Resident Evil has been suffering from an identity crisis for a number of years. While Resident Evil 5’s bizarre co-operative structure was the first sign that something wasn’t quite right, it wasn’t until it traded survival horror for action with Resident Evil 6 that it was made an issue.
With irrelevancy in sight, Capcom decided that the series should return to its roots, but with a bold new perspective. It was a gamble that it felt it needed to make, and has thankfully paid off with something that feels fresh while still retaining some of the best qualities of Resident Evil.
The Mansion Returns
Again you find yourself trapped inside a decrepit mansion, this time alone from the onset of the story. Playing as Ethan, a tough middle-aged man, you find yourself on the search of your missing wife. Though, she was presumed dead years ago, meaning that this isn’t your ordinary cat and mouse adventure.
On the surface, Resident Evil 7’s story is simple and familiar. However, it manages to get away with being predictable on the onset thanks to great atmosphere and character design. The mansion that you spend a majority portion of your adventure in appears to have a life of its own as you hear wall boards crash into the exterior, and floor boards creak without assistance. Rarely does music provide auditory balance, so you spend a great deal of time surrounded by creepy and often times foreign environmental sounds that ensure you never feel like you're alone.
The star of the show are the performances by The Bakers, a group of antagonists you meet early into the adventure. Their crazy and unpredictable nature is conveyed in a convincing nature with superb voice acting and animation. Interaction with the family is something you will learn to want to avoid, although when you have no choice but to confront them you’ll admire their personalities.
The Bakers serve as a particularly dark piece of the experience. The tonality of Resident Evil 7 is extremely oppressive, at times making you feel as though the entire world is against you. Extreme violence and gore is regularly forced to the forefront, sometimes elevating your will to survive, other times making the game seem a bit absurd. Its over-the-top nature is showcased during the game's more climactic moments, proving divisive, but reinforcing how important it is that you stay alive.
There’s something strangely familiar about Resident Evil 7. Its pacing and gameplay structure is remarkably similar to the original 1996 Resident Evil, meaning you spend most of your time and energy searching for key items in the environment before determining where they are used. There's a lot of leg work to be done, especially in the later hours when you have access to many areas where there's one item or puzzle in particular that you need to find in order to progress. Though, you can save as often as you want, so this isn't a game trying too hard to remind you what gaming in the 1990's was like.
Action sequences are infrequent but thrilling. Unlike many contemporary horror games, Resident Evil 7 provides you with tools for combating evil, ranging from melee to ranged weapons. These weapons, and the manner in which they are acquired, serve as some of the best focal points of your efforts. Only a small number of them are provided as part of the main story, while the others require mild problem solving and a keen eye. In return, your potential to eradicate enemies increases drastically.
Although bearing striking resemblance to its aged brethren, Resident Evil 7 is a first-person game. This quality alone dramatically alters the game's attitude, making it largely incomparable to the rest of the franchise. Interaction with characters and items is intimate, particularly if you're using PSVR. The design of the camera in particular greatly enhances the sense of presence, instilling a belief that you really are trapped in an old mansion with a very low chance of survival.
This is particularly important in the case of the game’s chase sequences, which happen far more often than your heart will appreciate. As you're chased down long corridors and scramble to unlock doors, you will hear footsteps trotting behind you as the enemy roars with blood-thirsty rage. If played in third person these sequences wouldn't have a similar effect.
The most tangible consequence of this first-person design is in just how frightening the game can be to play. This is an extraordinarily scary game that may be too much for many people to handle. In this regard, Resident Evil 7 is a huge success story for the industry, an industry where good AAA horror games are as rare as hen's teeth.
Playing As Ethan
Despite the ambitious change in perspective, Resident Evil 7 manages to usually feel great in the hands. Movement is composed with a good balance of realistic presentation and relatively quick feedback. Interactions with puzzle elements and acquiring items feels natural, giving way to a pleasant experience for most of the adventure.
Handling weapons is impressive, to a point. Whether you're slicing away with a knife, or firing a handgun, the precision goes well beyond what the series has seen before. Action-oriented sequences are regularly invited, during which the game can become finicky due to the tightness of the corridors. This is particularly problematic during the late game where action comes to the forefront of the experience; it's better off when it's mellow.
Hand-holding is kept at a minimum, usually only presented in the form of tips on Game Over screens. This, in conjunction with some particularly challenging puzzles, is sure to rub some gamers the wrong way. But in the end it’s for the better of the game, as it feeds into the sense of survival that it tries so hard to convey.
The game feels fair on Normal difficulty and doesn't get in the way between you and your objective as long as you make calculated decisions; you'll feel a sense of reward for stocking up on supplies and using them in an optimal manner. And if you manage to survive at the end, the sense of relief is astounding.
Skipping the Revisit
12 hours is roughly how much playtime you’ll get out of your first run through Resident Evil 7. For the most part it is a concise experience that only missteps during the final hours. The first half is particularly notable, and how you react to it will largely dictate whether or not you walk away satisfied.
This moderate length plays as both a strength and weakness. While horror fans in particular are sure to be happy with the sharpness of the experience, there's no getting around that it is over rather quickly. In a matter of days the full experience can be consumed, resulting in you wondering what to do next. The answer: not much.
There are a few unlockables to work toward, several of which have notable implications for future playthroughs. Equipping yourself with these powerful tools while playing on one of the higher difficulties is where you’re likely to find play value beyond the 12 hour mark, as there is no form of multiplayer, leaderboards, or anything of the sort.
The short list of unlockables only goes so far. Even the earlier Resident Evil games provided more neat items and rewards to work toward. Downloadable content will be instrumental to successfully inviting players to revisit.
Just when everyone counted Resident Evil out, Capcom has shown up to prove otherwise. Resident Evil is alive, and although it isn’t quite as we remember, its new perspective has brought with it a terrifying and intimate experience.
It's hard to tell if this new style of Resident Evil is where it should move going forward as some of its charm has been lost in its transition to darkness. On the bright side the industry finally has a great AAA horror game. Maybe the gloom isn't so bad, after all.