Wot I Think: Resident Evil 7

An hour in to Resident Evil 7 [official site], lead character Ethan is having the worst day imaginable. Heading deep into the bayou to search for his missing wife, having received an email from her three years after her disappearance, he finds himself trapped in a horror house, taking part in a bizarre and brutal game of cat and mouse. He is the mouse and the various cats come in the form of local residents, The Baker Family. Ethan is your eyes, but it’s the Bakers who are the stars of the show, and what a wonderful show it is.

Resident Evil 7 walks a difficult line. It’s both a return to the series’ horror house roots and a bold departure from the third-person puzzling and head-popping of the main entries in that series. It succeeds by delivering on both fronts, true to its origins but also eager to explore new ground.

If you’ve played Beginning Hour, the demo that introduced the first-person perspective and one of the game’s smaller locations, you’ll have a very good idea what to expect from the actual beginning hour. It’s familiar territory, a slow-burn of dread that has you traipsing through a house mankier than even the worst student digs. The muck and the grime and the gore are layered on thick, and even though there’s less detail than in the demo, it’s all beautifully grotesque, and the pacing is perfect.

Pacing in horror is a tricky thing. There’s the slow creep toward a crescendo of dread and violence favoured by the likes of The Shining or A Tale of Two Sisters, and the slow tightening of anxiety followed by startling catharsis, that can be either comic or cruel. That second option sometimes becomes a predictable sequence of quiet quiet quiet quiet BANG quiet quiet quiet quiet SCREAM quiet quiet quiet quiet CORPSE, and I didn’t expect anything more from Resident Evil’s opening. Isolated house, dark corridors, darker basement, creaking floorboards, a horrid VHS tape…

Rather than using all of those elements to build toward monstrous jump scares, Resi 7 finds a shrieking pitch that stirs up memories of The Evil Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist and a hundred video nasties. There are quiet moments throughout the game but when things escalate, they escalate quickly and ferociously, and the first act lays the table perfectly for the feast that follows.

It’s a feast made up of so many courses that I continually found myself excited to see what came next, while also having occasional doubts about how it all fit together. It’s a game that sometimes seems like its losing its grip, not quite sure what kind of horror story it wants to tell, but in the end, the way it reels from one fright to the next felt like exactly the right approach. I laughed a few times, when once-threatening figures tipped over into absurdity, but I was soon wincing at some new twist in the tale, sent cowering back into the shadows.

Resident Evil 7 is inventive. Although its main point of reference is the first game, its energetic changes of pace show some common ground with series creator Shinji Mikami’s The Evil Within as well. That under-rated (by me, at release) gem was directed by Mikami, who also took lead on Resis 1 and 4, and it played with its creator’s own past, most obviously when revisiting a version of the Spencer Mansion. Something similar is happening here, though with less of the surreal scene changes of Evil Within.

Where Mikami’s latest is like a remix tape of various horror subgenres, Resident Evil 7 is a dirtier, nastier take on the original. It seems to take cues from all over the place, from the films mentioned at the beginning of this review to Monolith’s melee-focused horror-brawled Condemned: Criminal Origins, but when you peel away the layers and look at what really makes it tick, it’s Resident Evil through and through right down to the safe rooms and their item boxes. Given how distant from the increasingly daft main series plotlines the demo seemed – even hinting it might be about hauntings rather than viruses and sort-of-zombies – I was concerned that the gloomy mood might fall to pieces as soon as the shadow of Umbrella Corporation fell over proceedings.

For the most part this is a game that looks at horrible acts of violence happening far from the reach of special forces heroes and corporate science villains, and where it is frightening (and it often is), the sense of isolation is a vital component of the terror. You’re stranded in a place inhabited by monstrous people, they want to kill you (or worse) and nothing else really matters. “GET OUT OF THE HOUSE”, as the prime objective says. Not “PUNCH THE WESKER” or “EXPLODE THE LAB”. Just GET OUT OF THE FUCKING HOUSE.

To my surprise, Resi 7 slots into the series neatly though, and without damaging the tone of this new entry. In part, that has nothing to do with the way that the connection plays out – and I won’t spoil that at all – and has more to do with how traditional Resi 7 feels once you scratch beneath the surface. The things that you do, for the most part, wouldn’t feel out of place in any of the core, numbered entries in the series The first-person perspective lends the horror a much greater immediacy than the camera angles of 1-3 and over-the-shoulder action cam of 4-6 could ever hope for, and the design of the Baker residence and the game’s other areas makes the most of the new perspective. Like Alone in the Dark before it, Resident Evil often used its camera angles to make you feel as if your character was being watched. Where you were observed, you’re now the observer, looking at every grim detail up close.

And it’s no mistake that the Baker’s home feels like a broken-down version of the Spencer Mansion. The latter was a front, hiding underground labs and dark secrets, but the Bakers have all their dirty laundry on display, and the skeletons have already left the closets; they’re sitting down at the table waiting for dinner to be served. Ethan may or may not be that dinner.

We need to talk about Ethan. I nearly referred to him as Ethan Surname in the first paragraph because I genuinely couldn’t remember his name, but I thought that might be confusing. He is Mr Surname though, a boring man who doesn’t seem either frightened or curious enough about his situation. At one point he’s trying to convince someone that he’s an innocent, trapped, and he sounds like he’s trying to explain that it wasn’t him that blocked the toilet rather than that he’s terrified for his life and trapped inside a horror house.

The game itself sometimes seems unsure of what it wants to be – whether it’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre or one of the sequels that makes Leatherface into a bit of an oaf, and sniggers at his family – but it is so damn good at being all of the various things it attempts that it works tremendously in the end. Just as the original was never really a George Romero game, but rather its own weird little mashup of mad science and mutants, Resident Evil 7 is very much its own thing. Ethan is a bit of a blank at the centre of it though and thank god it’s all in first-person so you can mostly ignore him.

And thank god for the Bakers. They’re awful, spiteful and cruel, but most importantly, they’re vocal. There are some similarities to Resi 3’s Nemesis enemy, an unstoppable creature hunting you across the entire game, but these bastards are far more enjoyable. One of your first fights will be against a member of the family and it’s a good example of how gunplay tends to go down. Put simply, bullets are hard to come by and not all that useful. There’s a fair amount of combat throughout the game and you’ll pack more than the initial peashooter of a pistol, but it’s never the focus. Everything is more dangerous, and more interesting, than poor old Ethan.

Shooting and stabbing and bludgeoning feels a lot like survival horror combat planted into a first-person perspective. It works well, but you’re mostly at very close quarters, firing off rounds in a panic and hoping to hit whatever looks most like a face. You can see the wounds left by bullets and knives, which sounds terrible, but is actually extremely satisfying. If the fuckers won’t drop quickly, at least you can see them falling apart piece by piece.

The stealth doesn’t work quite as well as the shooting. For reasons mentioned already, you’ll want to avoid combat as much as possible and there are certain encounters that you simply can’t win. To take down the toughest of your enemies, you’ll need to be in the vicinity of the proverbial kitchen sink that finishes them off once you’ve thrown everything else at them. So you sneak. Except you don’t, not really. You can crouch and you can walk slowly, but you can’t lean around corners to check if someone is coming, and most of the areas are so compact that hiding is tricky. It’s frustrating because the sound design, an essential component of most good stealth games, is extraordinarily good. Threats, abuse gurgles, growls and laughter bleed through the walls, helping you to locate enemies, and you’ll hear them stomping around the house, hunting for you. Oh, for a lean button to allow for a visual check that doesn’t involve flopping your whole body into view when you want to check around a corner.

In the end, it’s a minor complaint because the game does so much else well, and special mention should be made of the PC version’s strengths. It has solid mouse and keyboard support (I never thought I’d be playing a Resi game, on launch day, on a PC, using a mouse), lovely graphics and plenty of settings to tinker with. I’ve had slight loading stutters when entering new areas, but they don’t last long and my GTX 970 is hardly top of the range anymore.

As for the game itself, the scripted chases outshine Outlast with their brilliant tension and there are great first-person animations (you can’t see Ethan’s body when you look down, but his hands are very expressive) that make you feel more a part of the environment. The flashback VHS tapes, though few and far between, are a brilliant touch, and just one more part of the game that could have been run into the ground had Capcom overused them. No one aspect overstays its welcome and even in its final hour, the game feels fresh.

That said, even as the end approached and Ethan’s story seemed to be done, I still didn’t care about him at all. He’s flat, bland and the one big turning point in his development seemed preposterous. Resident Evil 7 isn’t really his story at all though. It’s the Baker family’s story and they’re magnificent. Grotesque, yes, but delightfully so. Like Friday the 13th, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street and the rest of their kind, it’s a game centred on its villains rather than their victims. And, like those series, this is a game that can scare you, startle you, shock you, draw a nervous laugh out of you and make you shake your head in disbelief, but mostly it’s just here to entertain. And the Bakers are right at the horrible heart of it all.

Resident Evil 7 is out now for Windows, via Steam for £39.99.

52 Comments

  1. MiniMatt says:

    …through a house mankier than even the worst student digs.

    Speaks a man who didn’t go to Leicester Uni…

    Glad this one has turned out ok, Resident Evil has left a soft spot in my heart ever since that first one induced heart attacks at zombie dogs jumping through windows.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    Man, it’s always fun to read a glowingly positive review like this.

    Too bad horror games scare me shitless and I can’t sleep after.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Probably for the best since the faceless old woman visits you when you’re asleep.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    I’ve played the first hour or so, and I’m past the first section. The initial area is essentially similar to the demo, but with various differences (not all of which I explored, this time around, I hope I didn’t miss anything important).

    It’s best moments are when it’s tense, it’s dark, and you’re not sure where you’re going or what you need to do to escape. The general design is great, the house is cramped, creepy and disgusting and I’m really enjoying it so far.

  4. Squirrelfanatic says:

    From what I’ve seen so far, the chasing bits and cheap jumpscares are not very interesting and kinda predictable (not sure if that’s a bad thing though). The AI also appears to be easily exploited in spots where the game doesn’t go for insta-fail stealth bits. For example, enemies won’t spot you standing in the open door to a save room and won’t come looking for you in that dark corner of a room that obviously has only one exit, even if they saw you run in.

    The setting is an interesting change to the same old over-the-top sillyness that the last couple of RE games featured, but personally I got bored pretty fast by the recurring theme of “better find out where the enemies don’t look or you’ll have to play this bit again”.

    • Jalan says:

      I’ve read a lot of complaints about this game (equal parts troll and genuine) but I think that’s the first one where I’ve seen someone point out that it’s wrong for the traditional Resident Evil “safe room” to be… well, a safe room (yes, even the open doorway).

      • Squirrelfanatic says:

        But that’s not what I said and the issue is not limited to just safe rooms.

        They could have easily avoided the issue of enemies ignoring you in plain sight by forcing the door to a safe room shut behind the player. As it is right now, it just makes for comic relief when zombie daddy walks past you yelling “Nowhere to hide!”.

    • gunny1993 says:

      I’d argue that there is no such thing as an unpredictable jump scare, I mean, you’re playing a horror game, why on earth would you not expect there to be a jump scare at any given point.

      The second episode of the new black mirror series hit the nail on the head. It pointed out that it doesn’t matter how much genre knowledge you have, how often you can point out where a jump scare may happen, it’s still scary.

      • Squirrelfanatic says:

        Good point, I guess you’d have to look seperately at two kinds of expectation here though. First, you have what you just described, the knowledge of the game you’re playing being a horror game and also the jump scares you’ve already encountered (assuming the game in question doesn’t just provide one of them…). So something like an “expectation from setting and atmposphere” maybe. Effects like these could for example be represented by a scene where you’re sneaking around a room of which you fully know a baddy has just been in, maybe you even hear the monster down the hallway and think “If I open this door, there is a good chance he’ll just jump at me.”.

        And then there is, I assume, a second kind of expectation, or rather something that has more to do with attention at a moment-to-moment scale. Let’s assume that the game at hand doesn’t just consist of one big chasing scene or permanent hide and seek. There might also be some puzzling or maybe even platforming involved. In such a situation, your attention most likely isn’t focussed on detecting signs of approaching danger (and most jump scares offer little of that anyway), so when the monster breaks through the wall or smashes in the door or drops down from above you almost literally get pulled out of the task you were doing just now and get a very immediate reaction to the unforeseen appearance of danger.

        This should even work in games that are all about scares, as long as they manage to distract the player to a sufficient degree, for example by introducing her/him to an interesting non-combat task, as long as the lure into a false sense of security doesn’t become too obvious.

        • gunny1993 says:

          Good points, I’d proably have to say that from what I’ve played of it re7 does it very well.

          I’d also add a third factor, one that uses genre knowledge to aid the effect. If I know in horror games long corridors and dark corners are jump scare territory then I definitely expect them when they’re there. If the entire area is made out of dark corners and long corridors then you hit a mental state where the predictions you make are working against you, because when the scares don’t happen they create that false sense of security

      • ButteringSundays says:

        “The second episode of the new black mirror series hit the nail on the head. It pointed out that it doesn’t matter how much genre knowledge you have, how often you can point out where a jump scare may happen, it’s still scary.”

        I (along with most viewers, I’m sure) knew exactly what the conclusion of that episode was going to be, and yet I still found the whole thing horrifying from start to finish. Knowing didn’t have any impact. Very clever writing, touched me in a way no horror has before. I didn’t sleep well for a week after that.

  5. stringerdell says:

    Tempted to wait until VR is more affordable to get this one. On the other hand (and at the risk of sounding like a big baby) that might be too scary…

    • renner says:

      From what I understand, it’s exclusive to PSVR for a year, and then *might* come to Vive/Oculus. So you’ve got some time!

      • Ckrauser says:

        They could honestly charge for the VR version as a dlc and I could see it selling very well.

      • ButteringSundays says:

        It will, it would be nuts for it not to. The vagueness is just part of the ‘exclusive’ marketing BS.

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      teije says:

      I’m such a big baby I didn’t look at the screenshots in this review too closely in case they were scary. No way I could play this.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      I tried Kitchen on PSVR recently, and it is wonderful(ly horrible). But yeah, the full game in VR would probably kill me.

  6. int says:

    Yeah I also found it very strange that there is no way to lean. It would be useful for when Jack is looking for you.

  7. Lieutenant_Scrotes says:

    From watching people play this using PSVR, leaning around corners is actually incredibly useful. It’s easily the best VR game out to date.

    A shame that it’s exclusive to the PSVR for a year, even more of a shame that leaning isn’t included for non VR users.

    • GAmbrose says:

      Absolutely, I could have played this on a 4k OLED TV with HDR but instead I’m using PSVR at its dramatically lower resolution.

      And yet, it’s the best experience I’ve had for ages. I wouldn’t say I scare easily but being IN the game rather than watching adds a whole new dimension (literally) and it’s made me jump more than any other game…And yes, I played Resident Evil in 1996 and remember the dogs jumping through the window.

      Leaning is such a natural thing to do in PSVR that I didn’t realise the non VR versions didn’t let you do this! I’ve found the stealth works pretty good because of that (Got a ‘trophy’ for not being discovered in one of the early flashback/VHS sequences)

      It’s only January but I might struggle to top this as best gaming experience of 2017.

      • Tinotoin says:

        That sums up my position exactly. Strangely, I’ve found that although the horror experiences on VR are more frightening to me, I’m much more able to tolerate them and continue, as it’s just that much more fun than a flat screen.

        Shame my disc doesn’t arrive until tomorrow though!

  8. racccoon says:

    Your review is way over the top and your blinded. R7 is just such a waste of talented model and art work which we are forced tirelessly NOT TO USE, The game just is so restricted and what a waste of modelling stuff that’s like a brick stuck solid in concrete and is so dam useless to the player. Smashing stuff is laughable as you can not do that at all either. I loved R1 but that was decades ago this is 2017! restricted environments drive many a player batty as its not normal not to able to use it or even trash it.

    • Shakes999 says:

      Yes yes, we all heard you crying about it in the last thread, move along.

    • Thants says:

      What a strange thing to fixate on.

      I suspect the people who judge a Resident Evil game by how destructible the environment is may literally just be you.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      I feel you. I hated Fifa ’16 because you couldn’t make a doll’s house out of scrambled egg. AT ALL!

    • GAmbrose says:

      Maybe it’s just you? My first thought when playing a game like this isn’t to try and trash everything in sight.

    • Al Bobo says:

      Huh, I never really noticed that I can’t break objects apart and I’ve almost finished the game. I guess I was too busy with enjoying the game to pay attention to such a thing.

    • Viral Frog says:

      Is this a legitimate gripe or just a really well disguised troll post? I can’t speak for anyone else here, but I personally don’t find indestructible environments to be a factor in my enjoyment of a game at all. Unless the big marketing ploy is, “100% fully destructible environments,” it’s not going to rustle my jimmies in the least.

    • stele says:

      Sounds like you’d enjoy those LEGO games a lot more, where you pretty much HAVE to smash up a bunch of stuff.

    • Lieutenant_Scrotes says:

      You can destroy crates, it’s actually encouraged as they often have items inside. There are also many objects with appropriate physics which can be moved around, chairs, tin cans etc. Objects can frequently be picked up and examined.

      The ‘father’ character treats the environment with the same respect as Nemesis from Resident Evil 3.

      The only person blinded here is you racccoon.

    • Poolback says:

      Something interesting to note about this point is that, in an interview with the developers, they said they put a lot of useless object in the house so that the whole place feels more real in VR. Take those away, and the game will feel completely empty. So they are far from being useless.

  9. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    Definitely loving the experience so far, but it’s early setup still, too soon to judge how emergent or scripted the game proper will be.

    Graphically it’s a strange beast though: no option to disable AA, details look muddy unless you set resolution scale ABOVE 1 (supersampling, basically?), and if you leave Chromatic Aberration on, it’ll just be on constantly, making things look weird. Took some tinkering at first for sure.

  10. keefybabe says:

    As much as I’d love to play this, Outlast made me realise that I am actually the age to potentially have a heart attack, so playing games with jumpscares in is literally playing with my life.

  11. Michel Ottens says:

    Why only movie references when talking about the style, originality, or effectiveness of the horror in this game? Surely there’s enough games in this genre to mention, to give at least some reference as to how it compares in terms of agency, affordances, and systems.

    For example, from what I’ve seen in videos, poking at the environment is way less tangible and meticulous here than it was in Soma, though I’ve seen some of those tense moments where doors open slow while a monster fast approaches.

    Are the environments impossible and disorienting like in Silent Hill? Does the whole house feel like an absurd puzzle box, as it does in Resident Evil? Or is it more of a Gone Home like open structure to browse for content? Is Ethan Surname slow in his gestures and actions, making every act feel precarious and ‘cinematic’, or is his reaction speed to your input negligible and action-game like? Does he have dwindling resources to work with, or are they ubiquitous enough as to make item management more of a flavouring, or is there none of the inventory management of past games in this series? etc.

    • Michel Ottens says:

      Oh! Another thing I’d like to know: Are the scares and suspense responding to you’re actions, or can you expect to run into the same events and options each time you play? Does there seem to be some kind of Left 4 Dead like directorial AI that decides the rhythm of attacks and breathing room? Or do all the enemies just run blindly and stupidly around trying to eat you? Or is everything set in stone and easily familiar to a player?

      • GAmbrose says:

        Sounds like you want to read a walkthrough, not a review.

        • vahnn says:

          Sounds like he’s asking about basic gameplay systems. You know, things people usually talk about in game reviews.

          • Michel Ottens says:

            Yes, especially in place of the long lists of movie reference shorthand, which seems sadly deemed most clarifying by mr. Smith, given the almost absent computer game comparisons or game system descriptions.

    • gunny1993 says:

      From what I’ve played, the environments are less impossible than silent hill, the house does seem fairly puzzle filled, but it’s used to change the dynamics. Reaction times are slower than a fps but not annoying slow, kind of like re4, for instance you can open doors slowly or you can barrel through them by double tapping a. So far the weapons seem fairly useless as all the enemies we’ve fought have been literally invincible (like as a plot point) but we’re not to far in yet. Yes there is inventory management

  12. Kefren says:

    This sounds like exactly my kind of game. I’ll pick it up when they pull the Denuvo out of it – by then it will be cheaper too, so double bonus. I’m never in a hurry to play a game, as my backlog on GOG and Steam will testify. I should add that my only experience of Denuvo was from the RE7 demo, and it left a bitter taste. link to karldrinkwater.uk

  13. tonicer says:

    I don’t get the praise it receives from everyone.

    It is not a good game.

    If you call it an interactive movie, okay as an interactive movie it’s not that bad.

    Everything is pretty much nailed down. There are very little interactive objects in the game.

    The short range pop-ins don’t help it either.

    Again a game ruined by multiplatform.

    If it was PC exclusive it could be soooo much better.

    • N'Al says:

      * miniature violins *

    • Poolback says:

      If it wasn’t multiplatform, Resident Evil would probably have been PS4 exclusive.

    • Shakes999 says:

      Just because this is a PC gamer website, doesn’t mean you have to play the stereotypical entitled PC gamer. It’s like you wrote that comment from a template. Arbitrary standards for not liking a great game are arbitrary.

  14. GAmbrose says:

    Yes.

    Why isn’t Resident Evil, the famous game series that started life on Playstation, had a Dreamcast timed exclusive (Code Veronica) and then a Gamecube timed exclusive (Resident Evil 4) only available on PC where (for some reason) it would have been much better?

  15. haldolium says:

    Lovely to see Resident Evil abbravated with “Resi”. I really though that was a German thing. Also yes, Ethans blabbering is the worst (see, this were PREY was much much better for example :p)

    Rest of the comment may contain *spoilers*

    Generally the game left me with the same impression, albeit I’m a bit less positive after finishing it. The review seems to cover 3/4 of the game, until you actually do get out of the house. Due to very little diversity in enemies, the endgame seemed a bit dragged out just for the sake of wrapping up the story.
    Mia was also an awful character. Everybody was, except for the Bakers.

    It was a good Resident Evil. I would’ve hoped for a bit more diversity and tougher riddles. But the choice of first person turned out to be very well executed and the general tone and atmosphere the game created was very much what one would want from Resident Evil.