Written by Derrick Smith
With Resident Evil 7 Capcom returns the Resident Evil series back to its rightful place among the industries best survival horror experiences. Let me start off by stating that while RE7 may have a few areas where it can improve upon, this refreshing mix of thrilling scares, intelligently integrated puzzles, psychotic and deranged characters alongside exciting boss fights, all coming together in a visually stunning package easily resurrects the series from the humdrum routines of yesteryears.
Remaining true to its namesake, RE7 takes all of the right ingredients from the best games in the series and adds layers of intrigue and discovery atop a haunting reality residing within a key location, which dares you to figure it all out.
No longer are we forced to play as some capable military operative going all GI Joe on creepy virus outbreaks with no scare factors to the experience. RE7 will scare you, especially in VR and at times you may jump away from the screen, you may also fill compelled to run a bit faster in order to complete objectives sooner as to avoid standing still while listening to the haunting and grim ambient sounds instigated by the games gripping soundtrack. However, RE7 does offer what I would like to call some breathing room, allowing you to build your confidence in order to tackle the games myriad of objectives, all wonderfully strung together.
Without spoiling to much of the narrative, RE7 is set in 2017, approximately 4 years after the events of Resident Evil 6. Player control the protagonist, Ethan Winters, who recently received a bizarre video message from his wife, Mia, who has been missing for three years and presumed dead. Upon learner of her location Ethan sets out to rescue his wife from within the fictional city of Dulvey, Louisiana. Ultimately Ethan arrives at a derelict plantation mansion, home to the Baker family.
From the outset the setting is beyond questionable as you venture into this unknown plantation with no weapons and the deeper you go the more you wish you had. Upon finding Mia early into the story bizarre sequences begin to take shape as you are introduced to Zoe by phone and eventually the rest of the Baker family. The formidable Baker family consists of Jack, his wife Marguerite, their son Lucas, and an unnamed creepy elderly woman in a wheelchair, who it seems must have been added to the family list for kicks and giggles, as the creepiest character in the game. Grandma Baker has a knack for popping up in the most unusual places just to keep you on your toes. I probably should not mention this but once I actually attempted to see if I could end it all for Grandma creepshow, but to no surprise you are not allowed to give her a much deserved dirt nap. I know that sounds demented but play the game first before you judge me.
After being taken captive by the Bakers, Ethan’s reality turns into a survival contest of maintaining his sanity while also uncovering intel through heart-pounding exploration. Capcom does a great job with the balancing act here. While the RE7 scare meter is not too high depending on who you ask, I found its equilibrium in contrast to the necessary detective work equitable. If you’re a Resident Evil fan then you understand the importance or scouring every inch of the place to find those mush needed resources, despite the unnerving knocking or footstep sounds invisibly following you into a poor lit area with only your flashlight to aid your path of visibility.
Speaking of visibility, Capcom has purposely and ever-so slightly taken the players peripheral vision away for the entire experience. Players will notice a dark filtering lens-like handicap, which adds to the tension of turning corners or quickly turning around to welcome an unfriendly guest. While this subtlety is noticeable, it quickly becomes part of the experience and you rarely notice it.
I would encourage players to scrutinize as much of the games locales as possible in order to gear up with the wealth of tools and resources lingering about. As with previous Resident Evil games, Ethan eventually gain access to a variety of weapons including pistols, shotguns, axes, flamethrowers, explosives and chainsaws. And lets not forget the classic herbs which can be mixed with other useful item for first aid meds, as well as for stronger first aid meds and this only scratched the surface. From gunpowder, supplements and repairable broken guns to defense coins, ancient coins which grant Ethan access to useful items like the 44 Mag handgun, steroid pins for overall health increases, and stabilizer meds which assists Ethan’s steady shot aim and reload speed.
Surprisingly, while RE7 offers Ethan a wealth of fireworks to blast his way through Hell’s plantation, this excursion is not an action joy ride, as Capcom returns the series back to a well paced and methodical affair. Thankfully, Capcom has also graduated the series gun play. Now while aiming down the sights players can also move in any direction, only slower than if you were not aiming. This also adds to the suspense of capture as enemies will get up-close and personal to finish you off. In one scenario while trying to crouch under a wired explosive set by crazed Lucas Baker, I began hearing some unusual footstep sounds different from earlier in the game, but because I was preoccupied trying not to trip the wire above my head I instinctively decided to move backwards where the sound was coming from and address it. Still crouched I turn around and only a few inches from my face was this mutated looking human-like creatures walking on all fours which leaped at me. While taking severe damage I managed to take it down before being pushed into the explosive tripwire. Exhilarating, scary and thrilling, while the moment lasted about maybe fifteen seconds, it was a crazy adrenaline rush, which forced me to take some meds, gather myself and then move forward. It was amazing!
The intricate tale of the games story is well spliced within the cumbersome confines of the plantation, also extending itself aboard a haunting sea vessel, which is adjoined to various key locations, all with interesting story details keeping you on the hunt for more. Locating VHS cassettes and watching them gives valuable clues. Sometimes players are able to live out the video re-enactments as the unfortunate soul who experienced this ordeal. All the while Ethan is in fact watching the video learning through your actions how to overcome life or death scenarios.
If there was an award for the craziest family in video games the Baker family would certainly be nominated. Clearly the stars of the show, each of the unique characters were quite memorable. Even Mia with her dangerously bipolar personalities left a clear impression. Contrastingly, I considered Ethan to be the most uninteresting character of the bunch. This is primarily due to his lack of emotions. With everything going on around this guy and happening to him directly, you would think he would be far more worried, scared and apprehensive in how he went about his business. For the majority of the campaign Ethan is alone piecing this whole thing together, yet only very briefly does he ever speak, unless when the phone rings as Zoe aids his efforts of escape. I wanted Ethan to talk to himself, be more plausible. Maybe mention his history with Mia or make mention of some of the bizarre craziness he is encountering which is gravely unusual. Yet, it seems Capcom believes the approach of truly immersing the player is founded on the player actually being Ethan, which I can understand.
Because RE7 does much in presenting a challenging psychological experience, Ethan’s lack of is more than forgivable.
If players are brave enough to fight for the truth RE7 will eventually offer them one of two endings, predicated on a decision of saving one of two people. Upon making a choice the stage is set and the chosen path sheds valuable light on the cause and effect.
I know it has been a long time coming, but do trust that Resident Evil is finally moving in the right direction as this game is an outstanding experience. Capcom has delivered big with RE7 as the best game in the series since I can remember. While this new formula has room for improvement, as it stands, the future of the series is more than promising.
Our review was played on the PS4 Pro, with more than twenty-five percent of the game experience played utilizing the PlayStation VR. As advertised, the VR experience within the tormenting atmosphere of RE7 was gripping and we highly recommend it. Outside of the PSVR, the game runs as a visual powerhouse in 4K resolution. Not once did we experience slow downs or texture pop-ups.