It’s a well known fact among gamers that, after the silliness that was Resi 6, the Resident Evil franchise had lost its way. Between 4, 5 and 6 the name alone had saturated shelves and digital stores alike with HD remasters, Revelations, Umbrella Corps (another total mess) and the list goes on. It was as if Capcom had genuinely run out of ideas.
Just as many fans teetered on the precipice of giving up altogether on the franchise, Capcom bursts back onto the scene with Resident Evil 7. Everything has been lessened to allow for a higher focus on quality.
Less weapons and resources make for more crucial inventory management. It also makes for a far less overpowered one man army of a character. Instead we have an average Joe stumbling his way into a messed up situation and doing his best to survive. Enemies are very few and far between, making them all the more distinctive when they do arrive and in the long periods in which you’re not fighting or running away, hallways are filled with dread. Open spaces become terribly unnerving. All the while, original Resident Evil gameplay tropes are still here despite the transition to first person. Despite the VR. Ladies and gentlemen, we finally have a horror game that is done right.
There’s really very little I can say that highlights negative aspects of Resident Evil 7. So, in the interest of getting the bulk of this review out the way, I’ll simply discuss the things I liked about Resident Evil 7.
Resident Evil 7 Delivers Hollywood Standard Horror
As soon as you enter the Baker family household, not five minutes into the game, the player is made to feel like they are in a top budget Hollywood movie. Such care and attention has obviously been applied to this game. What does this mean? It means environments have been designed superbly. Curling wallpaper, rotting food in the fridge, thick dust particles highlighted by some merciful rays of natural light all serve up an eerie experience that genuinely succeeds in getting under your skin.
This is most noticeable in completely dark areas where you must rely solely on your flickering torch. It is then that you realise how uncomfortable it feels not to possess any kind of peripheral vision in this game. Because the tension is built in such a way that your eyes will frantically demand every detail possible, looking for the thing that may or may not leap out at you.
Aside from this, there’s also the several found footage tapes. Now, take your pick. The Blair Witch Project or Grave Encounters sprang instantly to mind. These tapes show you the sadistically recorded experiences of the Baker’s past victims. There’s more available as DLC too. This teleports the player to an area of the house they’ve not yet been to, allowing a sneak peak of a later unfolding of what is really just a small sandbox with load screens. Something we’ll get back to later. These tapes allow different character perspectives on what the Baker family are up to but you’ll be hard pressed to figure it out until the game explicitly tells you. Like a good horror movie, an air of helpless mystery is maintained until the revelatory closing chapters.
A Happy Mental Family
A lot of this mystery revolves around the Baker family themselves. Your limited understanding of them will not only come from direct encounters but also from the entirety of the house itself. Different areas like bedrooms or living rooms give away small scraps of information all suggesting that until recently, the Baker family were a perfectly normal functioning family. With these visual cues, the player is constantly wondering what the hell is really going on.
Adding to the horror and the mystery simultaneously, is the fact they all seem to casually maim or dismember one another without a care in the world. That’s right, they can’t be killed and they regenerate. Again, how did this isolated Louisiana farming family figure out how to regenerate AND become insane as well? This interestingly morbid combination is mostly what makes the individual members of the Baker family so darn interesting.
A VR House Of Horrors
I’m happy to report that Resident Evil 7 functions extremely well in VR. After the VR’s initial release line up, this was the first AAA title to come out on the shelves that fully supported it. Naturally, I was keen to see how well it would perform. Anyone could guess how well horror could work in a VR environment. However, actually using it forResident Evil 7 made me realise the heaps of potential that lie in wait for horror fans. Even the simple act of leaning forward on my sofa and turning my head to peek around corners added so much to immersion levels.
Aside from peeking around corners, I was able to inspect items more closely. I could also frantically look around and over my shoulder when I was freaking out in the dark. The head tracking did a great job of keeping up with me. If it hadn’t, the whole experience could have come crashing down. Yet, somehow, the frame rate never ever juddered. Aiming with my head and pulling the trigger made shooting so much fun as well. Enemies in Resident Evil 7 demand that you pick your shots carefully with a combination of weak points and your limited ammo. So the shooting mechanics in normal play and in VR demand you keep your calm and stay patient. Again, this adds to a merciless, ceaseless air of suspense.
…It’s Bigger On The Inside!
As previously mentioned, Resident Evil 7 is delightfully minimal in scope. As if going back to roots, we have a similar formula to the original game. One large house of horrors that doubles up as several interlacing puzzles, eventually unlocking the thing in entirety. You may unlock a door two thirds of the way through the game only to run down a corridor and end up back where you started. What this means is that developers have created a smaller game world in which to play. As a result of that, all the content, the cutscenes, the secrets and resources seem all the more plentiful. Suffice it to say, there’s never a dull moment in Resident Evil 7.
Imagine you start the game in the middle of a piece of paper folded eight times. Every time you complete a segment, one piece unfolds. Until eventually, near the end of the game the whole piece of paper has unfolded and you’re free to whiz around the house as you please, always knowing where you’re going. Always knowing where you left a stash of items because you couldn’t carry them earlier. Remembering them could be the difference between life and death for you. This game allows the player to keep it feeling fresh throughout. Every time I thought things were getting predictable, the game surprised me and took a different turn.
Resi 7’s New RE Engine Is Great
Just to show that they mean business, Capcom decided they’d create their own graphics engine. This is a very promising nod towards the possibility that they’re just getting started. This was just the warm up title! Textures and fine details are brilliantly drawn up, creating the eerie environment previously mentioned. The clever thing about not having too many character models in the game is that more developer resources can be poured into them. On this occasion, Capcom didn’t have to spend time and money creating, say five or six different zombie variations because they’re just not in the game.
I was particularly impressed with facial expressions in Resident Evil 7 and it’s just as well. To really harness the madness of the Bakers this had to be nailed. Mad, teeth baring expressions of rage all up in your face in VR and on the screen compliment the presentation of the Bakers all the more. Several other things will be like a graphical showcase. Little things like the fine details of a box full of squirming maggots or dust particles softly dancing in your torchlight.
But Would You Really Go Over It All Over Again?
When you think about it, everything I’ve discussed so far is very much a “first experience” kind of thing. What I mean is that there’s hardly any replay value here. I think Capcom were aware of this when they decided to release their first paid DLC. The Banned Footage Vol1 is already out!
Previously solved puzzles become tedious chores instead of head scratching, beard stroking lead ups to satisfaction. Jump scares have inherently become predictable. Which takes away any of the shock factor that got your adrenaline going last time around. Corridors of tension become long tedious strolls through a big house.
Who Is Resident Evil 7 For?
It depends what you’re looking for. First and foremost, if you own a VR headset then you owe it to yourself to get this game. The game communicates with the headset in a flawless way. So you’ll be the most engrossed you’ve probably ever been in a game. Nausea is kept to an absolute minimum (it’ll only kick in if you run in a straight line and look around slowly while you do it) and the head tracking is on point. Again, if you’re a little apathetic to developer’s latest attempts to scare you, pick this one up. Grabbing this game will only ever be in doubt if you’ve never been into horror games or Resident Evil. Even then, you should experience it perhaps when the price comes down a bit.
Resident Evil 7 has reportedly performed worse on release sales than its awful predecessor. However, to those who have played it, it will forever be considered THE Capcom title to reinvigorate the franchise, introduce new ideas and maintain original tropes. Not an easy combination to nail. It’s evident with the new RE Engine and the overall presentation of this game that Capcom decided enough was enough. This is horror played out as it should be in a videogame. That’s not something we’ve seen in a full shelf release since Dead Space.