Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and Steam
The opening moments of Resident Evil 7 tell you one thing; fear is once again part of the equation. The series has never been afraid of reinvention in its now more than two decades of existence, and this is why the seventh entry succeeds. It pulls itself out from under the muck and glut of the series’ convoluted, globe-trotting plot to deliver a game that not only stands up with its best entries but the best of the genre as well.
You play as Ethan Winters, a man looking for his wife, Mia, who has been missing for three years. A mysterious email draws Ethan to a mysterious farmhouse in the rural town of Dulvey, deep in the heart of the Louisiana bayou. The owners aren’t happy with their new visitor and from the onset it’s a fight for survival to save Mia and escape the nightmare. This is a strong initial hook and the overall story of the game is probably the most interesting the series has had, but the main character keeps it from being truly great. The developers seemed to have wanted to make Ethan a cipher character which leads to some awkward moments where he doesn’t seem to react the way a normal human being would to some of the games more emotional moments. Overall I enjoyed the twists in the narrative and how it connects itself to the series as a whole.
Of course, we should talk about the shift in perspective from third to first person; a first for the series. The developers have obviously taken cues from recent genre successes like Amnesia, Outlast, and, yes, even a little bit of P.T. The game’s opening hours will see the player quietly walking through hallways and crouching behind objects hoping they don’t get spotted by one of the many nasty foes. Resources are scarce so picking your spots is key, especially against some Nemesis-inspired baddies. I find it annoying dodging enemies in first person horror as it feels inconsistent, but it never became too much of an issue.
Capcom hasn’t forgotten that this is a Resident Evil game though and the way you navigate the home is very much reminiscent of the older entries. You must solve obscure puzzles to get strange keys that only open specific doors. This never feels like busy work and, as the house becomes more open, a sense of accomplishment washes over you. Your arsenal will increase and the shooting mechanics are solid but never did I feel powerful in the way the last few entries made me feel. I always felt like I was just surviving, which was refreshing.
One of my biggest complaints is the overall enemy variety, most notably in the more basic encounters. The series has always been known for its variety, but I felt like I had seen every type there was to see about halfway through the campaign. The boss encounters were generally an exception, but some of them leaned too far in the direction of bombastic and ridiculous for such an otherwise “low key” Resident Evil.
Setting is everything in horror. Whether in games, films, or books, the ability to transport the consumer mentally from the comfort of their home to a place more sinister is crucial. This is when Resident Evil 7 is at its best. The farmhouse has been lovingly crafted to make the simple act of walking down a hallway a tense, heart-pounding affair. The developers took obvious cues from classics like Texas Chainsaw Massacre early on but later add elements from others like The Thing or Saw to great effect. The use of almost exclusively environmental sounds only adds to this. Sure, this game is filled with more than its fair share of jump scares but it’s the silence from simply wandering the house that gets to you. It allows the game to earn those jump scares. I can’t tell you how many times I tensed up as the house creaked and moaned only to deliver nothing but more of that suffocating silence. I highly suggest you do yourself the service of playing this game at night with all the lights out and either some headphones or the sound up for maximum effect.
Resident Evil VII is everything I could have hoped for in a new numbered entry to one of my favorite series. It’s not the radical reinvention and genre defining masterpiece that Resident Evil 4 was, but it didn’t have to be. It succeeded in bringing fear back to a series that hasn’t had any since the PSX days. Resident Evil 7 has taken the series in a new direction and the feeling of apprehension for its future I felt after Resident Evil 6 has been replaced by anticipation. Resident Evil is back.