I just want to say that, first of all I will do my best to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. I know that the latest chapter in Capcom’s zombie-fueled saga has only been out for not quite a month, and yet I feel like everywhere I’ve turned I’ve run afoul of spoilers and videos and all kinds of crazy stuff. So I’m going to discuss a lot of things in general terms when it comes to the story and the overall plot and setting, but I’ll be sure to dial it in and hone in on the important factors that should be touched upon in any respectable review as well. It’s been a short few weeks and yet we’ve already been treated to some arcade-style downloadable deals and add-ons, which is far from a bad thing either in this case.
In many ways, Resident Evil 7 is the reinvention that fans longed for and that the series needed, although once the outer layers are peeled away and the gentle facade of the beginning acts fades away you’ll soon come to see that it may be different, but the fundamentals are largely unchanged for better or worse. Resident Evil, for better or worse, has always had its viruses and its villains, and that aspect has not changed at all. You may be tempted to think there’s a lot going on in the Louisiana swamps that cannot be explained away as easily as the delights of Umbrella Corps have been in the past, but even with the twisted logic of the series’ past, these events can be explained in the present as well. Resident Evil 6 was a game that I thought was okay as it stood on its own and for what it offered, but when taken for the sum total of its plot and where it should stand in the larger RE universe it was just plain bonkers and had plenty of holes and lazy writing.
Resident Evil has always fallen victim to plot holes and whether or not players can get rid of their disbelief and just enjoy the games for what they are, so even with this reinvention, few things have changed there. Resident Evil started as a simple concept and its only become more and more convoluted from there on out. The first two main games are probably the most straight forward, but from then on with the successive third, fourth, fifth, and sixth entries things have only gotten grander and worse as far as plot can be concerned. I respect Capcom for largely toning it down with Biohazard and keeping things on a smaller scale, although still hinting that the title is a perfect fit in the semi-reimagined universe all the same. But that doesn’t change the fact that even some simple things such as procedural character damage magically healed and limbs magically reattached and VHS tapes still being used in 2017 and a seemingly omnipresent camera that is never shown onscreen or on characters just don’t ad up.
Like I’ve said- Resident Evil has always been about the experience first, the tense boss fights and survival-horror elements still present in the more action-oriented titles of the series in recent years. Once you’ve dispensed with pleasantries and mostly ignored the wild plots that are typically a mess anyway, you can settle into solid gameplay and fluid mechanics with relative ease. Capcom has done a wonderful job of crafting something seemingly new and yet deceptively archaic in its design and interpretation, making Resident Evil 7 a perfect fit for the series in that it expands into new directions in some ways with the plot and graphics and characters, and yet still retains the same brand name and doesn’t so drastically change the formula as Resident Evil 4 did once upon a time. If your main worry was that a first-person perspective could never work with a series such as Resident Evil, then worry no more because that is perhaps one of the brilliant strokes the game pulls off and never has much of an issue with outside of expected clippings and occasional environmental travesties.
While I’ve got to give Resident Evil 7 points for originality in some cases, I’d also have to ding it for taking some credit where credit is not due- at least not to Resident Evil 7. Many of the plot elements may be new to Resident Evil, and yet they’ve already been done by other horror titles such as Silent Hill and F.E.A.R as well. In fact, the bulk of the story itself stems from essentially some mix of Silent Hill 2 and F.E.A.R 1 and 2’s own plot mechanics. And while this is totally acceptable even if it is not so original, it’s just a weird thing to notice if you’ve played those other titles and sense a mildly disappointing amount of deja-vu throughout Biohazard’s campaign. Resident Evil 7 treads new ground for the series in many ways and yet it follows the same cliched tropes of horror as a genre in general, and I suppose you have to take what victories you can, but that really rung hollow to me. An every-man searching a supposedly abandoned setting for his wife in what turns out to be a cunning trap and descent into veritable madness- it’s not quite the first time we’ve heard that line.
The largest criticism I have for this game, if you couldn’t tell from the paragraphs I’ve written on it already, is the plot. So now that I’ve pointed out that it’s bonkers and doesn’t ever quite add up, even mechanically in-game, let’s move on to some other critiques and praises. One last tidbit that’s semi-related though is that Ethan Winters as a playable character, while promising in exposition, is perhaps more boring and predictable than even Chris Redfield has become lately. He barely reacts to anything- bashing his missing wife’s face in with an axe, getting limbs severed, seeing a man whose entire body has been lit on fire and subsequently blown apart with a shotgun coming at him with pulsating brain matter showing through his destroyed skull, or even picking up the telephone every fifteen minutes when the omniscient NPC enemies and allies manage to pinpoint his exact location in the house and contact him. Getting over disbelief in a far-fetched plot is one thing, but things just not registering for the main character like they should is another annoyance altogether.
