I managed to complete the main campaign of RE7 last night, and I must say, I was most impressed with the overall game. While some would argue that “this isn’t Resident Evil” for various reasons, I feel like the game recaptured the suspense and atmosphere of the original games, as well as the sense of open exploration that has been missing from the most recent installments of the game (save for the original Revelations). A warning to those who haven’t played it, what follows will involve spoilers to the story and progression of the game.
What truly makes RE7 so splendid is the atmosphere of the game. There’s a fear and uncertainty that hangs in the air around every corner. There are plenty of jump scares, and the ammo to enemy ratio seems to be even enough that you’re rarely comfortable with charging forward with reckless abandon. The music and sound effects play right into the action, too. Even using just built in tv speakers, the surround sound effects of the game were prominent enough that I could use audible clues to track down (or hide from) enemies or other important sounds. And the music helped drive suspense in several areas of the game, sometimes hitting you with a relentlessly rising track, leading to a culminating event, and sometimes abandoning you entirely, completely removing contextual clues of impending danger. The one condition where the sounds of the game were detrimental was when the character was moving through the environment. Some objects are programmed with such harsh sounds when you pass by or over them, such as a char that gets scooted aside as you walk, that it sounds like an enemy has just burst through a wall while driving a tank. It can serve to sully the otherwise brilliant use of sound effects in the game.
The variety of the gameplay was far superior to the most recent, more action oriented Resident Evil games, though the game also did not feel as intellectually complex as the originals. There were some puzzles, and some did take some time, but a lot of the game was actually just going back and forth. Find an item to help you pass this point, go back, continue until you find the next item that forces you to go back to the other point. Most of the puzzles are driven in their complexity by having to find the necessary pieces, rather than trying to solve anything. However, that doesn’t mean the game is entirely devoid of contextual puzzles that require you to pay attention to your surroundings and the information the game provides. The game has about three or four sort of intermissions in the form of VHS tapes, that open new playable segments which expand on the story. By playing these segments, which obviously take place at a prior point in time, before the events of the game, the player is provided with clues that they can apply to the present character’s dilemma, and will allow the player to find certain objects or complete certain tasks back in the main story. Easily, the best of these is the Happy Birthday segment, where we play as a man taken captive by Lucas, the Baker family’s “bad seed” son. As this man, we are forced through an “escape the room” segment reminiscent of a ‘Saw’ movie. This segment is as entertaining as it is horrific, and ultimately, the character on the VHS tape meets his untimely demise. However, when Ethan, the main character, is later faced with this same series of tasks, the player is able to guide him through it without making certain fatal mistakes which are required in order to pass the trial on the tape.
Apart from the gameplay, Resident Evil 7 features some pretty spectacular combat. The game is most populated by oversized fungal monsters called “Molded”. They are large and intimidating, and come in a small selection of different types, including some that are faster, and some that spew a stream of vomit in your direction, which is apparently as painful as it is disgusting. Molders, as we learn later in the game, are not actually derived from people at all, despite some confusing evidence to the contrary near the beginning of the game. The few enemies who ARE derived from human hosts are the members of the Baker family. Namely, Jack and Marguerite. For some reason, Lucas never truly gets his chance to shine outside of his sadistic game and infrequent tripwire bombs. It would probably be fair to say that the game is lacking in some proper boss battles. Only two of them felt like real Resident Evil style bosses. Others were akin to mini-bosses, at best, and the final boss battle was more of an interactive cinematic segment. Not exactly a string of QTE’s, but I have a feeling I could have just used my handgun and come out relatively unscathed. However, to the game’s credit, the first person perspective and controls handled a lot better than I had expected. Being rather bad at FPS games, myself, I was worried that I would struggle with this game from start to finish, carrying on only for the sake of keeping up the the Resident Evil franchise. However, apart from a occasionally hitting the crouch button in a panic to reorient my camera, the controls, in combat and otherwise, felt pretty smooth.
