After Resident Evil 6 and the online tactical shooter Umbrella Corp, it was clear longtime fans, myself included, have nothing more to look forward to from the franchise. So when I heard Capcom is working on Resident Evil 7, I wasn’t all that excited. Then I saw the first trailers and gameplay footage, and my indifference slowly turned into cautious optimism. Today, after I’ve played through the entire game, I feel just as I did when I first played the original Resident Evil – scared out of my mind and excited the tell the world about it.
Resident Evil 7 isn’t a reboot, though it’s an easy mistake to make given how different it looks. The game takes place after the events of Resident Evil 6, in the year 2017, and follows Ethan Winters whose wife Mia has been missing for 3 years. When he receives a mysterious message from her, Ethan drives out to a run-down plantation house in the fictional city of Dulvey, Louisiana. In this sprawling house and the land around it, Ethan will face the Baker family, a group of really unpleasant individuals, solve puzzles, and try to get himself and his wife out alive. That’s pretty much all there is to it. Sure, there is an actual story arch throughout the game, and the characters you meet do all fit into that narrative, but aside from a twist near the end that caught me off guard, there really any substance to the plot. However, the game more than makes up for it with its gameplay.
As a horror fan, I find it really encouraging to see a veteran horror franchise like Resident Evil returning to its survival horror roots. Resident Evil 7 will actually scare you, and it won’t pull any punches when it comes to taking you out of your comfort zone. First there’s the transition to a first-person point of view, which immediately makes you think about other great horror games in recent history, like Outlast and Amnesia: the Dark Descent. This new perspective forces you to experience all of Ethan’s nasty ordeals up close and personal, and does wonders to the immersion. You’ll witness and do some disturbing things during the game, and without the privilege of looking away. However, it’s not only the game’s themes that provoke the feel of a classic survival horror title – the gameplay itself has changed dramatically to focus more on horror and less in action.
This being a Resident Evil game, you actually do have means to defend yourself. You first start with a simple axe, but soon you move up to pistols, shotguns, SMGs, flamethrowers and other weapons iconic to the franchise. While you have many weapons at your disposal, unless you learn how to conserve ammo and health items, you’ll run out of both pretty quickly. Ammo can be very scarce, and gunplay can become very punishing for a reckless player. Still, even with an inventory full of ammo, the game will make you terrified of taking the next step forward, especially if that step takes you around a tight corner, as the enemies you face in the claustrophobic rooms and corridors are truly the stuff of nightmares.
These enemies are a very painful reminders of how weak Ethan is, since most of them can kill you with just a few hits and swipes. Luckily, while they first appear to be tough bullet sponges that can deplete most of your ammo in a single encounter, a lot of them have weak spots that make them easier to deal with. When you hit a weak spot, the enemy will stagger, allowing you fill them with more bullets to finish them off or turn tail and run (no fancy kicks and wrestling moves here). Unfortunately for you and Ethan, enemies don’t tend to stay dead in RE7 and will usually get back up after a few minutes, stronger and much more relentless.
That means that for the first time in ages, running away is a viable option in the Resident Evil game. More often than not, it is the best option you have, mostly because you need to collect yourself and come up with a better strategy, but also because combat and movement feel a little stiff. At least too stiff for the frantic fights for your life you find yourself in. It’s especially true in the beginning, before you get used to the wobbly aiming and learn how to read your enemies better. However, that soon changes once you get a few kills under your belt. Still, running is always a good option.
No matter how much things have changed, RE7 still feels like a Resident Evil game. There are puzzles to solve, ammo and health items to craft, and an inventory to constantly manage. One feature we haven’t seen in awhile is Save Rooms – a safe haven where you can save your progress, store items for later use, and even upgrade Ethan’s health or weapon proficiency. The puzzles themselves feel like some of the original Resident Evil puzzles, as they require a degree of critical thinking, note reading, and environment awareness.There are a few new puzzles that can get you stumped if you don’t know what you’re doing, though in general there aren’t any truly difficult ones.
The gameplay, alongside the bleak and dark environments work together to create one of the most frightening atmospheres I’ve experienced in a video game in a long time. Even when you’re just exploring and nothing is happening, you feel like something is going to jump at you from the shadows at any moment. You can contribute that to the amazing soundtrack and sound design, which will both never allow you to feel safe for a second. The sound design especially is perfect, with faint footsteps, creaky wooden floorboards and other creepy sounds that make you feel like there’s always someone behind you. To be honest, maybe it’s because a lot of the times there is someone behind you.
The detailed environments and character models also pull their weight in making sure you’re never at ease. I especially love how the game uses gore in right ways so it’s always shocking and never feels overused, which is quite a feat considering how disgusting the enemy design can be at times. The level of detail in a lot of the environments sucks you right into the creepy old mansion you’re exploring, and the character models move from quite realistic to terrifyingly grotesque, sometimes in the blink of an eye. It’s just so great.
Resident Evil 7 is one of the best horror games I’ve played in quite some time, and definitely the best Resident Evil game since maybe Resident Evil 4. It’s obvious Capcom was trying to go back to the franchise’s roots, while still trying something new, and it works. The story could be better, but some cheesiness is expected. Although I certainly feel like this game might alienate fans of the recent, more action-packed games in the series where Chris Redfield punches boulders to death, I do believe this is a step in the right direction – one that I hope Capcom will continue to go in. Resident Evil 7 is a huge “welcome home” sign for fans of survival horror, and an important member of the RE family.
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