It’s clear that the developers behind the devilishly frightening Resident Evil 7: Biohazard had two things in mind while making the game: They wanted to scare the crap out of people, and they wanted to bring the long-running franchise back to its roots.
As a long time fan of the series (I owned the first game on my Playstation as a ten-year-old child, and played it more than any other game I owned for the system.) I couldn’t be happier that 7 feels so much like the first handful of titles. As a fan of good video games, I’m also happy to report that Resident Evil 7 never feels bogged down by a desire to emulate the games that kicked off the franchise. It manages to feel fresh and new at the same time as it floods you with terrifying nostalgia, and it even manages to set itself apart from the current crop of horror games.
While I always tend to keep my reviews as spoiler-free as possible, let me go ahead and tell you one thing: There is no creepy voice saying Resident Evil Seven! anywhere in this game. Not on the menu screen, and not even at the end of the game, where they flash the title once more upon the screen after the final cutscene plays out. I felt for sure it was coming, and it never did. It’s a crushing little thing that won’t matter to most people but for diehard fans of the series, it’s a bummer. I’ll understand if any of you super fans decide to pass on the game for this glaring oversight.
Actually, scratch that. I was just kidding earlier (well, there really is no creepy voice). To put it simply, Resident Evil 7 is a game you need to play. I’d be willing to bet all of the antique coins (RE7 inside joke in the house!) I have that we will be hearing about this game when it comes time for game of the year talk in December. It’s a masterpiece of horror gaming, and Capcom should feel good for finally getting the main series back on track. (It could be argued the Revelations games have already done this.)
That’s not to say RE7 is without faults. The largest issue I had with the game is the main character himself. Ethan is a normal guy thrust into an extraordinary circumstance, and he seems to be mostly okay with it. Sure, there are times when he mentions something as being strange, but for the most part, he seems like he spends most of his weekends in creepy murder houses being chased by cannibalistic hicks and gooey monsters. Early in the game he suffers a rather large injury. Someone crudely patches him up and never once does he speak of it again, or even wonder how exactly such a devastating injury is relatively healed just hours later. Now, the game does have an explanation for this, though it’s rather ambiguous, but it just seems strange that once any of the fantastically horrific things that happen to Ethen pass, he doesn’t ever seem to think of them again. He’s too busy making quips and one-liners (“Groovy,” he says when he picks up a chainsaw, a moment so cheesy you can almost see him winking at the camera despite it being a first person game.) He’s a light, inconsequential character in a heavy and dark game, and he never fully meshes with the story that’s being told.
Which is a shame, because the story can easily be counted among the best of the series. It’s fascinating and just twisty-turny enough to keep you guessing until the end. A late game section that takes place on a crashed ship in the bayou handles the heavy lifting when it comes to the narrative, but bits and pieces of the story are doled out through notes and files, like any good Resident Evil game. There’s also hints and nods to the shared Resident Evil universe that fans will appreciate (hello picture of the Arklay Mountains!) but playing the other games in the series is not a must to understand the story.
The other small complaint I had with the game is that Jack Baker, the first member of the aforementioned cannibalistic hicks to give you problems is by far the best of the bunch. He’s funny and scary and unrelenting, and while he thankfully pops up throughout the game, his wife and his son can’t hold a candle to him when it’s their turn to try to kill you. The wife’s boss fight, in particular, is the worst of the bunch, needlessly difficult simply because she soaks up so much ammunition, which is a pain in the butt when ammunition is so scarce. I literally stood in one spot during my fight with her dumping everything I had into her when she showed up. I ran out of ammo, went for a quick run to check my surroundings for more, stocked up, and then returned to my spot against the wall. In a game where all of Jack’s multiple boss fights are tense and varied, it’s a shame to beat his wife by standing still. It’s even more disappointing because she’s genuinely frightening looking, and a better-designed battle could have elevated a bloated middle section that doesn’t seem to ever click into place like the early and late sections of the game do.
With that said, It’s a testament to how much damn fun the game is that the problems it does have can’t manage to keep it from being an instant classic. And trust me, that’s what Resident Evil 7 is. It’s one of those games that will be remembered for years to come, and the new benchmark for the series, the same way 4 revived a tired concept, so too does RE7. We can only hope Capcom does a better job of sustaining the wave they’ve manufactured for themselves here. I can see many first-person survival horror Resident Evil’s coming, and I hope that’s what we get here.
The game does so much well, and so much right, that it would be hard to fit it all in one review. The first thing you’ll notice is the graphics. I don’t know if I’ve seen a better-looking game on the Xbox One. It’s simply gorgeous, save one character’s long black hair, which seems to shimmer and dance even when she’s standing still. It’s a bit distracting, but long hair has never been done well in a game in my opinion, so it’s forgivable. As great as the characters look otherwise, with expressive faces and real emotion int he eyes, it’s the setting which really stands out here.
The Baker home is a derelict, dirty, and rotting mansion and every inch of it has been made so with care. There are halls covered in mold, floorboard ripped up, holes beat into walls, but you can also see a sign of the once normal lives lived here. I won’t go into more for fear of spoilers, but it tugs on your emotions a bit as you walk by a collection of trophies and awards, surely beloved once, but now playing second fiddle to the madness that dwells in the house.
The graphics are simply stunning, but the sound works to make the whole package a slog (but a fun one!) through Hell. Playing RE7 with headphones is the only way to go, but it was so intense doing so that I almost ripped them from my head more than once. There’s creaking floorboards and slamming doors and the constant taunting from the Baker family as they hunt you down. The music is sparse and effective in the game, a haunting melody that signifies a safe room is creepy yet comforting.
Zombies seem to be gone from Resident Evil forever, and while that still upsets me as a long time fan, the new enemies in this game are great replacements. They’re called the molded, and they’re apt to spawn from large splotches of black mold on the floor, walls, and sometimes ceiling. Of course, they’re just as likely not to spawn, leaving every step past a glistening black mound a tense and terrifying one. The molded are tall and angular, their bodies black and wet, their fingers terminating in long bony claws. Their mouths are filled with needle-like teeth, and though they often shamble slowly towards you like zombies, they can move with surprising speed, closing any gaps quickly and sweeping at you with their claws. There are also different forms of molded, including small, quicker little beasts which scuttle about on their hands and feet and reminded me a lot of lickers from Resident Evil 2.
The game does a great job of bringing back what made Resident Evil special in the first place. As a fan of the early games in the series, it was a burst of nostalgia the first time I had to choose to run past an enemy because my ammunition was running low. That’s simply not a problem the last few games in the series have had. An interesting twist on the limited ammo and health is the fact that you can make your own in RE7. The twist comes from the fact that you need to mix gunpowder or green herbs with chem fluid to make either ammo or health. That’s right, you may have gun powder and a green herb and be stuck in the basement with molded pounding on the door to get to you (no, they can’t open the door like The Bakers can, but you’re going to have to go out there eventually!) forcing you to choose. Do you make the bullets and put the enemy down? Or do you make the health and try to run by the killer mold monster?
Whether from my own ideas based on the trailers, or misinformation from the game’s makers, I expected Resident Evil 7 to be more stealthy than it is. Sure, there are times when you’re on the run from one of the Bakers, but to be honest, if you’re expecting something like Alien Isolation with lots of places to tuck into and hide away, you’re going to be disappointed. The sections where you’re being hunted are much less hide until you slip by and much more run as fast as you can, but it works for the game. You won’t spend much time crouched behind a table or couch, but you will spend a lot of time walking through the narrow halls of the Baker home, hoping against hope that Jack doesn’t come smashing through a wall in front of you, intent on taking you out for good.
The game is short for a lot of games these days. I finished my first playthrough on normal in a little over ten hours. it says something though that I immediately wanted to start another run through, this time in an attempt to beat the game in under four(!) hours so I could unlock a few goodies that I think will help me in a madhouse difficulty run through. Already there are people beating the game in under two hours, so if speedrunning is your thing (and for a lot of Evil fans, it is) then RE7 will be right up your alley. For those of us who prefer to enjoy a story and atmosphere, the game is still worth replaying. It’s expertly crafted and the story is engaging but obtuse enough that another playthrough may help you wrap your head around everything. For those of us who like collectibles, there’s plenty of that as well. There’re bobbleheads to be broken throughout the game, and coins to collect. Those coins can be used in game, unlocking various perks, like more health or a powerful handgun.
Resident Evil 7 is an impressive game that will deserve the Game of the Year consideration it will surely receive in twelve months time. Fans will come back to the game again and again, and a boring protagonist who sometimes seems to be sleeping through the fantastic circumstances he’s finding himself in can’t keep the game from being a 10 out of 10.
The graphics and sound are some of the best around
The molded are great additions to the franchise
The story is one of the best narratives in the franchise and can be enjoyed by non-fans
Jack makes the other bosses look bad
Ethan is a boring protagonist who doesn’t live up to some of the other franchise characters which have become fan favorites