For years now, despite remaining popular over its long existence, calls for the Resident Evil series have been made endlessly to freshen things up. Especially after the series have strayed far away from its Survival Horror roots. Perhaps the Revelations series has been the closest to a genuine horror experience that we’ve had from the veteran franchise in most recent times, but arguably they never quite captured that true essence of old. Now while the most recent entry; Resident Evil 7 has controversially taken a new, perhaps more drastic direction, there’s no question that this latest instalment is a fine horror experience. Whether Resident Evil 7 has strayed too far away from its roots, well, let’s discuss that.
Resident Evil 7 follows the tale of a new protagonist by the name of Ethan Winters. Taking much inspiration from the likes of the early (and best) Silent Hill entries, unlike your combat hardened Chris and Rebecca Redfield, Leon S. Kennedy and Jill Valentine, Ethan is a normal every day man with no trained combat skills. Yet, three years ago Ethan’s wife, Mia, went missing and is now feared dead. However, after receiving a mysterious video from his wife, Ethan sets on course to search for Mia, who leads him to a derelict plantation in the middle of the wilderness, the home of the Baker family. Quite frankly, the Bakers are a family that would put the residents that populate the movie universe of The Hills Have Eyes to shame.
It quickly becomes apparent that Ethan’s wife and the compound that she is believe to be held prisoner, is far, far from what it seems. The Baker family seemingly fronted by the man of the house Jack Baker are some of the most sinister character creations that I have ever encountered and have a sense of realism about them (Resident Evil theatrics aside). Taking inspiration from recent horror gaming cults such as Amnesia, Slender Man, Outlast and Alien: Isolation, Jack Baker especially will make you feel powerless and terrified as he stalks, taunts and brutalises you relentlessly. However, that sense of fear can be removed somewhat when you discover that you will almost become invisible to Jack if stood halfway through the doorway of your save room. Xenomorph, Mr Baker is not.
Dodgy doorway A.I antics aside, Jack is an absolute monster and will go down as one of the most memorable horror characters to date in the world of videogames. But Jack of course is not alone, without giving anything away; he is joined by Lucas and Marguerite Baker. Both of which in their own way are equally disturbing, especially as the story progresses. However, the granny in the wheelchair, officially known as Aunt Rhody, is just downright terrifying and her humming alone will have the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
One of (if not) the most controversial changes made to Resident Evil 7, was the decision to move away from the 3rd person over-the-shoulder camera perspective, to the up-close and personal 1st person perspective. Whether you’re on board with the new camera perspective, is all down to person preference. Being a big fan of the series, I was one of those that was calling for the series to have a freshen up and originally this is not what I had in mind, but for the experience that Resident Evil 7 offers, playing the game in 1st person is a natural fit. I just can’t imagine games like Alien: Isolation being nowhere near as terrifying if the wasn’t played in first person, and I believe Resident 7 is no exception. It just makes the experience all that more, personal.
While this instalment feels less like a Resident Evil game than any other at quick glance, it does retain some traits and nods to games of old. I can’t give too much away for spoiler reasons, but enemies such as the Molded will draw comparisons to the Regenerator from Resident Evil 4. There are also same name drops in documents found throughout the compound; likewise there are objects such as puzzle items, map and mansion layout, symbolic keys opening certain doors and even subtle sound effects that will have your nostalgia senses tingling with excitement. Not to mention that we still have our ye-olde faithful health herbs and a fair share of puzzle solving, an inventory/resource management. Oh, and some of the boss encounters, are simply grotesquely awesome, it’s fantastic.
Resident Evil 7 also has a good crafting system, which very much reminds of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. Depending on what items you have in your possession, you can craft various pieces of ammo, health boosts and more. You can also level-up for permanent health, stabilise your aiming and even repair certain weapons and items, just as long as you have a repair kit. With a game that could have you dying a fair amount of times, Resident Evil 7 does have a reasonable auto-save system, but just to back you up furthermore, you can manual save via a cassette player, which comes in place of the old school typewriter, another nod towards games of old. So on the surface, Resident Evil 7 may look a little alien, but there are more nods to previous games then you might think.
