When Resident Evil 7 was first shown at E3 2016 fans were quick to judge it as a PT or modern survival horror clone—one that focuses more on running and hiding. Thankfully it didn’t succumb to that. If anything, Resident Evil 7 is more traditional to survival horror games than any recent entry into the genre.
Resident Evil 7 puts you in the shoes of Ethan who’s received a message from his girlfriend he thought was dead. The message was traced to an old abandoned house in the Mississippi that belong The Bakers. As you’d expect, the house isn’t exactly welcoming, The Bakers on the other hand want you to become part of the family—it’s weird. I won’t ruin much, so I’ll just say the plot manages to hit the right notes with plenty of unexpected winks and nods to the previous RE games. One thing I will have to say though, is that Resident Evil 7 lacks the campiness of its predecessor. Anyone who has played Resident Evil 4 and loved it for its offbeat humor and somewhat iconic characters will feel put off by the more serious and at times cringey characters (I’m looking at you Mia).
Resident Evil 1 established the so-called term “survival horror” all the way back in 1996. We got to learn item management, puzzles, dealing with monsters, and boss fights that left a lasting impression for years to come. Resident Evil 7 follows that gameplay formula to the letter. Rather than following a linear path, players must explore and survive their surroundings. Puzzles, traps, and various creatures lurk about as you fight your way—it’s a genuine feeling of being trapped in a hostile environment and wanting to get out. This is, at least in my humble opinion, the true definition of survival horror.
Elements such as the save room and item box also make a triumphant return. Players will have to manage weapons and items around which leads to a lot of backtracking to item bxoes. Even then backtracking lends its own challenge as certain rooms get updated with enemies or have to deal with a member of the Baker looking to kill you.
In terms of atmosphere Resident Evil 7 nails it. Everything from a crusted old house, to the garden overrun with insects constantly put your mind in uneasy state. I was unfortunately unable to test the game in VR though I’d imagine it would add more to that. One particular section in the game tasked me with going down to the basement which felt like an eternity as I had to deal with hordes of enemies and figuring out which door leads to where. As I left the basement I looked back in respite realizing that I just might make it out of here alive.
The most controversial change here however is the shift to first person mode. Now some might think this has to do with it being a VR game but it more has to do with the environment. Exploring a house in third person means there needs to be enough room for the character and environment to be on screen, which could lead to wider more spacious house with narrow hallways. I for one think this added more tension and as you have less space to run and hide. Furthermore it makes jump scares (despite their cheesiness) feel more impactful. There was some serious moments where I freaked out when looking around the corner and seeing a random creature pop its head out.
Combat also plays a big part in Resident Evil 7. The beginning hours may not seem so much but as you slowly go deeper into the narrative more foes means more ammo and weapons. There is quite a variety here with long time favorites shotgun, magnum, flamethrower, and of course the grenade launcher. This of course means healing yourself and yes the iconic health/heart beat monitor returns. You can craft medicine from herbs using chemicals now (bye bye red herbs) which can be used to create better medicine or better ammo. Enemies are kind of a mixed bag, I don’t want to ruin anything but I was hoping to see a return of more iconic ones. Boss fights on the other hand are pretty intense, each one with its own twist.
The main campaign can be beaten in around 9 hours (which is the typical length of a Resident Evil game). But even after it’s over, the game’s pacing and narrative is so good that I didn’t mind starting again with a New Game+. Furthermore an extra free DLC episode is expected to come in the future which expands the narrative of one its characters.
Even if you’re not a fan of the series, Resident Evil 7 is still a great entry for newcomers. In the Bakers residence you will experience tensions and atmosphere that I honestly missed. Today’s horror games rely so much on running, hiding with some cheap jump scares thrown in. Granted most of these are indie games with limited budget so it’s good to see an AAA studio pour real cash into a project that has lots of potential. Resident Evil 7 really blew my expectations and reminded us of the golden age of survival horror.