Resident Evil 7 is a beautiful albeit flawed example of an old dog learning new tricks. It’s a reminder of a standard of gaming that we’ve grown used to not being given, and a kick up the arse for us as consumers to say enough’s enough. Accept no substitutes. This is what we deserve.
I have a confession to make. I’m a masochist – a self-hating advocate of putting all your worst fears in front of you and not blinking. As part of this process, I allow myself to tackle a horror game or two. There’s nothing quite like shitting your knickers to the sound of your own screams as you try to hold on to your bowl of carefully balanced Doritos in a blacked out room. 2013’s Outlast remains one of my favourite titles EVER based on sheer initial experience alone, and it’s clear that Capcom has picked up a few pointers from this breakout Indie hit as they begin to dip their toes back into the true survival horror format, unlike that seen from Capcom since the early years. But with such a focus on suspense, scares and all round irreverent goriness, is there enough left there for fans of the action orientated Resi releases to leave them satisfied? And do we really care if there is?
Resident Evil 6 received mediocre reviews at best. And before that; Resi 5 despite the best efforts still failed to impress with far too much focus on action and not enough on the panty filling FML fear factor that we yearned for. Many argue that Resi 4 was the crowning jewel for Capcom, and as a balanced experience I’d tend to agree. There were scares, there was fair and rewarding combat, zombie-like holy nut jobs and xenomorphing hard bastards. The isometric camera angles were replaced by an over the shoulder action cam that still somehow left you feeling vulnerable. It was a great title and you’d be hard pressed to find many players that thought differently, but this isn’t a Resi 4 review. This is Resi 7. And Resi 7 is its own tasty bitch. So open wide.
Resi 7 opens in typical Resi fashion (without much explanation) – Your wife goes missing. You don’t hear from her for three years and then one day receive an ominous email asking you to go find her. Without question, and without backup, you happily hike your way across the arse end of the US to Louisiana; to track down this unreasonably demanding matrimonial stop-out. You arrive at the poorly lit abode of the Baker family – supposedly abandoned – a rundown, decomposing, stinking, sweaty shack of a home with an air of death sitting solemnly over every surface. And of course you go in. I mean why wouldn’t you. It looks legit.
After some searching and some uncovering of old video tapes, you’re given an indication of what happened to the poor sods that had once unfortunately trodden these creaking boards before you, and as a result of the house hunt you find your wife imprisoned in the basement. The aim of the game then quickly becomes apparent as you’re introduced to the patriarch of the not so evicted resident (get it?) Baker family – Jack, and are forced try to escape from this labyrinthine hell hole.
Now I wager the first thing you’ll remark on is how God damn beautiful this game is. I played on the regular PS4, so I can only assume that the Pro would push these scenes even further into the realm of the life-like, but even I found moments where I’d have to sit and stare really hard at a still shot of the game before I was sure it wasn’t a photograph. This is the first commercial release using the new RE Engine, and if it’s anything to go by, we’re in for a treat with Capcom titles to come. The game makes incredible use of light, and without stepping into the realms of monochrome, you are left with a palate of shading throughout the game that certainly favours and accentuates the earthy, but somehow malnourished tones of the poisoned plantation in which it’s set. The flickering of candles in the dark, your flashlight illuminating the gritty, crumbling elements that make up the Baker family’s history and bring their estate to life throughout the narrow corridors and claustrophobic rooms. In a game where you’re initially so under-powered, light becomes your weapon, mentally if not physically.
To compliment such beautiful visuals, you need beautiful sound. And this is where Resident Evil 7 really trumps just about any other FP horror game I can think of, even my beloved Outlast. As you roam the corridors terrified at every turn, you will overhear the rattling of chains, the scraping of tools on wood, the shutting of a door somewhere in the distance. You’ll hear sounds ahead of you, but also behind, making you wonder what has begun to pick up your trail through the house. It all adds to the feeling of this living, breathing entity, and you’re never entirely certain who else or what else is in residence.
As a mental challenge, the puzzles themselves aren’t too much trouble if you’re familiar with Resident Evil games. Although there are a few brain scratchers in there, and in typical Resi style you will find yourself circling the Baker estate more than once, screaming at inanimate objects before the solution clicks. The combat’s also not too taxing for a seasoned gamer, but may prove troublesome for those with limited experience. If you don’t make use of your item storage hubs, and try to conserve ammunition, you will find yourself running low in the early hours of the game, and it can make things much harder for you than they need to be. Furthermore, there are plenty of miss-able items such a permanent health boosts and a delightfully overpowered shotgun, which you’ll not want to be leaving behind. At the same time, these special items are brilliantly hidden, and you will have to work to obtain them, either by following little treasure maps or cracking troublesome puzzles. You earn every bonus you receive.
