It seems almost surreal to finally be writing a Resident Evil 7 review, but here we are. Ever since the Resident Evil franchise strayed from the well-worn path of survival horror around Resident Evil 4’s debut, series purists have practically begged Capcom to return to the game’s roots. The slow and silent survival horror of Resident Evil 1-3 veered off into more action-oriented gameplay for Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5, which were generally well-received by critics and fans alike. Resident Evil 6 was admittedly awful and hit quite the snag when it attempted to meld classic survival horror and shooter mechanics into one, and ended up panned by both the media and fans alike. This meant any game that was unfortunate enough to follow it had some very high standards to live up to.
Resident Evil 7 is a swift return to form that fans will absolutely appreciate. It couldn’t have come at a better time. With the 20th anniversary of one of the greatest survival horror series of all time, something had to give. With both the game’s reputation and ability to move units on the line, Capcom obviously had to do something to ensure fans weren’t left out in the cold once more. The result is one of Resident Evil’s best, with enough blood, guts and gore to attract any self-respecting fan, puzzles to delight classic Resident Evil fans everywhere, and enough connections to the previous titles to both stir up new questions and put to rest some of the old. This is pure, uncut Resident Evil, delivered at high-octane speeds viewed through the lens of the Louisiana bayou with a sprinkling of bizarre bioweapon testing.
Keeping It in the Family
Players take up the role of Ethan Winters, an average man who’s lead on an investigation to figure out exactly what happened to his wife Mia after she went missing for three whole years. Though long since presumed dead, Ethan receives a short message from Mia inviting him to come pick her up from a plot of land in the Louisiana bayou. While on Mia’s trail he finds himself face to face with the certifiably insane and outwardly repugnant Baker family, who made several appearances in the marketing materials and demos showing off what fans could experience from RE7.
If you’ve ever watched a horror movie before, namely something that involves inbred rednecks or backwater country folk, the Bakers will seem inherently familiar as they babble about making you part of the family or the “gift” they want to bestow on you. Matron Marguerite, terrifying Jack (“Daddy” to you), and scarily intelligent and vindictive Lucas are nothing to sneeze at as they relentlessly pursue you during your time at their home. You can scramble to escape before they can get their grubby hands on you, but they have no qualms with letting you scurry about under the house as they’re secure in the knowledge that there’s just nowhere for you to go. It’s a decadently evil game of cat and mouse as you uncover secrets placed throughout the house and desperately try to piece together the obvious puzzle before you.
Nothing is off-limits. It’s a no-holds-barred chase as you face off against each member of the family and struggle to unravel the secrets behind their home, their supernatural powers and eerie regenerative powers, and the part your wife plays in it all. Once it all comes together, which it won’t completely until you’ve completed a good portion of the game, there’s a satisfying payoff that comes, especially if you stopped to read the files, documents, scraps of paper and other tidbits of information scattered throughout the game.
“I’m Gon’ Get You, Boy!”
You’ll explore the Baker house and subsequent locales via first-person view rather than the third-person over-the-shoulder presentation of prior games. It recalls visions of later entries in the Silent Hill mythos, but this type of design lends itself well to playing with the PlayStation VR helmet, which you’ll want to do as a supplement to your main playthrough if you want to be able to dedicate all if your resources to simply finishing the game and finding all of the hidden items and Easter eggs. This view gives you a much more detailed view of the carnage Ethan is consistently facing, as well as a close-up look at the mutilation he and other characters are privy to so often in the game.
The Bakers themselves are a near-constant threat too, with the eldest Baker in a wheelchair seemingly appearing out of nowhere in the darkness, watching you with tired old eyes. Jack can be seen wandering from hallway to hallway, and Marguerite is no slouch herself, assailing you with foul language and insults just as she does Mia in the various flashbacks and video tapes found hidden throughout the game. The family and the house itself is just as much an enemy as any monster could be, as you’re on constant lookout for someone to literally reach out and grab you, or steal a limb or two. That can actually happen, by the way.
While traveling from tunnels below the house to trails throughout the woods it’s simple to lose your way, but Mia acts as a driving force to keep you pushing through even as you edge through tight spaces crawling with centipedes, find your own limbs in peril, and stave off gooey, oozing monsters spawned from a moldlike substance growing over nearly every inch of the Baker place and surrounding areas. These are the Molded, and you’ll become very well acquainted with them as RE7 wears on. Some might say too acquainted.
There are four variations of the Molded, which end up being the main enemy you’ll face throughout the entire game aside from some extremely cinematic and wholly disturbing boss encounters. If you completed the PlayStation 4 demo before the game released proper you might remember seeing an upright Molded in the basement, but if you’re unfamiliar with them think of an abnormally tall, slimy creature that slithers around like a fountain of molasses come to life. They’ll slide to life from enormous patches of mold seen throughout the Baker household and even outside in the night. They’ll stretch over to you, swat at you, bite at you, and come at you to vomit what appears to be some kind of bio-material on you depending on which variation you come across. Luckily they’re easy to dispatch if you’ve collected ammunition and weapons diligently, but otherwise you may find yourself forced to replay saves to get past them without skirmishes, as your resources are stretched thin.
If you’re good with your weapons and able to navigate the game’s twisting labyrinths in a competent manner, the Molded soon become less of a terrifying roadblock and more of an annoyance as you make your way through. I was a bit disappointed to see such a small variety of B.O.W. creatures (bio-organic weapons), especially with so many opportunities to spawn stomach-churning and disgusting beings, but they served their purpose well enough, especially on higher difficulties when you must utilize cassettes to save your game rather than simply saving as many times as you’d like. Once you’re familiar with how best to dispatch them, however, they’re a bit weakened as a terror device.
Back to Basics
Despite the deviations from the classic Resident Evil formula such as a first-person perspective and an overall lack of overt callbacks to the previous games (you can play this game without having ever played one before) there are several ideas that recall the classics. First and foremost, item management is back. You’ll need to be careful about what you carry with you at all times, lest you be unable to pick up important story items.
You can offload extraneous items in save rooms where you find cassette players, utilizing the special green trunks found here to swap out the things you don’t need with you at all times. This adds a special element of strategy that you don’t often see in most games, where you can carry pretty much anything you need on your person and ammunition simply gets added to the weapons you have available to you. It certainly heightens the level of dread you’ll experience when frantically searching for additional healing items when in a tight spot as well. You’ll be able to expand what limited storage you have with backpacks, but this won’t happen for quite some time. That gives you plenty of time to get re-acquainted with a limited storage system.
Speaking of healing yourself, that’s familiar as well, with herbs making a comeback and other items that can be collected to extend your life or physical abilities. You’ll also see weapons like a shotgun, machine gun, a chainsaw, flamethrower, and even a knife with which you can dispatch the enemies swarming the Baker house and the surrounding areas. There isn’t an overwhelming amount of ammo placed throughout, but there’s enough to get you by, especially if you’re about to go head to head with a boss at any given time. In a pinch you can craft your own ammo, which you’ll want to figure out as early as possible since many of the Molded are susceptible to various types of alternative ammo. You can’t just pepper them with shots most of the time if you want to be smart about conserving items, so this is an important fact to keep in mind.
There are plenty of collectibles to find as well, which you’ll see scattered throughout the world from diminutive statues to coins and the ever-present files that offer additional peeks into the story. You’ll also find VHS tapes that unlock special vignettes that you can actually explore. For instance, one particular tape documents part of Mia’s experience with the Bakers, giving you a better look into the horror that actually plagued your missing wife during the time she was gone. These are absolute musts if you want to fully experience everything Resident Evil 7 has to offer and I encourage you to spend the extra time to uncover them.
As far as plot elements go, if you’re going into the game looking for ways to connect this entry to the past Resident Evil games, you will find sprinkles here and there and small callbacks that veterans will absolutely recognize, but they’ll slip by unnoticed if you don’t explore every nook and cranny. However, if you’re going into the game hoping to see a deluge of flagship characters, you will come out sorely disappointed. You’ll see a few extremely palatable surprises here and there, but overall this is a game that carves its own path and dances to the beat of its own drum. At some points, however, it’s content to hum the same melody as prior games.
After playing the game as a vanilla PlayStation 4 experience for the sake of this review, I went back of course to see how it felt utilizing the PlayStation VR headset. It is, after all, how I initially fell in love with the game after trying it out at a demo event and later in the comfort of my own home with the demos available via the PlayStation Network.
It’s true that the game is a much more intense experience if you choose to utilize virtual reality to complete it, but it’s also more difficult, understandably so. You can choose to quick turn to get out of harm’s way while using the headset, and while you can turn your head to become the “camera” mimicking looking around in real life, you’re better served completing a playthrough without the headset to truly appreciate its craftsmanship.
Certain encounters become ridiculously terrifying while in VR, but they also become more difficult to complete if you’re relegated to exploring in this manner. You can turn your head to see where noise is coming from and which direction you should run in if necessary and crouching and remaining hidden is even simpler here, but the experience becomes more frustrating than chilling when prolonged. While I massively enjoyed the virtual reality component, I’d very much recommend playing the standard version of the game unless you go back to check out standout moments again in virtual reality.
Past Meets Future
Resident Evil 7 is an entry that desperately wants to marry the olden days of Resident Evil with modern horror and convention, and it does that extremely well. From the more Western appearance of the protagonist and supporting cast to the foul language, threats, and violence of the Baker family, it practically screams Western horror from the top to the bottom.
While it does end up relying on some tired cliches as far as one particular character you’ll meet (F.E.A.R.’s Alma and The Ring come to mind) it serves up some decidedly fresh visuals that you certainly don’t get to see often in American horror, certainly not in video games. I appreciated that it wasn’t afraid to go the distance when it came to serving up plate after plate of mind-numbingly disgusting entrails just when I thought it was finished. This game is not for the faint of heart, and for that I love it. I loved that it wasn’t afraid to completely alienate potential audiences with the tasks it presents you with, the hardships Ethan must go through, and some ridiculously awesome encounters you’ll recall long after watching the credits roll.
Resident Evil was in dire need of fresh characters, ideas and mechanics to ensure we’d see additional numbered entries in the future, and this was one of the best ways to breathe new life into a franchise that’s been mistreated a bit in the past. From top to bottom it’s clear this was a project that was handled with great care, with excellent voice acting, gruesome surprises, and scenes you’ll be scratching your head about for days to come. To all Resident Evil fans out there, I say welcome home. You’re going to enjoy your stay with the Bakers.
Disclaimer: Brittany Vincent co-founded and operated the now-defunct independent gaming website Spawn Kill with Capcom PR manager Stephanie Palermo in 2009. This previous relationship has no bearing on the contents of this review.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 physical copy provided by the publisher. Resident Evil 7 will be available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC for $59.99 on January 24, 2017.