Genre: Survival Horror
Release date: January 24, 2017
Arachnophobe alert: There be spiders here
Resident Evil 7 is a triumphant return to form for the legendary survival horror series. Brand new yet familiar, Capcom’s Resident Evil 7 features tight design, terrifying scares and some of the most grounded intensity the series has ever seen. It may not be perfect but, for Resident Evil fans, it can’t be missed.
At first glance, Resident Evil 7 has more in common with western horror films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The game takes place in and around a sprawling plantation home in the midst of the Louisiana bayou. After receiving an email from his missing wife Mia, protagonist Ethan Winters travels to Dulvey, Louisiana to find out more about her disappearance 3 years ago.
It doesn’t take long before the Baker family reveals there is more to it than meets the eye. Jack, Marguerite and Lucas Baker are relentless in their pursuit of Ethan to the point where not even death will stop them for long. They are genuinely terrifying, and their presence inspires dread even when they aren’t on screen. Jack is particularly brutal, crashing through walls without notice and wielding a plethora of weapons that seem expressly designed to tear Ethan limb-from-limb. Getting blindsided by Jack with a shovel is the most scared I’ve ever been in a Resident Evil game, and I had to pause and put down the controller for a moment to regain my composure.
The story of the Bakers is revealed as the game progresses, with scattered files and emails revealing more about what happened to these characters to make them into monsters. The storyline is quintessentially Resident Evil, but it’s more grounded than the series has ever been. Much like in earlier Resident Evil titles, the player is not invincible. Ethan struggles to stay alive against increasingly frightening odds, and you never feel safe, even with some truly devastating weapons. The shotgun in particular feels incredibly powerful, but Jack shrugs off shotgun blasts as if they're merely a nuisance.
The only other enemies in the game are the Molded, and they are considerably less threatening than the Baker family. Hulking humanoid enemies covered in black ooze and teeth, the Molded are masters of the jump scare, but they aren’t typically difficult to defeat. The real threat comes when multiple Molded converge on Ethan at once. Taking them down becomes a tense affair as ammo begins to dwindle, and it is often better to run from the Molded than stand your ground. There are a couple variants of Molded throughout the game, but they are generally the same throughout. This lack of variety is disappointing, especially considering Resident Evil’s penchant for creating fascinating, grotesque monsters.
Technically, the game is incredibly impressive. The environments are detailed and varied, with atmospheric lighting that casts everything in a dim, fevered glow. Shadows play a big part in Resident Evil 7, with some puzzles being tied to light and shadow. Occasionally, a light will catch a glimpse of an enemy around the corner, and a hulking shadow will shamble across the wall, leading to some very real panic. The sound design is even better, with some of the best atmospheric noise I’ve heard in a horror game. The creak of footsteps can be heard above your head, echoing around the empty room and shattering the silence. The dim buzz of electricity can be heard when getting near certain lights, and the wind rustling the branches outside leads to more than a few jumps when they tap against the windows. From a technical perspective, Resident Evil 7 nails it.
The biggest change in Resident Evil 7 is the switch to a first-person perspective. I was initially worried about this change, thinking that there was a risk that Resident Evil was losing its identity in favor of modern horror game tropes. Those fears were unfounded, however, as the switch to first-person ends up making Resident Evil 7 feel more familiar than ever.
Combat in first-person is intense and gratifying, with powerful weapons blasting chunks off enemies as they shamble closer and closer. A quick turn spins Ethan around 180 degrees, giving him an opportunity to sprint away and put some distance between him and anything trying to kill him. With a variety of weapons to choose from, Ethan is never without a way to defend himself, but the enemies are fast enough to keep headshots from being easy.
My favorite part of the first-person perspective is the return of the loading doors. Opening doors in Resident Evil 7 is done by running up against the door and pushing it open. There is technically no loading between doors, but while you are opening it, the door fills your vision in the same way that the original Playstation Resident Evil games do. This makes opening doors a tense affair, as you can never know what might be on the other side. This may be a small thing overall, but it makes a big difference in how the game feels.
The puzzles are another return to form for the series. The Baker home is interwoven with locked doors, shadow puzzles and keycards. Many of the puzzles are simplistic, and others are ripped straight from other Resident Evil games. The shotgun puzzle is an homage to the original game, and while none of these puzzles is very difficult, it is nice to see such reverence for the series as a whole.
There is one puzzle later in the game that is more creative, using a combination of VHS tapes and adventure game puzzle tropes to create a locked room puzzle that feels completely fresh. The solution feels well thought-out, and made me feel as though I had outwitted my captors in a way none of the other puzzles in the game had done. It would have been nice to see more of these types of puzzles scattered throughout the game, as they would have added more variety to earlier sequences.
Resident Evil 7 is playable from start to finish in Playstation VR, and the VR mode adds a level of immersion that completely changes the feeling of the game. When wearing the headset, there is no escape from the pervasive feeling of dread that fills the halls of the Baker home. Every flickering shadow in the corner of your eye becomes more unnerving; every creak of the old house feels as if a footstep is right behind you. Moments that are frightening on the TV become terrifying in VR. One early scene made me physically recoil in my seat. The monsters weren’t coming after Ethan Winters. They were coming after me. For fans of horror, PSVR is the definitive way to experience Resident Evil 7.
VR isn’t without its drawbacks, however. The picture quality takes a noticeable dip when in VR. While this makes sense from a technical standpoint, it is a little disappointing to see muddy textures and jagged aliasing whenever you get close to objects. You get used to the look after a few minutes, but it would have been nice to see what the world of Resident Evil 7 looks like in full HD
Resident Evil 7 is a triumph and sets a new standard for the series. Featuring some of the biggest scares in recent gaming, Resident Evil 7 doubles down on the horror that defined the series in its infancy, while also delivering a definitively familiar experience. The presentation is top-notch, with excellent environments, atmospheric lighting and some of the best sound design in modern games. Clocking in at around 10 hours, Resident Evil 7 never outstays its welcome and delivers a tight, personal horror experience.
+ Intense and terrifying atmosphere
+ Feels like a Resident Evil Game
+ Excellent sound design
+ The best case for VR yet
- Lack of enemy variety
- Generally simple puzzles