Back in 1996, when zombies weren’t overdone and the fodder for the creatively bankrupt, Capcom introduced the world to “survival horror” with the original Resident Evil, an adventure game that managed to fill you with dread, even with the hammy voice acting. Much like the hideous creatures from the series, as time went on, Resident Evil began to morph and mutate from survival horror to action horror. By the time Resident Evil 6 came around, the scares no longer came from the game itself. No, the true horror came from the fact that the series had strayed too far from its roots.
I’ll defend Resident Evil 6 and its granted ability to perform wrestling moves on zombies ‘til the day I die and then re-animate from a virus produced from research into biological warfare, but I’ll admit that playing as super-powered soldier and pulling tornado DDTs on hordes of undead through the open streets of metropolitan China is a far cry from the slow-paced creeping within a maze of a dilapidated mansion where a single zombie could pose a major threat. So, naturally, Resident Evil fans began to clamor for a game that stuck to the series’ original tone.
Then last June, at Sony’s E3 press conference, Capcom unveiled Resident Evil 7, stylized with one of the coolest logos I’ve ever seen. But, for me personally, the logo was the only cool thing shown. While Capcom constantly insisted that they would be “returning to their roots,” what they were showing of the game seemed anything but that. The marketing for the game made it look like a VR hide and seek simulator with good graphics. Sure, the thought of a full-on horror game in VR was an enticing one, but the claim of “returning to their roots,” seemed to be an outright lie. These roots I keep talking about originally grew from a well of creativity and innovation. Capcom invented survival horror with the original Resident Evil, then redefined action games with Resident Evil 4. The series is known for being groundbreaking and paving the way for other games to follow. However, the marketing for Resident Evil 7 looked like it was trying to play catch-up with the likes of modern horror games like Outlast and P.T. Capcom was now chasing the genre, rather than leading it.
Luckily, all of that bad marketing was just that: bad marketing. The core DNA for a Resident Evil game is certainly in there, but it’s not exactly the same. Those classic roots were dug up, examined, and grown into a new tree that bears the fruit of Resident Evil 7, and it’s a tasty fruit, if not a bit bitter.
Despite how different the game looks, the “7” at the end of the title does not lie. Resident Evil 7 takes place sometime after the events of Resident Evil 6, meaning large scale zombie outbreaks and biological warfare are worldwide phenomenon. In spite of such horrors in the world, that doesn’t scare protagonist Ethan Winters off from searching for his lost wife at a derelict plantation in the bayous of Louisiana, scene of numerous missing persons cases. The Bakers, the owners of the estate don’t take too kindly to Ethan’s trespassing, but decide to be kind enough to welcome him to the family. Unfortunately, that family is a trio of horribly disfigured monsters whose immorality matches their immortality.
It’s a very Texas Chainsaw Massacre kind of story with Resident Evil’s spice of biological horror. The story relies on a few tropes of the genre that aren’t exactly fresh. Just check out the creepy little girl with long hair on the cover. Why doesn’t the creepy little girl ever have short hair? But, it’s still an unnerving narrative that’s appropriate for the game.
The mystery of the Bakers and how their family spiraled into chaos runs deep, and even after the game is over, people are still debating what actually happened. These questions probably won’t be answered until Resident Evil 8. Of course, if it truly wants to follow Resident Evil tradition, we probably won’t get answers until Resident Evil 10. Still, it’s admirable that Capcom is willing to stick with the established (and convoluted) lore of the series, as the temptation to just reboot the whole thing is probably strong.
For a horror game, presentation is everything. You aren’t going to be scared if the visuals aren’t convincing, and, luckily, Resident Evil 7 delivers in spades.
Unlike previous entries in the series, Resident Evil 7 is played from a first-person perspective. The game is meant for virtual reality, so visual fidelity should be of upmost importance. The environments are absolutely stunning and the star of the whole show. The rotting house is depicted as such, with cockroach-infested kitchens and bloodstained basements. The game also excels at using lighting to manipulate the mood of the game. While the horror is engulfed in darkness, any little light that you encounter acts as an uneasy sanctuary, a break from the terror of the murderous Baker family (at least until Jack Baker bursts through a wall to get at you with his spiked paint roller of doom). Even the outdoor environments look great, with the plentiful plant life you’d expect from a Louisiana backwoods bayou.