Exploration and discovery, which were originally cornerstones of the Resident Evil series, do make a comeback in RE7. There are three “acts” to the game (they are not labeled as such, but they are three segments that are entirely cut off from one another), and each one is very open to exploration. As areas are unlocked, they are fully explorable, and you can return to them throughout the length of the segment. The first segment, the Baker plantation, is probably the largest. It took probably over 60% of my play time to explore and progress through. The final segment of the game does feel more linear, as it’s more of a winding corridor of mining tunnels, with little deviation from the main path, and certain moments would sort of push the player to keep moving, rather than take a paced approach. Collectibles, which have been present in some form or another since Resident Evil 4, were not absent from RE7 by any means. However, they bordered on fruitless. Most arbitrary were the bobbleheads. Small figures in football attire stood bobbing their heads in random places throughout the game, and you could either knife them or shoot them, and the game makes it clear from the start that you want to find as many as possible. However, they provide no incentive for collecting them, aside from giving you a final count at the end of the game. The coins were hardly an improvement. You could use them at bird cages that you would find in game to purchase certain upgrades. However, the upgrade options are fairly limited. You can get a steroid pack, which increases your overall strength and health – a stabilizer for your gun, which grants faster reload speeds – and a magnum handgun, which takes up two item slots, and hopefully packs a serious punch for the cost. That is a fairly minimal “upgrade” system, as each one is purchasable once per playthrough, so it would seem, and you find several steroid packs throughout the game. Also, through the relatively rudimentary crafting system in the game, you can craft different forms of ammunition, including a higher powered handgun ammo, which probably negates the need to carry a gun as sizeable, with ammo that is very sparsely distributed, as the magnum. In short, the coins add very little to the game, and could have been feasibly left out with little impact on the players. A final complaint I would add is that there are several items throughout the game that the player can interact with, but appear to do nothing. There is no item description, you can’t take it with you, there’s nothing to discover about it. It’s just there.
Finally, it’s time to address the story of the game. Presumably, this is where most of the reasoning behind the “it’s just not Resident Evil” proclaimers come from. This story doesn’t feature Leon Kennedy or Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine. There’s no mention of Wesker or the T-Virus, Birkins or Ashfields. There’s Ethan and Mia and The Bakers. However, in true Resident Evil fashion, the story is divvied out to the player throughout the game in the form of notes and journal entries, which don’t only give hints to the player about what’s to come, but also serve to give backstory to characters, and piece together the overarching story of the game. The flaw in the delivery of this game is that most of the actual story is given at the very end. We’re given a look at the Bakers throughout the early parts of the game, but the full explanation for everything that has happened leading to the events of RE7 is found in a compilation of notes near the very end of the game, in a research lab. One such note is seven pages long, and seems to drone on with information about this new virus and confirms that this was a bio-weapon experiment gone wrong (once again). At the very end of the game, we get confirmation of Umbrella’s involvement, and one of the agents at the end does introduce himself as “Redfield” at the end, if I heard correctly. However, if this was Chris, he’s apparently dropped the steroid habit, and possibly any kind of gainful exercise at all. One more possible nod to the original Resident Evil game, the mansion incident, is an invoice found detailing an order for a hidden door that’s activated by a puzzle using light and shadow. The name of the company includes the name “Trevor”, presumably as a surname. If this is the case, then that could be of the same Trevor family who I believe helped design the original Resident Evil mansion, with all its medieval themed keys and octagonal shaped discs. Not that it makes much difference to the game itself, but it does at least carry a connection of some kind to the original games. There will also be numerous DLC releases which may shine more light on the central story, and, in the future, provide more context as to how this game relates to the rest of the franchise.
Resident Evil 7 may not have been a perfect game. There may have been a few plot holes and some of the systems and concepts felt like narrow attempts to add more substance to the game. However, it was an extremely fun, atmospheric, and scary game, which will hopefully serve to revive the series as a whole, and steer the franchise back in the direction of revolutionary survival horror games.