With the caveat that I am a big baby and only have a middling capacity for horror, Resident Evil 7 was almost too much for me. The game, which was released in 2017, took place on a plantation and forced the player character, Ethan Winters, to remain in the same handful of houses on the estate grounds, with flashlights only illuminating what was directly in front of Ethan’s face and nothing more. The experience was almost oppressively scary, and the horror contained within—a family transformed into grotesque monsters by a bioengineered mold—felt, in combination with the setting, uncomfortably real.
By contrast, the newest installment in the Resident Evil franchise, Resident Evil Village, out now on PlayStation and Xbox consoles, is something more along the lines of the movie Crimson Peak: For the most part, it’s a fantasy or gothic horror and, in moments, even silly in a way that Resident Evil 7 was not. Make no mistake, Village is definitely terrifying, but it’s also a romp—I screamed more than once at the scares it threw at me, but I screamed just as often in delight, too.
In Village, which picks up soon after the events of Resident Evil 7, Ethan Winters, one of the unluckiest protagonists in recent memory, is once again put through the wringer as his newborn baby and recently rescued wife are whisked away from him, and he’s dropped into an eerie village that plays host to creatures such as vampires, werewolves, and more. Ethan’s best bet at saving his family is to explore the village and defeat the four “lords” who reign over it (including Lady Dimitrescu, a nearly 10-foot-tall vampiress who has already sent the internet into a tizzy).
Though the Resident Evil mythology offers scientific explanations (I’m talking about made-up science, to be clear, not anything that could ever be replicated in real life) for each of the types of monsters that Ethan encounters, these creatures still fall into recognizable fantasy categories. The fact that, for instance, Dimitrescu lives in a giant, ornately decorated castle that includes a giant bath filled with—you guessed it—blood, helps vault Village into a more fantastical realm than its more mutant- and zombie-focused predecessors. No, silver bullets and garlic don’t figure into the equation when it comes to fighting these beasties off, but the lack of an exact 1:1 with what we expect doesn’t make the enemies less fun to deal with.
Granted, “fun” might be the wrong word for the experience, as Village doesn’t ease up on the close-up bites and gory sequences that have become a series staple. To wit, a midgame level is one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure (displeasure?) of enduring, as Ethan’s weapons are stripped from him, and instead of fighting the forces against him, he’s forced to scrounge for resources in a dimly lit house, all while trying to avoid and hide from one of the most nightmare-inducing monsters I’ve ever seen.
But that hair-raising terror is balanced out by how silly great chunks of the franchise are. (Lest we forget, the widely acclaimed Resident Evil 4 involved the very Gerard Butler Olympus/London/Angel Has Fallen series-esque plot of a cult attempting to infect the president’s daughter.) Early on in the game, Ethan has his hand chopped off. What happens next? He reattaches it. How does he accomplish that? Well, he holds the severed hand against the stump very hard, and pours some first aid medicine on it. It’s a laughably unbelievable fix, but it’s also one that feels fairly in line for a game whose mascot has become a tall vampire lady, by virtue of how horned up fans have become following her initial reveal in the game’s trailer.
Fine line between silly and scary aside, Village is also impressive on a technical level, as it’s gorgeously rendered and animated; the way the characters move is uncannily real, making it all the more startling when they appear unexpectedly. The actual play mechanics—organizing your items in a Tetris-like menu screen, being forced to treat ammo as a precious and limited resource rather than something to spray mindlessly at every new enemy—encourage exercising a little brainpower as well as exploring, rather than barreling toward the next goal. On top of that, the PlayStation 5 version of the game takes full advantage of the controller haptics, making using each new gun literally feel different—the sniper rifle, for instance, requires noticeably more forceful button presses to use than the handgun you’re given at the beginning of the game.
At the end of the day, Village is still occasionally a tough sit for weenies like me, but the fantastical richness of the world it’s set in helps to make the horror more tolerable. It’s also just an incredibly fun and well-made game, with distinctive, memorable monster designs and a surprisingly expansive sandbox to explore. And even though its protagonist is fairly milquetoast, the story is unpredictable, throwing in new game play elements and styles of combat with each new stage in the narrative. The surprises Village has in store might be blood-curdling, but they’re delightful, too.