One of gaming’s longest running and most elastic franchises is back with a sequel that shares very little in common with its predecessors without straying too far from the series’ roots. I won’t bury the lead – Resident Evil 7 is a very good, and exceedingly scary survival horror game. With it, Capcom has successfully reinvigorated its 21-year-old survival horror franchise with an entry that paves its own way while cleverly borrowing from the latest wave of first-person haunted house games made popular, in part, by Hideo Kojima’s woefully short-lived experiment, P.T..
As thrilled as I am for Visage and Allison Road, I can’t think of a better way to pay tribute to Silent Hills than by injecting that surreal experiment in psychological terror into a series that’s become increasingly shallow over the years. I’ve been making my way through the last three games in the main series as preparation — I even begrudgingly spent some time with Resident Evil 6 — and it’s not a stretch to say this game feels as if it had been crafted with the purpose of being entirely different in every conceivable way.
That was a risky move, but it’s one that seems to have paid off.
Resident Evil 7 might not have the same wide appeal as its immediate predecessors, and I expect much of that has to do with just how very, very different it is. As far as reboots go, this one wipes the slate clean in a way that respectfully eschews the traditional look and design of everything that came before it in favor of something original, thoroughly challenging and often legitimately frightening.
One of the better ideas that are on display here is a total absence of hand-holding. This is a problem that’s plagued every “modern” Resident Evil, with their shared love for annoying tutorials and bosses equipped with ugly glowing weak points, and I am relieved to see it used so well here.
well as its renewed focus on conserving items and brilliantly implemented scare tactics.
Longtime fans of the series should be able too appreciate the many subtle nods to past entries, particularly in regards to its design. This is a game that rewards you for scouring every inch of the gorgeous environments with hidden collectibles, rarities like weapon repair kits — the weapons don’t degrade; these are used for unlocking better weapons — and more of the precious rare resources like ammunition. The thoughtful puzzles are back in a big way, and they’re joined by a few familiar mechanics, such as the manual save system and item stash.
It’s fitting that the series that first coined the term ‘survival horror’ would also be the one to modernize it for a new audience. To my surprise, Resident Evil 7 even managed to make one of its more irritatingly consistent flaws – boss fights – downright fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, this series has delivered some epic and wildly entertaining boss encounters over the years, but they’ve often been weighed down by a tired and too traditional approach to their design — evade, fire at the glowing orange spot, repeat until the boss plays dead or runs away, etc.
I won’t get into specifics, other than to confirm that the latest installment doesn’t shy away from this habitual recycling of ugly faces. I didn’t feel the urge to stomp away from my controller when a boss I was sure I had killed in an earlier chapter re-introduced themselves, because each encounter played out differently from the last, and the general design was just so satisfying.
Even the relatively sparse cast of lesser enemies can hold their own. The “Molded” is an umbrella term – ha! – for the most common creatures you’ll encounter throughout the campaign. To my horror, they both look and move in a manner that’s eerily similar to the Regenerators from Resident Evil 4, or the Ooze from Revelations. They also come in a variety of flavors, to keep things interesting.
As frightening as it was to find myself standing before a seven-foot mass of pulsating gray flesh that had been patiently waiting on the other side of a door so it could pull my head into the mouth-like hole in its face as soon as I removed the barrier between me and it, those moments weren’t that much scarier than any other encounter. I soon realized I could have a comfortable twenty paces between Ethan and his unsuspecting foe, and no edge I had would matter until I had mastered the more bare-bones combat system.
The less complicated mechanics put an emphasis on coming up with a strategy in order to survive each encounter. Firing blindly in the general direction of an incoming baddie is only good for wasting ammunition, and it really doesn’t work when the fleshy abomination is waddling about as unpredictably as they often do. This game rewards patience and a steady aim — otherwise known to me as the first two things I lose when a horrific nightmare creature is hungrily creeping toward me — so I recommend you save yourself some frustrating ‘Game Over’ screens by getting comfortable with the nifty block ability a priority.
The relatively sparse array of weapons to choose from is a welcome departure for Resident Evil 7, as it makes besting the vast majority of the enemies that lurk about the Baker family’s unnerving plantation estate more challenging, and by extension, more rewarding. The pistol and shotgun you’ll find can be upgraded by spending the rusty old coins you’ll find scattered on better versions, which again puts the emphasis on exploring each environment.
And since there’s no beautiful blue-eyed merchant to be found in this Louisiana Bayou, there’s no way to transform the limited arsenal into something that will strike even a modicum of fear into the horrors you’ll face. How effective each weapon is depends almost entirely on how skilled you are in their use.
For every new idea Resident Evil comes up with, it has just as many that will be familiar to longtime fans of the series. The healing herbs are back, only this time you’ll be combining them with a universal mixing ingredient — arguably the most important resource in the game, as it’s also used for crafting ammunition — so you can take a quick bath and feel as right as rain.
The VHS tapes you’ll come across throughout the main story that take inspiration from Resident Evil 4 by temporarily swapping out the main protagonist, Ethan Winters, for a flashback scene starring his Wife, Mia. These brief stealth-centric scenes are reminiscent — though decidedly superior — to that Ashley Graham level that everyone rightly loves to hate. It’s a quiet callback that doubles as a wonderfully effective way to mix up the gameplay for just the right amount of time.
As for those pesky quick-time events that were really only enjoyable when they were first introduced in RE4? They’re no more, just as Capcom promised. Go ahead, celebrate. I can wait.
Even the most maligned Resident Evil games have been mostly consistent in giving you plenty to do. Value has long been a strong selling point for this series, which has given us everything from wave survival modes to alternate campaigns, collectibles and various cooperative/competitive multiplayer modes. Unfortunately, that’s often come at the expense of their being able to do any one thing particularly well.
Resident Evil 7 pares this down considerably, with a more focused solo campaign that’s at least as replayable as any other game’s story offering. Finishing the campaign unlocks the Madhouse difficulty setting, where even the toughest series veterans are likely to have a slim chance of surviving. And like previous games, you’ll also unlock new items for your next playthrough, my favorite being the delightfully overpowered Albert 01-R handgun.
It’s refreshing to see so much of the unnecessary baggage accumulated over the last two decades get shrugged off with this reboot. In freeing itself from expectations and tradition, or the strange need to cram as much content into one game as possible, this game is able to do what it does extremely well. The campaign is polished and more satisfying than all four of the interwoven stories in Resident Evil 6, and the nonlinear nature of its design makes it absolutely worthy playing more than once on higher difficulties.
It’s safe to say that Resident Evil is back on top and braver than it’s been in quite some time, and with this game, Capcom has once again set a new standard for the genre it helped create. Whether or not this is as successful as it might deserve to be, one thing’s for certain: I have never been as excited as I am right now to see what comes next.
The Final Word: With Resident Evil 7, Capcom has once again proven itself more than capable of listening to their audience. This is the product of at least a decade’s worth of concerns from a deeply passionate fan base that has watched in horror as this still-beloved franchise stumbled into mediocrity.