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Resident Evil 7 is just what the series needed… a breath of fresh air!

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    Resident Evil 7: biohazard

    Rating: 4.0 – Great

    Resident Evil 7 is just what the series needed… a breath of fresh air!

    What a wild history the Resident Evil series has seen! Long-time gamers have seen this series go from some of the first really successful 3D horror games out there, with slow tank-like controls and fixed camera angles (think Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2…), to a series whose last few main-title entries have been more "action-thriller" than "horror" (Resident Evil 5 and 6). And that’s just the main title games! This series has tried just about everything else in between: on rails shooters, competitive and cooperative multiplayer titles, heck there’s even some handheld entries out there!

    So it goes without saying that the newest Resident Evil game is going to get some attention, and once the previews and a playable demo came out, oh man did it ever get a lot attention as we all learned that the game was going to be played in a first-person perspective (a first for the "main series" line of games…) and wasn’t going to continue the story from Resident Evil 6. So with so much new about this historic series, you may very well be wondering what you can expect out of Resident Evil 7. After playing through the game 4+ times (I write guides as a hobby… no need to send help…), let me assure you that you’ve come to the right place as we’ll go over everything you can expect out of Resident Evil 7!

    Welcome to the family…

    In Resident Evil 7, you’ll play as Ethan Winters, who is driving out to Dulvey Louisiana as his wife, Mia, has sent him a message to meet her there. Here’s the kicker though: Mia has been missing for the last three years. This immediately reminded me of "Silent Hill 2", as the story hook is admittedly quite similar, but after this quick story hook the game will start in earnest.

    Ethan will eventually make his way to an abandoned house on his search for Mia, picking up hints that this place may not be abandoned after all as newspaper clippings and a certain video tape hint at several people having gone missing in the area. After a bit of investigating, Ethan will soon meet the horrific Baker Family and become swept up into the mystery of what exactly has happened to Mia as he is "welcomed into the family".

    OK, enough with the narrative hook. As you can tell, the game’s story is really all about Mia and what has happened to here, but to figure that out you’ll need to survive your encounters with "The Baker Family": a family of southern natives (some people interchange "natives" with "hillbillies") who provide the majority of the horror in this game as they stalk you across multiple environments.

    In all honesty, the first few hours of Resident Evil 7 are just plain intense. The scripted scenes and sequences that occur are both horrific and affect you intimately, setting the tone for the game as a whole. This is honestly one major area that Resident Evil 7 succeeds at where the previous main entries have failed: this game is genuinely scary. Not once during Resident Evil 4, 5 or 6 do I remember looking into a room, looking at my inventory, and telling myself that I HAD to continue. Resident Evil 7 managed that multiple times throughout the game. Part of this is due to the shift into a first-person view, which puts you into the horror that much further, combined with the genuine feel of helplessness. Sure, you have weapons and can defend yourself to an extent, but you’re never going to feel comfortable enough (until late into the game). Plus, the Baker Family is just plain persistent and will continue stalking you, much like "Nemisis" from Resident Evil 3. You’re never truly safe…

    As you can tell, I really do think Resident Evil 7 is a return to form for Capcom and the series as a whole: they’ve managed to take the series back to its horror roots, and frankly this is just the breath of fresh air the series needed. The story as a whole wraps up nicely by the end (in the "suspend your beliefs in reality" sort of way… but c’mon, we’re talking about a series that deals with the walking dead here…), although it’s debatable how Resident Evil 7 fits into the series as a whole. I’m going to get into that a bit towards the end of the review if you want my thoughts on it, but suffice to say that the story for the game itself is well done and just oozes the horror and creepy atmosphere that you want from this type of game, with plenty of intense moments that will stay with you long after the credits roll…

    Running low on ammo…
    (Game Play)

    While Resident Evil 7 is indeed a departure from the norm, the developers have left a lot of "Classic Resident Evil" in the game as a whole. For example: a LOT of forward progression in the game as a whole is tied to you finding and using items keys or items to unlock doors. These items are often hid behind puzzles of course, which is definitely a throwback to the earlier games in the series. The classic "Save Rooms" earlier games in the series are known for return here as well, along with an item box where you can horde items (and yes, it magically transports items from box to box…) as well as a cassette player that allows you to save your progress. These touches, along with the genuine sense of horror I mentioned in the story section, do help give Resident Evil 7 that sense of the game "returning to its roots".

    While the game starts you out unarmed, you will eventually find and build up a collection of weapons. This takes time though, as you’ll be fairly helpless for chunks of the game and will have to rely on running and stealth to survive (think "Outlast"). Even when you do find firearms and ammo though, it really feels like the game gives you "just enough" ammo to survive. Canvassing each room and saving every item you can find is really the key to a more comfortable journey, and skilled players will soon be building up a stock of items in the game’s item box. The game also has a combination system that you’ll need to use in order to combine various items

    Combat in the game feels good, as you would expect. Each of the weapons have a good weight behind them and there’s a dedicated "Guard" button that you can use to try and take less damage if you know a hit is coming. You can also assign up to four items or weapons to your directional buttons in order to switch between weapons or items quickly. It should be noted that trying to fight against the "Baker Family" themselves is pretty meaningless, so most of the fighting you’ll be doing is against the "Molded". These molded enemies, for all intents and purposes, are really the "stock zombie" of the game, but they are quite a bit hardier. Just like they sound, they resemble human-ish shapes of mold, but come in a few different forms for some variety (although the enemy variety in the game as a whole is pretty small). They are tougher than the zombies you may be used to however, and will take quite a few bullets to put down which will definitely put a strain on your inventory. Skipping fighting them, when you can, is definitely the way to go.

