Review: Resident Evil 7 is a horror masterpiece that brings the series back to its former glory
New but familiar territory.
Platforms: PlayStation 4 with PlayStation VR (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC.
Over the past few installments, Resident Evil began to slip into a place that did not feel right for the series and it kind of hurt, especially as a longtime fan of the series (and horror games in general). Early Resident Evil games put intense fear into the player with the setting, story, and even the gameplay mechanics. As the series grew older, the genre became more action over horror which culminated in the sixth game being a mediocre game adaptation of a summer blockbuster that didn’t feel like Resident Evil with a few traditional gameplay elements.
Resident Evil 7 brings it all back and signals a step in the right direction for the series. We go back to where the series began in a thematic sense. In the game, you play as Ethan Winters, a man who gets an email from his wife, Mia, who went missing three years ago. She’s being held at a plantation in Dulvey, Louisiana (a fictional town), you think you’ll be able to just go in, get her, and leave but things are never that simple. The second you step out of your car, you feel a sense of slight dread despite the bright sun shining down upon you.
You progress to a small estate that invokes a sense of nostalgia. There's something about it that is reminiscent of the iconic mansion from the first game. Once you make you way inside, you know you’re in for one hell of a ride.
A scene, somewhat akin to a scene from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, teaches you that the Bakers aren’t simply deranged, but gifted in a sense. They can regenerate full limbs, fatal injuries, and more. They’re close to unstoppable, making them this menacing force that pursues you throughout the course of the game. The Bakers are always lurking in the house, even when you think you’re safe or that, perhaps, they are gone for a little while. They are always there.
Each section of the estate is controlled by one member of the Baker family. Jack Baker, the father, controls the main house, Margarite Baker, the mother, controls a small, bug-filled, deteriorating house behind the main house. The final member of the Baker family is Lucas, the son, he controls a small barn-like part of the house that he’s reworked to include elaborate puzzles and traps to kill you.
In the first hour (or so) of Resident Evil 7, you are thrust into a series of terrible events and introduced to the unhinged Baker family an event that left me trembling.
The house of horrors:
A lot of the early game sequences with the Bakers are unscripted, meaning they will pop up whenever to kill you. You’re not Chris Redfield or Leon Kennedy, so you can’t just battle this band of lunatics with brute force, you have to use your mind and outsmart them. A lot of the time, it’s just better to run than it is to stand and fight which is an interesting idea for a series that has been previously so focused on just killing all zombies.
Each portion of the house is super unique and has a new style of fear to them. Keeping the game fresh and unique. The tension never goes away, it just builds and builds so it can effectively scare you by doing even the smallest things. I was so tense that I would often get scared by my own shadow or by knocking a chair or can over in the environment.
Once the prologue is complete and you’re inside the house, your goal is to escape and that’s really what the game is about - you just want to get out of this house of horror with Mia. Part of escaping involves completing a series of puzzles like positioning an item in the light so it creates a shadow of a something to unlock a door or finding items in obscure places and more. One particular aspect of a puzzle that made the game truly feel like a Resident Evil game was a puzzle that has you finding three keys with a dog’s head on it. One of the keys is hidden inside of a clock and you must insert a part from another clock to get the key. When I saw it just reminded me of those goofy, but fun Resident Evil, puzzles.
Overcoming your fears in gameplay:
The message and gameplay of Resident Evil 7 go hand in hand. This time around you play as Ethan, someone who isn't as put together and skilled as a S.T.A.R.S. member. Ethan could very well be a representation of you if you were thrown into that world. In order to escape, you have to face your fears and grow stronger as a person.
At the start of the game, you’re pretty weak and terrified. There’s also this physical feeling of uneasiness in your stomach when walking through the house. When I first went down into the basement, I sat on the stairs for several minutes filled with dread. I didn’t want to go down the stairs, I knew what was awaiting me down below - especially with the added immersion VR added.
Throughout my nearly 9 and a half hour playthrough, I felt like I was overcoming some of my fears and I could move forward despite the overwhelming sense of tension. I knew if I just kept moving, I could find Mia and leave.
So how does this affect the gameplay besides just progression?
At the start of the game, you have almost nothing. You have a pocket knife and you later come across a pretty weak handgun. As you move forward, you’re finding more weapons and tools for survival. Granted its Resident Evil, so you have to be conscious of how you use your weapons because ammo and resources are scarce, but you feel yourself becoming stronger despite not being the action hero from some of the other Resident Evil games. You also don’t have much inventory space, so you have to be careful about what you pick up and craft because you may screw yourself over when a certain gun needs ammo but you don’t have room in your inventory for it!
At the end of the game, you get a sense of power and it is a feeling you’ve never had before - at least within the context of the game. This moment blends that action from old Resident Evil games with the horror and style of Resident Evil 7. It’s a great combination and it is perfectly executed, it’s how action should be handled in the series moving forward.
So the question on everyone’s mind with this game is: how is this a Resident Evil game?
Although there are some connections to other games (click here to read about those), it’s mostly standalone in terms of story. This opens the Resident Evil universe up to anyone, you don’t need to go spend dozens of hours reading up on the lore or play all the games. You can just jump on in and enjoy it without any real knowledge of the previous games!
From a gameplay perspective, it’s obviously very different. No tank controls, no third-person, etc. but it still retains the feel and style of Resident Evil with cheesy, over the top dialogue and bosses, items like herbs, and intense gameplay. Despite not forcing you to stand in place to shoot like some RE games, the enemies are always marching towards you in a menacing way which feels evocative of the enemies of previous titles. I found myself backing away slowly from most of them, which strangely made it feel like a Resident Evil game. If you’re concerned with the game not looking like a Resident Evil game, don’t worry. It will click with you once you play it.
Some of the best audio in any game:
The audio in Resident Evil 7 is just absolutely perfect, it’s astonishing. There’s nothing more chilling than crawling down in a crawlspace away from Mr. Baker as you can hear his footsteps right above you. The feeling of being chased and hearing Mr. Baker laughing as his feet boom behind you made my heart beat like crazy, my palms were drenched in sweat as I clenched my controller in my hands.
I'd advise using headphones for extra immersion.
Resident Evil 7 also just throws random noises at you sometimes to make you feel like you’re never alone. Random things will bang around and there’s some black sludge in the game that makes a disgusting, slimy sound.
Some minor faults:
The issues are pretty minor so it doesn’t affect the overall enjoyment of the game, but they’re worth mentioning.
Resident Evil 7 has some issues with textures loading, especially in VR. I would walk up to certain items and it would take a few seconds for it to load in properly and get rid of the blurry look. It broke my immersion a few times, but luckily it happened so few times that I wasn’t too bothered by it.
The other issue I have with the game is the speed at which the character moves. It feels like the character is running only slightly faster than his walking speed when he runs. Although it did make things much scarier because you could hear enemies chasing you and it invoked some fear, I felt I died too many times from my character being too slow. I would like to see a patch just tweak the movement speed a bit more.
Resident Evil 7 is the perfect modern horror game. Despite two minor issues, I adore this game. I'm about to go play the game on the hardest difficulty after I finish this review because I love it so much. It puts Resident Evil back on top of the genre, it creates some of the most intense fear I've ever felt in a game, and it takes great advantage of the PlayStation VR (you can view our PSVR portion of the review on the next page). Resident Evil 7 is a must play for horror fans and Resident Evil fans, I truly can't wait for more Resident Evil which is something I never thought I would ever say again.