However, no matter how good a game might play, for it to have a true sense of immersion, your experience will also have to look and sound the part, and Resident Evil 7 does that in abundance. From the run-down derelict mansion, the grungy interior, skin-crawling creepy crawlies to the fantastic enemy design, Resident Evil 7 is one of the best looking games you’ll play in this generation, in its sickening way of course. A big reason as to why Resident Evil 7 looks so good is largely down to the use of the in-house RE Engine, custom built by team Capcom with many of its assets created by the use of photogrammetry, giving the world that added sense of realism.
Likewise, Resident Evil 7’s audio is damn near perfection. The sounds coming from some of the enemies are enough to have even the most thick-skinned of folk put on edge. But for me, arguably the best use of its audio, comes in the form of everyday creaks, scuffling of floorboards, the sound of the cold wind gently easing through a narrowly opened window, to Jack Bakers “little piggy” taunts and an equally compelling soundtrack. Resident Evil 7 has some of the best and clever use of sound design that I’ve encountered in recent times, putting it up there, in my opinion with the likes of Alien: Isolation within the horror genre.
Also, if you’re playing on PS4, then you have the option of playing the entirety of Resident Evil 7’s campaign from start to finish using the PSVR. Gameplay-wise, if you choose to play using the PSVR, the game itself will remain identical; just expect your stress levels to increase tenfold! Just be warned though, that as you’ll be moving in-game as freely as when you’re not using PSVR, you may experience some nausea; however that can differ from person to person. But if you do own a PSVR or considering picking one up, then Resident Evil 7 is certainly a game that should at least be experienced in some form with Sony’s residential VR headset.
Other then gameplay perspective tastes, perhaps one of the biggest concerns for some would be Resident Evil 7’s campaign length, especially with some notable speed-runs. Which for the record, Capcom actually encourage speed-runs with an Achievement/Trophy for beating the game in less than 4 hours (though I’d only consider that when you’re done with uncovering all the games secrets and difficulty settings). And to be fair, the series has always encourage speed-runs since the very beginning with its end of campaign grading system and unlockables.
But let me put you at ease, by saying if you play this game at a natural pace, exploring for its many secrets and taking on the puzzles on offer, you would easily get a ten hour 1st playthrough. Obviously that completion time will decrease once you start your next set of completions, but the same can be said for just about any game. With all the secrets to discover, upgrades, difficulty settings and more, Resident Evil 7 has plenty of bang for your buck, as long as you’re willing to spend some quality time with the Bakers.
Depending on where you purchased Resident Evil 7 from, some pre-order DLC was offering to instantly unlock Madhouse mode, which by the way you can also automatically unlock when you complete the game. What Madhouse mode does other then ramping up the difficulty by a considerable amount, but it also quite literally mixes up things. What I mean by this is that items will no longer be where you found them during your Easy/Normal playthrough. Resources will also be very scarce, making every bullet or herb counting that ever bit more. Enemies will also spawn in different locations, which include some added surprises. What I love about this mode in particular, is that not only will auto-saves be few and far between, but in order to save your game, you’ll have to do so by collecting and uses tape cassettes to manually save. Just like it used to be in Resident Evil games of old with the type-writer and ink ribbons. It’s a little cliché saying that this game is meant to be played on this difficultly, but it really does make me feel that way. Just prepare to cry…a lot.
In conclusion, Resident Evil 7 may in many respects, feel like the least “Resident Evil” game to date, but considering your personal preference, that can be either a good or bad thing. However, there’s very little to doubt that Resident Evil 7 is a damn fine and hellacious horror experience and will go down as one of the greatest horror experiences in recent times and despite carrying the number 7, this could be the very rebirth that the series has longed for. Whether you’re a Resident Evil fan or not, or just perhaps a fan of horror, the Resident Evil 7 needs to be in your collection. Now we twiddle our thumbs in anticipation for that Resident Evil 2 remake and finally; “Welcome to the family son!”
+ The Baker family are truly terrifying
+ Gripping story
+ 1st Person viewpoint feels natural
+ Looks beautiful
+ Terrific use of sound design
+ Madhouse mode is epically awesome
- At times questionable A.I can be easily exploited