Let me just start this off by saying that I am a longtime fan of Resident Evil and that there are not that many other videogame series that I hold as near and dear to my heart. Now with that being said, I cringed internally when they announced Resident Evil 7. I enjoyed Resident Evil 5 and I thought that Resident Evil 6 had some good moments, but these were not the kind of Resident Evil games that I loved and grew up with. I put up with Resident Evil 5 because even though it was more action-oriented, it was a hell of a cool novelty to be able to play a Resident Evil game couch co-op with a buddy. Resident Evil 6, on the other hand, was a horribly executed mish-mash of ideas; a veritable Frankenstein’s Monster of a game. It was enough to give me pause and make me think about how far the series had fallen. So naturally, when I heard about RE7 I thought “what could they possibly do to it this time.” The playable demo gave me hope, but my skepticism remained strong. After all, the demo for RE7 contained no combat whatsoever and that gave me some cause for concern. I love survival horror but I'm not a big fan of zero-combat scenarios: It gets a little boring when your only option is to run and hide. The tension that comes from the uncertainty of not knowing when to run and when to stand your ground and fight is what I enjoy most, along with a few good jump-scares, of course! Now that RE7’s launch has come and gone and I’ve beaten it a couple of times, let’s talk about how the latest entry in this legendary Capcom series stacks up!
I’ll only briefly touch the story. Even though I’m sure most of you have already played RE7 by now I wouldn’t want to give away any spoilers, just in case. The gist of the story is that a man named Ethan Winters receives a message from his wife Mia asking him to come to get her from a small town in Louisiana named Dulvey. Sure, nothing out of the ordinary, except for the fact that Mia was missing for three years and presumed dead. What’s that, you say? A bereaved man gets a surprise letter from his supposedly deceased wife asking him to come to a creepy, isolated place filled with horrific monsters and untold nightmares to see her again, and you think it sounds a lot like the premise of Silent Hill 2? Don’t be stupid, Silent Hill 2 has more fog. Moving on, then! So once Ethan gets there, he is promptly captured by the Bakers: an insane family of murderous hill-people with ill intentions. Alone and surrounded by evil, Ethan must find Mia and escape the plantation while avoiding the Bakers and all the other horrors that lurk in the darkness.
There are plenty of familiar gameplay elements in RE7 for series veterans. Magic storage containers to hold your stuff. A special bracelet on Ethan’s wrist shows his vital signs. You know the drill; green is supreme; yellow you better mellow; red you’ll soon be dead. Green herbs can recover health, but combining them with chemical fluid to make first aid medicine gives an even bigger boost to your health than a plain green herb would. Item crafting is also present here, but resources are scarce and since multiple recipes can use the same items you’ll need to manage your inventory wisely. Handgun bullets, first aid medicine, and different types of grenade launcher rounds are just a few examples of useful things Ethan can craft. When I played on easy mode I found myself not worrying too much about resources, by the end of the game I had a miniature arsenal at my disposal. The higher difficulties, however, had me thinking carefully about whether I wanted to use my precious chemical fluid on bullets, or lifesaving first aid medicine. Puzzles are back with a vengeance, as are other series staples such as door crests and themed keys. No more running and gunning from checkpoint to checkpoint. In the beginning, most of the doors of the plantation are locked so players will have to explore, find hidden paths, solve puzzles, and find the necessary keys in order to progress through the game. It won’t be a simple midnight stroll, however. Next up, combat! Because like they say: “you can’t make an omelette without breaking some heads”… or something like that. Whatever, next segment please!
The combat is not quite like any of RE7’s predecessors. For the first time in a main entry of the series, the game takes place entirely in a first-person view. Ammo is scarce, enemies don’t go down easily, aiming is purposefully not as precise as it would be in a standard FPS and most of the game is made up of confined spaces; so don’t expect a Call of Duty-like experience. One of the most underappreciated features in RE7 is the ability to block. Blocking the attack of an enemy doesn’t completely negate the damage received, but it does reduce it a decent amount. It is absolutely vital that you get used to blocking, or else you’ll be burning through your healing items in no time. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper Resident Evil game if you didn’t get have a knife of some kind at your disposal. The knife is still present, but it really is a last resort weapon, as it’s not very useful in combat. I mostly just used it to bust open crates to find items so I didn’t have to waste bullets. Using it against enemies on the higher difficulties almost always resulted in my grisly demise. There is also a minor stealth element in play here, although it isn’t that robust of a feature. At certain points of the game you’ll bump into one of the Bakers patrolling the premises, most of the time it’s the father, Jack. He can be put down, but not killed permanently. This is a waste of ammo though so it would be best for you to tread lightly. I found that hiding behind objects and in shadows didn’t help at all, he spots you too easily. The only way I found that I could consistently avoid him was to hide around hallway corners and behind closed doors. Luckily you can partially open doors to get a peek into the next room. The first time I bumped into Jack I was getting pretty aggravated because he kept catching me so quickly, but it got a lot better once I figured out the safest ways to avoid him.
The real S.T.A.R. of the show (heh heh) is the atmosphere. For the most part, the graphics are photorealistic and stunning. The colonial-era plantation house is a dark and foreboding place. Even with the flashlight on, some areas are so oppressive and stifling that you find yourself unconsciously moving forward at a slow, creeping pace. If the devil is in the details, then this must be hell because the environments that you explore are some of the most detailed that I have ever seen. From the dilapidated manor to the infested ruins of the shipwrecked tanker, Resident Evil 7 is a feast for the eyes. I find that being immersed in a first person view really helps bring out a sense of dread because you never know if something is coming up behind you until it is too late. My only complaint about the graphics is a minor one: there are a few instances of plastic-y looking textures, but it doesn’t happen very often. Another great way that RE7 cranks up the fear are through its clever use of ambient sounds. Floors creak, strange noises sound off from an unknown distance, doors open just a little too loudly. I find it all very unnerving when I am slowly making my way around an area, straining my ears to listen for sounds of something sneaking up on me in the dark when a sudden random noise causes me to jump out of my skin. It’s nice to feel a sense of tension again, especially after the bullet-fest that was Resident Evil 5&6.
So Resident Evil 7 has pretty much toned down the action and amped up the horror while changing up the standard viewpoints of the series in favor of a first-person one. The end result? Capcom has managed to pull off an abrupt about-face, successfully bringing the Resident Evil series right back to where it belongs: to the forefront of the survival horror genre. For me personally, I felt that the death and cancellation of the never-to-be Silent Hill game by the hands of Konami dealt an earth-shattering blow to survival horror games in general. The last couple of RE entries weren’t scary at all, so with Silent Hill doomed I felt in my heart that with two of the most important horror franchises defanged, the genre would eventually fall to the wayside and into obscurity. However, Resident Evil 7 has restored my faith in the series AND in Capcom, proving that the survival horror genre is still alive and screaming in the madhouse that Capcom built. Here’s to many more fights and frights in the foreseeable future.
Final Score: 10/10
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