The Resident Evil series is one of the biggest names in gaming going all the way back to the original PS1 title in 1996.  I’ll never forget playing the GameCube remake of that game and seeing a crimson head run towards me in a hallway mirror.  Resident Evil 4 is one of my all time favorite games, but 5 and 6 focused too much on action instead of the horror that defined the series.  After watching a friend play the demo for Resident Evil 7 on PSVR, I was ready to give the series another shot.

Many people are asking if Resident Evil 7 brings the series back to its roots.  I can definitively say that it does and I have the increased blood pressure to prove it.

Welcome to a glorious nightmare.
Welcome to a glorious nightmare.

  • TL;DR: From the setting to the story to the lighting and sound effects, every part of Resident Evil 7 combines to form a truly terrifying experience.
  • Platforms: PC, PS4 (reviewed), PSVR, Xbox One
  • Developer: Capcom
  • Time Played: 9:38
  • What I Played: Campaign on normal difficulty

The premise of Resident Evil 7 is simple.  Ethan Winters hasn’t seen his wife, Mia, in three years.  Out of the blue, he receives an email that simply says, “Dulvey, Louisiana.  Baker farm.  Come find me.”  What else can he do but go looking for her?  Once on the Baker property, Ethan is captured and tortured. Things don’t get much better from there as Ethan tries to escape his nightmare.

Resident Evil 7 ditches the sprawling, ever-moving locations of RE5 and RE6 for a more traditional setting.  The Baker property is made up of a few large, old houses in the backwoods of Louisiana.  This return to form forces you to learn the environment, know which rooms lead to where, and where the escape routes are.  You have a map with the names of each room on it, but there’s no minimap or giant arrow to show you where to go.  Just the setting alone is creepy — an old creaky house in a southern swamp with no roads or other houses nearby?  *shudder*

The Bakers aren’t the most welcoming hosts, either.  The patriarch, Jack, is a real terror.  Most of his time is spent as a roaming reminder to stay on your toes.  Since windows and doors tend to open and close on their own, you never really know where Jack is but rest assured that if you do find him, you’ll want to run fast.  You can’t kill Jack when he’s on the prowl so your only course of action is to close doors behind you, hide in the shadows, and hope he doesn’t find you.  He really helps put the “survival” back in “survival horror”.

You do have a few weapons at your disposal like a trusty knife, pistol, and shotgun, but running for your life is a viable option even in encounters with the everyday enemies.  Traditional zombies have been replaced with molded, humanoid creatures with all sorts of twisted, grotesque growths.  Some will slowly shamble towards you with claws, some will spew bile at you, and the real jerks of the group crawl on the walls and ceiling before pouncing on you.  Molded typically materialize from pools of black gunk on the floor and walls but, as you can see above, they aren’t above blasting through walls to surprise you.  In typical Resident Evil fashion, headshots are key to disposing of the molded.  Encounters are so rare that each one is a heart-pounding experience.  Running into just two or three molded at a time is enough to make you nope out of whatever room you are in.

On top of the “zombies” and rather sparse ammunition, Resident Evil 7 ties in other series staples like green herbs to heal with and haven safe rooms with save points, this time in the form of cassette recorders.  Inventory management isn’t quite the Tetris exercise that it was in Resident Evil 4 since most items take up one slot with only a handful taking up two.  There’s also the traditional focus on puzzle solving with my favorite being the birthday party.  You’ll find a few videotapes around the Baker property that let you play out an event from the past.  These are cool not only by shedding some light on your dark adventure but by also showing you hidden paths that you wouldn’t otherwise know to look for.

Some of the paths aren't so hidden.
Some of the paths aren’t so hidden.

The most grounding part of Resident Evil 7 is the fact that Ethan isn’t a highly trained agent like Jill, Chris, or Leon.  He’s just a man caught up in a horrible situation.  The transition from a third person angle to first person also ratchets up the intensity of every movement.  You can’t help but focus and be in the moment in a game where you can really relate to the protagonist and things are so dark that you can barely see past your own hands.

When you combine the setting, Ethan’s character, and the excellent use of both lighting (or lack thereof) and sound, Resident Evil 7 is one of the scariest games I’ve ever played.  I didn’t help myself by playing with headphones on and the lights off.  The game is available in VR and, frankly, I don’t know if I’d want to try that.  You’ll find some pretty unsettling stuff while poking around the Baker house like random bits of obviously human meat, red writing on a wall that says “She’s upstairs, don’t go up”, and an old woman in a rocking chair that loves to stare at you until you look away when she suddenly disappears.

If I had to give a thumbs down to any portion of Resident Evil 7, it would be the boss fights.  The main focus of Resident Evil 7 is a scared everyday guy running for his life in a horrible house.  Stopping everything to shoot dozens of bullets into a sponge of a boss in a closed arena goes against that main focus.  Some games, like the excellent 2016 iteration of Doom, don’t use enough boss battles.  Resident Evil 7 would have been better served either leaving them out entirely or making them different from your standard “shoot the big blinking parts until the boss crumples” encounters.

Damnit if this game isn't a looker, though.
Damnit if this game isn’t a looker, though.  Also, ick.

The visual and audio quality in Resident Evil 7 is fantastic.  Dark corridors and the constant pitter patter of rain help permeate a general feeling of dread.  The various sound effects for walking on wood, in the mud, or in the black molded muck help the Baker farm feel less like a computer-generated world with generic footsteps and more like a real place.  All of this would be brought down by a low framerate but Resident Evil 7 is smooth as silk.

It’s the little things like those sound effects and Ethan’s head bobbing as he walks up and down stairs that sets Resident Evil 7 apart.  Ethan also puts his hands out to walk through doors instead of them magically opening.  Kotaku did an entire article on the usage of doors in the game which sounds odd but is deserving.  Doors creak and stress, adding more gasoline to the “OMG WHAT WAS THAT?!” fire burning in your mind.

Resident Evil 7 is a completely single player experience.  No online multiplayer, no co-op, no wave-based survival mode, none of that.  It’s just Ethan vs the Baker home in a ~10 hour long nightmare.  That time is already being brought down near the 90 minute mark by speedrunners.  If you’re looking for more of a challenge, you can replay the game on Madhouse difficulty, run it for speed, play the newly released Ethan Must Die mode, or hamstring yourself with a knife-only run like this lunatic.

Speaking of lunatics, here's Jack Baker not caring one bit about being on fire.
Did someone say lunatic?

The original Resident Evil took place in a giant mansion filled with zombies where Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine uncovered the mysteries within.  The franchise has gone through some ups and downs and genre shifts, but Resident Evil 7 brings it all full circle.  The main character, Ethan, is just a regular guy who gets caught up in a terrifying situation.  Never has the term “survival horror” rang truer than it does in the swamps of Louisiana.  If you can stomach it, play Resident Evil 7 with the lights off and your headphones on.  You’ll jump and gasp and yell, but you’ll enjoy the hell out of it.  Resident Evil 7 is a standout entry in a historic franchise.

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