The Resident Evil series has never been afraid of change. After cementing the very foundations of the survival-horror genre, the franchise moved more toward third-person action gameplay in its fourth main series entry. Since then though, the games have stagnated, becoming more and more like other action games, and less like the survival-horror experiences that fans first fell in love with. Resident Evil 7: biohazard changes that, and it does so in a big way. Serving as a reboot of sorts, RE7 reshapes the series, while also taking it back to its roots. It was a huge gamble, but it paid off in some pretty big ways, putting the Resident Evil series back on top of the survival horror pack.
Resident Evil 7 feels very much like a reboot of the long running franchise. Its story, aside from occasional mentions of main series events, is completely standalone. Its setting, characters, and enemies are all new as well, though they definitely still have that RE vibe that was lost with everything from RE5 and onward.
The story evolves into something quite interesting, but its beginnings are very much a horror cliche. Ethan has been searching for his wife Mia ever since her disappearance a few years ago. He ends up travelling to the backwoods of Louisiana after a mysterious message shows up with Mia asking him to come save her. What he finds there is a house full of horror, with the murderous Baker family exhibiting some very interesting powers and abilities that they use to torture and kill anyone who stumbles onto their property.
The overall story of Resident Evil 7 works well in bringing the franchise back down to Earth. By the end of it the game does dabble in the series’ usual excess, which is a little unfortunate, but it never reaches the absurd levels we were seeing in the later entries. There’s some engaging mystery here though, and learning all about this new infection will keep players reading any bit of information they can. The only real problem with the plot is that you do feel a bit disconnected from it, with all new characters that aren’t fully established and never truly get fleshed out. By the end there are still a few holes that could have been filled, explaining how the characters ended up where they were at the beginning of the game.
In the gameplay department, Resident Evil 7 has learned a lot from its more contemporary survival-horror brethren. Capcom definitely set the standard for the genre back in 1996, but they’ve been out of the game for a while and some upstarts have revolutionized things in a number of ways. Luckily Capcom wasn’t shy about borrowing these elements. Amnesia, Alien: Isolation, and Outlast all come to mind with their tense first-person horror gameplay being definite inspirations for the changes seen here. Adding on a layer of tried-and-true Resident Evil flair creates easily one of the best horror experiences in years.
The game’s opening hours are easily its strongest, putting players into a suspenseful situation, and then mixing it up every once in a while just to keep them on their toes. You’ll first be exploring an old dilapidated house with spooky things happening all around, then you’re in a gauntlet, fighting desperately to survive, then you’re exploring a house again, with locked doors and hidden treasures. The game continues to reinvent itself every hour or two, keeping things fresh and engaging. Broken up into discrete sections like this throughout the game, Resident Evil 7 keeps players guessing what is coming up next, while still delivering the gameplay styles that they desire.
The biggest thing to say about Resident Evil 7 is that it is genuinely scary
The game works best in its most common areas, where players are doing less fighting and more creeping around a potentially dangerous location. Combat is frantic and fun when served up on rare occasions, but when it takes over as a main component of the game it gets a bit dull and frustrating, with enemies that can be bullet-sponges if not handled properly. The main enemy of the “Molded” just isn’t as interesting as the traditional zombies, or the intelligent Plaga from RE4. Combat isn’t the focus most of the time though, so it’s a problem that is avoided throughout the majority of Resident Evil 7’s runtime.
There are even puzzles again, with a couple areas of the game specifically dedicated to them. However, the majority of what RE7 seems to think are puzzles are actually just fetch quests. You do get into some brain benders in a few areas, but the puzzle history of this series is paid more lip service than anything. When the puzzles do kick in though, they are a real delight, especially if you’ve been a fan of the series since the beginning, so hopefully they add more in DLC or the eventual sequel.
With all that said, the biggest thing to say about Resident Evil 7 is that it is genuinely scary. It has been a long time since a game has been able to truly affect me to the point where I had to take a moment to collect myself, and Resident Evil 7 achieved that multiple times. And it didn’t do it in a cheap way either, sure there’s jump scares and plenty of gore, but the fear it generated was mostly of the psychological sort, putting me into a situation where I was simply terrified to open the next door, or turn the next corner. If you’re easily scared, you might actually want to play with the lights on, cause Resident Evil 7 delivers fear like few other games can.
It would already be a marvelous success with just this excellent gameplay, but RE7 goes further with stellar sound design and excellent graphics. No matter where you are, the music and sound effects make sure to always keep you on your toes, without resorting to just slamming metal noises or sudden rushes of music. Somber background tones mix with the sound of movement that implies your doom could come at any time.
Adding onto this is the fact that Resident Evil 7 is simply one of the best looking games out there. The environmental designs are disgustingly gorgeous, creating a realistic looking experience that will really impress graphics snobs of all sorts. It ran well on PC too, with plenty of options to get things running how you want, though there was a lip sync issue that might have only affected me, since I haven’t seen reports from other players. On consoles, you know what you’re getting cause you saw how good it looked in the demo.
The Resident Evil series was dying a slow, painful death before Resident Evil 7 came along. Now it’s back on top and delivering scares like few others can. RE7 is a true delight for survival-horror fans, offering up a fresh take on the series’ formulas, while still paying homage to what has come before. If you’ve been seeking some true horror gaming, look no further than Resident Evil 7.
Resident Evil 7
- Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PC
- Published By: Capcom
- Developed By: Capcom
- Genre: Survival-Horror
- US Release Date: January 24th, 2017
- Reviewed On: PC
- Quote: "A true return to form for the long running series, Resident Evil 7 reinvents itself while still retaining that classic RE feel. Delivering a real horror experience, the game can definitely scare, but it also just works as a fun and engaging survival experience."