As you skittishly peer around the corner in the main hallway of the Baker plantation and spy the towering form of “Immortal” Jack Baker slowly stalking its corridors, hefting a farming implement that could easily skew a boar all the while uttering insane taunts that make him sound like WWE’s Bray Wyatt, a feeling that isn’t usually associated with Resident Evil comes over you in waves; you feel utterly defenceless. More than that though, you feel scared; as in chills down the back of your neck scared. This is Resident Evil and it’s great to have it back.
A new take on Resident Evil
Resident Evil 7 is ostensibly a product of its time, this much is true. Shifting to a rigid first-person perspective, players are cast as everyman Ethan Winters who, after receiving a chilling message that his missing wife Mia can be found on a remote Louisiana plantation, eagerly sets off in search of her and unknowingly wades into a festering, conclave of horrors in the process. Certainly, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that the first twenty or so minutes of the game are more akin to something like Dear Esther rather than Resident Evil, as you spend your time leisurely navigating the outskirts of the plantation and generally having a little bit of a poke around the place without the threat of having your face torn into pork scratchings.
Something else that is immediately apparent, is the shift in tone. These early moments recall the early episodes of HBO’s True Detective first season, where the very land seems twisted and foreboding to reflect the corruption which lay at its heart. Equally, the various VHS tapes dotted around the game which provide additional narrative exposition, neatly tap into Resident Evil 7’s inspiration from "found footage" movies, such as The Blair Witch Project and more. Later on too, when the player engages with the inhabitants of the plantation, tonal nods to the likes of The Hills Have Eyes and even Ringu, also become distinctly and pleasantly apparent.
Nowhere though, are such inspirations more readily felt than in the Bakers themselves. A twisted family unit that evokes all the best stereotypes of monstrous families gone rogue, they are a massively terrifying bunch of whom both Jack and his wife Marguerite are the clear highlight, with both simply oozing horror and malfeasance in a way that no antagonist in a Resident Evil title has ever really managed to replicate.
Beyond the small screen, Resident Evil 7 also pulls influences from its immediate videogame peers. Once into the plantation buildings proper, Resident Evil 7 elicits parallels with genre notables such as Amnesia and Alien Isolation which in a roundabout fashion, makes this newest entry in the series feel much more like the very first Resident Evil than any of the other instalment in the series.
A big reason for this familiar feeling is that, for the first time in absolutely years, Resident Evil 7 recalls its survival horror roots but does so now with the added intensity that the shift to a first-person perspective invariably brings. Simply put, every corner, every doorway and every darkened corridor stands a high chance of harbouring some grim peril, and as such, this summons the sort of unsettling intensity that more titles of this ilk should strive to fashion.
Brilliantly, such peril expands far past where you might expect to as well. Early on for example, a certain pair of bosses channels the fearsome Nemesis from Resident Evil 3, as your foe smashes through doors and walls to get to you, leaving no place safe and respite a seldom luxury. This is where Resident Evil 7 absolutely soars; you never feel comfortable in the early going and it’s so very good to have that sensation back.
Another aspect of its design that makes Resident Evil 7 feel so fresh is the storyline and the locales in which it all unfolds. The parable of a remote southern family and a wayward civilian lost in their midst in an attempt to find his loved one is a much welcomed world away from the militarised, full-tilt and nuance-free entries that the series has arguably endured in recent years. Symptomatic of its more grounded and gritty setting, the violence also feels much more intense and akin something you might see in the Evil Dead remake, rather than overflowing with the often comical gore of the series most recent entries.
Likewise, no longer are you playing a hulking 250lb, steroid-stuffed commando who can suplex folk through walls or punch boulders into volcanos; instead, you are a regular Joe who finds himself thrust into a nightmarish situation where he must do anything and everything he can to survive. With that aura of invincibility that existed in previous games now gone, the dread that this game bleeds from every filthy digital pore feels terribly grounded as a result, and Resident Evil 7 feels all the more refreshing for it.
This is still Resident Evil through and through
Though the change in protagonist and shift to first-person both underscore the fact that Resident Evil 7 is the biggest change the franchise has witnessed since Resident Evil 4, there is no mistaking the fact that Capcom’s latest upholds its classic heritage. Crucially, this feels like survival horror again. The familiar act of combining herbs, creating ammo and more as you creep through the environments is one which proves essential to your survival and not since the PSOne era games has such micromanagement seemed so satisfying.
While Ethan Winters might not be a physics-defying killing machine in the vein of Chris Redfield, he can still give a decent account of himself simply because Capcom haven’t skimped on the selection of weapons in Resident Evil 7 in the slightest. Handguns, shotguns, machine guns, grenade launchers, flamethrowers and more all make a thunderous return, and those who have been concerned about the game’s more apparent leisurely pace need not worry; Resident Evil 7 has man on monster violence in spades.
With that in mind, the shift to a more intimate perspective has done nothing to wilt the feeling of satisfaction when you off an enemy with a particularly potent firearm. The palpable squelch of biological matter as a well-placed shotgun blast sprays what used to be a mutated head all over the walls is one that you never get tired of, and in doing so such gruesome results deftly recall the series more pleasing enemy encounters with aplomb.
