header is screenshot from Resident Evil Village
A Snake Eating its Tail
Emma Kostopolus

Resident Evil is a franchise prone to cult followings. The first few games helped set the bar for survival horror, and Resident Evil 4 flipped the script to become a touchstone for action shooters. Each new game in the franchise has a deep well of lore and expectations on which to draw, with sometimes opposing groups of fans who want the game to play either like early titles or the later ones. Resident Evil 7 threw a wrench in the dichotomy, by presenting a grueling survival horror experience through a first-person lens, new to the series. 

Resident Evil Village is a sequel to 7 and continues the story of protagonist Ethan Winters. But in attempting to appeal to fans across the Resident Evil universe, and in particular in attempting to tie the gruesome terror of 7 with the gothic action of 4, Village ends up as nothing more than a scrapbook of its legacy, referencing itself into relative obscurity in lieu of forging a new identity for the series.

Village first attempts to meld the gameplay styles of various entries by continuing the first-person perspective from 7, and adding in more of the action-shooter elements from 4. This leads to some superficial quality of life improvements that lend themselves to an action game orientation over survival horror: boxes are now automatically broken by the knife instead of having to manually equip it, and crafting materials no longer take up inventory space. Additionally, ammunition is far more plentiful than it is in 7; enemies are still largely bullet sponges, but Ethan has the necessary firepower to soak through their defenses. But combining 7’s mode of play with the other mechanics of 4 ultimately weakens both, and these seeming improvements on gameplay remove much of the tension required for survival horror gameplaywhile Village attempts to recreate the terror of being overwhelmed by enemies (whether it be werewolves or strange crypt-dwelling hooded figures), that terror is generally lessened because you always have enough ammunition to at least hold your own. Even things like craftables not taking up limited inventory space means that there’s less tension in the decision to pick up or leave an item—you’re never forced to weigh how valuable a resource is versus what you’re already carrying. 

While some carryover is to be expected between titles in a series, the puzzles and locations of Village are also ripped straight from past games. The vast majority of its settings rely heavily on the aesthetics of 4, from the titular ramshackle village to the opulent Castle Dimistrescu, where you spend several hours. The enemy and boss encounters are also all reminiscent of past titles—Lady Dimitrescu stalks her castle much like Mr. X from Resident Evil 2, and the first part of the Moreau boss fight is ripped straight from (where else) 4. There’s also yet another iteration on the “replace the real shotgun with a fake one” puzzle, which I think appears in just about every game. Even the most enjoyable part of Village, the terrifying escape room-esque House Beneviento, is just a rehashing of the best part of 7, Lucas’s similarly recursive puzzle-based playhouse. 

While Village is certainly a lovely walk through the history of Resident Evil, the game fails to push the franchise forward and build on the new beginnings promised by 7, or even to really tie the Ethan Winters storyline into the bigger mythos of the series. Instead of a bold new direction, or even a return to one of its many prior forms, Village gives us a senior yearbook for horror—fun for fans but not any way to move a story or an idea forward. And that’s really the problem with Village. It doesn’t have a single truly unique idea to its name. There are superficial conceits in design and tone that haven’t been seen before—unless I somehow missed a chainsaw tank battle in a previous entry—but where Resident Evil 7 brought a whole new world to the table, Village neither expands on those fresh ideas nor adequately returns the series to the franchise fold. It exists somewhere in the middle, in a swamp of references to Resident Evils past, celebrating them all without truly understanding what made any of the prior standalones great. 

What does it mean, in this particular moment, for such a large and successful franchise to be looking almost exclusively inward? I’m reticent to entirely attribute this to Capcom jumping on the nostalgia profit machine that’s been dominating the film industry lately, largely thanks to Disney’s risk-averse business model. Instead, I think this is perhaps more a case of the franchise not knowing which direction from the past—classic survival horror, action shooter, or first-person frightfest—presents the most authentic way forward for the universe. Its own legacy is so fragmented that any attempt to unite the games in any sense other than lore means mashing together mechanics with entirely different design philosophies. Village is, in this way, a victim of its own history, even as it banks so heavily on players knowing and loving prior entries. 

Village has been largely celebrated by the fanbase, if the Metacritic scores and my Twitter feed are any indication, and for good reason. The game is essentially a love letter to what has come before, and if you liked what has come before, then it’s easy to like this as well. And Village looking inward instead of forging new frontiers isn’t entirely unexpected in a media culture that currently banks heavily on the nostalgia of the 25 to 45 set in order to fuel purchases. But while relying on someone’s love of Resident Evil 4 or Resident Evil 7 will get preorder dollars, certainly, it won’t do much for this game’s own legacy, since looking entirely inward will never move a property forward. 


Emma Kostopolus is an English professor who moonlights in game design. She has regular bylines at Sidequest.zone and Ghouls Magazine, and you can find an assemblage of her thoughts plus a link to her portfolio on Twitter, @kostopolus