Windows 11 launch Google delays Chrome's cookie-blocking plan Mario Golf: Super Rush John McAfee dies Best Prime Day deals still available Britney Spears conservatorship
CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Resident Evil Village is a magnificent tribute to 25 years of survival horror

Commentary: The eighth game in Capcom's beloved series is an intense thrill ride, capturing the atmosphere of recent entries and brimming with clever nods to its history.

Lady Dimitrescu in RE Village

Lady Dimitrescu will definitely get her claws into you, and she's just one of Resident Evil Village's many excellent characters.

Capcom

The greatest Resident Evil adventures kick off with a sense of desperation. Utterly terrifying enemy encounters, impossibly tight resources and a feeling that there's no way you'll live to see the next area -- survival horror at its most visceral. Resident Evil Village captures that feeling wonderfully in its early hours, clutching you in its menacing vice grip.

The game hit PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC on Friday, and it's already shipped more than 3 million copies worldwide, Capcom said Tuesday.

After surviving the harrowing events of 2017's Resident Evil 7, Mia and Ethan Winters are living in apparent domestic bliss. That's quickly shattered by the arrival of longtime series protagonist and anti-bioterrorism agent Chris Redfield, an event that sends Ethan to a creepy European village as he tries to rescue his daughter Rose.

Upon arrival at this snowy hamlet, all hell quickly breaks loose as you're attacked by a horde of werewolves, and that video game fight-or-flight response sets in. Fans will notice that it feels whole lot like the iconic opening of 2005's Resident Evil 4, in the first of many tributes to the Capcom series' 25-year history.

Village of Shadows

Once you've survived the opening salvo, the mystery of the village starts to unfold and you're tasked with defeating the four lords who rule over its inhabitants with apparent supernatural powers. The village itself acts as a hub, and you gather items to enter each of the lords' territories.

resident-evil-village-20210427204435

Each of the game's locations is intriguingly presented, and you'll want to explore every inch.

Capcom/Screenshot by Sean Keane/CNET

Each area is visually distinctive and infused with its master's personality, with fascinating imagery and iconography providing every environment with character. The first territory is the gothic castle of internet phenom Lady Dimitrescu. Wandering its halls, figuring out safe routes and solving fun puzzles elicits the same sense of satisfaction as getting to know the original game's Spencer Mansion or the police station of Resident Evil 2 -- it captures so many of the series' finest elements.

Subsequent regions take different turns aesthetically, but each oozes atmosphere and begs you to explore. Unfortunately, the final major territory is the least interesting to look at, but is challenging enough that you'll stay engaged until the end.

Despite the atmosphere, it isn't a particularly scary game. Only one area leans hard into psychological horror -- it'll scare the living daylights out of you (I had to stop playing with headphones, turn on all the lights and take a little break to calm down) but you'll wish there were a few more like it to take advantage of the immediacy and intensity of the first-person perspective.

Nods to past games are dotted throughout to delight longtime fans, but they're subtle enough that they don't interrupt the flow and won't alienate newcomers to the series. The plot is delivered sparsely, with the mystery around the village unfolding slowly and satisfyingly tying into Resident Evil 7 -- the narrative won't be quite as engaging if you skipped the seventh game.

Chris doesn't show up often, but his shadowy role is refreshingly different from the straightforward hero he's generally been depicted as since 1996. It's easily the most compelling he's ever been. Despite his presence, Resident Evil Village's links to the overall series plot feel pretty tenuous, so longtime fans might be disappointed in that regard. 

Resident Evil Village's hooded baddies

You'll take on a wide variety of enemies.

Capcom/Screenshot by Sean Keane/CNET

Battling the hordes

The intense arrival at the village will fill you with dread for any combat situation, since resources are super tight in the first few hours. It gets easier as you gather more weapons and encounter the game's merchant, who lets you buy and upgrade weapons, so that fear fades a little over time.

Playing on PS5, clever use of the DualSense controller's haptic feedback adds another layer of tension to combat. If you're using a handgun, you'll be able to pop off shots with a tap of a button, but you'll need to squeeze the trigger quite hard to fire your shotgun or rifle.

Item management is wonderfully satisfying too. The inventory system riffs off Resident Evil 4's attaché case, meaning you can organize everything beautifully or leave it in a chaotic mess (if you're some kind of savage). 

Each of the four lords has their own set of minions, so enemy types rarely outstay their welcome and the challenge always feels fresh. You never know when you'll get swarmed or encounter a stronger enemy either, so you can never fully relax or get into a comfortable groove. It's nicely paced, and injects a unique tension into each area. 

The variety seeps into the boss battles too; most are memorable, cinematic and feel suitably demanding. However, one late-game fight apparently takes its cues from the infinite ammo blasting scenes in Resident Evil 5 and 6 -- it's pretty mindless and forgettable, and an element the series should just leave behind.

Despite these challenges, I didn't die for the first seven hours of my 12-hour playthrough on the standard difficulty, leaving me with the sense that Resident Evil Village's bark was worse than its bite. I'm definitely a cautious player, but I generally see the "You died" screen regularly on my first run through these games. If you're looking for a tough time closer to previous games, consider starting on the hardcore difficulty.

Resident Evil Villag Mercenaries

The Mercenaries makes a welcome return, so you can take a bunch of enemies with a time limit.

Capcom/Screenshot by Sean Keane/CNET

Once you've completed the story, you unlock the excellent Mercenaries. This wonderful time attack mode (a series staple that's been disappointingly absent in the most recent entries) sees you taking down a set number of enemies across various stages and is immensely fun. Unfortunately, unlike some past iterations, this mode doesn't have a multiplayer option.

Evil at 25

Resident Evil Village is a slick, atmospheric addition to the franchise, and it bookends the story started in Resident Evil 7 beautifully. Every area is dripping with dark personality and it's filled with memorable characters, while fun combat and a satisfying upgrade system keep things fresh throughout your adventure.

Higher difficulties, the Mercenaries mode and other fun unlockables will keep hardcore players coming back after they've beaten the story, so there's plenty of value and challenge beyond the main game.

It could definitely be a bit scarier and more difficult, and the final major area isn't quite as visually arresting or fun to explore as earlier ones, but it's a strong start for the series on next-gen consoles and a delightful tribute to the series on its 25th anniversary.