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I came into Resident Evil later than most, but at a good time. In picking out some games to bring with me to Japan, I snagged a copy of Resident Evil 4 for the GameCube. I didn't regret it.
What I found was an action game that perfectly balanced the horror of the earlier entries with a good story and great gunplay. It had iconic moments: The initial trip to the village, the first horrifying moment you see tentacles burst out of a villager's head, the omnipresent vendor growling, "Whaddaya buying?" And it could be really, really scary. Even today, the Regenerators still give me the creeps.
By today's standards, of course, the controls are quite stiff and dated. The inability to run and gun adds to the horror, but becomes frustrating against some of the bosses. And the graphics, so beautiful back in 2005, no longer dazzle as they once did, even in the HD remake. But it left an indelible impression on me, and I've been fond of the series ever since.
Sadly, it's been a rough ride since then. Resident Evil 5 sparked controversy for both its co-op mechanics and its racial depictions of Africa. Resident Evil 6 was crushed by critics and suffered in sales. Various spinoffs struggled to gain notice. It still had its old-school fans—the ones who would gush over the Resident Evil Remake and talk at length about its impact on horror games—but it was increasingly a dead letter with mainstream gamers. Certainly, it had nowhere near the clout that it did back in 2009, when Resident Evil 5 was one of the year's most anticipated releases.
So it's a pleasure to see Resident Evil get back to basics, and in turn back into the good books with critics. Reputable reviewers like The Guardian's Simon Parkin have called it a "master class in terror," writing, "The cumulative effect of all that adrenaline baiting is eventually one of terror fatigue and nausea. You learn to glance down at your phone when creaking open a new door in order to lessen the effects of the screech and screen shudder if something grabs your face on the other side."
Our own Mike Williams wasn't quite as effusive in his review, but he was nevertheless positive in defining it as a soft reboot for the series. "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."
Aside from returning to the franchise's roots, Capcom's smartest move may have been embracing nascent headsets like the PlayStation VR—a medium still in search of a true killer app. In discussing Resident Evil 7 with Mike this morning, he talked about how much scarier it was in VR. It brings to mind the original Resident Evil way back in 1996, which managed to define an entire subgenre with its damned terrifying dogs. After lagging badly behind traditional third-person shooters, Resident Evil is suddenly back on the cutting edge.
I'll admit, it may not be for me. I've always been a little bit squeamish when it comes to horror games, and playing in VR sounds far too intense for me. One reason that Resident Evil 4 was such a rampant success was that it doled out its horror in sharp but tolerable doses, with the gaps being filled by action. Resident Evil 7 still has gunplay, but it leans more heavily on atmosphere. As Mike writes in his review, "With Resident Evil 7, opening a new door is still an act of fear." Some will find that intense and satisfying. Me? Maybe not so much.
Still, I have a huge amount of respect for Resident Evil's contributions to gaming, and it's great to see it return as a reputable franchise. There was nothing more depressing than watching it sink into oblivion, desperately trying to recapture the glory of Resident Evil 4. With Resident Evil 7, the series finally has its own identity again, and both horror games and VR are richer for it.
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