Welcome to the family, son!
Format: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Released: Janurary 24, 2017
I don’t know about you, but I was really expecting Resident Evil 7 to fail.
You may remember I spent the latter half of 2016 documenting my experience with playing through the main Resident Evil games for the first time. It started out as a fascinating endeavour as I watched the series slowly evolve from its survival-horror roots into something more of an action-horror hybrid, leading up to the masterpiece that was Resident Evil 4. But after that, my opinion of the series took a nosedive.
After seeing how little Resident Evil 6 gave a shit about its own fan-base and the concept of quality for the sake of trying to stay relevant, I had very little hope that Resident Evil 7 would be able to salvage the series. After an explosion filled, QTE laden action fest, there was no possible way that Capcom could capture that classic Resident Evil magic that the first four games had.
Thankfully, Capcom proved me very wrong.
Taking place four years after Resident Evil 6, Resident Evil 7 follows the story of Ethan Winters, a man searching for his missing wife, Mia. Despite being presumed dead for the past three years, Mia sends Ethan a message to come to a bayou in Louisiana and find her. Once arriving, Ethan is quickly captured and tortured by the cannibalistic and bugfuck crazy Baker family. Realising his slim chances of survival, Ethan must go toe-to-toe with the household’s disturbing inhabitants in order to escape the Baker’s clutches and rescue Mia.
Taking a break from the long-running series staple of “evil corporation caused a zombie outbreak again”, the story of Resident Evil 7 is an incredibly refreshing one. Save for a couple of moments near the end, there is barely any mention of the previous game’s characters and events. This allows Resident Evil 7 to tell its own separate tale that doesn’t require players to have any prior investment in the now twenty-year-old franchise, or a PhD in Redfield-ology to understand what the hell is going on.
Compared to the last main entry in the series, Resident Evil 7 takes a considerably modest and somewhat subtle approach to its storytelling. As Ethan slowly realises that he’s stumbled into something much bigger than his own personal Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the game essentially leaves it to you to figure out what’s going on by finding the many notes and journals scattered about the Baker household. While this does lead to a fairly heavy exposition dump near the end of the game, I still really loved how satisfying it was to naturally figure out a majority of the game’s mysteries.
This separation of series norms also carries over into the gameplay, taking some inspiration from recent western-developed horror games like Outlast. While this is seen in little things like displaying objective reminders in the map screen, as well as a significant lack of over-the-top enemies the series is known for, the biggest and most obvious departure from series tradition is its entirely first-person perspective. While it’s a drastic change for the series, I think it’s also an intelligent one that assists in making the game’s horror all the more personal. It’s much more terrifying to see a cannibalistic psychopath get up in your face, rather than watch it happen to a character model.
That being said, long-time fans of the series shouldn’t worry too much about Resident Evil 7 straying too far from its roots. In fact, they’ll probably be extremely excited to learn that the game not only brings back the classic Resident Evil design they used to know and love, but melds it perfectly with the new first-person perspective. Get ready to see some of your old favourites like managing your limited inventory, puzzle solving, and even finding shelter in save rooms equipped with universal item boxes and a calming little ditty. But out of all of these, my absolute favourite returning Resident Evil tradition is the short supply of health items and ammo that the game hands out, making running away from enemies the smarter tactic over killing everything in sight.
This minimized approach fighting is even seen in some of game’s early boss encounters, taking an interesting Metal Gear twist to them, acting more like puzzles to solve, instead of moving targets to unload your bullets into. It’s just unfortunate that after the first two incredibly memorable boss fights, one of which included a balls to the wall chainsaw duel, it becomes quickly apparent that none of the remaining bosses were given the same kind of attention. As a result, what little boss battles are left ultimately drag down the overall experience. The remaining bosses just feel unsatisfying to fight, acting like bullet sponges that never react to the damage they’re taking. I was always thinking I was either doing something wrong or I wasn’t aiming at the right spots to actually hurt them. So when a boss would suddenly fall over and die after ten minutes worth of bullets being poured into it, I would never be cheering “Fuck yeah!”, just disappointingly shrugging “Oh. Okay.”
Thankfully, whatever disappointment you feel after dragging yourself through these boss fights will be replaced with a quickly returning sense of dread and tension thanks to the game’s astounding sound design and beautifully disturbing visuals. Resident Evil 7 is not a game that relies on cheap thrills to scare its player. When it does go for jump scares they always feel earned, rather than the game’s only trick up its sleeve to freak you out. Instead, Resident Evil 7 prefers to keep you on edge at all times by keeping you trapped in an oppressive atmosphere where you never feel like you can relax for a single moment. It makes you expect scares that never come, leaving you in a state of dreaded anticipation where the simple sound of a floorboard creaking has you gritting your teeth. It did this so well in fact that there were a few times where I leaped out of my chair simply because I saw my own shadow on a wall.
Resident Evil 7 has definitely been my first pleasant surprise of 2017. As a recently emerged Resident Evil fan, it was wonderful to see the series go back to what made it so enjoyable in the first place, while also changing just enough of its classic formula to make it feel like something refreshing and new. Sitting at around ten hours long, it’s an experience that, while not perfect, leaves you satisfied but wanting more. If you’re a fan of the series who has been waiting for Resident Evil to finally get away from being a loud and obnoxious boom-fest, you owe it to yourself to pick this up. You won’t be disappointed.
Final Score: 4.5/5
Final Recommendation: Grab it now!
Writer: Tristan Venables