Resident Evil 7 Review: A return to form

Have you ever wonder what it would be like to wander around a haunted Louisiana plantation house while also being chased by cannibals, monsters, and other creepy crawlies with only a limited amount of ammo to defend yourself and a low chance of survival?

No? Yeah, me neither.

However, Resident Evil 7 puts you in that hellish nightmare, and it does so in such a fantastic way that the Baker plantation home may be where you desire to spend your days off in the foreseeable future.

Evil comes home.

To great surprise, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a return for the series to its classic survival horror roots, while at the same time showing wonderful innovation through the integration of first person gameplay and call backs to old Resident Evil staples. It is wonderful. Gone are the over the shoulder third person perspectives and heavy action set pieces that were established in Resident Evil 4, and then copied with less effectiveness in RE5 and RE6. Instead, Resident Evil 7 re-establishes the series as a voice in the survival horror genre.

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I don’t want to spoil any aspect of the story for you because, honestly, this may be one of the best executed Resident Evil stories since Resident Evil 2. You begin with no knowledge of what is going on or why anything is happening. However, over the course of the game the story is revealed to you slowly, piece by piece.

Here is what you should know going into the game. Resident Evil 7 takes place in the year 2017, still in the original Resident Evil universe, in the fictional Dulvey, Louisiana. You play as a man named Ethan Winters whose wife, Mia, has just sent him a message after being presumed dead for three years. As is in traditional horror fashion, Ethan decides, rather than sending a private investigator, to travel down to Dulvey and find Mia himself. From there Ethan is lead to the Baker’s home, and all hell breaks loose.

Almost immediately, from the moment you turn on the game, it begins setting up the scares and atmosphere. In fact, one place that the game excels is in utilizing its new first person perspective to establish a genuinely creepy atmosphere and mood. One of the reasons the old Resident Evil games were so scary was that the forced camera angles meant that you could not see everything around your character. You could be caught off guard and killed. The first person brings this element back to the series, but in a more modern way, as experienced in games like Alien: Isolation and Outlast.

Many players, early on, may even call out the immediate similarities to Alien and Outlast. However, Resident Evil 7 is not a copycat of these two games in any fashion. In many ways, it takes lessons learned from these two games in creating a first person horror game, and then blends those lessons with its own series norms. For example, a place where old fans will have immediate flashbacks to classic Resident Evil games is with the combat and inventory.

Resident Evil 7 took its original third person combat and translated it to first person. Back are the limited enemy amounts, rather than constantly respawning enemies. You can pump bullet after bullet into an enemy in the hopes it will finally die, or you can go for that sweet and overly satisfying head shot. This is reminiscent to the original 3 games in the series in that once you kill an enemy that enemy remains dead. They do not constantly respawn to maintain a threat. Instead, the threat comes from choosing whether to use the ammo to kill that enemy. Choosing to engage in combat opens you up to getting hurt, which will cost you items. You may also miss, which will cost you ammo that you may need in the future. Nothing is guaranteed in this type of combat, and as such it give a real sense of anxiety and survival when exploring the world and fighting. This is what survival horror started as, and it has returned in full force.

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The inventory is another place where fans will notice an immediate call back to the old games. You begin the game with a limited amount of inventory space. If it is full then you have to choose between what items to keep and what to get rid of. The game does bring back world linked item boxes that you can store your times in. But, these are scattered around the world and force you to fight or sneak past some rather dangerous enemies to simply save an extra herb or ammo.

Welcome to the family, son.

A place where the game excels is with the story’s villains. Now, too much cannot be said about them without giving away massive story spoilers, and so we will avoid these like a T-Virus plagued zombie or Nemesis. However, what can be said is that the games poster family, The Bakers, are some of the best villains this games series has seen in years. They help to maintain a constant threat while you wander through their dilapidated home, and create some very interesting boss fights along the way.

The boss fights in Resident Evil 7 are well done and always feel like a threat. They are not easy, and, unlike many games today, can still kill you easily even if you are used to the mechanics or have beaten it before. In fact, there is one boss fight segment in the game involving the Bakers that will honestly be the talk of survival horror for years. It haunts my dreams, and has been the talk of everyone I know who plays the game. It was wonderfully horrifying.

As often happens with first person horror games, the main character is the least developed of all of them. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Ethan’s personality was constructed in a way to reflect the mentality of the player. Many times, throughout the game, he asks the same questions that we do. So, rather than having a silent protagonist that we can put ourselves in, he is utilized in a way where we related to him because he asks the questions we are asking through quips or dry humor. In fact, since Ethan is a modern everyman it helps to add to the threat that the enemies in the game possess. He isn’t some S.T.A.R.S. or B.S.A.A. member. Instead, he is an average guy who is looking for his wife. Ethan, like you, is thrust into this situation and you must adapt immediately or die. In fact, it is this relatability that helps to build the creepy atmosphere and world. Ethan knows nothing about what is going on, and neither do you.

You have just as much insight in the what is going on as Ethan does.

Now, two aspects I did not get to play with are the game’s VR capabilities and the Madhouse difficulty that is unlocked after the game. I cannot attest to how well the VR works, but if it works well then this game would be absolutely wonderful to play using VR. They have set up many moments and shots in the game that, when coupled with the already terrifying atmosphere, would make the game far more horrifying. I was freaked out playing this game on my television. If it was projected right in front of me with headphones, I would probably need a new couch.

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As for the “Madhouse” difficulty, this is where the real challenge of Resident Evil 7 comes into play. This new difficulty makes the game harder, and more like classic Resident Evil by removing checkpoints and adding limited saves. Like in older entries in the series, where you needed ink ribbon to save, the “Madhouse” difficulty makes you locate single use cassette tapes to save. After you use them they are gone forever. Also, since checkpoints are gone dying means you return to your last save rather than a previous autosave. In this difficulty, enemies are also hard and items are most sparse. This is the ultimate Resident Evil 7 experience and one that I cannot wait to dive into personally.

Speedrunner paradise.

The game itself takes about 10 hours to complete on normal mode your first time through, potentially longer if you take your time to find all of the secrets hidden around the plantation home. To some people, that may sound short, but the game was exactly as long as it needed to be. At no point in playing the game did it seem to be dragging on longer than it needed. Some survival horror games fall into that trap in that they add unnecessary, and often frustrating portions of the game in order to make it longer. Resident Evil 7 does not do that. It lasts exactly as long as it needs because it tells the story it wants to tell from start to finish.

Resident Evil 7 is one of the best installments to this series in years. After playing through the game a couple of times I would argue that is one of the best in the series. The game is well made with its creepy use of atmosphere, well executed story, and replayability that it offers for new and old fans alike. Many people worried that Resident Evil was a series very much dead in the water after installments 5 and 6. However, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard has resurrected this once influential survival horror series, bringing it back to being the standard for survival horror games to come, and paving the way for future installments. I, for one, cannot wait to jump back in once the DLC begins releasing allowing for me to return to Dulvey, Louisiana. Until then, I’ll be trying to survive the madhouse.

Verdict: Play this game.

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