The Resident Evil franchise is one that I’ve always adored, even when the series was at its low. Capcom helped define a genre by crafting the original Resident Evil title as a harrowing, mysterious and atmospheric adventure game that is still one of my most memorable experiences in gaming. I’ll never forget the first time I explored the Spencer mansion trying to unravel its secrets, solve its puzzles and bravely endure its frights. As the series progressed, a landmark title known as Resident Evil 4 released on the Nintendo Gamecube which is not only one of the best games in the franchise but arguably one of the best games ever made. As awesome as Resident Evil 4 was, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that it just wasn’t really what I wanted out of a Resident Evil game. The focus on action set pieces and the lack of puzzles and moody atmosphere are things I desperately missed from the franchise. Unfortunately for me, the series continued this trend and only got worse, turning many veteran Resident Evil fans (such as myself) off on the direction the series was going. While I did enjoy my time with Resident Evil 5, 6 and the Revelations series, I still yearned for that classic Resident Evil gameplay that I’m so nostalgic for. In comes Resident Evil VII: Biohazard.
In an effort to return the series to its roots and steer away from the negative reception of recent entries in the series, Capcom decided to take Resident Evil in a new direction by fusing the old and the new together. In doing so, Capcom tried their best to stick to the classic gameplay found in early Resident Evil titles while also dabbling in some of the modern first person horror design in games such as Amnesia and Outlast. As a result, Resident Evil VII plays like a classic Resident Evil game but now presents itself in a first person perspective while adopting VR technology to take fans on a frightening, disgusting tour through a Louisiana homestead occupied by a psychotic family. I’m thrilled to say that Capcom absolutely nailed it and for once in twelve years I can say that Resident Evil is back and exactly where it belongs — as a smart horror adventure title.
Our story begins as players discover Ethan, a man who mysteriously lost his wife three years prior to the start of the game. A strange video appears from Ethan’s missing wife Mia warning him to stay away and that she’s sorry for everything that’s happened. Knowing that the origin of the video was from somewhere in Dulvey, Louisiana, Ethan sets out to find his missing wife and learn the truth of her disappearance. Upon ending up on a seemingly abandoned plantation and home in the middle of a Louisiana bayou, Ethan is trapped inside by a family of demented psychopaths. He plots to escape and find Mia in the process. As players venture further down this rabbit hole, they’ll discover the truth behind Mia’s disappearance, who’s involved in this family’s desire to capture and murder innocent people, and how the whole experience feeds into the rest of the Resident Evil canon.
The first thing players will notice is that Resident Evil VII is now in a first person perspective. Many fans were hesitant on whether or not the first person perspective was a good fit for the franchise, myself included, but thankfully it works out extremely well. Resident Evil VII does not simply copy the formula of similar horror titles such as Outlast or Soma; instead the game takes similar ideas and refines them. Players will not always have to constantly run from threats and hide in trash cans waiting for said threat to go away, only to run right back into it moments later. I found that this causes a lot of trial and error that I just do not enjoy. Instead, REVII picks and chooses its battles when it comes to looming threats without taking away the feeling that you’re never safe. There are many moments throughout the game that simply sit back and let the player explore, solve puzzles and learn more about the overarching narrative before thrusting you back into a stressful situation. Capcom perfected the balance between fight or flight situations, puzzle solving and exploration here and never once did I feel frustrated, annoyed or bored with the whole experience.
Taking a page out of its own design book, REVII happens to be a return to form for the series. Many elements that made the first three Resident Evil titles so exciting return without feeling stale or tired. The moody atmosphere and lighting return that delivers a sense of dread to the environments and enhances the mysterious nature of the narrative. Safe rooms and item boxes make a comeback in order to give players a little breathing room before thrusting them back into tense, frightening situations. Locked doors with emblems of crows and snakes that require matching keys also show up along with the memorization of inaccessible areas in the environments that allow you to further explore the homestead after acquiring the needed items to access them. Let’s not forget my favorite element, the “I’ve been down this hallway so many times yet the next time I go down it a monster bursts through the window unexpectedly” moments also make a triumphant return while also being better than ever. Puzzle solving is thrown in too which asks the player to inspect items, collect clues and solve puzzles in order to progress further into the game. Last but not least, the weapons and combat, a staple of the series, are all here too. Hell, they even brought back herbs as healing items! Item management and picking the right items to take with you is also a key component here. A lot of the familiar elements found in classic Resident Evil titles are here and they fit in nicely with the new gameplay elements introduced to REVII.
Combat is thankfully just as prevalent here as it was in previous Resident Evil titles, so fans can release a sigh of relief. While the game starts off with very little combat, it isn’t long before Ethan picks up his first gun. Throughout your journey at the Baker residence you will find various other weapons including a shotgun and a flamethrower. Ammo is scarce so picking and choosing your battles with enemies is especially important so you don’t put yourself in a bad position when you become outnumbered. Some encounters in the game do require you to use those guns while others can be handled by simply running away. A few enemy encounters even let you choose more creative methods of disposal, which is nice for those who hoard their ammunition. Aiming in REVII can feel a little clunky at first but with some practice I found myself blasting enemies with ease.
