The Resident Evil series faced a serious dichotomy over the last couple of years. Don’t change, and risk stagnation, or evolve and risk isolation. The franchise garnered a much bigger audience with its more action-orientated approach with the release of Resident Evil 4, 5, and 6, but left veteran fans longing for the survival-horror elements that made the series a household name. Resident Evil 7 is that love-letter to old-school fans, but one which capitalises on the technology available today and new gameplay mechanics of the industry, delivering something both uniquely new yet hauntingly familiar; but does this new approach do the Resident Evil name proud?
Even the underlying premise of Resident Evil 7 is a stark contrast to the muscle-bound tactical missions of previous games. You play Ethan Winters, a widower who’s mourning the disappearance of his wife, Mia. Three years after her disappearance, he gets a strange phone-call from (you guessed it) Mia, urging Ethan to stay away from a dilapidated farm house in Louisiana. Of course, like a typical man, his stubbornness forces him to go in search of Mia and uncover the origin of the mysterious phone-call. There, he encounters the Baker family, who initially appear just your run-of-the-mill insane redneck murderers, but something more sinister is at bay in the Baker household. Chaos ensues.
The story itself is a departure from the Resident Evil zombie-outbreak blueprint, and it’s a welcomed one. The Baker family are a disturbing and grotesque bunch to deal with, and the enigma around Mia and what’s actually going on in the house is a unnerving carrot on a stick.
The evil inside
From a gameplay point-of-view, Resident Evil 7 shifts the perspective away from the over-the-shoulder camera and into a first-person perspective. The result is one of the most immersive and claustrophobic experiences, making the way you interact with enemies, items, and the house itself, a much more enveloping endeavour.
While the game initially starts out with you scampering around the Baker house armed with little more than a pocket-knife, the game quickly introduces weapons into the mix. There aren’t the plethora of firearms available, but it works within the context of the story. Crafting gives players the opportunity to build some makeshift thing-killers, along with medicine, special ammo, and throwable items, if that’s what you want to use your supplies for, of course.
This ability to play how you want brings some appreciated gameplay variety into RE7, which is also complimented by the game’s lack of prompts. With one of the maniacal Bakers chasing you around the somewhat open-ended house, there’s no “go here/do this” instruction prompts. The what-would-you-do survival scenarios elevate the game into a more grounded and problem-solving sphere.
And speaking of problem-solving, familiar puzzles also return, although they’re not as challenging as some past games, they do bring a nostalgic charm to the journey.
Resident Evil 7 manages to change the formula but retain the effect. It’s a masterful horror experience, bolstered by some great gameplay ideas, a spine-chillingly sublime presentation, and bizarre story synonymous of the Resident Evil name. The result is one of the most frightening experiences ever made and one of the best games of 2017.
Resident Evil 7 is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC.
*Resident Evil 7 also features full VR-support, however, we were unable to test to VR mode at the time of writing.