Resident Evil 7: Review
Horror finds a new home?
I was going to start this review with a reference to the sheer history, influence, and heritage this franchise carries not only for Capcom but games in general. The Japanese giant may be widely known as the personification of fighting games and its iterative steps within the Streetfighter saga (aside the Final Fight spin-off origins), but in Resident Evil it created an equally famous and even more lucrative portfolio.
But it has never been afraid of change and re-invention, as you can learn more about in my Retroperspective this weekend of the 4th entry in the series and again here in the 7th this is refreshingly different, new, chilling but unmistakeably a Resident Evil title.
With so much tied to the game’s first experience this is a conscious process to keep the experience for each one of you reading this. It undermines the journey the team take you on here by spoiling any of it, treading the line of pushing the edge of what is acceptable or even enjoyable in games, whilst self-referencing the history and nodding to the past. But do they succeed on those haughty aspirations or instead disappear into the horror genre night?
Influence can be seen as a bad thing by some, not myself and Capcom are also of the same persuasion. From my playthrough inspiration comes from many areas with Alien Isolation being a key muse I feel. The tense atmosphere that title brings along with its unique encounters for each player or even moment payoff just as well or maybe even more so here. Not afraid to change the tempo very quickly, never allowing you to settle into a tenor of play for long stints always keeps you hooked and engaged. Weapons are never in plentiful supply as is ammo and this brings back the first memories of the original, backed up by the puzzles in the game that, while never difficult, are at least thought provoking on enough occasions that you can kick yourself, hard when you fail to see the wood for the trees at the first attempt or is that meds for the chemicals.
Control your fate
It is littered with so many moments for long fans of the series like myself to enjoy, laugh and even geek out a little at points. The game never fails to surprise and shock across my 12-14 hour play on the Normal difficulty with Easy being the other available from the start of the game, obviously Hard is prefered. Options are plentiful here with camera movement being configurable, small HUD and reticule changes, sound, and the decent selection of VR options as this game can be completely played in that mode, covered later.
With all things set-up as you like the emersion within the world and story really grabbed me and although I did have some small quirks and issues of control at times, such as the sloth like pace you move and turn causing issues with the games more, shall we say energetic encounters, these were always very minimal and largely intentional to the games style of play and atmosphere. This carries over to all aspects of the game and its design with everything being present for a reason and not by mistake.
Unlike previous titles diving into your backpack is all real-time, crafting items, examining contents or self-medicating all happen under the stage lights. No free breathers here while you collect your thoughts and a plan, a palpable shift that makes you think and prepare before diving in. Even though the high octane, almost satirical direction of 5 and 6 have now returned to the far more sedate & vulnerable ambience of its roots this in no way makes you a victim during play.
A farewell to arms
Familiar weapons return from your trusty Glock, Shotgun, and failsafe knife but they are joined by new ones to help you on your “DOOMED” journey. These are not simply handed to you but earned through trial and retribution making them all the more satisfying when earned. But this is another win of the games design that at no point do you ever feel secure or confident in your ever-expanding repertoire, instead you simply fear what must lay ahead if you have now been granted such treats, a poisoned chalice so to speak. With this another triumph is in the games pacing between action, exploration, disgust and even self-reflection it always balances these well so that it never jades or becomes grindy. A passion from the team and its love of the Horror genre is another reason.
Referencing not just itself but also horror greats in subtle moments, witty dialogue, and even more grandiose sections you can make a tally of how many films are snuck into this. Backing this up is a great cast of actors that have all the hallmarks of the genre stereotypes from your Chainsaw Massacre macabre hillbilly family, frenzied relatives or by the book naive deputy they are all well written and performed impeccably. Helped in no short part by the games incredible visual quality all within Capcom’s second new engine this generation. You can learn far more about this and the visual quality of all the versions in my upcoming Technical Analysis and Head 2 Heads. But for this review I will cover the relevant highlights of it.