Graphically, Resident Evil VII looks pretty good running on any platform you choose. The game runs at a solid 60fps on PS4 with a few drops on Xbox One. Textures can look a bit muddy at times and lip syncing from characters when they speak can sometimes look off as well, but otherwise the more realistic, down to earth presentation from this chapter of the series fits nicely and mostly looks solid. The shadows are particularly impressive here and the attention to detail in every area in this game is also great. I found myself squirming at some of the details found in this house of horrors. Audio design is fantastic as well with creaks and groans coming from every angle that always seem to keep the player on edge. I highly recommend using headphones while playing the game since it really enhances the ambiance and makes the game a lot creepier. Voice acting is solid too and never teeters off the edge of melodramatic or unrealistic.
Resident Evil VII can be completed in around 8-10 hours of gameplay, depending on how much time you spend stopping to smell the roses. Certain gameplay elements will enhance that play time such as the VHS tape feature that allow the player to find and play VHS tapes in VCRs around the environment (many found in safe rooms) that give backstory and extra areas to play through. Collectible coins can be found and used to upgrade Ethan’s abilities such as expanded health and reload times. Little bobblehead figures can also be sought out and destroyed for achievement/trophy purposes. Three difficulty levels exist that tailors the experience to the player’s preferences. The easy mode drops more items, dumbs down the AI and makes enemies easier to take down. Normal difficulty is the preferred way to play the game and forces the player to make smarter decisions when it comes to item usage and dealing with enemies. Madhouse difficulty isn’t unlocked until the game is finished at least once. This difficulty is the ultimate survival horror experience and forces the player to be extra careful and stingy with their healing items and ammo while also taking away checkpoint saves.
The pacing in Resident Evil VII is extremely well done. I found myself struggling to put the game down each time I picked it up. Different environment types are spread out throughout the whole game that change up the scenery often. Enemy encounters are smart and tense; although, the amount of enemy types are very limited. I wish Capcom threw in an extra enemy or two to mix things up. One section that takes place within the second half of the game was a bit of a drag in terms of gameplay but at this point in the game, all of the story beats and revelations start kicking in which makes up for the monotonous gameplay in this section. Aside from that one section of the game, the entirety of Resident Evil VII is a complete joy to play through. I would easily consider this game the scariest of the whole series thanks to the expertly crafted environments and the sheer amount of dread included.
Playstation 4 owners are treated to a full Playstation VR compatible version of Resident Evil VII for those who own the headset. I played through the first half of the game in VR and the second half outside of VR for comparison reasons. Capcom has crafted the best VR experience I have had to date and set the standards in what developers should be doing with VR. The sheer amount of options included to help tailor the experience to the player in order to avoid motion sickness is impressive. I set the character turning to smooth with a movement speed of 1 and I didn’t experience any motion sickness throughout my 4 hours with the game in VR thanks to these customizable options. The game is much scarier in VR thanks to the sense of depth, presence and lighting due to the preset VR display options. 3D effects are extremely cool in certain situations as well. Being chased down by a Baker family member is super intense since you can literally hear them breathing down your neck as you run for safety. I challenge anyone to find a better use of VR than what Resident Evil VII provides.
Virtual Reality does come with some pros and cons. While the game is much more immersive and scarier in VR, the presentation takes quite a big hit. Some animations and moments are toned down to help curb motion sickness. For example, one boss encounter will lift Ethan up from his legs and dangle him from a high point before throwing him to the ground. This entire sequence is cut from VR in order to prevent the player from puking their brains out. Also, running away from an enemy can take some practice since quick turning and moving your head independently can cause some confusion as to where you are.Ethan’s disembodied arms float in the air instead of appearing attached your your body in a first person perspective, which can be jarring at certain moments. Thankfully, VR does greatly enhance the combat by making aiming effortlessly since the player holds L1 to hold up their weapon and aims with their head. I found enemy and boss encounters significantly easier in VR due to the enhanced aiming.
No matter how you play Resident Evil VII, the game is incredible regardless. VR mode isn’t a requirement to get the full experience — just a different way to take it all in. Capcom managed to take the Resident Evil franchise and breath new life into it by merging the best of modern gameplay elements with classic Resident Evil components. I found the game extremely tense, frightening and absolutely a blast to play through. The story goes into some really goofy Resident Evil territory once it kicks in but it just worked for me. I found the story fun, the twists cool and the moments memorable. Resident Evil VII is easily the best Resident Evil title since the Gamecube remake and I cannot wait for Capcom to dish out a sequel in the same fashion. Easily the first great game of 2017.