So far as I can tell, Capcom have decided to give the Resident Evil series an earth-rendering shakeup for every third numbered sequel. Resident Evil 4 transformed the experience from a fairly slow paced one of various static camera angles and awkward controls to a more action oriented one, with a fixed over-the-shoulder camera and slightly less awkward controls. Resident Evil 7 once again sees the series burn the camera playbook and stomp on the ashes, by being a game played entirely in first person. It even throws you into the shoes of a brand new character. Resident Evil 10, I presume, will be a top-down twin stick shooter where you play as a dog.
Anyway. On more than one occasion I’ve seen Resident Evil 7 described as being something along the lines of “back to basics for the series” but… well… I think I’d have to disagree. There are lots of things that can be said about this game, but “it really feels like Resident Evil” ain’t one of them. Brand new characters, brand new locations, and an overall plot that doesn’t obviously link in to the Resi timeline in any direct way means it feels like a totally unrelated game. Resident Evil’s history here is nothing more than soft echoes gently reverberating around the periphery of the experience. Standard enemies are sort-of reminiscent of creatures from previous games, there’s a missable magazine that briefly mentions Raccoon City, safe rooms are present (complete with saving device and magic item box), there are herbs that can be made into more powerful curatives, some achievement/trophy titles are direct nods to previous games, and there’s even a broken shotgun puzzle; but if this had been released by a different company without the Resident Evil name attached, nobody would’ve blinked (though the ending would need a tweak).
Still, there’s nothing wrong with this being its own game. For one thing, it does (not-entirely-convincing human character models aside) look fantastic. The first person camera allows for some effective jump scares and overall creepiness of course, but it also allows you to appreciate the effort that’s gone into creating the rotting Baker family house and surrounding area. It’s not quite P.T. photorealistic, but it’s damn close. And the sound… oh, all those ambient occasional bangs and scrapes that unnerve you without having an enemy behind them. Capcom, you devious fiends!
The question those of you yet to play the game may have is: Is this survival horror, or an action game? The answer is ‘both’, really, but things tend to lean more toward action. Although this varies according to difficulty, you don’t really need to worry too much about ammo conservation or avoiding combat unless you attempt the brutal ‘Madhouse’ setting. That said, it’s important to avoid panicking when a beast lunges out of nowhere and makes a beeline for you. Shakily spraying bullets around because you were given a fright is a surefire way to see your ammo stash dwindle with alarming speed.
One Resident Evil staple that does return is limited inventory space, which will likely prove to be the biggest stumbling block for newcomers. Although you get a few opportunities to increase your carrying capacity slightly, in the early stages of the game especially it’s easy to quickly fill up all of your inventory slots if you’re not careful. Found a key you need, but have no space to carry it? You’ll have to either trudge all the way back to the nearest item box to store something, or destroy ammo or a healing item to make space there and then. Though not a major issue for criticism, careful consideration of what you need to carry with you is important.
I’d say the game stops being outright scary within an hour or so, but it remains creepy with the ability to throw effective jump scares at you right up until the end. The atmosphere is superb, equal in consistency and power to the best of the previous games. This is vitally important, because the game forces you to creep along mouldy corridors and step into dark, unknown rooms – never knowing when or if you’ll come under attack. In fact, you’ll regularly go several minutes at a time without encountering any supernatural beasties. But you can never be sure what’s around the next corner, and the developers have succeeded admirably in making sure that you’re never comfortable.
There are only really three standard enemy types that you need to deal with (with minor variations) and in this way, familiarity quickly softens the unnerving impact they have to an extent. There are bosses too… but they vary in quality. The one you can see in the second half of the footage I captured is one of the better ones (so maybe not watch if you want to avoid all spoilers), but others are little more than ‘keep shooting until they die’ affairs. One even disappointingly employs the old ‘shoot the brightly coloured weak points’ thing, hammering a crack in the atmosphere to remind you that you’re playing a videogame. The end game boss is the worst in a way, in that you literally just need to keep shooting it without dying until you’re done.
The reason the above disappoints, though, is that Resident Evil 7 isn’t a one-trick pony. There are many great ideas in there (including a Saw-inspired sequence) that never overstay their welcome. Whether you’re trying to keep steady nerves and steady hands during combat, warily exploring a building any sane person would run screaming from, or scratching your head at one of several puzzles, this game will have you gripped firmly in its jaws.
What’s the bottom line? It doesn’t feel very Resident Evil-y, but it’s easily one of the best Resident Evils yet. Take that as you will.
Review by the almighty Luke Kemp, and thanks to Xbox for the code!