Resident Evil Village — 2021’s Game of the Year

In a year full of delays and prevarication, it’s almost a surprise to reflect on the number of high-quality games that came out.

That said, while plenty on the indie scene were quaint and lovely, and major releases packed moderate punches, the impressions made by even the more ambitious among them haven’t lasted long.

The exception comes in the form of a series I’d only dabbled in, throwing up a horror-inflected thriller of astonishingly accomplished proportions.

Resident Evil Village continues the deranged story of Ethan Winters, the same painfully bashed and abused protagonist from Resi 7. After seemingly escaping that bayou terror, he’s thrust back into madness when his wife is executed and his baby stolen away.

Coming to somewhere in rural Romania, Ethan wanders into the clutches of a new coven of monsters, headlined by Lady Dimitrescu and her daughters, backed up by body-horror nasties.

Village plays out almost episodically as you tackle each of these adversaries in turn, searching for macabre doodads to try to recover your daughter, and it’s a structure that works fabulously.

You’ll spend a couple of hours exploring a luxury castle, drop into a whirring factory, creep through a decrepit frozen village and more, learning the layout of each until you know your routes by heart. Each section has a grand mixture of creeping tension and explosive, schlocky scares to mete out, too.

The plotting and acting are off the wall, but the gameplay is tight and solid, with gunplay that feels more controllable and rewarding than ever, and an expanding arsenal you can upgrade over time. Puzzles bear some thought but shouldn’t frustrate.

What seals it in the memory, though, is how ridiculously fun it all is. Exhilarating chases segue into tense hide-and-seeks, and its villains loom large most of the time. A long section in the basement of a dollmaker’s house, featuring the most horrific monster imaginable, is quite simply a gasp-inducing, nauseating masterpiece.

Playing it through with a semi-willing spectator makes the bananas pacing and script all the more delectable, and the squeals of horror are all the more emphatic when they’re shared.

Honourable mentions are due, though, to Metroid Dread’s nearly perfect exemplification of its own side-scrolling genre; Sable’s unbelievable beautiful Moebius landscapes; The Forgotten City’s expertly-designed mystery; Deathloop’s game-as-a-puzzle-box experimentation; a long-awaited replay of the epic Mass Effect trilogy; and, of course, the continued distraction and camaraderie of Call of Duty: Warzone.

For sheer verve and brio, though, it’s Resident Evil Village that runs away with it.

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