When his car crashes somewhere deep in an isolated forest, Ethan Winters—hero of Resident Evil 7—finds himself lost, injured, and trudging through the snow, desperately searching for shelter. This wintry landscape is a far cry from the previous game's swampy bayou, giving the eighth mainline Resident Evil sequel a very different feel. It's pitch black and the landscape is barely visible, blanketed in acres of snow. But Winters manages to locate a dusty old cabin and uses it to escape the blizzard.
The cabin must be a relief from the icy weather outside, but it's no less unsettling. The howl of the wind is replaced by an eerie silence, broken only by the creak of the rotted, rickety wooden floorboards beneath Winters' feet. Capcom's knack for scene-setting and creating an evocative atmosphere is as powerful as ever in Village, and the sound design in particular is fantastic. Winters explores the cabin, rooting around in drawers for supplies, when he's suddenly interrupted by a loud noise coming from above, as if something—something big—is clumsily rampaging around upstairs.
The noise stops and Winters moves upstairs, noticing a gaping, splintered hole in the wall, letting in wispy flakes of snow from outside. The place has been trashed. He leaves the cabin through the gap and the sun has begun to rise, casting a pale blue light over the snow-caked forest. He slogs through the snow some more before coming across a viewpoint at the top of a hill, and it's here where we get our first dramatic look at the game's setting—the titular village. It's a small, ancient looking hamlet with an immense gothic castle looming over it, silhouetted by morning mist.
Winters makes his way down to the village, and as we walk through this ramshackle collection of makeshift houses, silent except for crows calling and chickens clucking, I can't help but think of the Spanish village from Resident Evil 4. Climate aside, the two settlements are almost identical in look and feel. And as I watch this (sadly hands-off) one and a half hour demo, the comparisons to the critically acclaimed fourth Resi just keep coming. Village feels like a direct homage to Mikami's bold 2005 reinvention of the series, but with the more intimate first-person perspective introduced in Resi 7.
But compared to the pitchfork-wielding ganados of Resident Evil 4, Village's enemies are faster and more aggressive. Winters gets his first taste of them when he's trapped in a house and is suddenly besieged by lycans—hairy, aggressive, half-werewolf things, presumably created as a result of some bioweapon experiment going horribly wrong. It is Resident Evil after all. The lycans are terrifyingly fast-moving, deal huge amounts of damage with their jaws and claws, and can endure several gun blasts to the face. But Winters manages to fight them off using a rusty old pistol given to him by a survivor.
This introduction to the lycans is a scripted set-piece, designed to set the scene and give you an idea what you're up against in a controlled way. But later in the demo I get to see a more dynamic, open-ended combat sequence, and it's here where the influence of Resident Evil 4 is at its most undeniable. Before it all kicks off, there's a brilliantly eerie moment where we walk through the village and see lycans perched on top of the houses, observing quietly. I'm glad to see a lot of moments like this in the demo, where the developer holds back and takes a more subtle approach to horror to build tension.
And it makes the fight that erupts moments later even more shocking and impactful. This intense, chaotic sequence is a clear homage to Leon Kennedy's first encounter with the ganados in Resident Evil 4's Spanish village. Dozens of lycans come after Winters, and the developer controlling the demo makes tactical use of the environment to deal with them—hopping through windows, taking shots from rooftops, and luring groups of enemies into the path of conveniently placed explosive barrels. The enemies come thick and fast, and Winters is forced to scrabble around for ammo on the fly.
And while RE4 had the chainsaw-swinging Dr. Salvador, the lycans in this battle are accompanied by a massive, bearded creature, three times your size, wielding a colossal sledgehammer. This guy stomping around, plus the lycans crawling through gaps, climbing ladders, and lunging at you, makes for a hectic fight. But then—in a direct reference to RE4—a bell rings out from one of the castle's towers, causing the lycans, and the hairy hammer man, to suddenly stop trying to kill you. They wander away, uninterested, leaving Winters baffled. Someone in there has power over these creatures.
As for other Resident Evil 4 connections, Village features an eccentric merchant character called the Duke, who seems to follow you around the game. Sound familiar? The structure also seems similar, with a move from the rustic, rural village setting, to the castle, which is grander and more opulent. You could accuse Village (at least based on the relatively small amount of footage I've seen) of being a retread, or a soft reboot of, Resident Evil 4. But despite the similarities, the wintry setting, bizarre characters, first-person perspective, photogrammetry-powered visuals, and general vibe feel very different—more in line with the recent games in terms of tone, art, and audio design.
Resident Evil 4 is also a fairly relentless game, and Village seems to have plenty of moments that recall the more leisurely paced RE7. There are long, quiet periods of exploration, where Winters is given time and space to soak up the atmosphere. It's too early to say for sure, but I feel like this game could almost be like a mash-up of the best of RE4 and RE7—which is pretty exciting, considering they're both great games in their own right. Whatever Capcom is trying to pull off here, Village is looking like another fine entry in the series, and I am eagerly awaiting its release on May 7.