The zombie: the iconic, unrelenting foot-soldier of the horror genre. A being whose mere presence forces us to confront the finality of our own being. A grim, deformed reminder that all things must come to an end, lest they rot in a nightmarish never world between life and death. Seems only fitting then that Capcom, much in the same way Shinji Mikami did with the mould-breaking Resident Evil 4, has decided to abort the familiar, shambling approach to “Resident Evil” games of late, and breathe new life into the latest entry in the otherwise dead series by resurrecting the thematic roots of the games of old. The zombie that was “Resident Evil” has been dispatched, making way for a new kind of creature, a familiar kind of fear, and a spectacular kind of video game: Resident Evil 7.
Resident Evil 7 biohazard: PlayStation 4, Xbox One [Reviewed], PC
Release Date: 24 January 2017
Price: £49.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Purchased by Reviewer]
We were all thinking it back when the Resident Evil: Beginning Hour made its post-PT debut: what a rip-off. With the wannabe Slenderman routine leaving a taste in fan’s mouths that could only be acquired through sampling the Baker families cooking, series die-hards were right to be sceptical about Resident Evil 7. Having played through the game, however, I can thankfully say that the horror on offer in RE7 is above and beyond the meagre attempts of ‘survival horror’ games of the past few years. The poultry offerings of shameless jump scares and animatronic animals don’t remotely stack up to Resident Evil 7’s infusion of the series classic tension and risk-versus-reward gunplay.
Negotiating the terror-filled interior of the Baker Estate was excruciating at times, with tremendous sound design and lighting effects conspiring with the impressive graphical offerings to deliver a sample platter of nightmarish experiences. Sure, the clear emphasis on a virtual-reality experience resulted in some rather trite jump scares, but beside the mundane invasions of personal space enacted ad nauseum by certain enemy types – and irritating cliché little girls – the fear factor within the harrowing halls of the Baker Estate is delightfully palpable and at the very least on par with some of the tenser moments offered by the likes of The Evil Within and PT, although Resident Evil 7 never quite reaches the petrifying peaks of its contemporaries.
That being said, the first few hours of Resident Evil 7 are simply the stuff of nightmares. The game succinctly channels the essence of the original Resident Evil game into a humbling mix of thematic allusion and loving nods and tips of the hat. Players seeking a nostalgic call-back to that fateful night trapped in the Spencer Estate will surely be pleased by Resident Evil 7’s design. Safe rooms, item management, examining, combining, and plenty of back-tracking result in a game that feels like more of a spiritual sequel to Resident Evil as opposed to a direct sequel to Resident Evil 6. In fact, RE7 manages to re-create the tension and horror that Resident Evil is so famous for, you’d be forgiven for thinking Capcom are going out of their way to try and forget all about the latter entries into the series.
This welcome return to the linear, claustrophobic tenets of the Resident Evil” series are much appreciated, and the game rides this success for a good 8-9 hours. Unfortunately, however, all good things must come to an end. The last 1-2 hours of the game seem hell-bent on undoing all of the hard work Resident Evil 7 achieves. Descending into what is basically a lightgun experience, the latter-most segment of the game subjects you to an endless stream of disposable, unremarkable combat experiences, with nought in the way of enemy variety or character. The ‘Moulded’ enemy types over-populate the final hours of the game, and the player is given a wealth of over-powered tools and weapons that result in you running-and-gunning your way through unimaginative and stale enemies, for little to no reason.
While the Moulded lack any personality or real challenge in one-on-one engagements, the crazy cast of characters that make up the Baker Family will challenge you in all sorts of ways. Taking vital design leads from classic villains in the Resident Evil franchise, Jack and Marguerite Baker are every bit as persistent, lethal and terrifying as Nemesis or Tyrant from previous Resident Evil games. The patriarch of the Baker household, Jack’s presence is profoundly pungent, with his constant derision and antagonising dialogue goading the player into a lethal game of cat-and-mouse throughout the Baker home. Boss fights with Jack are memorable, too, serving as opportunities to get back at him for his unrelenting pursuit of the player.
