Hey Resident Evil, it's a pleasure to meet you again.
Since the launch of the first Resident Evil in 1996, the series has split into two divergent strains. From Resident Evil until the dire Resident Evil Zero, the series was defined by tank controls, static cameras, simple puzzles that required players to hunt down elaborate keys, and a B-grade horror presentation.
Resident Evil 4 redefined the series in 2005 as something more action-oriented, moving the camera over-the-shoulder, adding in quick-time events, and increasing the number of foes players had to fight. That line ended with Resident Evil 6, which wasn't as well received as Capcom wanted. Resident Evil 7 is intended as a fresh start for the franchise.
The major switch in Resident Evil 7 is to a first-person camera. Fans worried that the series move away from a third-person viewpoint would also mean a host of other changes. The fear was that Resident Evil was becoming just like newer horror titles Outlast, Amnesia, and P.T.
Honestly, Resident Evil 7 is as close to the first Resident Evil as Capcom could get without REmaking it again.
Standing in for the Spencer Mansion is the Baker family plantation, a sprawling set of rundown homes in the swamps of the fictional Dulvey, Louisiana. Instead of a crack team of woefully unprepared STARS soldiers, we have Ethan Winters, a man in search of his missing wife, Mia. An email from her points him towards the Baker residence, where Ethan becomes entangled with the special family.
In the first Resident Evil, the Spencer Mansion and the surrounding areas were as important as what you fought in them. The game prized a good working knowledge of the mansion's layout, because most of the puzzles were rather simple: find widget A that would fit in slot B, or find a puzzle solution in another room of the mansion.
The first half of Resident Evil 7 is similar in composition, with Ethan taking on the Baker clan in different areas of the plantation. This early section strikes the same balance that the first Resident Evil did. You know what you need to do to move forward, but it also offers other paths for you. Do you explore them and hope you'll find a new weapon or some much needed ammo, or play it safe? You'll backtrack from room to room, and house to house, unlocking new areas and finding new passages to explore. You'll feel a sense of accomplishment when you open a new area or find an extra item in a place previously out of your grasp.
Capcom nailed the atmosphere of the Baker mansion. The ancient farmhouses reflect the natural deterioration of the Louisiana swamp. There's a feeling of moisture and sickness that lives in the walls. You see hints of the Baker family's descent into madness, an aging home turned into a fortress and torture chamber. The windows are boarded up and barbed wire frames the windowsills. Weird effigies of flesh warn people smarter than Ethan that they should stay away.
Resident Evil 7 takes place over the course of a single night and that darkness hides much in the Baker home. Many rooms are pitch dark, with only your flashlight to light the way. Even the rooms that are lit have their own heavy shadows that taunt you. The sound design equally impressive. The house is always groaning and settling, the wind causes a low moan as it whips through drapes, and your footsteps either boom on hardwood or squish as you step into rotting viscera. I frequently found myself frightened by my own footsteps or my own shadow, whipping around ready to shoot something only to realize I was alone.
In RE1, the knowledge of the mansion also extended to its dangers. Each new room could be full of new goodies, or some mutated monster ready to kill you. Layered on top of this general fear of the unknown was the loading screen, which had a room's door opening slowly. There was that feeling of trepidation that became a huge part of opening any door.
With Resident Evil 7, opening a new door is still an act of fear. The "open door" action only cracks a door open; walking through the door opens it the rest of the way. Doors also represent safety though, because most enemies won't pursue you into another room. Shutting a door can give you a chance to take a quick breather and regroup. Unless you're in area with one of the Baker clan.
They will pop up in certain places and they are relentless. Jack Baker is a happy psychotic, cheerfully taunting you as he chases you from room to room. As a contrast, Marguerite Baker is simply angry at your meddling in her family, forcing you to run and from the watchful gaze of her lantern. They operate like Resident Evil 2's Tyrant or Resident Evil 3's eponymous Nemesis, tearing down the sense of safety the rest of the game creates in you. Cracking a door only to see a Baker staring back will give you a fright.
The original strain of Resident Evil also had meaningful combat choices; Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield were armed with military hardware, but ammo was scarce. Crafting forced choices on you: use a Green Herb now for a small health boost, or hope you'd run into other items to combine with the Herb for an even bigger boost. Good inventory management was as powerful as knowing the mansion itself.
