It’s been slightly over a week since Resident Evil 7: Biohazard released, shipping 2.5 million copies in that time, and all I have to say is- goddamned right. Headshots off to Capcom for finally giving us a Resident Evil that returns to its survival horror origins. RE7 is a triumph, taking a spot in the higher tier of the series’ long and sometimes shaky history. But make no mistake, RE7 simultaneously recaptures its former glory and capitalizes on more modern conventions in the best way.
After the all-out, but ultimately asinine, action and storylines of RE5 and 6, Capcom and co. finally deliver a title that feels truer to the nature of the franchise than anything else put out under the name in years. While Revelations 2 did edge a bit closer, there was nothing standout about it in the end and many fans, including myself, were left with a sense that the series was still lacking a concrete direction.
Then Capcom announced a new numbered entry back at 2016’s E3, along with a few details, chief among them being the switch to first-person view and a self-proclaimed intention to invoke the style of the early originals. Many fans then, including myself, began to cautiously, but hopefully, conjecture that this would indeed be the revitalization RE sorely needed. Let me emphasize- it is exactly that, and whatever reservations lingered until now, be assured this is both the Resident Evil we remember and wanted.
In true fashion however, the road to this point was rocky. After an oddly handled teaser/trailer, one which Capcom inexplicably updated three times while only changing minor items, there was still more confusion than excitement. With so little to go on, the question of if and how Capcom could pull it off remained. Having spent the better part of a week with RE7, my answer is- perfectly, as planned.
I don’t wish to spoil or give too much away, because it should definitely be played fresh. Most of what I will mention below was part of the pre-release gameplay/marketing information available, however I cannot avoid going into a few further gameplay/mechanic/slight plot details in order to explain why I think this game works so well, so consider yourself warned.
For starters RE7 requires barely any knowledge of previous titles. There is a broad overarching connection to the existing cannon, but it is not necessary information to understand or enjoy the core story. This is the first sign of intelligent and informed design, making it both immediately accessible to any newcomers as well as giving long-time fans a reason to be invested without feeling like this is a cheap knock-off or cash-in that the RE name was randomly slapped onto (as has been the case before, re: Umbrella Corps.)
From its outset RE7, has a Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe, though never devolving into outright parody or cliché. Set not in any exotic locale or bloated/sprawling underground Umbrella installation, but rather in the backwater swamp of a sleepy Louisiana homestead, the all-important sensation of isolation is instantly conveyed. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the spot, the Baker family, serve as the primary antagonists who present excellently frightening and deranged foes each time you encounter one of them during the course of the game. Likewise the ‘Molded’ creatures that nest sporadically throughout, ready to ooze through the floors and walls right when your guard is down; sparking flashes of panic upon hearing one form, realizing at the last second that it’s actually behind you as you whirl around hoping to have enough time to get a shot off before booking it the fuck out of the room frantically closing any open doors between you and it along the way, searching desperately for a hiding spot so as not to expend any more precious shotgun shells because you know more Molded are now spawning somewhere nearby and all the while just trying not to die!
Scenarios like the above serve to exemplify how and why RE7 achieves its goals as related to its gaming pedigree and history as a whole. It is able to successfully revive and impart that trademark claustrophobic tension, that vague sense of encroaching dread punctuated periodically by razor sharp sections of action that at its best the series was a master of attaining, all without resorting to predictable or tired jump scares. It feels as fresh here as it did originally, and sets a high benchmark for the series.
Everyman protagonist Ethan Winters is not the trained soldier Leon Kennedy or Chris Redfield are. He moves and reloads more slowly and sometimes awkwardly, making the player feel truly vulnerable. Weapons have a realistic heft and weight to wielding them that adds to this. Due to the viewpoint, it’s more difficult than ever to see what might be lurking around a corner or section of a location without exposing Ethan to danger in the process, and that makes for top-notch survival horror in the truest definition. This switch to first-person may initially seem at odds with what RE is traditionally known for, but it’s a smart move that transitions smoothly, retaining a constant unease while adding a layer of immersion that was previously absent. Taken together, they create an unsettling but viscerally satisfying experience, seamlessly oscillating between intense and cathartic at any given moment.
Sound design must be mentioned as the unsung hero and standout star of RE7 (as we decreed all good horror games should be to some degree) with so many other elements fitted to exploit the expert application of appropriate auditory arrangement; the places in RE7 themselves become alive. The effect is startling once noticed and a slowly dripping bathtub full of blood’s worth of credit should be given to how well it’s integrated everywhere in the game, producing a fantastic blend of subtle but unnerving atmosphere.
RE7 handles the more classic components deftly as well. Resource collecting and management is as streamlined and tight as ever. Safe rooms are scattered variously to save and store excess items in. Keeping a close eye on ammo/health is vital. The addition of a finely implemented crafting system gives every combinable item scavenged the potential to be made into something both useful and novel for a RE game; nothing is wasted.
Among the (few) complaints I’ve seen leveraged against it accused the puzzles of being dumbed down. Though I agree they are simple, I would argue it’s again good design to keep the player going forward vs. forcibly halting them in an attempt to solve too obtuse an obstacle, and thus risk losing any momentum built to that point. The ubiquitous search for bizarrely themed keys is here, but these sections also act as a breathing space between disturbing main boss battles, plot development, and fight-or-flight, combat-or-not encounters.
Finally, multiple playthroughs to find different items and secrets, and even interesting, alternate ways to fight or evade enemies add to replay value without the old annoyance of being spread over mostly retreaded cross-plotlines of other characters. The game is admittedly shorter, but at the same time that means no filler. It leaves plenty of room for any who wish to delve into RE7 again in search of something that might’ve been missed earlier, or try their hand in the campaign after unlocking the highest difficulty setting for an old-school hardcore challenge.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve been this...animated about anything, let alone a new game entry in a series with 20 years of baggage both positive and negative attached to it, but RE7 has brought me to such a point. Although I might stop short (for now) of going so far as to call it an instant classic like RE4, in my eyes it definitely deserves the high praise it’s been receiving and has earned its place as a worthy addition. Resident Evil-- welcome home indeed.