Release Date: 24/01/2017
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
For us gaming enthusiasts, the console we were originally paired with usually determined the games we prefer today.
That's a bold statement, but a truism if you consider that the privileged kids that were given a Super Nintendo for their birthday are most likely the adults lining up for the Nintendo Switch today. I liken it to choosing one of the 3 Pokemon in Professor Oaks lab. So it's understandable that when I played Resident Evil 2 for the first time on a friends PS1, I was instantly hooked.
Fast forward to the present and we're now staring down the barrel of a series reboot after the monumental disappointment that was Resident Evil 6. Is it a return to glory for the series? or the nail in the coffin? Chances are you've already heard a lot about, or even already played RE7, but here's a comprehensive review of not just the vanilla game, but the current DLC's and where the series might be heading.
Resident Evil 7 starts in the sneakingly suspicious fashion of Silent Hill 2 when our protagonist Ethan Winters receives a message from his estranged wife Mia, Who he hasn't heard from in 3 years. This message basically tells Ethan that she's sorry for *whatever* she's done and for him to not come looking for her - Understandably - he starts looking for answers to her whereabouts which leads him to Dulvey, Louisiana. Where all the fun begins.
It's all within the first 10 minutes that we arrive at the Baker estate, a run-down mansion surrounded by creeping swampland. The story gets straight to the point and shortly after arriving and exploring the basement of one of the houses Ethan finds a nappy-headed Mia who explains that she's being held captive by the Baker family and that Ethan needs to get back in his car and fuck right off before the occupants find him. Which is exactly what happens.
Without ruining any more of the actual story, Resident Evil 7 is built around a cat-and-mouse struggle between Ethan and the Baker family, who each possess their own creepy quirks and character arcs.
Jack Baker is the man of the house and Army veteran, who spends the first quarter of the game turning the mansion upside down looking for you. Wife, Marguerite is more akin to a scary witch character who conjures insects (mainly wasps) to attack you from a distance and block doors and paths with creepy crawly obstacles. And finally, there's Lucas Baker, the deranged son who could be best compared to Jigsaw from the SAW movies, putting victims in clever intricate traps and watching them try to squirm their way out.
These three antagonists form the bedrock of the survival horror experience and I can honestly say they're the most terrifying and well-crafted characters I've seen in the Resident Evil series.
There are characters introduced in the final act who better flesh out the overarching story.
But we're staying away from spoilers in this review.
Firstly, Resident Evil 7 shows a true love for the series in that it pulls the franchise in an entirely new and fresh direction whilst also paying homage to previous games with things such as clever abstract puzzles that - while they may feel out of place in the setting - are satisfying to solve and don't bring the pace to a grinding halt. These puzzles usually range from finding X item to go into Y door, to a silhouette puzzle that has you aligning objects in front of a projector to match the silhouette with a painting to unlock a door.
Understandably, some of these puzzles - while strange and illogical - feel right at home within the series and are a nice throwback to RE games of old (Ethan even asks "Who builds this shit?" after solving one of the puzzles, a good question)
RE7 also features a simple item system with crafting trade-offs that give you the choice of either using your scavenged ingredients to make first aid kits or ammo depending on the situation. And improvised weapons that offer limited ammo and will leave you helpless should you use them too liberally. The last 2 are staples in the genre and feel right at home in RE7.
Learning to manage your resources early in the game is crucial seeing as if you run out hooty-tooty guns blazing and quaffing medical supplies like a junkie you're going to find yourself in some tough encounters later on with only a pocket knife and a prayer between you and whatever was on that plate in the Baker dining room.
In this regard, gameplay is satisfying and intense. You're given an array of weapons from pocket knives to grenade launchers but limited ammo to use them with. Meaning you're not invincible against enemies, but you're also not helpless. Few survival horror games have taken this on and balanced it well but it's safe to say RE7 is a satisfying blend of frantic action juxtaposed with quiet moments of eerie exploration and often times gory setpieces.
Gone are the infamous tank controls from Resident Evil 1-3 and the same for the fast paced over the shoulder scheme of games 4-6. What we have now is the view through Ethan's eyes and more realistic movement through the Baker mansion. Ethan's field of view is limited and can feel claustrophobic in some of the crawlspaces of the mansion, and this is used to full effect with characters leaping out in front of you and showing off RE7's gorgeous visuals and the attention to detail that Capcom have taken into giving every character's face obsessive attention from the wiry hair of Marguerite as she darts towards you, to seeing the gory wounds Jack sustains and still pursues you.
As I mentioned, attention to detail is something to marvel at in RE7 and its all thanks to the RE Engine. Lighting around the mansion is beautiful, shadows envelop the open areas of the house and the tighter areas are usually pitch black and leave you fumbling for the exit. Marguerite's lantern illuminates the path in front of her whilst casting her shadow behind. The Baker mansion is littered with half-finished housework, unpainted walls, boarded up windows and more than a few cases of black mould leaving the house with a truly lived-in feeling. (albeit with some neglect)
This world was crafted not just with time and effort, but with a passion for visual storytelling.
If I have any major gripe about Resident Evil 7, it's that the final act can feel out of place among the previous acts you play through. Without spoiling too much, it feels like the story leans too much on cliched horror elements rather than moving into new territory. What was a tense predator/prey scenario in the first 3 acts turns into a somewhat tedious trudge through a long cave segment, slotting the same enemies over and over whilst solving simple puzzles to slow your pace. It's not that this is on par with games like Indigo Prophecy or System Shock 2, but if I'm nitpicking, it's that the final act could've been improved
Those who've picked up the game might've also picked up the season pass, which serves to flesh out more of the backstory surrounding the Baker family and their victims. These short episodes range from survival challenges that have you take on waves of enemies whilst replenishing ammo/buying weapons/ setting up traps between rounds to playing blackjack against your will in one of Lucas' crude Saw puzzles.
The standout DLC I found was Daughters, which could be considered a prequel to the main game and explains the events leading up to the night Ethan walks into the wrong house (fool)
Capcom have stated there's more DLC on the horizon and already the season pass seems worth your money so this is definitely something to pick up if you're looking to get the full experience.
All in all Resident Evil IIV is a solid revival for the series, not just because we're washing out the taste of Resident Evil 6, but because even if this game wasn't tied to a long-running franchise it could still hold up among the other survival horror heavyweights. The future looks bright for the franchise, and it's a damn good thing this game exists.