Resident Evil 7, just like Resident Evil 4 before it all the way back in 2005, was never not going to be a make or break proposition for Capcom. More so than even the criminally neglected Mega Man, Resident Evil seems to be the company’s favorite whipping boy, its once pristine name dragged through the mud by a near constant stream of bad numbered sequels, worse spin offs, questionable CG movies and abominable live action ones.
Despite that, it’s confession time again, kids: Resident Evil 4 is still my favorite game of all time, and RE2 is pretty far up there as well. It’s been hard to watch the series degenerate since it’s 2005 critical and commercial apex, 2009’s RE5 jettisoning most of the series’ tense horror elements for a serviceable if unremarkable (and thematically ridiculous) action game and 2012’s RE6 being an indefensible train wreck that tried to please everyone and failed miserably on all counts.
In the lead up to Resident Evil 7‘s release, I found myself highly suspect of the changes that Capcom was making to supposedly “redeem” the series’ last ten years of sins. A heavy reliance on VR stuff? Okay, nobody’s forcing you to drop the few hundred dollar investment to play that, though I don’t doubt that it is really fucking cool, if a little gimmicky.
Say hello to the Molded, RE’s new slimy, be-fanged, Venom/Carnage-esque standard enemy type. They’ll have you begging for the slow, Romero-style zombies of old.
The game’s new first person perspective, on the other hand, was a tad troubling to me, Capcom seemingly chasing recent horror gaming trends instead of setting them. I avoided the many demos that popped up on PSN, the litany of YouTube videos that followed. The hearsay, the conjecture, the analysis, the thinkpieces both for and against, and steeled myself for the game’s mid-January release date while trying to maintain as open a mind as possible.
Resident Evil 7 seems to come from an alternate reality where, rather than sticking with the established Romero inspired zombie milieu throughout the entire series, each installment took inspiration from a different horror film subgenre. Here you’re dropped into an American rural hellhole populated by a cultish, cannibalistic “family” not unlike the ones found in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes, in search of your missing girlfriend “Mia”, with only a terse email telling you to stay away as any clue to her whereabouts.
Initially diving in, the exploration and light combat/stealth mechanics that appeared in the oft YouTubed “Beginning Hour” demo eventually blossom into a full on, old school Resident Evil experience. Here you’ll find green herbs, linked item boxes, tape recorders taking the place of the old typewriters, and of course the usual spate of weirdly ornamental keys. Arcane yet fiendishly clever puzzles abound, and weapon upgrades and ammo crafting lead to some of the series’ best, most iconic, initially intimidating but wholly satisfying and ultimately fun as hell boss fights.
Even without costly add-ons and upgrades like PSVR and the PS4 Pro, the game’s graphics are stunningly detailed, it’s gameplay shockingly immersive.
But what about the first person perspective? It’s incredibly immersive and well done, less P.T. or whatever other Steam horror game flavor of the week is dominating YouTube views at the moment, and more the almighty Bioshock. You never even get a good look at main protagonist Ethan’s face, and everything the poor bastard gets put through here, from getting his arm chainsawed off (hardly a spoiler given all the game’s massive pre-release hype), to watching playable VHS tapes that offer hints to devious environmental puzzles yet to come, is experienced purely from his perspective alone. It’s highly effective, and transcends horror gaming trends rather than co-opts them is a way wholly unexpected and refreshing for a fan that’s been there from the very beginning.
Without spoiling anything, towards its endgame RE7 may begin to resemble the post-RE5 action horror version of RE, with Ethan loaded for bear and surrounded by enemies, but even that is an ingenious subversion of what players will come to expect from the game’s first handful of hours, especially after an unforeseen mid-game diversion into completely foreign territory that, for me, echoed the very best of what made the twisting, turning, roller coaster ride of Resident Evil 4 such an indelible experience.
Every decision that Capcom has made here seems incredibly calculated, considered and measured, and after the “kitchen sink” approach that doomed RE6, the “fuck it let’s just make it a Michael Bay movie” aura of RE5, and the “who gives a fuck” stink that came off of the passable Revelations series and complete garbage like Operation Raccoon City, it’s a goddamn pleasure and an absolute delight. Similar to last year’s Doom reboot, Capcom’s gone back to basics and proven that less is more with Resident Evil 7. In the process they’ve come away with one of this admittedly somewhat anemic current console generation’s very best games.