The game runs on Capcom’s brand new RE Engine, and it looks to be a winner, pushing these graphics at pretty consistent 60 frames per second.
Unfortunately, the visual splendor is very front-loaded. The later game areas are not nearly as interesting. Once you leave the mansion, it seems like they ran out steam in more ways than one.
Sound design is also excellent at creating that extreme sense of unease. The creaking of the old house and odd noises coming from remote areas of the mansion is creepy enough to make you always be on your guard, even if you know you’re actually safe. And that’s kind of where the game might falter for some.
The game becomes much less scary once it reveals itself to be just a video game. Getting your leg cut off is terrifying, but when you crawl up to your amputated limb and press the X button to stick the leg in your inventory and use some magic medicine to reattach it like nothing’s happened, it’s more humor than horror. This type of break in immersion may bother some, but if you’re in it for video game, and not just a haunted house ride, it’s fine!
One big gripe I have against the game are the monster designs. The monsters may be frightening at first, but once you realize that they all look like the same uninspired black blobs, they just become boring. Resident Evil games are known for their grotesque creatures and body horror abominations, but, outside of the Baker family, the normal enemies don’t even reach the creepy factor of a regular old zombie (of which this game has none). Even the boss enemies look more cartoonish than horrific. I never thought I’d disparage a Resident Evil monster covered in eyeballs, but here we are!
Much like they are in the graphics department, the environments play a key role in the gameplay. As survival horror does, environments are littered with hidden items that require you to search every inch of the world at every angle. Items are hidden in such a way that you’ll really have to look thoroughly to find them, in and around book cases, under cabinets, and stuck near a ceiling. Every axis is at play here. It’s a pretty good incentive to play the game in VR.
Inventory management is back, and, taking a cue from Resident Evil Revelations 2 and Resident Evil 3, crafting is here, too. You can create medicine vials, ammo, and enhanced version of each. There’s also a strategic element of breaking down and sacrificing certain items to craft others, but I basically just used the system to free up inventory space when I was too lazy to go to a storage box.
There are some light puzzles throughout the game as well, but they’re pretty simple, with the exception of one sequence near the middle of the game. That one’s a doozy.
Combat is what separates Resident Evil 7 from games like Outlast. It’s the key element of Resident Evil that the marketing tried to hide, but it’s totally in here. Unfortunately, it’s not too exciting. On Normal difficulty, you usually have enough ammo to take down any enemy that gets in your way (outside of the immortal Bakers). Old Resident Evil games rewarded you for being dexterous enough to avoid enemies altogether, but evasion is much harder here. Movement is sluggish, so your best bet to minimize damage is to utilize the blocking button that miraculous can let you stop a chainsaw with your bare hands. Again, the “video game” part of the video game shines through!
There are a few hide and seek sections more in line with modern horror games. They can be terrifying at first, but retrying after failure is just annoying. Ultimately these sequences do not make the game better, feeling more like gimmicks for VR and a cheap scare tactic than anything actually engaging.
Once you complete the game a first time, you can replay it again on “Madhouse” mode, which offers an increased challenge with some slight changes to the core game outside of that. Capcom also promises DLC down the line to further support the game.
I’ll be honest. When Resident Evil 7 was first revealed, I wanted it to be a miserable failure. The marketing made it look like a “me too” rather than a new leader in the horror game genre. Thankfully, the final game is not the P.T. or Outlast clone that it looked to be. The Resident Evil DNA is there, and their promise to go back to their roots was not an empty one. Sure, it could’ve gone a little further. The monsters could be better designed, and it seems like they ran out of ideas near the end, but this game proves that there is new life in the Resident Evil series. It’s not a shambling corpse just yet.
It’s recommended you check out the game if you’re into horror. If you’re wanting a frightening virtual reality experience, you’ll have to mount a PlayStation VR headset, as the VR experience is currently exclusive to the PlayStation platform.
I give Resident Evil 7 a 4 out of 5.
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