(Pocket-lint) - If there's one thing you can't accuse the Resident Evil series of, it's taking itself too seriously. Resident Evil 7 might have grounded things in a grittier, scarier first-person journey than the action-packed stories that preceded it, but by the end things were still plenty explosive.
Now Ethan Winters' story is continuing, dropped this time into a chilly, frightening Eastern-European locale (no one mention Transylvania!) - and he's up against a gallery of horrific antagonists. It's a great ride, and one that manages to happily switch up its tone throughout.
The Winters of our discontent
Poor old Ethan - his escape from Louisiana was hardly a clean one, as veterans of the previous game will remember (Resi 8 has a handy recap video in case you're hazy on the details).
Reunited with his wife Mia and daughter Rose, he's in witness protection in Europe when things go sideways. Mia is out of the picture and Rose is kidnapped by none other than Chris Redfield. Things take a worse turn when their convoy crashes and Ethan wakes up alone in a terrifying village (the source of Resi 8's title, nonetheless).
Players take control to guide Ethan through the Lycan-infested hovel, and eventually gain access to the nearby Castle Dimitrescu, home to a giant vampiress, Alcina Dimitrescu, and her horrific daughters. His hopes of recovering his own child safely don't exactly seem heartening, it's safe to say.
The game has an almost episodic structure, in fact, as Ethan manages to get into to a succession of new locations branching off the village, but the Castle is a good summary of what each offers.
It's a gorgeously rendered environment that almost oozes detail, and feels initially labyrinthine before you begin to figure out its nooks and crannies. In practise only one other location later in the game feels similarly expansive, along with the village hub itself, and you'll come to learn each of them by feel.
Resident Evil Village's story is not shooting for the stars - it's knowingly pulpy stuff that has twists aplenty and a near-constant smattering of gore and visual flair to crown its beats with.
Whether you're uncovering the motivations of foul monsters, finding out more about Chris's involvement, or simply discovering how you might be able to save Rose, Ethan's straight-main distress is offset by gloriously campy acting from the rest of the cast.
It's great fun, basically, and wends its way to an enjoyably bananas final act that's as explosive as anything the series has ever offered. Yet this doesn't take anything away from the far quieter and creepier parts of the game's earlier portions. It's an impressive balancing act.
So anyway, I started blasting
With a first-person perspective returning from the last game, so too do a lot of its mechanics. Once again, Ethan is a slow mover who needs careful control, and once again your arsenal of weapons starts off minimal and requires careful investment and map-scouring to grow.
Resident Evil Village has some standout sequences that are genuinely frightening, and these divide into two broad camps. Firstly, the common experience of sneaking around an area you haven't yet cleared, often in near-darkness, never knowing when an enemy will jump you, or when you're about to discover an entirely new type of foe to overcome.
The other, rarer moments, see the game either strip you of your weaponry entirely, or throw so many nasties your way that running for your life, throwing cover behind you and looking for any way out, becomes the obvious choice. These sequences are thrilling - not least because a skilled player can choose to stand and fight if they really want to try - and visceral.
It's the former, quieter mood that's the most consistent, though, even once you have a few more powerful guns to call upon - you'll still be counting your ammo, juggling your inventory slots and holding off from crafting new equipment until you absolutely need it.
Eventually, though, you will have to start fighting, and the gunplay is a great blend between approachable and finnicky. Guns can be accurate when fired with rhythm and a bit of calm but, when enemies are shambling or jumping at you, it's easy to lose your cool and miss - a lot.
That eats up ammo and, before you know it, you'll find yourself breaking out the last of your crafting supplies to make more bullets, feeding an anxious loop of peril that brings out the very best in the game.
That's slightly undermined by the fact that you can pause and check your inventory or the map any time you like, but Capcom presumably reasoned that taking away this safety blanket would be too traumatising for most players.
Perhaps Resi 8's best trick is how it manages to keep things varied, though. No environment outstays its welcome - even if you're rooting out every last bit of optional hidden treasure - and each has its own mechanics and emphases for you to master.
A next-gen horror show
The landscapes, environments and enemies of Resident Evil Village are a treat to look at, for all the gore and rotten grossness of some of their actual appearances.
This is a lavish game and it looks its very best on next-gen. We played through on a PlayStation 5 and enjoyed a mostly stable 60fps with ray tracing on (for lighting that's dazzling at times), and pinpoint resolutions, which are mirrored on the Xbox Series X. Less powerful consoles will make concessions on both counts, but we'd recomend choosing the higher frame-rate options if you have a choice - you'll need that smoothness!
It looks brilliant, regardless, particularly when Capcom deigns to let you enjoy a bit of light - whether it's the beatiful, ornate state rooms of the castle, or the sun breaking through bare trees to light the village itself.
The details on your weaponry, on statues and monuments, in costumes and architechture, are all first rate, and it comes together to make this slightly ridiculous and horror-infused world feel about as real as you could hope.
Oozing with extras
Once you finish the story for the first time, which will likely run you somewhere approaching 10 hours, you'll be greeted with reams of information boxes all revealing the same broad truth - that there's plenty more to sink your teeth into.
Whether it's harder difficulty modes - we think the regular difficulty could have been more testing as the game wore on - or specific challenges, there's ample motivation to revisit the story.
You'll have the option of taking on seemingly near-impossible demands like playing through with melee-only weaponry or seeking out every collectible and note possible, all to earn more extra content like concept art and detailed 3D models to view.
Plus, the game has brought back the fan-favourite Mercenaries mode for an even more substantive extra. It drops you in locations from the story to defeat set waves of enemies to time limits, with gameplay modifiers and control over your loadout.
It's great fun, especially as a palate-cleanser compared to the more challenging and ammo-scarce story, and there are once again plenty of challenges to complete and grades to earn.
It also crowns a selection of extra content that's genuinely impressive and endearing, given that almost all of the little bonuses could probably have slipped off without anyone complaining too much.
Any time you're starting to feel confident and familiar in one of Resident Evil Village's environments, the game plops you down in a new one, or asks you to play in a different way, making for a smorgasbord of fear, and it all builds to a crescendo that's both thrilling and loony.
If you're on the Resident Evil train, this is another tour de force; and if you're not, it's a surprisingly welcoming place to start. The game revels in its tone, delivering an Eastern European nightmare world that's an absolute blast to play - whether creeping carefully or going guns-a-blazing.