Resident Evil 7 Review
“Terror is the desire to save your own ass, but horror is rooted in sympathy.”
– Joe Hill
When the original Resident Evil emerged back in 1996, it, alongside classics like ‘Alone in the Dark’, spearheaded the sub-genre of ‘survival horror’. Essentially meaning to be placed into a scenario with little in the way of defensive or offensive items, expected to make do with the minimal resources you could scavenge and a monster that had ‘your face’ on its menu potentially around every corner. To put it plainly, the game was horrifying, terrifying, nightmare inducing and hard as nails . The world loved it. It spawned brilliant games like the ‘Silent Hill’ and ‘Clock Tower’ series and its own sequels, Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, Resident Evil: Code Veronica and Resident Evil 4 would take the original’s format and build on it, finding new ways to scare us all witless. But with success comes failure, and in recent times the franchise has suffered under ill advised attempts at forced co-operative play and more focus on action movie tropes. Resident Evils 5 and 6, whilst containing bright spots, were failures in the eyes of the passionate fan base. Four and a half years later, Capcom have released a new Resident Evil, one that has radically changed the play style, perspective and character focus. It was a huge gamble, and my word has it paid off. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the best Resident Evil game in 12 years. Welcome to the family…
When it comes to first impressions, Resident Evil 7 makes one hell of a good one. With an initial but brief fly-by over the swamps of Louisiana setting the scene, a voice-over from protagonist Ethan setting up the story and the first 10 minutes of gameplay setting the general tone, you’re very quickly immersed into what will become a 10-12 hour descent into hell. Ethan’s wife has been missing for 3 years, presumed dead. He gets a letter simply telling him an address and to ‘come get’ her. This being a horror game he of course immediately pelts it over to said address sans-weaponry of any kind and…well I’ll leave every single moment after that as a surprise. Safe to say once you meet the residents of the address, the Baker Family, things do not go well, and almost as soon as the game starts your nerves are ratcheted up to 11, jumping at every creak, snap of a twig or gust of wind. What Capcom brilliantly express in the opening 30 minutes is an expert knowledge of Resident Evil, and more importantly the expectations of a horror audience. This is not a game drenched in jump scares, but one that is more than happy to slowly crank the tension, keeping you utterly on edge as long as the game needs you to be, and pulling the trigger on its terrifying moments almost always at the precise moment your guard has begun to come down. Whilst not EVERY scare hits its target, you’re too busy worrying about what’s coming next to care.
The games influences are worn proudly on its sleeve. Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s ‘family violence’ by way of Blair Witch Project’s ‘first person terror’, with a faint smattering of True Detective’s ‘Deep South dirt’ and Japanese horrors’ ‘nightmare-fuel long-haired pre-schoolers’. It’s a fascinating stew, one that suggests a stepping away from its predecessors zombie roots. But at its rotting, fleshy core is the same basic DNA that originated way back in 1996. This is a game about managing what little resources you have, whilst desperately trying to avoid enemies far more powerful than you, all the while attempting to solve puzzles that would have no place in normal people’s houses. The first 2 hours especially are a horrifying routine of finding which doors open without any member of the Baker clan hearing you, pretending the laughably tiny flick-knife you wield will do any good whatsoever in a fight and frequently running away and hiding. Those 2 hours are absolutely masterful, and whilst the game begins to lose the complete panic-inducing terror those initial moments cause you to experience, it somehow manages to keep up a general feeling of unease and nervousness throughout its 10-12 hour play time.
One of the more controversial changes to the Resident Evil format came in the form of a switch to the first-person perspective. Many wondered if it was even possible to make a true numbered sequel in the series without the over-the-shoulder camera from Resident Evils 4-6, or a fixed camera perspective from the originals. If you were one of those people…calm yourselves. Whilst it is initially jarring to find yourself exploring the world through the eyes of your protagonist rather than safely behind him/her or at various fixed angles in long corridors, once the excrement hits the fan (and boy does it hit the fan fast) you begin to understand why it’s an obvious evolution. One of Resident Evil 7’s main desires is to cram you into tight corridors and rooms, devoid of much in the way of light, then daring you to look into the darkness and around the next corner. Mixed with the ‘scavenge whatever scarce ammunition you can possibly find’ aspect of its forebears, this new perspective brings a very modern jolt into the old DNA. The stellar graphics also help sell the world you’re exploring from this first person viewpoint. The Baker house, for example, is at once beautiful and revolting. Whilst the lighting gives you glimpses of a beautifully designed Bayou mansion that you want to explore and appreciate, Capcom have made sure to coat almost everything with a layer of muck, grime and filth that leaves you feeling constantly uneasy in what should be beautiful surroundings. Paired with the graphics, the sound design is absolutely impeccable. Whilst it will come down to personal and toiletry preferences, playing with some form of gaming headphones is recommended. Every gruesome squish of flesh, creak of a floorboard and faint hungry moan from your soon-to-be-well-acquainted adversaries builds on what the game is visually throwing at you, at times causing genuine anxiety about what may be behind the door you’re about to crack open. It cannot be emphasised enough how important both sound and visual synchronicity is to a horror game, and Resident Evil 7 is an absolute masterclass.
So, at this point we’re looking at a guaranteed 10/10 score right? Well, not exactly. As with any experiment, there are flaws to be found. Most notable of all is the pacing. As mentioned numerous times, the first few hours are pretty much perfect. A brilliant mix of old Resident Evil and new, confident twists to the formula. However once the initial few hours have been survived, very little is thrown at you that genuinely surprises and horrifies in the same way. This isn’t to say the back half of the game is bad in any way. It is still a fantastic experience all the way through until its conclusion, however where the first few hours feel like a meticulously designed maze, crafted by every member the design team to find the perfect moments to raise your heart rate, the latter half almost feels like a slightly rushed attempt to fill in the necessary story beats they couldn’t fit in earlier on. It is difficult to criticise without going into spoiler territory, but safe to say locations come and go far quicker, and with less interesting exploration than the formidable and stunning Baker Mansion. Whilst minimal enemy types are certainly a positive, leaving more room to flesh out the Baker Family and their backstory, it also leads to less interesting and challenging fights later on in the game. By the halfway point you’ve essentially killed everything you’ll be facing going forward, and the main ‘zombie’ enemies you encounter in the shambling ‘Molded’ are just not very interesting, and can err on the side of frustration in large numbers.
After four and a half years, Resident Evil is back. Not just ‘back for another painfully average installment’, but more ‘smashing through your wall with a chainsaw proclaiming “I’m baaaaack!”‘. This is Resident Evil firing on all cylinders with a point to prove, and it has made one hell of a statement. Survival horror is about feeling terrified about what might lurk around every corner, wondering just how many healing items you’re willing to sacrifice if it means having just 3 more shotgun shells in your limited inventory. It’s about planning your attack route, then panicking 5 seconds in and emptying every last bullet you have just to keep whatever’s barreling itself towards you away from your precious face-skin. Resident Evil 7 has all of this, and much like the ever changing, zombie-creating T-Virus, unashamedly plucks the best aspects from its previous entries whilst evolving and mutating them into something entirely new. Whilst the unnecessarily breakneck last half causes slight disappointment, and the few numbers of varied monstrosities to overcome is a little underwhelming, it doesn’t spoil what is an absolutely fantastic return to form for a series that was seemingly lost in mediocrity. Welcome back Resident Evil, you’ve been sorely missed.