After the widely disliked and overblown Resident Evil 6, the franchise that once reinvented horror games with the original Resident Evil in 1996 now returns with Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.
With a vastly new first-person-perspective and back to the roots direction towards horror, Resident Evil 7's demos showed many influences from other notable FPS horror games like P.T. or Outlast. It's safe to say that drastic times require drastic measures, which is why Capcom decided to pretty much renew or reinvent how we see the franchise from now on. But was this drastic change ultimately worth it, or is Resident Evil 7 nothing but another wasted opportunity?...
The player steps into the shoes of new protagonist, Ethan Winters, who is searching for his missing wife, Mia, which leads him to a derelict plantation mansion, home of the Baker family. Yet only shortly after having found Mia inside the mansion, Ethan finds himself captive by the mad Baker family themselves. Now it's up to Ethan to survive this nightmare and to stop an even greater evil that is lurking beneath the facade of the Baker home.
Even though it bears a distinct "VII" or "7" in its title, Resident Evil 7, much like its new gameplay perspective implies, feels much more like an actual reboot of the entire franchise than an actual continuation of where the series left off.
Revolving around completely newly introduced characters, fan favorite characters or past events are actually only sporadically hinted at and never factor in too much into the game's main story at all. While this may leave longtime fans a bit disappointed, it simultaneously makes Resident Evil 7 a great point to jump in for newcomers to the franchise.
Stylistically, Resident Evil 7's story, as many can already tell, also differs quite a lot from the usual Resident Evil formula. Thus, the game actually borrows a whole lot from classic horror movies like most notably The Blair Witch Project, Evil Dead or Texas Chainsaw Massacre to set up its new tone. While the game's story at first has a hard time to have you make out its connections to the other RE games, Resident Evil 7 does a great job of nevertheless immersing you from start to finish. Sure enough, the story itself in the end is rather simplistic along with some fairly obvious twists and one too many parallels to other horror game stories (which I won't mention to not spoil anything), but in the end it's a servicably well told survival horror adventure - nothing more, nothing less.
Especially the time spent struggling with the Baker family easily makes for the best moments in the game and they easily outshine any of the game's rare but obvious "Resident Evil moments".
It only further proves that Resident Evil 7 would've been initially received way better if it was just presented as a reboot of the franchise right away.
|The story itself feels more like a reboot than a sequel to the previous RE games.|
Core Gameplay Mechanics & Location - "Old but New"
The new first-person-perspective is most probably the biggest and most obvious change to the game. And even though many might be led to write this game off initially as just some Outlast- or P.T. clone, RE7 is actually quite a lot different thanks to its decision to avoid being a full-on stealth horror game.
Instead, RE7 is probably about 20% stealth, 40% combat and 40% puzzle solving. Of course it's hard to strictly divide these gameplay aspects since they blend together in the game's overall survival gameplay, yet it should be made strictly clear that RE7 is not a full-on stealth horror game. Though it might seem so at first, RE7 quickly changes its pace after you are given your first weapons to defend yourself. From then on, the entire game actually feels surprisingly very close like a first person version of the classic first Resident Evil.
|Don't worry. This is still Resident Evil and no new full-on stealth game.|
Now once again focussed more on trying to get out of horrifically hostile environments and places, RE7 is a survival adventure game through and through and not a first-person-shooter (though it of course borrows mechanics from this genre as well). Therefore, solving puzzles, managing your limited inventory accordingly and surviving several encounters with the Baker family members and several monsters is the name of the game.
Accordingly, RE7 has a comfortably slower pace than previously more action oriented RE games that lets you take in its newly found horror atmosphere very well. The Baker family's mansion is a great distinct follow-up to the Spencer Mansion from the first RE game. Though it pales quite a bit in terms of size and varied environments, it's still a ghostly place that will never have you feel safe walking through its halls and corridors.
|Even during the day, the Baker Mansion will give you an uneasy feeling.|
The biggest plus point that RE7 manages to have over even the first RE game, is that the Baker family mansion actually feels like a place where people lived in. Whereas the Spencer Mansion after short a while looked more and more just like a big facade for the actual Umbrella labs hidden underneath it, the Baker Mansion has many rooms that simply invite exploration. While of course exploration is also a vital part to find tools and items to stay alive, you can also take a detailed look at various unimportant objects that hint at a more peaceful life of the Baker family. From letters, over pictures, to won trophies, they all hint at a past life that is long gone and which simultaneously increases your own motivation of wanting to find out what happened at the Baker Mansion that turned everybody into a mad psychopath.
|Exploring the Baker Mansion and its past is an intriguing part of the game.|
Puzzles - "Puzzles for Dummies"
As already mentioned, a key component of every classic RE game is solving puzzles - and since RE7 is very "back to the roots" with its entire gameplay approach, it should be no big surprise that most of the time in the game you will be spending it on trying to obtain certain objects to open up doors and keep moving forward.
However, RE7's approach on how it presents the puzzles and how they are solved mostly feels very easy and actually does not require a lot of thinking or let alone "head scratching" to get them figured out. While most of the puzzles tend to have you twist an object in a spotlight to cast a specific shape at the wall, or to just get a certain key from a specific place, the game holds your hand during the entirety of the experience a whole lot. With that said, objectives can always be brought up in your map screen and always tell you exactly what you need to do and sometimes even where to get the necessary item from, making a lot of the game feel a bit like fetch quests with obstacles sprinkled inbetween. However, the simplicity of the puzzles would all be not too bad of a thing if there was any urgency or danger involved when solving them. Compared to the puzzles of the other classic RE games, there, many puzzles had fatal consequences when you failed to solve them correctly - mostly leading to your instant death. In RE7 however, aside from the puzzles themselves being so easy and pretty much solving themselves, you never have any urgency when solving them, which pulls the teeth out of many potentially tense moments during RE7's puzzles.