Thankfully, while Ethan is largely forgettable and the small array of side characters who aren’t trying to kill you are actively just as memorable, the antagonists- both actual and perceived, are the larger attraction where characterization is concerned. The Baker family- those crazies you’ve probably seen in the trailers over and over or played with in the few demos released, are the main draw in the beginning of the game especially (although they’re still memorable in the latter portions as well). Each has their own distinct personality, own distinct powers and abilities, and also their own distinct domain on their family lands. In many ways, they are there to herd players towards eventual endgame objectives, and yet the more you encounter them the more you come to wonder about their origins before you finally understand them later in the game. Resident Evil 7 is a lot of smoke and mirrors, but the crazy stuff and tragic details surrounding the Bakers is definitely not just a bunch of smoke blown needlessly your way.
Probably my largest bone to pick with Resident Evil 6 in retrospect is the fact that it so often and so boringly broke up combat and the tenseness of situations by presenting players over and over again with locked doors. To be fair, in many ways that is sort of an age-old Resident Evil thing, and yet Biohazard somehow avoided this mundane searching and backtracking by actually making it bearable. I think it may be largely due to the fact that the game features a much more organic and intriguing environment rather than the linear and forgettable monstrosities of the previous title. It’s not less confined or expansive, and yet suddenly backtracking to collect a key or disarm a booby trap or uncover some new evidence doesn’t seem altogether lackluster or painful. Naturally, expect your fair share of needless jump scares over and over again and expect them to be old after an hour or two- but such is the Capcom way sometimes.
In some ways Resident Evil 7 brings the series back down to earth and back to its roots, and yet in others it is even more fantastical than the last entry. Thankfully, one thing it does well is craft more believable and entertaining boss fights and encounters. Every enemy seems thought out rather than hastily thrown at you like Resident Evil 6 was wont to do. The Bakers and the other more powerful adversaries each come with their own specific methodology to battle, although a much more prepared player can potentially blitz their way through earlier encounters with sheer firepower and determination. Action is still a large part of the game, but it has taken a step towards being more cinematic so that the bulk of the experience can be returned to its horror roots. It makes for a better and overall more enjoyable and tenser experience to be sure. The gunplay and most melee moments are handled quite well although there are some unexpected hiccups here and there specifically where reactionary movement is concerned with special weapons. On the whole however, the first person perspective increases the enjoyability of the well-oiled combat both aesthetically and physically.
All things considered, Resident Evil 7 is the return to form that the series needed even if it ultimately doesn’t change things up quite as much as it probably could or should’ve. It is by no means Resident Evil 4, but then that isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. It stands largely on its own although there are still obvious and subtle connections to the rest of the series, making it a tad clearer than expected as to just how it fits in with the other titles. The expansion of the universe and video game lore is welcome and for a series that constantly retcons its own ideas and even who’s alive and who’s dead, it largely adds onto the Resident Evil fiction without taking anything else away in turn. Given the chance, whether you’re a newcomer to the series or a longstanding fan, you should give the game a chance- it’s as good a jumping on point as any, especially given the lack of need to know information considering past titles.
Concept: Reinvent the Resident Evil series as we know it, adding a breath of freshness to a series that has otherwise begun to grow stale over the years. Introduce new characters, a new plot, and new gimmicks along the way.
Graphics: Particularly great animation and environmental work adds ambiance and aesthetic thrills to the tense adventure. Add in the fact that limbs are lopped off and gore is always present and you have a graphically sound and impressive piece of work.
Sound: There is often little to no sound and yet that works in a genre such as this. When there is something to be said or done, the voice acting is about on par with most triple-A titles and doesn’t disappoint. The minimalist soundtrack ratchets the tension at all the right times as well.
Playability: Exploration and tense combat are given their equal due and are the largest elements in play throughout the game. It handles well for the entirety of the campaign and is an incredibly well-played experience to boot.
Entertainment: Most of the entertainment can be derived from the expansion of the lore and in-game details strewn about the world. Making subtle and not-so subtle connections to the other games in the series is what Capcom often does best and it works here better than it probably ever has before. In an experience that could’ve been largely standalone, Capcom unites Resident Evil 7 with previous titles in thrilling and interesting ways.
Replay Value: Moderately High.
Overall Score: 8.0