If we're being brutally honest, Resident Evil Village puts Resident Evil 7: Biohazard to shame. That's not to say we've soured on Ethan Winters in the four years since his introduction, but rather what Capcom has done next goes way above and beyond the events of the Baker incident. Resident Evil Village is incredible. By borrowing the best bits from its predecessor and combining them with DNA strands from a certain Spanish settlement, we finally have a proper rival to the great Resident Evil 4.

It's no coincidence either that the first mainline entry to be directly inspired by the 2005 classic can consider itself up there with the very best — such is the everlasting quality of Las Plagas. The gothic horror setting is back, inventory management emulates Tetris once more, a Merchant takes cash for supplies and weaponry, and there are no undead hordes to be seen for miles. With the first-person perspective and general combat mechanics of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard retained, this really is the best of both worlds.

Protagonist Ethan Winters could probably even consider himself to be in the very same position. Three years after Chris Redfield rescued him and wife Mia from the clutches of Eveline, the twosome are living happily with a daughter named Rose in Europe. That is until the boulder-punching star breaks into their house one night and murders Mia, kidnapping baby Rose in the process. The next time Winters wakes up, he finds himself in a remote village packed full of werewolves and other monstrosities.

Ethan uses this as a chance to search for answers — so do we since Capcom still refuses to properly reveal the man’s face — and it's here where he bumps into the stars of the show. The dwelling is owned and operated by five important figures, all of which you'll meet and interact with over the course of the 12-hour campaign. They each have a section of a village to call their own, which leads to a series of vastly different environments despite the usual trappings of the snowy setting. And yes, one of those high-ranking members is indeed the woman of the moment Lady Dimitrescu.

The 2.9 metres tall monster of a female stalks many of your moves in Castle Dimitrescu — the location that houses the perfect blend of classic Resident Evil gameplay. Combat feels weighty with weapons that take their time to reload and blast enemies to smithereens while puzzles remain interesting and engaging throughout. There are keys to discover, intricate brain teasers to solve, and upgrades to be bought from the Duke. It's all so, so much more satisfying than any other recent instalments have had to offer.

You just have to keep an eye out for Lady Dimitrescu at every turn. She'll follow you about and make her presence known in the same way Mr X did in Resident Evil 2, attacking you when she gets chance and keeping you on edge whenever some downtime has to be taken in order to solve a puzzle. Some corners of the internet will be disappointed that she doesn't actually feature as much in the game as pre-release marketing has led us to believe, but when Lady Dimitrescu is on the prowl, the castle owner is a force to be reckoned with. At least her transformation is something to behold. Let your imagination run wild, and then Lady Dimitrescu goes one step further.

However, dare we say that despite her sass and villainy, she's actually the least interesting member of the group? We really do think Capcom has buried the lede here (potentially on purpose) because what Heisenberg, Donna Beneviento, Salvatore Moreau, and overall leader Mother Miranda bring to the table is nothing short of staggering. As previously mentioned, they have all taken a piece of the village for themselves, allowing each one to shape those areas however they see fit. Heisenberg has used the opportunity to construct a huge factory churning out his own set of physical horrors and Salvatore Moreau takes charge of the lake, swamp, and what lurks beneath.

But then there’s Donna Beneviento. We're sworn to secrecy and won't be able to reveal what that creepy doll and its owner have been up to, but then we wouldn't want to spoil the sequence anyway. Seriously, that's a very, very special one-hour stretch. You'll be discussing it with your friends long after the credits roll.

It's the highlight of what Capcom is going for with Resident Evil Village, but there are so many more moments that will stick with fans for a long time. The prolific Japanese developer goes places with this one. Boss fights that wouldn’t look out of place in The Evil Within, surprises and stretches of gameplay you wouldn't expect from the series, and awesome callbacks to previous titles. It even avoids the franchise's usual trope of a poor final act. The game has it all — the less we say the better if anything. Resident Evil Village is something you need to experience for yourself.

What brings it back to some basis of reality is the village itself, located in the centre of the four extremes the leaders have put together for themselves. The way it opens up as you progress is satisfying while scribbled notes that litter the ramshackle houses create immediate empathy for those killed by the Lycans that have taken over. You really get the sense this is a place on the edge — those still left are just barely clinging on. But despite that hostility, it's the only place you could even begin to call home from start to finish. Small-scale puzzles bolster your inventory and livestock can be slaughtered to turn into permanent upgrades whenever you encounter the Duke — it's worth investing time into the location, especially as it grows in both size and emotional weight the more you progress.

There's just a sense of constant dread fuelling the game, accentuated by a haunting soundtrack and a purposefully uneasy atmosphere. It's something that gets under your skin to create fear and tension as you explore each room and stumble upon new areas. Jump scares are very rarely utilised, allowing the fearful ambience of the village to consume you.

Perhaps our only real criticism then is that enemy variety isn't quite up to par. The Lycan horde is bolstered by variations on their own species as well as more adventurous foes in the late game, but some locations don't have quite enough to call their own in order to always keep you guessing what's around the next corner. There's much more variation than what the Molded had to offer in Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, but you'll have to rely on boss fights for some truly unique encounters.

No matter what monstrosity you're up against though, you can rest assured the entire fight will look good. Demon's Souls now has a competitor for the best looking game on PlayStation 5 — what Capcom has achieved so early in the generation is very impressive. Don't worry about Resident Evil Village being a cross-gen game because with HDR and Ray-Tracing enabled, character models come to life and lighting illuminates rooms and hallways like never before. You really notice the difference when it's not there. The trade-off here is a frame rate hovering somewhere between 45 and 60. It's an odd window to target, especially for console gaming, and we'll admit it takes a second or two to get used to. It gradually becomes second nature the more you play, but with minor frame rate drops when the action gets intense, it's not always smooth sailing.

The other option is the rock-solid 60 frames-per-second mode, although you'll lose all the benefits of Ray-Tracing. And they, simply put, are a game-changer on PS5. Resident Evil Village is far and away the best example of how much an impact the feature can have on a lit environment. Sticking with the default option is our strong recommendation.

The PS5 SSD also justifies itself with load times that come and go inside three seconds. Select your save and you won't encounter a single load screen outside of the immediate one to get you back in the action. Throw in excellent use of the PS5 DualSense controller's Adaptive Triggers and Capcom has put in work to make sure Sony's latest console is firing on all cylinders. Much like Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, each weapon comes with different tensions on the triggers. It's much harder to accurately fire a sniper rifle than a handgun, for example. Long may this sort of fantastic implementation continue.

Rounding out the package is the return of The Mercenaries mode, a round-based undertaking where you fight for high scores by taking down enemies and racking up combos. It's a fun and meaty addition split across multiple stages that are sure to lengthen your overall playtime. The mode won't change anyone's mind if they're not into this sort of stuff, but fans will welcome its homecoming with open arms.

Conclusion

While the Resident Evil series has been on a high for a number of years now, Resident Evil Village sets an entirely new standard. Its cast of villains is up there with the very best, memorable sequences and gameplay sections beg to be played over and over again, and a sense of constant dread created by the atmosphere and soundtrack keeps you on the edge of your seat. Even the combat is solid this time around and the lengths Capcom has gone to take advantage of the PS5 pays off with impressive Ray-Tracing. Does it better Resident Evil 4? Maybe not, but it's damn close. Real damn close. Resident Evil Village is an essential playthrough for anyone with even a passing interest in the franchise.