Resident Evil 7 Review – Resident Evil Has Been Reborn (PS4)on January 31, 2017 by Oscar TK
As you might expect from a series seven entries deep, there’s a lot to compare Resident Evil 7 against. Throughout the game there’s a constant push and pull between the new and the old, not just in terms of the series, but in terms of the genre. Out of that back and forth, something new emerges. Resident Evil has been reborn.
Via a first person perspective players inhabit the role of Ethan Winters, as he searches for his wife, Mia, who has been missing and presumed dead for three years. A video message from her leads him to an overgrown plantation in Louisiana. It’s not as abandoned as it seems, as it’s home to the creepy Baker family, who pursue you and hang over the events of the whole game. Needless to say things quickly spiral out of control, and to say too much would spoil the twists and turns Resident Evil 7 so expertly takes you through. Both the setting and the plot are more expansive than they might initially seem, often in terms of little details rather than a huge scope.
The first person perspective works wonders at immersing you within the game.
The first person perspective works wonders at immersing you within the game. Resident Evil 7 is a visceral experience more often than it isn’t, and whether it’s experiencing body horror first hand, or simply struggling to see every corner of a creaking room at once, it really hammers home the situation viewing it from that perspective. It doesn’t feel like a cheap trick.
Despite the perspective change it still feels as Resident Evil as ever, keeping with the series roots once it begins to open up after the pulse pounding (though linear) introduction sequence. Creeping through narrow corridors, juggling inventory space, and trying to make your way through strange puzzles and locked doors — the feelings throw you right back to the old school survival horror of the original Resident Evil, though touched up in a delightfully modern way.
Jack’s excitable, hair-raising, Southern American drawl, and the way he taunts and toys with you as he gives chase, will likely forever be iconic for the series — “Welcome to the family, son”.
The Bakers are fantastic antagonists. Or should that be supervillains. They have their own unique and bombastic personality, and their own set of what are basically superpowers. Each one leaves a strong impression that’ll stay with you after the credits roll — even the Baker household itself becomes an iconic structure on par with that of the Spencer Mansion, though with its own vibes entirely.
Jack Baker (voiced by Jack Brand), the “daddy” of the family who’ll be the bane of your existence early on in the game, perhaps leaves the strongest impression. He stalks the corridors of the house, and will relentlessly pursue you once you have his attention. His excitable, hair-raising, Southern American drawl, and the way he taunts and toys with you as he gives chase, will likely forever be iconic for the series — “Welcome to the family, son”.
Those worried Resident Evil 7 cribs too much from the likes of Outlast or Amnesia: The Dark Descent can rest easy. While there are elements of pursuit that are done very well, these only form small pockets of the Resident Evil 7 experience. The bulk of the time is spent exploring, and dealing with enemies. Resident Evil 7‘s stock enemies this time are the “Molded” — gross, blobby creatures that come in a few different flavours — normal, quick, bulkier, etc. A lot of the time engaging in combat isn’t strictly necessary — you can dash around, hiding in rooms, and closing doors to get the advantage on most enemies and to conserve ammo. Ammunition is indeed relatively sparse for most of the game.
Resident Evil 7 favours a considered and slower approach.
Enemies lurch around unpredictably making it hard to aim, and have some pretty long reaching attacks and occasional bursts of speed. It’s all about creating distance and being careful with ammo if you want to take them out. In its gunplay as well as the rest of the game Resident Evil 7 favours a considered and slower approach. The Molded are unpredictable enough to be a challenge, but they do get a bit tiresome as it progresses. Variety that is added to their ranks isn’t really surprising, and after the second area adds a completely new enemy type, it’s a shame nothing too shocking ever happens with the Molded as stock enemies.
Resident Evil 7 is survival horror refined, modernised, thoughtfully plated.
The house is filled with collectables — things like health, ammo, and crafting pick-ups. Without the use of a special drug item that highlights pick-ups, it’s pretty hard to find everything. They’ll be hidden in drawers, corners, under furniture and the like. It’s yet another facet of the game that rewards a slower pace.
Crafting always requires the use of Chem Fluid, whether it be for support items like health, or for ammunition. There’s a constant balance of resources and risk, but it’s simplified to the point of not being overwhelming. For instance you can craft using a simple crafting menu if you don’t want to do it all by hand. Complex game design is at play, but the way it’s presented to player is simple and easy to understand. Resident Evil 7 is survival horror refined, modernised, thoughtfully plated.
There are also a handful of optional sections that take the form of video tapes. You can put these into any video player to replay that section. For the most part, though, you don’t need to do them, though you’ll definitely want to. They can provide hints about Ethan’s journey, and slices of backstory. One particular highlight moment of the game is a tape in which you play as a prior victim caught in a SAW-style deathtrap room. Later you can use knowledge of this trap to your own advantage.
It would have been nice to see more made from this — more tapes, and more ones that directly give Ethan prior knowledge advantage. All in all there’s only about 5, though more are promised as DLC. The way the tapes already in the game interact with the main narrative is one of the most interesting things about it, though, and more DLC tapes — while a great way of adding to the game — might not supplement the game in the same way.
The length of the game feels pretty solid — not too long, and not too short. On top of that the game rewards replay with a New Game+, incentivises speedrunning, and has a “Madhouse” mode that makes the game harder, and reshuffles enemies and items making for an experience that feels quite different to the main game. The game is fabulously paced. While it would be nice to see more made from some of its standout features (areas and antagonists never stick around too long), it stays away from letting anything get too stale either.
By the time you reach about two thirds of the way through the game everything is quite different to the beginning of the game, but the journey and the curve to that point feels so natural, that it’s not really a problem. There is more shooty-shooty gun-gun towards the end, but even at that point you can quite safely run past many key threats if you choose to do so (I did).
It’s a considered rethink of the series, that lays out all the core vibes that made the original games so strong, and doubles down on them.
Resident Evil 7 is also entirely playable in PlayStation VR. Of course, this enhances the first person perspective, and presents some truly great moments. Even just looking around the trailer as it appears in the title screen is entertaining. However, there are a lot of caveats that make the experience a bit weird in VR. There’s a lot of fades to black and back as it avoids certain situations that would be too much in VR; the analogue control flicks instantly 20 degrees or so rather than turning fluidly, crouching sees you instantly toggle your height; you can move your head back and forth, even while being grabbed by something, so often interactions with your character feel removed and distant after flinching.
It’s neat, and it’s the biggest and baddest VR game on the market in terms of being given the full AAA treatment, but it still felt a little bit like a gimmick. A very, very cool gimmick. Thankfully that does mean the game doesn’t feel built around a VR experience, the decisions that make Resident Evil 7 so great are just decisions to make a great game, not a VR experience.
Rather than being something that’s just inspired by what came before, Resident Evil 7 will likely be inspiring the horror genre directly for a long time to come.
There’s a huge amount to admire in Resident Evil 7. It’s at once very old school, and at the same time very informed by modern game design and improvements to the genre. It’s definitely a new direction to the series, but not one that feels purely reactionary. It’s a considered rethink of the series, that lays out all the core vibes that made the original games so strong, and doubles down on them. Out of that blend of old and new, Resident Evil 7 feels like a breath of fresh air — completely its own thing. Rather than being something that’s just inspired by what came before, Resident Evil 7 will likely be inspiring the horror genre directly for a long time to come.