Survival horror has taken the brunt of judgment when it comes to the evolution of video game genres. As like with most horror movies adapting to the times (i.e. found footage, action-horror, social media horror), this category has consistently changed to try and scare gamers while still providing an entertaining product. After the many years of updates, we’re back to horror’s roots with Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.
While new games have come (Until Dawn) and others faded away (Clock Tower) – or in some cases ripped away (RIP Silent Hills) – the Resident Evil series is still a mainstay that fans demand for genuine fears. However, ever since the success of Resident Evil 4, the series has shifted to a more action tone. With the lackluster reception of Resident Evil 6, which focused more on action and appealing to everyone with four separate but connecting stories, Capcom decided to take the series back to the drawing board for a more horror-oriented game. Four years later and it has made quite a difference.
Resident Evil 7 focuses on the story of Ethan, an ordinary citizen who stumbles upon a horrific and paranormal incident. After receiving a warning message from his thought-to-be-dead wife Mia, Ethan travels to the backwoods of Louisiana to find her. Once he encounters the Dulvey Haunted House, he experiences the worst night of his life. A psychotic killer family, mutated creatures, bugs and endless deathtraps are just part of the horrors waiting for him in this location.
Not since Resident Evil 2, or the spin-off/somewhat canon Resident Evil: Outbreak editions, has a regular citizen led the adventures in a Resident Evil game. Ethan isn’t a S.T.A.R.S. operative, a police officer, a medic, an Umbrella employee, or someone with past outbreak experience – this is a regular guy in search of his wife. This character seems to be the most relatable to achieve the survival horror feeling of trying to survive. He didn’t have past training to take on these enemies, and I felt it during boss fights or interactions with the Baker family. Sure, he’s determined and clever, but he’s still weak and takes a lot of pain. And Ethan takes A LOT of damage in Resident Evil 7. If you thought you’d survive a survival horror experience like this in real life, Ethan proves that you don’t walk away unscathed. There is so much blood and injuries.
The main characters and locations were fleshed out in Resident Evil 7. I enjoyed that the small amount of main people we interacted with weren’t simply mindless AI characters that were fodder for the story. The Baker Family was psychotic and each had their own distinctive qualities/personalities to them – the grandmother is still the scariest one as she’s completely silent and pops up. Though, they weren’t my favorite RE villains in the spectrum of the series (more to come on that later). In my interactions with Mia, I could see why Ethan was desperate to find her since she seemed caring and resourceful; however, I preferred Ethan’s other ally during the course of the game. When it came to the locations, it felt right to confine the series mostly to the haunted house compound (with the surrounding buildings). The recent Resident Evil games expanded on locations through many towns, cities and countries. While it looked visually appealing, it took away the claustrophobic tension – this feeling returned this game.
The Dulvey Haunted House is decrepit, dirty, and dark. For those who played the original Resident Evil and explored the Spencer Mansion, you could appreciate the vast difference. Whereas the Spencer Mansion was elegant and pristine, this house was in shambles and falling into disarray. It’s almost as if we experienced the aftermath of what this outbreak inflicted on this property. While smaller in comparison to the Spencer Mansion, this house still held many hidden rooms, puzzles and extensions to neighboring guest houses and buildings. The location felt lived-in and utilized the effects of light/darkness – when the power went out, the scariness was heightened during gameplay.
When it came to gameplay, Resident Evil 7 shifted to a first-person perspective. It was easy to feel like you’re in the role of Ethan, especially seeing the evil through his eyes. Though, with all the constant shaking and color splatters, I’d caution VR players – this will be an experience that may cause some queasiness and headaches. The puzzles weren’t too difficult to solve focusing on backtracking and were reused quite often. For the most past, the weapons got an upgrade, particularly the shotgun – it is one of the best of the series. The aiming and damage capabilities, on the other hand, needed some work. I didn’t enjoy the conflicting balance of power with some weapons. For example, firing a handgun multiple times into an enemy’s head for them not to die, but then shooting the same handgun at a similar enemy for them to die almost immediately. It became frustrating as the ammo kept depleting. And even worse when the defending system wasn’t working properly and you were losing health trying to survive.
The selection of enemies wasn’t great either. While I applauded the work done in the design for the Baker family and the other big bosses, everything else fell by the wayside. There were plenty of bugs and some tiny creatures, but the main mini-enemies were faceless blobs of black liquid. That’s it! There’s nothing less terrifying than a bunch of faceless enemies with no personality. This didn’t have the same effect as the zombies of Resident Evil 1-3, or the infected villagers of Resident 4-6. These foes became more of a nuisance and a waste of ammo; I switched many times to using a knife. It’s only when I got to exploring the house that I felt scared or when I found one of the hidden VCR tapes to relive someone’s nightmare experience.
My biggest gripe with Resident Evil 7 was the sense of victory and death (or, in particular, the lack thereof). Very early on the game uses a trope to introduce these powerful, never-really-dying enemies who could always reappear – this is supposed to instill fear and terror whenever they did appear, like with Nemesis in Resident Evil 3. However, after lengthy fights and multiple times dying, the effect quickly wears off. After a big shock value fight of explosions, fires and wasting my ammo/health, I stopped feeling like I earned anything once the same enemy reappeared over and over, and seeing them regenerate in front of me shattered the illusion. During more than one occasion, I shouted “THIS GUY AGAIN?!” to my TV screen in frustration. I didn’t believe any enemy was truly dead until I completed the story.
Overall as a game, Resident Evil 7 is an enjoyable experience. It’s an atmospheric thriller meant to push you further into the evil when all you want to do is hide. Capcom took the series back to the drawing board and brought back what made the original games so great. In essence, it’s fear and horror. The spooky locations, first-person perspective and terrifying environment makes this a scary adventure. However, in the grand scheme of the series, this felt less like a Resident Evil main series game and more like a spinoff, or even simply a separate game. Without the hidden easter eggs or nods to the previous games/history that fans would know, RE7 could’ve been its own standalone game.
How this plays into the future is still up in the air. As a standalone game, I quite enjoyed Resident Evil 7 and I think it’s an amazing adventure to experience Ethan’s/Mia’s nightmare. But as a part of the main series, it didn’t quite surpass some of the previous games before it. Albert Wesker/Nemesis is scarier than the Baker family, the Spencer Mansion is more iconic than the Dulvey Haunted House, and the enemies are more terrifying than the goo. Embrace Resident Evil 7 for what it is: A scary survival horror video game that is bringing back a beloved series to its horror roots. And for me, I like that quite a lot.
Format: Xbox One (Reviewed), PC and PlayStation 4
Released: January 24th, 2017
Copy Purchased By Reviewer