It’s been a little more than 20 years since the release of the original Resident Evil changed the landscape of video games forever. It’s a game series I literally grew up with, as it saw its original American release mere months before I was born. My initial encounters with the game were through watching my older brother and cousins play it for countless hours, all before I even had any idea how to handle a controller in order to experience it myself, which I later would many times. It, along with some of its sequels, are among my favorite games of all time, and it’s safe to say that Resident Evil holds a special place in my heart. While I was eagerly anticipating Resident Evil 7, I did so with bated breath following several missteps among the series in recent years. But, I’m glad to say that Resident Evil 7 is the game that fans of the series have been waiting years for.
Resident Evil has been one of gaming’s most successful, important, and influential franchises, having introduced several groundbreaking ideas to the medium throughout its storied existence. With its latest iteration, developer Capcom hoped to revitalize their survival horror series after some not-so-stellar efforts that have come as of late. Resident Evil 7 incorporates a perfect mixture of ideas both old and new, effectively re-introducing mechanics that the earliest entries were originally built upon as well as instituting entirely new concepts that, for the most part, work, including the major shift from a third-person perspective to first-person.
And while Resident Evil 7 may have that intimidating “7” in its title, this is as good a jumping-on point as any game in the series. The story this time around serves as a sort of reboot, sharing virtually no ties to any of its predecessors. Here you play as Ethan Winters, an everyman in search of his missing wife, Mia, who’s miraculously found a way to send him a video pleading for him to find her within the swamps of Louisiana — three years after she initially went missing. This leads Ethan to the Baker residence, a large property in the heart of the Bayou that houses a maniacal family bearing a terrible secret. While it’s a simple set-up, it works, and the story remains engaging until the credits roll, even if this isn’t the most memorable video game plot in recent memory.
The Baker family serves as the game’s main antagonists, and include Jack “Daddy” Baker, the father of the family, his wife Marguerite, and their son Lucas. After an unnerving first encounter with the family (which is pulled straight out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre), each member of the family takes turns stalking you around their house while you exhaustively search for your wife, as well as any sort of exit from the surrounding madness. The Baker property is very reminiscent of the Spencer Mansion that served as the setting in the first Resident Evil. The sprawling estate and its surrounding areas house many secrets, and include plenty of locked doors that can only be unlocked with specific keys as well as trap doors that are activated through solving various puzzles. Paired with the excellent atmosphere employed from beginning to end, the setting provides a haunting playground for you to scour over the 8-10 hour campaign.
Unlike many recent horror games that leave you ill-equipped in fending off the enemies that trail your every move, Resident Evil 7 slowly equips you with a surprisingly vast array of weaponry. These weapons (which include various handguns, shotguns, and even a grenade launcher), however, only go so far in aiding the player. The members of the Baker family cannot be killed for good, although dispensing enough bullets into them will eventually down them for long enough for you to make your escape. But as is per usual for the series, ammo is relatively scarce throughout the game (especially early on), so your best course of action is actually to try to run away and hide from their sight until you can find a safe area.
I found Resident Evil 7 most enjoyable in its early portion, which is especially intense and frequently horrifying. Your limited health and weapon options, as well as the intimidating size of the mysterious Baker residence, work together to provide a tense survival horror experience. The closer you get to the finale, however, the game’s environments unfortunately become increasingly linear, and your character becomes far more powerful as well. This ultimately detracts from the horror aspects that make the game so incredible in its first half, but the action-heavy final third is still enjoyable to play through.
Resident Evil 7 strays even further from the more recent horror game phenomenons with the addition of boss fights, a concept that’s been integral to the series since its inception. Some of these encounters are substantially better than others (with a couple being awesome, and others tedious), but they all work as well implemented changes of pace that come as a relief from the constant tension of the Baker’s stalking your every move within their house. Another departure from the main gameplay is found in collectible VHS tapes, which provided some of my absolute favorite moments of the game. These tapes are scattered around the environments and can be inserted into accompanying TV/VCR sets, which then shifts your control into another character’s viewpoint as you play through captivating vignettes from the past that further expand upon the mythology of the sinister Southern family.
Resident Evil 7 capably breathes life back into what has been a corpse of a series for far too many iterations in an expertly crafted survival horror experience. Its many nods and homages to the concepts that the series was originally known for will surely please longtime fans, while the brand new gameplay additions and reinvention of old mechanics make the game feel fresh and exciting for players both old and new alike. This is a welcome return to form for one of gaming’s longest running series, and I for one cannot wait to see where they take us next.
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor