I feel a bit bad for the Resident Evil series. When it started out, way back when, it was a real genre starter. The foundation that many games after it would use. Somewhere, in later games though, it lost its way. It went from the suspenseful limited location area, with not many enemies and limited ammo and resources, to a more action-y shooter game. That’s fine, in general. Games evolve, but deep down I always felt Resident Evil wanted to always be that survival horror game again. That’s where Resident Evil 7 comes into the picture.
The story focuses on Ethan, a man who receives a video from his wife, Mia, who has been missing for three years saying to say the hell away. Naturally he does not do this, and ends up visiting an old house where the video is meant to have come from. Things do not go well, and within moments, Ethan is captured by the Baker family, a cliché family of hillbillies who eat human flesh. It’s all very reminiscent of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but that’s far from a bad thing. It’s certainly not the only influence either.
You’re given myriad weapons throughout the game to try and keep the Bakers and the Molded (the game’s version zombies this time around) at bay. The thing I love, other than that there is a decent lack of ammo again, is that Ethan doesn’t feel like an expert marksman. He’ll use weapons but enemies reel when you hit them, and lurch awkwardly toward you, making those desperately needed headshots harder to land. You spend encounters balancing between wasting precious ammo on fast and furious shooting for the head, or wasting time when the enemy is headed your direction, hoping the bullet will make them reel again, or kill them outright. It’s tense.
This tenseness is balanced by not having so many enemies. The Baker’s can’t be taken down for long and they will stalk you, but with careful planning and an open ear, you can stay away from them. Doing enough damage to slow them down for a while is possible, but it’s such a waste of ammo, and running can lead you into multiple enemy encounters, which is definitely not what you want. Encounters are designed to be stressful because they’re mostly one-on-one.
Inventory management is an insane pain though; it’s almost classic Resident Evil trope by now. More times than I could count I would run out of inventory slots but want that ammo or herb in front of me, so I’d be forced to either drop something, craft something, or make a trek back to the ‘safe rooms’, where there is an item chest to store things. It slows down things a bit, but it also keeps you using items rather than hoarding them. By the time the last fight came around I was still flush with items just because I’d been pre-programmed so hard from other games to hold onto everything. Don’t be like me.
First time through the game took me around nine hours. I died a bunch, partially because I’m stupid, partially because encounters are tough. Like most other games in the series there’s an encouragement to do it multiple times to get more unlocked items. Madhouse difficulty (also a pre-order bonus) for completing the games changes enemy and item positions, makes everything harder and forces you to use cassettes to save, like the older games. It’s tough, but there’s also a fondness to the callback I really appreciate. Some of the other unlocks come from doing certain things: finding all the files, completing the game quickly etc. I really love that they added these challenges in for players rather than just increasing the difficulty.
I feel there’s more to the story to tie this more to the Resident Evil franchise. A lot of the times through the game I felt like it could’ve been named anything and still be perfectly fine, but I feel like I’m missing some piece of the puzzle. Maybe another play through will make it clearer, and it certainly doesn’t take away from the game at all, but right now I don’t feel like this ties in to the universe. Hell, maybe that’s a good thing.
Resident Evil 7 is a great game. The environments are awesome and it’s tense and scary. The Baker family is full of personality and make you dread seeing them again because of how raw and inhuman they are. With the exception of some inventory management annoyances, and a slow crosshair speed, this is an absolutely fantastic game. I hope that Capcom take some lessons from how well this is getting received and move forward in this direction. RE7 breathes life into the rotting corpse of the series, and it’s all the better for it.