Resident Evil VII – Review
PC, PS4, Xbox One
Like most franchises that have been with us for over two decades, the Resident Evil franchise (after 26 different releases) has endured the highest highs and the lowest of lows. At its peak during the PS1 and PS2 era, some games from the franchise found themselves in conversations about being amongst the best games ever made, but then in more recent years, the franchise hit hurdles with the releases of Resident Evil 6, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City and Umbrella Corps. The external pressure has been enormous over recent times, but with the upcoming release of Resident Evil VII: Biohazard Capcom is looking to ease sorry worried hearts by getting the franchise back in touch with its roots.
Resident Evil VII looks to once again make Survival Horror the central theme of the experience. No longer do you have a sprawling city to explore, as you did in Resident Evil 5 or 6, instead Resident Evil VII takes you back to tight, claustrophobic hallways, like the one seen in the original game. Resident Evil VII isn’t about action, it’s about making you feel as though you’re the prey, the hunted, as you skulk through the dark corridors of a lost mansion in the woods. You assume the role of Ethan Winters and you’ve been drawn into the wild, having come upon a distressing video message from your wife Mia, who urges you not to look for her. Of course what game would it be if you took her advice though? Ethan’s search leads him to a run-down home in a forest, a home occupied by a seemingly infected Baker family, and the mystery of Mia’s disappearance slowly begins to unravel. Resident Evil VII is a game that can be enjoyed by existing fans of the franchise’s narrative or by a rookie to the series. There are of course threads that connect this latest entry to the events and characters of previous games, but they don’t have a massive bearing on the self-contained narrative of Resident Evil VII.
As the game progresses you’ll be gradually introduced to each member of the Baker family, as well as the mysterious Evelyn. The infection has driven each member of the family insane and they’re actively out to kill you, save for one, who will reach out to you via phone from time to time and provide you guidance about any upcoming threats. Each of the three antagonistic Baker’s has differing approaches to ending your life, but rest assured that if there’s ever a time you think you’re safe and they can’t get you, they’re probably only seconds away from bursting through a wall to kill you. The back half of the game changes things up a bit with a change of location and a slightly more action focussed approach. There’s still plenty to keep you alert and on the edge of your seat, but your much larger arsenal makes mowing through greater numbers of infected significantly easier in the game’s closing act.
Where bullets, herbs and other resources were plentiful in the last two core Resident Evil games, a comparative lack of resources means that players will have to be far more conservative in Resident Evil VII. Your limited bag space also means that you’ll be carefully planning every encounter you’re in, looking to minimise the use of bullets, and then looking for valuable resources in order to replenish your bullet or med count. Players looking to explore the environment won’t be penalised for doing so, there are numerous collectables to find including antique coins, bobble heads, videotapes and numerous other files and documents that give more depth to the game’s plot.
Unlike recent core Resident Evil games, where you play the game through a third person perspective, this seventh entry has you looking down the barrel at the predators who want your head, and by doing so significantly intensifies the already gripping gameplay. If you’re an owner of a PS4 then you have the option to play the game in VR, should you have a PSVR at your disposal. It’s worth a look if you have a headset, but if like me, you’re lacking in stomach somewhat, then it’s probably only going to be a very short stay before you return to conventional gameplay – it’s a different level of immersion here and one that just felt a little too real for my liking.
The arsenal at your disposal isn’t the widest, but there’s need for each of the tools at your disposal. Your shotgun is your go to damage dealer, while you can buy yourself some time by incinerating foes using a flame thrower. If you’ve got your back against the wall and you need some heavy artillery, the grenade launcher might be your best friend, and if all else fails, you can also fall back on the old reliable handgun and knife to clean up any remaining mess.
Exterior environments are lushly detailed and for the brief period you see the world in daylight, colourful, while the mansion and other interior environments are expertly designed so that corners are obstructed, secrets can lay anywhere and rarely do you feel as though the room isn’t housing a threat somewhere. The detailing, in particular in the mansion, is top-tier, the home feels lived in, and as you travel from room to room you see tell-tale signs of the Baker’s gradual descent into insanity. Violent scrawl on the walls accurately represents their current state while diaries show how the infection began to slowly take hold. This attention to detail extends to the sound design where the creak of a floorboard or little scratch of an object across another surface at times lead to a few startled jolts in my seat.
Horror games are not usually my thing, I rarely elicit any enjoyment from scaring myself or leaping out of my seat, but I like to think of Resident Evil VII as more of a suspense or thriller game, rather than a horror title. There are of course some confronting scenes that will undoubtedly be too much for some players, and the occasional jump scare, but more often than not the fear you’re feeling is the fear of getting caught, and having to respond in a smart, efficient way, not because the threats are insurmountable in size or number. Stunning game, art and sound design, will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout Resident Evil VII’s eight to ten hours of play time, and thanks to slick controls, and a constantly moving and developing story, you’ll want to see this one out to the very end, no matter the terrors it might throw at you. By returning to its roots, it seems that Resident Evil has once again found itself.