Using the ever-growing popularity of PBR materials and photogrammetry has empowered the team with the tools to create a chilling, truly horrific and ultimately the most disgusting horror title yet enjoyed. Even more impressive when it runs at 60fps across all formats with 1080P being the baseline set for all major formats, with some exceptions, you can learn more on in my Head to head. This allows the grotesque glory to seep from every wound, ooze from each bullet hole making the horror inflicted on you, and by you, even more poignant. Games have truly reached a level that allows the gore to convince and unsettle like never before and it is not afraid from making you squirm in your seat or headset as you wince from the unfolding torment it throws at you. Character models are vividly created and animated with expressive faces, fleshy tones, and much worse, all admired in macro detail The only critique is that many areas are relatively static in construction, with greater natural movement only enhancing the, already, impressive visuals maybe even adding further to the experience. But with such a high and consistent performance delivered here it is one of the minor quibbles to levy. It must be noted that performance throughout play on both a PS4 and PS4Pro alike was near rock solid and NEVER became an issue.
The horror influence still embraces the Japanese classics from The Grudge, the Ring and even Audition like levels of unease. But it also takes other western styles along with its own to push away, far away, from its Zombie horded origins. With its immaculate lighting model not afraid to allow sun light, darkness, dynamic light sources to disrupt your perception of what is real and not and light plays a larger part in the gameplay as you skulk around to solve this mystery. You are aware of your own presence and that of others making a usable light source all the more welcome.
Sound is of an equally high level with gunshots, howling winds, banging doors, disturbing whines and general audio depravity only further heightens the tension and fear that unfolds. Acting is both well written, recorded and delivered as you play the tapes during the game the tiny sound of a poor microphone and VHS hiss only adds to the authenticity here of that Blair Witch style documentary. Reverbing in spaces, occluding through walls and in VR with a set of head-phones I can tell you playing this around 1am in my room, alone can make even the most hardened man a little, shall we say anxious. Never relying on music, easy screams, or such instead it is like a drum beat that follows your actions or precedes them I play.
If you really want to push the fear factor as high as you can go then this is certainly a killer title for the PSVR and that may turn out to be literally true & not just metaphorically. In standard form, it is still a disturbing, repulsive, and downright horrible affair in the best possible sense. Like a great horror movie this sadistic need to watch through splayed fingers or push on to the next most likely even more gruesome episode compels you to continue and in VR that is ratcheted up another level. The movement can again bring on the VR legs within the hour, for me at least, but the moments in that world, face to face with such haunting characters, choices and…well... things... it leaves an even longer impression. Is this the title to buy a PSVR for? No but it most certainly IS the title you need to buy FOR your PSVR and I do not think I can praise it better than that. I just hope that Vive and OCULUS players get the chance to enjoy this along with Xbox Scorpio owners once the exclusive deal ends with Sony, it is to die for!
Controls work very well in First person with an easy aim, centre and turn option still present. The puzzles can sometimes bring you to a loop as you wander between areas but this only happened twice in my playthrough and for no longer than around 5-10 minutes before I collected my thoughts and continued my “descent”. You are given the tools, skills, and desire to complete this tail that always adds a wealth of replay value with multiple endings, hidden secrets and the VR mode making the games value really stand out, having bought 2 copies myself I should know.
The End is nigh
And with that I have reached the end of the review, light as it is in content for the very reason too much information on that will undermine the experience to be had here. It is a brave and bold new direction for the Resident evil series but one that never loses sight of what makes such a game, it is a strong return to form for it, a new direction in style, execution and technology but never strays far from the core mechanic. In some ways, it is closer to the feel of the first 2 games than any other in the series history and the fact that on the same hand it pushes new ground and tries new ways to shock and disgust you is even more of a success. As evil as the games story may be after this remarkable resurrection of the franchise that had grown stale and without purpose it feels anything but dead now. Resident Evil 4 may still hold the honour of the most lauded & innovative entry in the series but 7 is the most refreshing one since then and raises the scares, gags, and gore high above them all, a true 2017 killer.