Resident Evil as a series, has a cycle. This cycle can accurately predict when the next revolution in its design is coming and in general how it feels to be one of the founding series of the “survival horror” genre. As Resident Evil 3 gave way to the only so so Code Veronica, and (at the time) under performing remakes. The 4th installment reinvented the series with a fresh visceral edge that changed the face of horror and action games for the next 10 years. Now 3 many series games later, Resident Evil 7 reinvents the series yet again.
Resident Evil 7 is as title that doesn’t innovate like Resident Evil 4. It is a product of this moment in gaming history. The trail blazing, paradigm shifting, and infinitely remade 4th installment more innovative than RE7. It clearly draws inspiration from indie hits like Outlast and Amnesia, while adding the big budget flare you would expect from the series. RE7 is a strictly to the letter genre piece of horror in gaming. The tropes it uses never venture in to cliche, because of the quality on display.
The game is a stunning example of story telling through game play. The Baker house and property is covered from oozing ceiling to corpse covered floor. The tail of a family that has gone mad. If you are a person easily sicken by an episode of Horders, then I would not suggest this game with out a large plastic bucket at the ready. The game lacks cut scenes, everything happens in real time. This makes the overall story seem weak. This is not the case, as games are the only medium that are a do and do not tell style, to convey the events. Instead of your stand in character dip and dodging super natural commandos with quick time events, you are the one performing the actions. The environment is generously littered with items that allow you peer back into the maddening history of the Bakers. One of my personal favorite things, is finding an old VHS tapes that allow you to play a flash back through one of the other victims of the Bakers. The simple plot of, my lost wife is here, and how do I get her out, manages to avoid being cliched through this method as you are given agency over her actions.
A story is only as good as its cast some would say, and the titular Baker family is great. While there are only 3 of them, they comprise a major of your interactions with enemies. This makes combat more intimate instead of chaotic. In earlier Resident Evil games you faced zombies that were hard to kill, but they only showed up in smaller numbers. Then in the last cycle of RE, you faced swarms of enemies all at once, but also played a much more capable character. RE7 puts you in to shoes of Ethan Winters, a real Joe no body. You do not have training, and you are just struggling to get through this disgusting hell you find yourself in. The Bakers will refer to you by name and constantly insult you. You cannot harm them unless you are in a boss battle with them, you merely slow them down. The father of the family will hunt you, even if he is on fire. As the hunt continues you learn his invulnerable periods and when is best to stun him and outright avoid him. You learn his attack patterns, and by the time you fight him in the second boss battle you know this guy as well as the town drunkard. These feel almost like long drawn out boss battles, and it does a great job at masking the lack of enemies and enemy variety in the game. Quality over quantity is RE7 strong suit, and its a damn fine suit at that.
The game control well enough and the seems in the world don’t show much on console, but on PC you will get some odd hiccups from time to time. This can be overlooked to a degree if you are in the 4th hour of a marathon session and are completely immersed in the world. Shooting controls on controller or mouse and keyboard always feel slightly off, and this could be intentional as, having a horror game that is empowering is not scary. You do have your standard FPS controls in RE7. The inclusion of a 180 degree spin button, that is required in boss fights gives the game a sense of panic by being the only way to quickly gain environmental awareness. To make a great horror experience you need to understand theme-ing and it’s clear the devs behind the controls get it.
Most games of a horror nature offer some spooky violin seasoned minimalist tunes to accent the atmosphere. The greatest concept in this title is that less is more. RE7 has next to no sound track, allow the creeks and groans of an old house decaying to set the mood. The 7.1 surround sound mixing is the best I have ever experience. I could easily tell if I was being hunted and it adds to the terror. I could only imagine how much better this would be if I played it in VR.
If you are able to ignore the slight annoyance of the loading issues (which cause a noticeable frame drop) while exploring, then RE7 is a extremely polished experience. Much like DOOM 2016, was a refinement and polish of the core concepts of the genre to a mirror shine, RE7 does the same. It is a bit of a shame that the developers iterated a lot on the indie horror scene, instead of blazing a path all their own, but what is there is extremely fun. If you were in the camp of thinking that RE7 was going to turn into a first person shooter, rest assured that is not the case, this a horror game that makes resource management key to stress and horror you feel. Resident Evil 7 is a great game that is worthy of your dollar if you are horror fan. I am disappointed in the lack of innovation in the game, but I’m glad it did innovate for the sake of innovation (*cough cough* Star Fox Zero *cough cough*). Currently this is the horror game to beat, and if you are lucky enough to play it in VR, don’t pass this up.