By Kevin White
When the first Resident Evil was released over two decades ago on the Saturn and Playstation, it was unlike any game I had experienced. My brother and I grew up as die-hard Sega kids, so we, of course, played it on the criminally underrated Sega Saturn. Some of the moments are burned into my memory, including stumbling across the first zombie as he slowly turns around to face you, and the dogs bursting through the window and chasing you down the hall. Survival Horror had officially been born.
I never beat the first Resident Evil. I vividly remember running out of ink ribbons, meaning that I could no longer save my progress. That, combined with the eternally frustrating controls, led me to say goodbye to Resident Evil for 20 years. Yes, that means not only did I skip out on the other 32-bit RE games (2 and 3), but I also skipped what some feel may be the best game ever created in Resident Evil 4.
Early on in 2016, Capcom announced that they would be re-releasing 4, 5, and 6 on the PS4 and Xbox One throughout the year, and I knew it was finally time to jump back into the series that I had neglected for so long. I placed my preorder for RE4 as soon as it was announced and waited to see if the rumblings about a new Resident Evil being developed would come to fruition at E3. Our hopes were not in vain, as Resident Evil 7: biohazard was officially announced. The reveal trailer didn’t give much away, but the fact that the name contained biohazard gave hope that the series was going back to its roots, and away from the arcade-style 3rd person shooter that the series had morphed into.
The Beginning Hour demo was released on PSN a day later, and everyone could tell that Capcom had something special on their hands. The void that the canceled Silent Hills left in the gaming world seemed like it was going to be filled by RE7, and fans across the globe couldn’t be happier.
A few months after this, I finally got one of the biggest games on my backlog out of the way, as I played through Resident Evil 4 for the first time. It had quite a bit of action, as well as big Hollywood set-pieces, but the sense of dread and terror was still palpable. I’ll never forget the first time I heard the chainsaw come to life in the village, and the feeling of goosebumps that went over my entire body as he stumbled toward me, ready to decapitate me. By the end of the game, I knew quite well that I had made a big mistake by missing out on it for 11 years after its original release. I also knew that I was even more excited than I was previously for RE7 to finally come out.
Resident Evil 7 puts you in the role of Ethan Winters, as he heads to the Baker Farm in Dulvey, Louisiana after receiving a cryptic message from his wife Mia who had been missing for over 3 years. Ethan makes his way inside the seemingly abandoned Baker Farm and eventually discovers Mia locked inside a cell in the basement. As they begin to make their escape together, Ethan can tell that Mia is not herself, and his fears are realized before the two can escape the compound. Insanity ensues, and after a thrilling opening prologue, the game proper kicks off. If you aren’t worried about spoilers, you can view my Let’s Play of the opening hour here. Feel free to laugh as I scream like a small child on multiple occasions…
After navigating through the first hour, the game begins to feel like the perfect mix of the original Resident Evil and the phenomenal RE4. There are puzzles to solve, herbs to collect, and Metroidvania elements that were present in previous games in the series. The environments Ethan finds himself in lend themselves to exploration, and there are some on-screen prompts that alert the player when there are items to be found. There are also several hidden items around the Baker estate that must be discovered by first finding a treasure photo clue, or being right on top of the hidden item. These items and the scarcity of them become extremely important as you make your way through the game. Careful management of your limited inventory slots with your backpack and item boxes is key. You really feel the impact of every bullet you fire, and first aid medicine you use. Conservation of your items is the name of the game here and is necessary to ensure you are ready when everything hits the fan, which will happen on quite a few occasions.
To that point, the pacing and atmosphere of Resident Evil 7 are near perfect. One of the complaints I always heard about 5, and 6 was that there was not enough time in-between the action to catch your breath. That is remedied here. There are moments in this game where I literally held my breath so that my mind wouldn’t be on anything outside of what was on the screen. These were often followed by some quiet time for exploring, or a well-placed save room where you can reevaluate your inventory and catch your breath before venturing on. If you are a fan of RE4, these rooms will contain a great piece of nostalgia that will put a smile on your face.
The sound design may be the best part of the game. I played through the entire game with a looming sense of dread and terror at what could be around the next corner, or on the other side of the door. On numerous occasions, I found myself essentially tiptoeing down hallways, almost hoping to avoid the inevitable confrontation that I knew was lurking. There will be times where it feels like your heart is beating so hard that it is going to pop out of your chest, as you are hiding from Jack or Marguerite Baker. They will call out to you, and taunt you to no end in some of the most disgusting ways imaginable. Footsteps and creaking floors also help to add to the enormous sense of dread you feel throughout most of the game. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself spinning around every time you bump into a harmless box or cup on the ground, convinced that it is actually something coming to kill you. Playing this game in surround sound is non-negotiable in my mind.
Capcom kept a lot of the story elements close to their vests during the run-up to the release of RE7. What I described earlier in this piece is about the extent of what was known before release. The one thing that did keep coming up was that this was not a reboot of the franchise and that the events in the game do tie into the rest of the series. While I won’t get into any spoilers here, I can confirm that this is definitely a canon Resident Evil game. I do have some lingering questions about some of the events that are explained near the end of the game, but that is for another time and place. As I have mentioned previously here related to other elements of the game, I think Resident Evil fans will very much appreciate the ending.
Not everything is perfect in Resident Evil 7. Some of the character models and environmental elements are not exactly up to par with what is expected of this generation, and there are some enemies that pop out of nowhere. The variety in the enemies in the game leaves a lot to be desired as well, as there are essentially only two different types other than the Baker family, and the final boss fight was anticlimactic. The load times are also atrocious, but it provides a good opportunity to empty your bladder before the game can force you to do it. Combat and aiming were not as polished as other first person games in the market, but I have heard this is actually improved while playing in VR, which I was not able to do.
Overall, Resident Evil 7 strikes the right balance of action and survival horror and combines them into a truly enjoyable experience. Capcom should be applauded for the guts it takes to reinvent a series that has sold 75 million units over the past 20 years. When a series is that successful, both critically and commercially, developers tend to rest on their laurels and avoid taking risks. The fact that Capcom was able to do this successfully will hopefully not go unnoticed by other developers. Whether you are a Resident Evil veteran or a newcomer to the series, Resident Evil 7 is a worthwhile purchase that does not disappoint.