Our review of Resident Evil Village calls it the scariest in the series yet. It's true, which is why it might be surprising to know that in my 11 hour playthrough, I only died twice. Once was from an instant-fail pursuit scenario, and the other was during the final sequence.
Compare that to my first run of Resident Evil 4 at 14 years old, in which I died dozens of times and had to take breaks from anxiety so often that it took me months to finish the campaign. But fewer deaths didn't make Resi Village any less scary. Parts of Village are the scariest, bleakest, and nastiest the series has ever been, and I'm glad it didn't need to kill me to prove it.
No worries, this article is spoiler-free!
Resi 4 generates its horror through the anxiety of facing overwhelming odds. There's always an entire village or castle or secret mad science base worth of folks coming for you, and some of them can saw your head off or gut you instantly. Death is inevitable in Resi 4, a series of alt-reality bad endings for Leon where he's backed into a corner and gutted, overwhelmed and alone. Avoiding those indulgent chainsaw death scenes is the goal, a tiny light through the crowd of villagers to hack a path towards.
And it was fun—it's still fun! But even playing the best horror games, dying so often tends to chip away at the illusion. Whatever horror Resi 4 creates doesn't have much to stand on once you start seeing it all as a game, a wireframe to carve the most efficient path through possible.
Repetition is like taking a power washer to all the theater and art and sound, forcing you to focus on the hardcoded rules of the world. After a few deaths, the chainsaw guy isn't a chainsaw guy anymore. He's a lock and the key is my shotgun.
In Village, Capcom opts for less complexity in its scenario design, but juices up the illusion to ensure you almost never see the bones. Environments are bathed in sensory information. Village is an opulent game, every hallway and room as detailed as anything in P.T.—furniture, art, clutter, and dust exactly in their right place.
A cold wind whistles outside, water drips from a stone ceiling, something scratches at the wall and moans in the kitchen, footsteps from someone (or something) upstairs sniffing you out. Village is lacquered with so much detail that it's really difficult to see the videogame through it at all. That's the power of perfectly integrated graphical fidelity and art direction, and all that stuff really shines on PC.
If you were to study the wireframe of some mid-game encounters (don't worry, no spoilers), and you're left with some ridiculously simple chase scenes. You've got a couple hallways forming a loop with one or two dead end detours, and an enemy moving at a slow enough pace to ensure you'll always be able to outrun it.
But when you've dressed up the scene in all its lighting and sound and graphical detail, it's terrifying. Games rarely look and sound this good. With nothing but a flashlight, it's easy to get disoriented in that small loop.
Thinking logically doesn't come easy after the first time you see It either, a creature design so horrible to look at and listen to that it's slow pace barely registers. Being in the same space with it is inherently upsetting. It even has special animations for peeking around corners that make me shudder to even think about. So what if I didn't die? My mouth was pinned open for 15 minutes straight. I still felt panic and urgency and the threat of death (or something worse) throughout the entirety of Village.
Yeah, you'll have to shoot and stab your way through hordes of lycans often enough in Village, and yeah, some of the bigger creatures will chomp your head off with ease if you're not careful.
But Village is a horror game that doesn't want you to fail. It only wants to make you think you're fucked, dressing up every scene with a staggering breadth of wildly imaginative videogame theater. I'll take an extravagant, deranged puppet show over reloading my last save anytime.