It feels like I’m beating a dead horse but the Resident Evil franchise has gone downhill as of late, at least according to fans. The sixth main entry in the franchise, Operation Raccoon City, and the spin-off game, Umbrella Corp, have all been panned by critics and gamers alike. Resident Evil 5 did fair better on the market and review front but it still took away the survival horror that started the franchise. However, since Resident Evil 7 was announced back at E3 2016, the series looks to be returning to its roots. Not only can I assure you that it has, but number seven shied away from being shadowed in obscurity ala P.T. The game is scarily accessible for newcomers and veterans alike.
Resident Evil 7 puts you in the shoes of Ethan, an ordinary citizen whose wife went missing three years prior. Out of nowhere he receives a video from her, in distress, telling him to stay away. Naturally he goes to investigate the video’s upload origin and stumbles upon a plot of land in the Louisiana bayou. As he investigates the unkempt series of houses, tunnels, and trails, he happens upon the repulsive Baker family. They are certifiably insane yet keep some semblance of unnerving sentience. It won’t take them long to make you feel uncomfortable and transfixed from their demeanor, weird abilities, questionable motives and persistence to not die. Luckily, one of them has retained some part of their humanity and guides you through their demented manor off-screen. All the while you’re trying to find your wife and make your way through obstacles.
The drive, as you the player, to figure out how all of this is connected to the Resident Evil universe is extremely gratifying. For the longest time there were no indications that this belonged to the series except in name alone. There are no traditional zombies and the Baker family act like something from classic horror movies. They’ll let you escape because they know you won’t, they’ll harm you in ways you’d never expect, and they offer some of the best boss scenarios in recent Resident Evil memory. When you’re not contending with them, you’ll have to face off against beings known as the Molded. They’re slimy, weird and grotesque creatures who come in four variations. Two of them are extremely tall humanoids that take inspiration from The Creature of the Black Lagoon. They can strike at you from afar with stretchy limbs and bite down with their morphed mouths if you let them get too close. The second monstrosity is a pale, agile, deformed being on all fours with extremities at weird angles. Then you have the ones that appear to be melted in human skin. These nasty buggers vomit something fierce and nasty, so you’re best off staying out of their way. Also, as you venture headlong into the story…let’s just say that Alma from F.E.A.R. will have some competition. My first playthrough clocked in at about nine and a half hours but boy did I appreciate all of them.
The gameplay is thoroughly enjoyable as it is terrifying. You explore areas from a first-person perspective and can interact with furniture, items, and objects as the game deems fit. More than half the time you have to find your way through locked doors or blocked-off passageways. Gamers who like to explore everything they can will be greatly pleased in this endeavor as the collecting and puzzles are sensible yet gratifying. None of them are anywhere close to the obscure levels from the demos. They rewarded logical thinking and because of it the backtracking you do doesn’t feel tedious. It never feels like your going above and beyond what you should but it’s in no way an easy feat to accomplish. You’ll be dogged by enemies, frightening atmospheres, and excellent use of sounds and lighting.
Along the way you’ll slowly pick up weapons (or you won’t if you don’t explore or figure out puzzles) that never reach true effectiveness against Resident Evil 7’s difficulty scale. I felt that the ammo finds were just right and allowed me to plot equal ways combat and retreat. I won’t lie and say that going in circles wasn’t helpful. The full list of weapons you’ll hold are as follows: several handguns, shotgun, flamethrower, chainsaw, machine gun, knife, homemade grenades, and even a grenade launcher. Don’t worry about the latter weapon. The amount of ammo you’ll find for it are far and few between. You can create ammo, though, through the inventory system. It’s as simple as gathering the required materials and selecting an option. As you’d expect there are only so many things you can carry at any given time and often those spaces will be taken up by mission items. Thankfully, the experience has a universal storage space in the form of green trunks (usually near tape recorders which act as save points). You can put anything within it and retrieve the stowed away object at another trunk. I advise you to stash things here often.
From spine-tingling terror to unabashed disgust, the scares are here in mushy buckets. Angles, darkness, lighting, dialogue, voice acting, sounds, and atmosphere will contribute to the horror and confusion. Characters willingly harming themselves while delivering their lines eerily well, hearing a threat before it slowly makes its way into frame, walking through halls of dripping black slime, your screen filling up with blood indicating your health is low, being chased by deranged rednecks, and splashing yourself with first aid liquid/eating a herb as your life depends on it are all perfect examples. Not to mention the straight out gore-fest in some scenes. I highly recommend not playing this game if you’re squeamish because the impressive graphics bring everything to the forefront. The same is true with the bone-chilling dread the voice acting performances will give you. Seriously, how the actors/actresses did not go mad while portraying their parts is astounding.
There aren’t a lot of loading screens in Resident Evil 7 but they last forever when they happen. Most notably when coming in and out of a VHS tape. When you find these tapes, the game lets you put them in one of the property’s many VHS players and control someone else tied to the story. The subplot within these recordings will reveal some minor backstory and exposition but you’ll be waiting for minutes as you enter and exit them. Another small problem was with the inventory system. A few times in the heat of battle, you’ll discover your inventory is full and can’t pick up more helpful items. This is par for the course as you’d have to weigh what should be gotten rid of. Sadly, there were a few non-story related items that could not be dropped and caused a bit of frustration when I had to dump precious ammo or health ingredients. Even more reason to utilize that trunk storage I mentioned earlier. I also brought up that the graphics were impressive, and they are. It’s just that sometimes the animations can appear a little “doughy”, though they didn’t take away from the experience at all.
You can also play Resident Evil 7 through the PlayStation VR. I’ll be completely honest and say that I was hesitant to try this out after playing the game previously. I first decided to use it on the Madhouse difficulty that you can somewhat new game + into. It’s obviously a harder game mode but you can only manually save through collecting cassette tapes and using them at tape recorders. Autosaving is much more sparse here. Needless to say I didn’t get far but not because of the scares. The graphics took a notable hit and cutscenes were relegated to a screen in front of you. Those two things did a disservice to the virtual reality possibility here and I much preferred playing the game on a TV screen. There are a handful of options to customize your VR experience nevertheless. You can control turning movements and choices, decide if your real head plays a part into crouching and hiding, and more. Still, when all is said and done, the PSVR mode for Resident Evil 7 was a little bit of a disappointment. Scary as hell, but just not up there in terms of quality.
Resident Evil 7 PS4/PSVR Review
Resident Evil 7 didn’t just take the series back to form, it perfected it. Sure there will be satisfying combat but not before running around for your life filled with dread. The story and plot twists were entertaining as they were interesting and all the scares that came along with it. The voice actors did a phenomenal job and so did the level designers. There was never a time where I felt safe and ready to take on the next challenge. Old schools fans of the franchise will love this outing and is a perfect opportunity for new fans to hop on board. Just don’t burn the midnight oil alone.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a physical version of the game bought at retail at the expense of the reviewer. It was reviewed with the latest patch available and was played on a base PS4.
Note: The official review embargo is January 23rd. We did not get our copy of the game from Capcom so we’re under no obligation to adhere to the embargo or any other conditions placed upon those who agreed to Capcom’s terms. This does not affect the content of the review or the final score awarded.