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Initial thoughts on Resi 7's performance & Evil Deadiness

Thoughts on the first couple of hours

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Adam’s handling our full Resident Evil 7 [official site] review, but in the meantime I thought I’d share some more immediate thoughts on how it runs, what it looks and feels like and if it seems at all on course to be the series reinvention it strove for. (By which I mean: I really, really wanted to play it too and this is how I justify doing so in work hours.)

Note that this does not include any storyline spoilers outside of the barest facts of the setting, or anything specific about the threats you face, but does discuss the broader structure and nature of some early obstacles. If you want to in totally cold, don’t read this yet, but if you already know basically what Resi 7 is about, you’ll be fine.
I’ll do the dry technical stuff before I talk about the game itself. First thing to say is that it runs more or less like a dream. The only settings that knocked it below yer 60 whatnots for me (on a Radeon R9 Nano running at 2560×1440) was shadows at Very High and ambient occlusion at HBAO+ – neither of which made any appreciable visual difference when set one notch lower. Maxing either of these two features out did 20 FPS worth of damage, but honestly, didn’t need ’em.

The only other thing to mention in terms of performance is that having it set to Borderless Window rather than Fullscreen also shaved between 10 and 20 frames off, depending on the scene I was in. Fortunately, it alt-tabs like a champ even in fullscreen, so this isn’t a biggie.

More of a biggie is that Resi 7: The Whole Boogaloo doesn’t look as horribly lovely as the demo which preceded it did. Textures are noticeably less detailed, and all told there’s a slight patina of sludge even to environments shared wholesale with the excellent demo. It’s not awful, but it is a disappointment: I was all set for splendour based on what I’d played a couple of weeks ago. I even overclocked my graphics card specially, the nerd equivalent of spraying on a little Davidoff Cool Water before going out to bore their date senseless.

I don’t know if the reason for this is that development urgency meant the full game just couldn’t enjoy that extra bit of spit and polish that a short, contained demo can, or that its additional and in some cases expanded environments simply means that it’s more limited in how high-end it can go. Anyway, it’s one of those things that people are complaining about, but it’s a wee small letdown, not at all a deal-breaker.

Same goes for the sad (SAD! – Ed) lack of 21:9 support – this only affects a few of us I know, but it’s always a shame that the option to see games at their absolute best is absent, and once again, the demo did offer this. Bizarre, really. Black bars it is for me, but I can live with that because…

…so far, coming up to the two-hour mark, this is a very good videogame. First and foremost, it’s been consistently unsettling so far, even when some of its key threats are in plain sight. At least some of its initial environments (and even a couple of sequences) are shared with the demo, and even having toured those a couple of times already, they still wove their sinister spell. More so, if anything, because differences both subtle and overt meant that I’d occasionally fall into a sort of complacency – oh, I know what’s there already – only to have my expectations sometimes dramatically confounded.

But even without the big stuff, this is a foetid house haunted by creaks and thuds that often sound far too close for comfort, and slumped shapes in the shadow suggest monstrous things without necessarily being them. As in the demo, every step is accompanied by the sick sense that something is going to happen – that something is going to appear. Sometimes, it does. Very rarely is it what I might have predicted it to be.

Oh, there’s no shortage of tropes here, even down to a protagonist who doesn’t quite seem to notice how blatantly monstrous the situation he’s in is until too late (e.g. simply saying ‘damn’ when the front door locks itself behind him, and failing to make any comment about photographs which clearly show the person he’s looking for has been in grave danger but blandly muttering ‘must be the people who live here’ at another, plainer photo nearby). In some respects, the art design particularly goes overboard, but taken as part of a deeply unsettling whole, it’s all good. By which I mean Jesus Christ.

What’s delighted me most of all, however, is a key shift in the nature of the game. And I don’t mean the first-person perspective, although that does play a massive part of ramping up the fear factor – there’s far more claustrophobia and sense of vulnerability than you get with a third-person camera. You can only see what’s ahead of you. It switches things up brilliantly. I suppose it’s more of a loss for people who have historically been in love with Resi characters, as there’s less to attach to here, but they were never the draw for me so I’m delighted by this new perspective.

Nor is the shift I’m talking about related to an apparent movie away from Resi’s traditional zombies, or even Resi 4’s more Lovecraftian take on the infected human concept. It’s about the fact that, so far, Resi 7 has moved from Living Dead to Evil Dead.

Anything may of course change in the later hours, but so far it’s not been a matter of facing up to or fleeing from a horde of voiceless enemies, but rather repeated entanglements with just one foe, who returns again and again no matter what you to do them, and, crucially, talks to you all the while.

We finally get to talk the monsters, but, as with the seductions and lullabies which characterise many Deadites’ initial interactions with Ash, in Resi 7 they’re playing mindgames. Not for comedy by any means – this is straight-faced horror – but it bites. Your enemy is a character, not a jobbing monster. And there are many question marks around them, as to what they may really be and how you should feel about them. I can’t go into any detail, of course, but the stuff I’m alluding to makes these encounters all the more chilling. Even the use of weapons has a brand new unpleasantness to it.

For all I know, come the next room I’ll just be headshotting a legion of identizombs, so don’t take any of this as gospel praise for the whole game – let’s wait to see what Adam has to say in the next day or two. It’s such a strong start though, dragging Resi back into relevancy and unpredictability, refreshing an old formula as sweepingly as 4 did. So far.

Does it feel like a Resident Evil game? Yes and no. It certainly evokes the claustrophobia, menace and uncertainty that I felt when I first played the original game, even though almost everything around that essential tone has changed. It’s also got that sense of grisliness and disgust that characterised the opening hours of Resi 4. It’s far more buttoned down than either of those, apart from when it’s in-your-face in a way the series has never tried before, but, essentially, we are back in a survival horror monster house.

I hope it can keep it up. Even if can’t, the thing’s been so consistently tense and threatening so far that I need to take a break every 10 minutes, so I suspect I’ll get my money’s worth out of it.

More soon. Hush, little baby, don’t say a word.

Resident Evil 7 Biohazard is out now on Windows via Steam and Humble for £40/$60/€50.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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