dimitrescu stalks
The towering, intimidating matriarch captured horror fans’ attention, yet little has been known about how she impacts gameplay. Within the preview, we saw the Lady stalk Ethan through the castle halls with the slow, steady, confident pace of a classic horror slasher. Her imposing stature and need to duck through doorways harkens to RE2 remake’s persistent Tyrant (a.k.a. Mr. X). Escape appears to be the name of the game when she’s on your trail, sharpened claws extended.
Spotted briefly in the trailer and played out more fully in the demo is a cutscene that introduces us to several key characters, including the infamous Lady Dimitrescu and aforementioned Heisenberg. Without revealing anything spoilery, it’s clear the assembled motley crew have unique personalities and motivations. Similar to RE7’s Baker family members, each of these key antagonists seem to have unique methods for making Ethan’s life hell.
“Why the **** is this happening again!?”
Ethan Winters is a unique type of Resident Evil protagonist. Following his harrowing experience battling against the deranged Baker family in RE7, Ethan finds himself once again entrenched in a waking nightmare in RE Village. You can’t help but feel bad for the unfortunate man. Unlike other RE series protagonists, Ethan doesn’t have elite supercop training. He doesn’t appear to have a support network outside his shattered family. In contrast, survivors of past RE games banded together, got organized, and struck back against evils like Umbrella. Ethan Winters… is alone. Sure, series hero Chris Redfield is back, but the role he plays in Ethan’s tale is unclear and fraught with aggressive tension. Taken altogether, Ethan’s situation creates a unique sense of isolation and desperation in RE Village that enhances the horror vibe.
Capcom leans into a gothic horror aesthetic, complete with gargoyle-esque enemies flying around dark castle spires.
The gameplay demo eventually leads us to the halls of Castle Dimitrescu and concludes with a further look at its secrets and encounters with the Lady of the castle and her trio of flesh-hungry daughters. We’re a world away from the Baker family and the Molded, yet Ethan is once more at the mercy of a twisted familial dynamic surrounding itself with vicious monstrosities. Only with a steady aim, quick wits and smarts will he – will we – save his own kin and escape.
We wouldn’t have it any other way.