Ethan is similarly outfitted. There are some sections of Resident Evil 7 where you're without a weapon, but they're used sparingly. Otherwise, Ethan is usually armed. A handgun and shotgun form the backbone of your arsenal, with a small knife if you happen to run out of ammo. Like the older Resident Evil games, you need to be thrifty with your bullets. Even weaker enemies can suck up a few pistol bullets before dropping, so sometimes it's best to run instead of fighting. The game keeps the power curve relatively the same until the last fifth.
One shift in the crafting system are Chem Fluids. Mixing a Chem Fluid with an Herb produces a Med Kit, but mixing a Chem Fluid with Gunpowder produces bullets. It expands the old Herb dilemma to your weapons. Do you use this Chem with the Herb you have, or do you need to craft yourself some more bullets? The rather small inventory size means you also have to juggle what you're carrying. A discarded item is gone forever, so you have to think about everything you pick up and where you're picking it up. Are you near a save room, with its handy universal item chest, or far away with no save in sight?
Resident Evil 7 places a big focus on simply surviving. It wasn't until the final chapter of the game that I felt like I was in complete control of the situation. There are so many "nope" moments in RE7, where you'll walk into a room and decide you're not ready for what's inside, or at least what you think could be inside. That's a good feeling for a Resident Evil game and it's a different kind of tension from the action side of the franchise.
The game does falter though. As I said before, the first half of the game is more freeform, pushing the player to explore. The game then becomes more linear, takes a detour into reliving Resident Evil Revelations, and then it heads back to linear town for the combat-heavy finale. If you really love that older Resident Evil exploratory style, you may finish this game hungry for a little more.
You may be hungry for more of the game period. My first playthrough of Resident Evil 7 came to just over 10 hours in total. That feels like it's on the short side to me, but another reviewer pointed out that it is in line with some previous RE titles. RE7 is also the kind of game that's meant to be replayed multiple times, finding new items and areas. Finishing the game the first time unlocks the harder Madhouse mode and a special new weapon to tackle it with.
I do quibble with the first-person camera a bit, especially in boss fights. A third-person camera gives you a certain amount of combat awareness that's simply not available in first-person. Ethan doesn't run all that fast, even when he's sprinting, so sometimes I'd be running away, turn around to assess the situation, only to find my enemy right behind me. Free hit for them! Most first-person shooters have a faster movement speed, which helps alleviate this problem, but Ethan just has to take it in the teeth, which feels somewhat unfair at times.
Capcom clearly put their time into the Bakers, because otherwise, the enemy variety in Resident Evil 7 is on the low side. There's four different versions of the Molded, the overgrown creatures shown in one of the screenshots above and two types of insect. RE7 does a good job with what it has, but I could have used a few more enemy types.
If you're not a precision aimer, be prepared for some frustration in a few of the boss fights. As an example, one of the bosses has several eyes you need to shoot to kill them, but some of the eyes are in out of the way spots. I spent ten minutes just running around in circles hoping the boss would show me his belly long enough to hit one of the smaller eyes there. The occasional frustrating boss fight is a Resident Evil staple though - Code Veronica's plane Tyrant says 'hi' - so I'm inclined to give this a pass.
Folks, Resident Evil 7 is a Resident Evil game. Hell, it's doesn't even reboot the story. RE7 is a game that tries to recreate the feeling of the original game using modern tech and design. And for the most part, it works. Is it the best Resident Evil ever? No. Resident Evil 4 was lightning in a bottle and matching up to that is a tall order; Resident Evil 7 just seeks to establish a new foundation. A new take on an old take of survival horror. I'd call the result a success. Welcome to the family, Resident Evil 7.
The Nitty Gritty
- Interface: Inventory tetris isn't as pronounced as it is in some entries, but you'll still have to juggle stuff around. I wish
- Lasting appeal: With its 10-12 hours run time, RE7 is meant to be played over and over again. There's coins, bobbleheads, and more items to find out there!
- Sound: The environmental sounds of Resident Evil 7 are top-notch.
- Visuals: Capcom's RE Engine puts out some impressive visuals with great lighting, whether you're on PS4, PS4 Pro, or PSVR.
It's a bit on the short side and the latter chunk of the game is rather linear, but Resident Evil 7 absolutely recaptures the feeling of survival horror established in the first game. The Baker family is terrifying and spending time trapped in their home is damned good horror. As a new direction for the franchise, returning to an old one seems like it was a great idea.
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