“You will find yourself circling the Baker estate more than once, screaming at inanimate objects before the solution clicks.”
However I believe the real challenge of this game lies in simply getting through it without having yourself a fucking panic attack. It’s a truly horrifying experience, and although inevitably that horror does start to dissipate as you become used to the enemies and their movements, and as you grow familiar with equipment, surroundings and tactics, I thought that this rendition of the franchise did a particularly good job of keeping up a level of uneasiness that was with you right to the very end, and depending on the nervous disposition of you as a gamer, that can really mess you up.
Now, the game’s not perfect. In fact it has some pretty glaring issues that need to be talked about. Namely…
The game’s bosses suck. Really suck. Suck harder than a Dyson whore. It’s an age old issue for games such as this that treat many other areas of the game with such subtlety and finesse, but fall down at the scenes that form the exclamation marks at the end of the point; arguably the most important element of the game because this is the shit you remember! And this is hugely disappointing. The headliner Baker Family are so terrifying in the early hours of their introduction, and as the game focuses on each one individually, we’re given more insight into their madness, which is great! They’re superbly voice acted and limitlessly creepy, each with their own distinct personality and devilish quirks. We’re met early on in the game with a fantastic confrontation with our old pal Jack Baker in the garage which relies on you quickly using your wits to find a way to temporarily put Jack out of action, giving you enough time to reach safety, but the final showdown is nothing more than a hack n’ slash battle of attrition that for a while has you wondering if you’re even causing him any damage. Irritatingly this is the case for all of the bosses in the end, barring a very cool Jigsaw style encounter in place of one boss battle which is leagues above the rest. It’s a wasted opportunity, and a shame that Capcom didn’t get more creative. They had all the right ingredients.
Similarly, the standard enemies aren’t too imaginative. In fact I’d go as far as to say they’re the least imaginative enemies I’ve ever seen in a game, in terms of art direction at least. The oily creatures known as “molded” that peel themselves off the walls and floors offer some initial jump scares, but as you master the weapons available, and realise that they’re easily put down, you’ll miss the shuffling zombies and parasitic villagers of old, and you’ll certainly miss the variety of tactics in taking them out. Who the hell at Capcom sat down at a design meeting and said You know what people love to kill? Dull, gooey, shapeless, indistinguishable oily creatures with personalities as limited as their colour palate. And then who the fuck agreed with them? You can have fat ones, thin ones, fast ones, slow ones, but in the end squishy dark shapes grow tiresome to kill. Although you can still manage some sweet head popping if your aim’s on point. You’ll also thank yourself for these accurate shots early on in the game, conserving precious ammunition.
My final gripe with the game lies in its plot. It’s tried hard to create an epic somewhat more in keeping with the Silent Hill series than Resident Evil, but hasn’t quite been pulled off, and those moments that have clearly been designed to wow the audience end up falling flat. Aside from the mysterious Baker family, there is very little in the way of plot that excites or impresses, and I’m left feeling that the writers of this game are stuck in the 90’s, oblivious to the advancements that have been taking place these past years, setting video games firmly on a pedestal akin to well scripted blockbuster movies and indie sleeper hits.
But my complaints are hugely overshadowed by the greatness on offer here, and don’t let me dissuade you with my gripes. Resident Evil 7 is a fantastic experience, and one that you’ll nervously tiptoe your way through in 10-14 hours. Cynics may complain that’s short, but I’d say calm down Sally-Ann; remember back to the first installment. Almost exactly the same, and there’s never been a better time for quality over quantity in an industry that’s been bursting with games full of filler and thoughtless side quests for many years. This is a prime example and evidence of how we’ve moved on, or back to an expectation of utter quality. Trim the fat. It’s a true to form, barebones, beauty of a horror title and as a 90’s child, a grand re-visit to the franchise we used to love so much growing up. It bleeds style, and from every echoing hallway and flickering flame, I felt a sense of dread that I haven’t felt in a long time.
They took a risk, and it paid off. Kudos.