Can Resident Evil Village still be scary when it’s not right up in your face?

Winters' Expansion, the new DLC for last year's Resident Evil Village, dilutes the game's horror with some new perspective

Can Resident Evil Village still be scary when it’s not right up in your face?
Image: Capcom

[Note: This article contains spoilers for the original release of Resident Evil Village.]

Guns? Or ghouls? That’s the tug-of-war that’s been yanking at the soul of Capcom’s flagship zombie-fighting series, Resident Evil, for pretty much the last two decades. Ever since the release of 2005's Resident Evil 4—which resurrected a flagging survival horror series by injecting it, T-Virus-style, with a strain of compelling and compulsive action gameplay—the series has struggled between whether it wants players to feel scared at their own vulnerability, or exultant at how badass their on-screen avatars can be. After steering hard into its action sides with the poorly received Resident Evil 5 and 6, Capcom course-corrected with 2017's Resident Evil 7, by—among other things—switching the game’s perspective to a first-person camera, ensuring that every moment of backwoods horror was happening right up in the player’s face.

Last year’s Resident Evil Village used the same trick—even as it tuned the balance of the game’s combat back toward that of a more traditional shooter. (Notably, the game’s most effective scares happen when hero Ethan Winters is artificially stripped of his guns.) Now, a new content pack for Village—dubbed Winters’ Expansion, plural-signaling apostrophe placement very much intended—has arrived, pushing the pendulum even further back toward battle, by adding a version of Resident Evil 4's over-the-shoulder camera back into the series’ DNA.

Let’s answer the question up in our headline bluntly: It is absolutely, unequivocally less scary to play Village in third-person mode, where everything bad is happening to the guy on the screen, and not to you, the viewer. It’s also a little disorienting, since many of the game’s more detailed animations—checking on a sleeping child, reattaching your own severed hand, getting shoved down the gullet of a horrifying giant monster baby—clearly weren’t intended for any different viewpoints, and so the game regularly shifts back into first-person for those moments. The result is a decidedly compromised experience, one that has some merits—over-the-shoulder shooting is still very satisfying—but which also allows the player to operate at an emotional remove from the series’ recent embrace of in-your-face horror, which isn’t necessarily what people hoping to have their suddenly visible pants scared off them might want.

The perspective works better, though, in content that was more clearly designed for it: Namely, “Shadows Of Rose,” the story-based DLC campaign that comes with Winters’ Expansion. As the name suggests, the campaign—about four hours total, in length—centers on teenaged Rose Winters, previously glimpsed in Village’s time-shifted ending, after you spent the game proper treating her baby version as a very teensy damsel in distress. Here, though, she’s a teen coming into her supernatural powers, which allow her—while traversing a series of re-used levels from the original game—to freeze monsters in place, setting up easier shots with Rose’s more limited selections of guns. (Don’t expect to upgrade your pistol into an efficient Lycan removal machine here.) (Also don’t expect to fight any Lycans; it’s goo-monsters for days around here.)

The plot of “Shadows” is mostly silly, and a little sweet, serving as not much more than an excuse to run back through Village’s two best levels with some slightly different enemies. (Credit where it’s due: While there’s nothing in the new version of House Beneviento that can compare with the horror of The Baby, it does follow in the original’s footsteps by being the most legitimately scary portion of the game.) There’s just not much to “Shadows,” honestly, beyond a reminder that, yep, Resident Evil Village is a pretty fun game. Still, it at least feels like a better use of that new camera, allowing Rose to feel like an actual character instead of a deliberately faceless player stand-in like her dad.

The final addition to Winters’ Expansion, meanwhile, ditches both the Winters family and that new perspective, instead adding three new characters, and two new maps, to the game’s revival of the series’ classic Mercenaries mini-game mode. Village’s take on Mercenaries—which sends you running through old stages, trying to keep your combo meter high by blowing through the game’s rogues’ gallery of monsters—was already pretty damn fun. Shoving you into the giant shoes of stand-out baddies like Heisenberg and Lady Dimitrescu just amplifies the delight. If we’re being nitpicky, we’d suggest that Capcom could have gone further to differentiate the characters—all three new additions have a heavy focus on melee attacks that can leave them feeling same-y—but we’ll be honest: The first time we played as Lady D, and saw that, not only had the first-person viewpoint been jacked up to 9 feet high in the air, but that we also now had a button press that pulled a giant “Ornate Vanity” cabinet out of nowhere and chucked it at enemies, it was hard not to embrace the goofy fun of it all.

As a product specifically for people who devoured Village, Winters’ Expansion will probably scratch the itch. It runs to the slight side, admittedly. But as a reminder of what a good game the original package was, it does the work.

 
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