As an avid fan of the horror genre, it takes a special game to make it feel like my first time again. Luckily, Capcom manage to hit the right notes as they step into a new era for Resident Evil – even if it doesn’t go quite where I’d hoped.
Here we are again, Resident Evil. What a ride it’s been. A weird ride, but a good one nonetheless. I’m willing to put the last two releases behind us, and that weird Umbrella Corp offshoot, too. I truly believe you’ve found yourself again, even if that does mean bringing the Baker family along with you. Let me take your pestilent hand, and let’s skip through that field of rusty razor blades over there.
Resident Evil 7 starts out with our boy, Ethan Winters. After three years of mourning the loss of his wife, Mia, who had disappeared after taking up a babysitting job, a chilling video hits his inbox. Surprise, surprise, it’s his wife, Mia, and she reveals that she’s been lying to him, yet neglects to provide any details. After some painting and hysteria, Mia abruptly ends the video with “stay away”. It’s a chilling message indeed, one that sparks Ethan’s curiosity (and mine). Next, we see a lone car making its way across a vast swampy plain in the heart of Louisiana. Classic husband. Never listens.
Screenshot by Darkdeus
Everything I do, I do it for you
I pull up outside this house, and I’m miles from a Starbucks, so you know it’s far. I clamber through vines and bushes and end up at the back door. Nosing around, I find a pile of handbags and a busted swing set – guess I’ll have to wait until I get home. I make my way to the door.
As I stand in the porch of this decrepit estate, I can’t help but linger with my hand resting on the doorknob. There’s no going back once I step inside and it’s moments like this that excite me. It’s a small choice, but a powerful one. But, I’m a glutton for punishment and I really want to see some messed up stuff, so I step inside.
The unnerving atmosphere is palpable. My torch casts a pale gaze down the hall, and I follow. The interior looks stunning, a far cry from the blurry and muddy visuals outside. The lighting is so fantastic that I want to be there just as much as I want to leave. I step into that disgusting kitchen we’ve all seen leading up to release. Oh look, there’s that pot with the cockroaches in it. I open the lid. Cockroaches.
As much as I want to stay and admire this beautiful mess hall, there are horrors and screams to be had. I take one last look inside the mouldy fridge and move on.
It turns out that the game throws a lot at you in the first few hours. For as much as I was intrigued by the mystery, I had no clue what the game wanted from me. Is this a strict, linear experience, or can I explore like the original RE games? Well, it also turns out that it’s both. Resident Evil 7 seamlessly moves the player through bottlenecked linearity and open areas to fit the narrative. Sometimes you won’t even realise, but even when you do it’s not so bad. Capcom has written one of their most personal, claustrophobic stories yet, and I wanted answers.
Welcome to the family, son
The Baker family are vessels for the many facets of horror that Resident Evil 7 borrows from. Jack is the Michael Myers of the family. Powerful, unrelenting and sadistic. Marguerite is the bug-loving crazy, and then we have Lucas, the Saw-like trapper. The differences are stark and may be jarring for some players, but it keeps things interesting.
Your time with Jack is some of the best the game has to offer. While I won’t discount the other two, I have never felt a shiver down my spine quite like the moment I unloaded a clip into him and he just kept on coming. Trying to flee is a butt clenching experience as Ethan seems to have never run in his entire life.
Like I said, those first few hours really go places, and it’ll leave you a little unsure of what the main loop of the game actually is. It’s not until you step out into the main hall that Resident Evil 7 truly opens up and allows you to explore. You’ll find rooms of complete festering decay, but also rooms completely untouched by the horror. This doesn’t make them any less creepy and instead lends itself to the story, providing clues as to what’s been going down in Baker Town.
Things that make you go boom
I was quite surprised at a number of weapons Resident Evil 7 had to offer. For a game set in the sticks, I expected nothing but a boomstick and bear trap. You’ll find the game has everything from a peashooter to a P19 machine gun. There are even a homemade flamethrower and grenade launcher that mainly exist to serve key moments throughout the ten-hour story. Ammunition is spread thin on normal difficulty, but there’s always just enough to get you through. This sort of distribution turns its back on previous titles and instead focuses on a slower, more conservative combat of the early days. Aiming feels a little floaty but appropriate considering Ethan isn’t good at anything other than being persistent.
It’s easy to imagine the switch to a first person perspective as a bold, surprising move, but it’s actually a more logical one. This shift in perspective changes the stakes and heightens tension. While a third person perspective is able to put players on edge (Dead Space anyone?) there will always be a disconnect. It’s less about fearing for your own life and more about fearing for the protagonist’s. This new point of view works to the game’s benefit and it would have been middling without it.
You’ve also probably heard that Resident Evil 7 has gone back to the series roots, and it excites me to say that it’s true. The game’s producer, Masachika Kawata, considers the main pillars of the franchise to be broken up into trilogies. So, gone are a series of indecisive Resident Evils that struggled to find their identity. Instead, what we have is a game born of reflection, and it’s exciting to see the franchise find its centre. This is the start of a new chapter, one that embraces the classics while making the most of modern game design.
This is where I commend Capcom for taking a risk other triple A developers would shy away from. This could’ve gone either way for a series with such deep roots. Hell, it may have just been a byproduct of chasing the VR market. But, whether it was a legitimate decision or happy accident, it pays off, and Capcom is running with it. We get a Resident Evil game that is the most in-your-face and visceral offering to date.
Why does it always rain on me?
Sadly, it’s not all flowers and sunshine. The last third of the game goes in a completely unexpected direction. While I’ve no doubt this was the story they wanted to tell, it takes a turn from what made the game so enthralling to begin with. All loose ends, except one, are tied up in a final showdown that is almost reminiscent of where the Resident Evil franchise has gone wrong in the past. I’m quite torn on it – on one hand, I’m satisfied with the ending and spectacle that merges with the Resident Evil universe. On the other, I think even the most cliched ‘survive the crazies until dawn’ would have been more appropriate.
Capcom must adjust to a new breed of Resident Evil, but I’m happy to say that my confidence in the series is back. Resident Evil 7 is a fantastic game. It’s one we’ll be holding up as an example of the power of the horror genre, and one that proves that video games do it like no other.