Franchise stalwarts who fear that the change in perspective might be to detriment of the experience have no cause for concern; aiming still feels as reassuringly precise as it ever did. The feeling of lining up a picture perfect, laser guided headshot proves to be as remarkably satisfying now as it did back in 2005 with Resident Evil 4. Melee weapons also feature too, but for the most part, as in other Resident Evil games, they aren’t terribly effective or satisfying to employ in combat.
It’s just as well that Resident Evil 7 encourages such crack-shot behaviour too, because the gallery of foes that you’ll come up against are fiendish to say the least. The Molded in particular prove to be especially tricky foes; if you attempt to kite them too far from their original spawn point they simply teleport away, resetting any damage done and leaving you minus a bunch of ammo and health. Then there are the variants of them which are all threatening in their own right; the licker inspired version being especially troublesome as it does lots of damage with each attack and generally jumps about the place like a trapeze artist hopped up on crack.
The boss fights are a great deal of fun too it must be said. Starting with the hugely intense (and intimate) encounters that occur in the house, these require players to be mindful of their environment, interacting with various elements within it to overcome their foes. Meanwhile, boss scraps towards the end of the game, though still bombastic in the own right, definitely veer towards the more recent Resident Evil games penchant for epic confrontations where success can be found by blasting the clearly highlighted weak spots of your enemy with the biggest guns you can.
Elsewhere, a hallmark of the Resident Evil games of old that Resident Evil 7 heralds is the return of puzzles, though somewhat disappointingly, they tend to be of the extremely simplistic variety with many having straightforward solutions that are neither very taxing on the grey matter, nor have solutions that are geographically far away. Nonetheless, coming from the last three core entries where the most your brain got taxed was in how it told your fingers to move on the controller to kill stuff, I was happy to see them included all the same.
A weaker final act and lack of replayability
As the narrative progresses, Resident Evil 7 moves away from the tight scope of the plantation to something a lot more relatable to previous fans of the series; a change in locale that is also mirrored by the size of the threat which you must contend with later on. It’s disappointing because in its final third, Resident Evil 7 essentially segues into a first-person version of what we’ve already seen before in the series, rather than a continuation of the wonderful intense horror beats that the game accomplishes before that point.
It’s also true that lore fiends might find themselves slightly underserved by Resident Evil 7 when all is said and done. With the exception of the final battle and a very light smattering of nods to locations in Resident Evil lore, the uninitiated would be hard pushed to identify this latest entry in the franchise as a Resident Evil at all. Though considering the thickness of the Resident Evil continuity in recent times (not to mention the over-saturation of a certain arch-villain), such restraint proves to be invariably in Resident Evil 7’s favour.
Fans looking for an extensive set of game modes beyond the single-player campaign will be disappointed. You won’t be playing as a sentient piece of tofu or doing skill graded runs against hordes of enemies here, and while you get special weapons unlocked for a higher difficulty ‘madhouse’ playthrough, it still falls far short of the bevy of extra content that is every bit synonymous with Resident Evil as the survivor horror genre itself is. With a completion time of roughly between ten and fifteen hours then, and a small selection of collectible files and destroyable objects to be discovered, longevity for those who aren’t interested in repeated playthroughs will be a concern.
PSVR now has its ‘killer app’
Sorry Robinson: The Journey, you had a good run, but your time is up as PSVR’s most visually impressive and immersive title. Resident Evil 7 is simply just meant for PSVR and playing it with Sony’s shiny new headset bound around your noggin, infuses a whole extra layer to the experience that non-VR folk just won’t have.
An audiovisual cornucopia, Resident Evil 7 leverages PSVR to create a rivetingly unsettling experience; every encounter feels much more terrifying, every darkened corridor brings with it an extra level of fear and every battle feels much more intense than ever before, with feats of sound engineering making every footstep and errant sound feel more palpably bone-chilling than a regular sound system could ever achieve. To my shame, Resident Evil 7 also triggered that rookie VR tendency that I thought I had outlived; making me grasp at thin air during some of its more nerve-shredding moments, such is the efficacy of its immersive qualities.
Movement in VR has always been an issue but happily I can report that Capcom have come up with a wide range of control schemes to suit just about any player. While your head can be used gently turn your direction as you move, players can also choose between smooth movement where the pad is used to turn as usual, or, they can elect to adopt a ‘pie-chart’ system of movement where turning is achieved by a set number of degree switches. In either case, motion sickness was never an issue and both control schemes allow uncompromising player control throughout. In the end, it really is impossible to stress strongly enough just how much PSVR adds to the Resident Evil 7 experience and arguably, it is the very best way to experience the game.
In a series that has traditionally struggled to keep sight of its storied heritage while trying to imbue its design DNA with new aspects, Resident Evil 7 represents the final and successful sum of these efforts. By looking to the very first entry in the franchise and then building upon such foundations with a nod to its peers, both cinematic and immediate, Resident Evil 7 is quite unlike any other in the series.
Sure enough, a comparatively lacklustre final act and a lack of extra modes entail that it might not be as fondly remembered as the series landmark fourth core instalment, but even with that in mind, Resident Evil 7 is the best Capcom’s legendary survival horror series has been in a long, long time and that alone should be a cause for celebration.
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