    Overall though, that’s the gist of the game: explore harrowing environments, avoid the stalking "Baker Family" members when you can, and fight your way through the molded enemies the rest of the time. All while looking for key items and solving puzzles to continue. The game definitely ramps up the action from "run for you life" in the beginning of the game to "here’s a magnum, grenade launcher, and a gauntlet of enemies" by the end of the game, so you’ll definitely get your share of action in the end, but the game as a whole feels like it has a good mix of action and proper survival horror.

    That "Rustic Horror" look

    As we talked about up above, one of the biggest changes in the "main entry" series is the change to a first-person view. This really does help immerse you into the atmosphere of the game, as you get a closer look to just how dilapidated and/or gory the environments are. The graphics as a whole in the game are top-notch, fitting in with the current generation of gaming just fine. There’s a fantastic level of detail as well: you’ll find plenty of personal belongings and random junk littered around the Baker’s homestead. It’s also worth noting that the game does focus a bit on the "Hillbilly" rustic horror, obviously playing to the game’s location a bit with rusty saws and animal carcasses decorating sections of the game, giving off a bit of a "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" vibe at times. Another big theme is patches of black gunk you’ll find in various areas of the game, which the molded enemies seem to thrive in. You may be exploring an out-of-the-way location in the backwoods of Louisiana, but there’s definitely some sort of bio-hazard outbreak happening here.

    Being first-person, you’re going to be seeing a lot of the character models up close as well. I found most of them to be fairly well done, although I have to say the hair in the game was… a bit weird and didn’t seem to be very realistic (it could have used some more work). I’d also say that the molded enemies in general were a bit lazy, from a design standpoint. They are just nondescript human-ish shapes after all. These are pretty minor complaints in the end though, as the animations and graphics during the games scripted scenes and overall were polished and well done. That along with fantastic lighting and the attention to detail shown throughout help make this one atmospheric game.

    Finally, it should be noted that this game is compatible with PlayStation VR… so you could play through this entire title in virtual reality. I haven’t tried it personally, as I just can’t bring myself to spend so much money on the ONE VR title I’d just love to try, but I can easily see given how up-close-and-personal some of the scripted scenes are in this game how playing through this in PlayStation VR would just be an even more INTENSE experience.

    Just a little on edge here…

    Like any good horror game, the soundtrack to Resident Evil 7 exists primarily to amplify the atmosphere, and it does that in spades. Eerie sounds and jarring tunes constantly make you think again before you investigate an area (again, I had to constantly make myself move forward, and the creepy sounds sure made that hard). Not everything is horrific though: there’s a few easy-listening tracks here as well, like the "Saferoom" track (which I actually had set as my PlayStation 4 background music for awhile… I’m usually a sucker for the Resident Evil safe room music tracks).

    The voice acting in the game was another highlight, as I found all of the characters to be extremely well voiced. The Baker family in general had that southern drawl, but I especially liked the Jacob and Jack voice actors. Surprisingly, the entire cast here are relatively new to the world of voice acting, but despite that they all did a great job

    We need to go faster!

    One of the biggest drawbacks to Resident Evil 7 as a whole is how short the game actually is. For a blind first play-through, you can expect to spend about eight hours in total. Maybe more if you really explore, but this is still a very short game. There are a couple things that can increase your playtime however. Once you beat the game you’ll unlock "Madhouse" mode, which you may initially dismiss as just a "Hard" mode. I can’t blame you there, but you’d be dead wrong. Madhouse mode actually features remixed items and remixed enemies, adding enemies to where they weren’t before and changing up the Baker Family interactions a bit (so that they are indeed much harder). It’s definitely a new experience and worth trying.

    There’s also different items you can unlock for beating the game different ways. For example, you can unlock items for beating the game on different difficulties, or by speed-running the game, or even for just collecting all of the collectible items in a single play-through (conveniently, all of these things also tie into the game’s trophy list). These items all stack and are just dropped in your item box so you can use them in any new game, which can definitely help with Madhouse mode, by the way.

    Where do I belong!?
    (Bonus Discussion)

    Let’s face it: Resident Evil, as a series, has just plain gotten too big. There’s so many spin-off games and side titles that telling a coherent story is pretty hard, although Resident Evil’s main titles have done a fair job of loosely keeping a timeline together.

    Which leads us to Resident Evil 7, and where it fits into the series. Resident Evil 7 could honestly have been right at home as a "Resident Evil side story", and in fact probably should have been just for the fact that this game really doesn’t tie into the "main series" as a whole. Granted, there’s plenty of easter eggs and hinted tie-ins to the universe of Resident Evil as a whole, with the biggest unresolved tie-in coming at the very end of the game (no spoilers here!), but Resident Evil 7 is definitely its own self-contained story. When it comes to the main series, this is a first for the franchise: all of the other main, numbered games have had SOMETHING that has tied them to a previous title.

    Seeing where the series will go from here is going to be intriguing. Is this a turning point? A franchise re-boot, perhaps? I definitely don’t know, but the answer will undoubtedly come out in the future and we may very well be able to look back at Resident Evil 7 and say that "It all started here".

    Overall: 8/10

    In the end Resident Evil 7 is, without a doubt, the "breath of fresh air" that the series absolutely needed. A modern-day return to its survival horror roots, with the game play changes (less action) and perspective changes (first-person view) that all help keep the game fun, engaging and most importantly, genuinely scary. Granted, the game itself is fairly short with limited re-playability. But if that’s this series biggest flaw moving forward, I can’t wait to see what comes next! Thanks for reading my review on Resident Evil 7, and be sure to have fun and keep playing!

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