At least the objective display avoids having you be confused on where you left off when continuing the game after a long while. So at least that's handy.
|Puzzles generally feel way too easy and lack any danger of failing them.|
Enemies & Boss Battles - "The Dead, The Mad and The Ugly"
The Baker family are hands down the most prominent, entertaining and challenging enemies throughout the entire game. Most of it comes from the fact that each of them is given a distinct own personality: father Jack being the sado-masochistic violent freak, mother Marguerite being more calm and slower but bursting out in screams when chasing you, and son Lucas being a freaky plotting sadist much in the vein of the Jigsaw killer from the Saw movies. Resultingly each of the family members has a distinct own way to pursue and attack you and will also oftentimes be roaming around certain locations, which can be an unnerving experience since you never know when he or she will suddenly pop up. Thus, knowing when to fight back and when to run away is key to preserve ammo and items and ultimately to survive in RE7. And nowhere does that become clearer than when encountering one of the Bakers when roaming around in the mansion and its property, since the Bakers can not be killed but only temporarily stopped until it comes to the eventual boss fight with each one of them.
|"Welcome to the family."|
Speaking of boss fights, RE7 only features a handful of them. And while they are capably made and admittedly quite challenging, you will remember them mostly due to their presentation rather than how they are fought. From an intense build-up to the boss battle, the battles themselves are mainly only basic "shoot the bad guy at his obvious glowing weak spots" sort of affairs, without overly much of a tactic being demanded. Yet still, it's the shortage of ammo and smart placement of your shots that will make each fight nevertheless an intense and fun encounter - except for the really disappointing and short final boss battle, which basically only consists out of quicktime events.
|Boss battles aren't too special but well presented and challenging.|
Enemy variety is kept astoundingly slim though in RE7. Aside from the Baker family, you will encounter black goo monsters called The Molded throughout the game which are basically the only other enemy type that you will fight throughout the game. Sure enough they come in three different types, yet even those only distinguish themselves rather minimally, while their appearance is always heavily telegraphed by the presence of black goo in a room. They admittedly look creepy and are tough to kill throughout most of the game, yet considering the large enemy variety in other RE games, you will be constantly holding your breath for another new enemy type to appear, which sadly never happens - resultingly taking quite a bit of the novelty and even horror away from RE7, especially during the final act.
|These things are what you will be fighting against most of the time.|
Even though Resident Evil 7 boasts quite lengthy loading times, those are very much worth it when seeing how impressively well the game looks and runs.
Sporting an impressively constant 60fps on PS4, RE7 also looks the part by showcasing brilliant lighting effects and an impressive sense for detail. Though human characters often lack the detail found in other games like Uncharted 4, especially the Baker Mansion and its surrounding swampy property oozes out a distinct horror feel that will creep you out. Whereas the aforementioned apperances of The Molded monsters slowly wear off their novelty, there is no denying that they themselves are also nicely detailed albeit not that creative in terms of the monster design itself.
Whereas RE7 doesn't boast a distinct strong soundtrack or theme, it makes up for the lack of it in spades with its superb sound design.
The sound design easily is what carries 90% of the game's main horror atmosphere. Being set in an old house, you expectedly will hear weird cracking noises, footsteps, doors being shut and objects falling onto the ground constantly. It will go so far that you will actually even get spooked by your own footsteps when realizing that you are walking on broken glass or something else. Coupled with the fear of running into an enemy at every potential turn you make, the great sound design in RE7 will definitely make you feel paranoid throughout most of your experience.
|Scary sights, creepy sounds and the Bakers stalking you will make you paranoid.|
All in all, Resident Evil 7 achieved what it wanted to be - an entry into the franchise that brings back its original horror feel.
Though it does not necessarily reach any new heights, Resident Evil 7 nevertheless marks a point for the franchise from which many aspects feel fresh and nicely familiar again at the same time. While most of the game follows the same gameplay mechanics already introduced in the classic RE games years ago, the novelty of experiencing it all in first-person not only makes exploring the detailed environments much more inviting but tactics like stealth can now also be used to avoid enemies. Enhanced by the terrifying new location of the Baker Mansion along with a set of newly introduced characters and a self-contained story, Resident Evil 7 is a great jumping-on point for newcomers to the series. With that said, Resident Evil 7 actually feels much more like a reboot of the franchise than the direction continuation of the franchise that the "7" in its title implies. Connections to the events of earlier games are only vaguely hinted at and you should not expect any popular characters from the franchise to appear in a major role.
However, despite its new and very standalone feeling story, especially the boss battles with ridiculous monsters will evoke that very familiar Resident Evil feel most players will be looking for. Yet overall it's the general pacing and gameplay that still consists out of solving puzzles and surviving occasional encounters with monsters, that will strike the most parallels and make it feel belonging to the franchise. Thus, it's a bummer that its exactly these trademark puzzles and monsters that feel like they are lacking enough care or creativity, since puzzles are generally too easy while enemy variety is kept at a bare minimum in RE7.
Despite its flaws Resident Evil 7 is a good if not monumental horror game that manages to avoid becoming an "Outlast" clone and instead really feels like a Resident Evil game just from a new first-person-perspective. Resident Evil really is scary again and it will be interesting to see if Capcom will treat RE7 as a "one time experiment" or will keep moving on with it (and hopefully improve it in certain aspects) in the eventual next game.
Final Verdict: 7 out of 10