Critics and players are saying this title is a return to form for the series. Find out what it is like to creep around spooky mansions in 2017 in our Resident Evil 7 review. Buckle up, son!
In order to write this review I finished the game on normal difficulty, I go in to some early chapter one spoilers (first hour or so), plot, characters and weaponry. There are also a couple of highlight to reveal spoilers about the plot but nothing that could ruin the game for you. I did not play in VR at all so have left that part out of this review.
Resident Evil 7 (RE7) takes away a lot of the things RE is now known for, gone is the over the shoulder perspective, the super powered BSAA agents are nowhere to be seen and neither are the classic villains. This is a real reboot of the series after the puzzle heavy fixed camera perspective of RE1-3 then the action heavy RE4-6 they’ve taken things in a more survival horror direction, ironic considering they coined that term 25 years ago.
The game opens with new boy Ethan Winters receiving a message from his girlfriend who has been missing for three years, he finds out the source location of the message and rushes to find her. Upon driving up to a fairly inconspicuous house (from the distance anyway) he gets out his car and goes to check it out. That is it, in terms of opening plot and pre-rendered cutscenes that is all we get.
The gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played any of the early RE games or a metroidvania title, you creep around the mansion at your own free will and find themed keys which fit themed doors, emblems, cranks etc which in turn opens up more and more of the house. You need to pick up items and rotate and inspect them to open locked boxes or pry key items from picture frames. The mansion is just the right size and you open shortcuts as you go so it never becomes tedious when you have to back track, even if it is to get an optional extra that you spotted through a crack in the wall.
Your map is easily the best RE map that has ever been. Gone are the giant floating arrows of RE6 but it is also different from the generic map of RE1, it updates in real time with symbols corresponding to the different locks on each of the doors which is extremely helpful. While exploring the room layouts are added to the map, but if you find an in game map item it will auto fill the whole thing and give the rooms names.
The room names are super important as you now have an objective list. For example “head to the Garage” is an early objective, you can think back to where you’ve seen the garage in passing and head there, or alternatively if you have found the map (and I mean found, stuff is hidden in drawers and cupboards everywhere) you can check the map for the garage location. There are puzzles as well but it is nothing taxing, even a puzzle heavy section from late game didn’t have me stumped for more than a couple of minutes, you won’t need a guide for this.
You also have an array of weaponry, all of which are grounded in reality, despite only being regular guy our boy Ethan knows his way around the various guns. After doing some online sleuthing I found that I used about 60% of the weaponry in the game so there is a lot of stuff that I had missed, including finding a repair kit for the famous “Broken Shotgun” weapon (at last). It isn’t just regular Ethan for the full game though, there is an upgrade system which allows you to increase your max health or reload speed among other things.
Lastly you have medicines/stimpacks that will temporarily increase your vision to spot items easier or increase your stats. The balance is done in a way where you are always at the edge of defeat, finding items after the dread of being unprepared has had enough time to sink in, this is where the fear lies to be honest. I didn’t find the game scary like I did PT or any of the Silent Hill games, this is more inline with something like Alien Isolation.
Resident Evil is (usually) at the cutting edge graphically of what the console can offer and RE7 is no different, it looks incredible or “too real” as my girlfriend put it. From the outside of the house alone, the way the darkness seems to cling to it is a really cool effect, the objects around and inside the house give a little backstory to those who go looking for it. The art style and graphical fidelity are a perfect mix and the house has as much character as anyone of the insane personalities within. The depth of field effect on your held item is done really well, the hud is easy to read but still fits in with the game. Good stuff.
The main villains in RE7 are the Baker family, a Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspired trio of hillbilly nutters who are ready and incredibly able to beat you to death. Once they give chase they are a struggle to fend off, with actually realistic eyesight (no vision cones here), Terminator like strength and resiliance they will make light work of you in a matter of moments, it doesn’t help once they’ve seen you they move a bit faster than you so you have no chance of escape once your sprint stamina expires. They stalk the halls of their lovely home while calling your name, it is a small touch but a nice one, every time I heard one of them calling Ethan by name it made my skin crawl.
Also creeping around the halls of the mansion are the molded, they sort of look like the regenerators from RE4 and are about as easy to kill as an RE1 zombie, a welcome addition. They have a few varieties too which I won’t spoil here.
The boss fights in this game are hard to talk about without spoiling anything, but all I can say is fans of the series will be pleased. You will also be pleased to know that they aren’t the “make the boss go through phases” style of fight, and are based on damage (as far as I could tell).
For the hardcore RE player in me, I was slightly disappointed at the lack of depth to the combat. That was until I found out through playing that the Parry/Blocking system actually has some nuance to it. I don’t play many FPS games but as far as I know this has never been done, through a story reason you (highlight to see early chapter one spoiler) get quite a solid arm so blocking is a perfectly viable option against the monsters of the mansion. You receive chip damage if they hit hard enough, but it is nothing compared to being knocked down an entire status (fine, caution, danger returns) from a single swipe. By the closing stages of the game I was deflecting attacks left and right although it is a deliberate choice, you are shooting or blocking, not changing quickly between both. Also fans of RE1 style dodging is will be pleased to know it works in this game too.
The game took me 8 hours to finish, I missed a few of the optional side stories (presented as VHS tapes) and some of the optional upgrades and weapons but still managed to get the good ending. Despite a single boss defeating me nine times I didn’t find it too much of a struggle, the sense of dread carries through the whole game with some jump scares and gruesome scenarios. The plot unfolds nicely and links in with the previous games in a satisfying conclusion that is very typical of the RE series. One thing I will say about the plot is it lacked the melodrama and pantomime of the previous entries and to be honest left me feeling (if you’re a spoiler nazi don’t highlight this next part) really bummed out, it is super sad.
The sound design is worth mentioning, yes the guns bang and the enemies growl, but the ambient sounds are terrifying. Hearing human howling and screaming as you go about your business puts your nerves on edge, there is always something creaking or crashing about. Things tick and rattle, and it serves it’s purpose so well I almost forgot to mention it all. Something you will not forget however is the voice acting, the Bakers really knock it out the park with their insane voice work, Ethan is a little weak but he does the job, he barely speaks anyway.
Ending on the negatives of this amazing game, would be that it is a little short, some things are really badly communicated and learning by failing is actually better than the information they give you. Luckily the checkpoint system is generous in areas where you’re going to die a lot and there is an additional mode. It is an arranged mode with almost twice as much upgrade currency, new enemy locations, new item locations and some weapons you don’t get in the standard game as well as an increased difficulty. This is cool but I would have liked a mode like Mercenaries or Raid from the previous titles.
The music is also quite weak, I can remember most of the RE music off the top of my head and find it easy to recognise. Except the Aunt Rhody song which has been playing over the trailers and is hummed by some in-game characters I have no recollection of the music in this game at all. Certainly nothing that can hold a candle to this absolute banger from RE5.
To say Resident Evil 7 is a return to the classic RE style isn’t technically true, it is more like if you got the numbered and spin off games and smeared them in to one 10 hour blur. This is a complete RE experience but at the same time it is something new, and Capcom have absolutely nailed it.