This connection between Jack and the player is constantly developing throughout the game, culminating in some memorable exchanges and instances of pure elation upon Jack’s apparent demise at various instances in the game. Similarly, Marguerite’s hysteria and straight-up vulgar boss battle is something to behold, albeit for all the ‘wrong’ reasons. Each member of the Baker family is more than just a walking, talking target board: they are real characters pushing the player to seemingly never-ending extremes. The hate and genuine want to hurt these enemies that you will amass as you battle your way through their pathological pursuit is further testament to Capcom’s earnest attempt to get back to the roots of Resident Evil, helping themselves to the series finer aspects without going ‘full copy Resident Evil 4’ mode, as was the case with the 5th and 6th entries in the series.
While the Baker family do their best to push you to breaking point and beyond, their antics won’t go unanswered for, as you bring the thunder in the form of gunplay. A responsible mix of Resident Evil’s deliberate, tactical combat and Resident Evil 4’s precision aiming, Resident Evil 7’s gunplay is always an intimate exchange between the player and their target. Timing is key to acquiring headshots, with most enemies steadily approaching the player, occasionally undulating to and fro in order to avoid your crosshairs. With an almost Darksouls-esque attitude to combat, Resident Evil 7 is a dual-sided dance, comprised of blocking and counter-attacking.
During your time in the Baker Estate, the combat will bring back fond memories of original Resident Evil encounters, where quick-turning and waiting for the perfect opportunity to pull off headshots were axiomatic aspects of the early games. Unfortunately, this patient, tension-building attitude to combat is completely unfastened in later sections of the game, where a steady supply of machine gun bullets and shambling sideshow freaks keep the ‘action’ at an alarmingly constant rate. The ensuing desensitisation to enemy encounters, mixed with the overwhelming Resident Evil 6 array of firearms all-but guarantees a lacklustre, light gun experience compared to the perfectly paced combat of the beginning hours of Resident Evil 7.
In keeping with the design inspirations that have led to Resident Evil 7, puzzle gameplay and backtracking are quintessential to the game. Puzzles are relatively simple affairs, with genuinely head-scratching puzzles being virtually non-existent. Although the Resident Evil series has never been one for the kind of puzzles that would make Sherlock sweat, it would have been nice to at least be tested every now and then. Similarly, backtracking is just as important in Resident Evil 7 as it was in Resident Evil, with enough in the way of collectables and hidden items scattered throughout the various locations in the game ensuring your jolly jaunts with Jack are always worth the risk. Later sections of the game are rather linear, however, so feel less like Resident Evil games of old and unfortunately too similar to modern Resident Evil titles, where action overtakes atmosphere, thereby betraying what makes any great Resident Evil game great.
Speaking of what made the original Resident Evil games great, the lack of post-game content is worrying. In a bygone age, completing a series game unlocked all manner of silly game modes, from the classic ‘Mercenaries’ mode to the outrageous ‘Tofu Survivor’ mode. At the current price of 50 pounds on Xbox marketplace, the lack of content is so disappointing, considering just how promising this title is. Furthermore, the threat of traditionally free post-game content being sold to players in the way of DLC is something that I for one will be taking rather seriously in the coming months.
If this game were £20 cheaper, the internet would be ablaze with consumer praise, but at the current price point, many gamers might avoid Resident Evil 7 entirely, what with a certain Zelda title on the not-too-distant horizon, as well as a certain Mass Effect sequel on the way too. For what is an 11-14 hour experience, the asking price is almost shocking, and will certainly force players who aren’t die-hard fans of the series to re-evaluate their purchase.
With the economics and speculation out of the way, what are we left with? A new beginning for a beloved franchise? Maybe? A relapse into the familiar? Possibly. Resident Evil 7 runs the gauntlet on both ends of the spectrum: bringing back memories of series greats and gaffs alike. Definitely worth playing, Resident Evil 7’s only true crime is being too Resident Evil, dipping into the best bits from RE1 and RE4, while also begrudgingly reminding fans of some lesser titles in the franchise’s history. As a fan, Capcom has earned your attention with this revival effort, and as a newcomer, Resident Evil 7 might just be the perfect way into the series, with its conglomeration of classic and cliché components from the entirety of the brand. Either way, enjoy your time in the Baker Estate… and welcome to the family, son!