Oh, an old mansion in the woods. What could possibly go wrong?
I’ll never be mad at Capcom for making Resident Evil 4. It was an amazing game that deserved every bit of praise that it got back when it launched in 2005, and that it continues to receive even today, over a decade later. It did mark a big change of direction for the franchise however.
You see, Resident Evil 4 and its main sequels left out the very thing that made its predecessors so iconic in the first place – the survival horror. With each subsequent title, that core feature became marginalized in favour of outright action, with the distance between each growing more vast each time. Resident Evil 5 was still a great game admittedly – I loved its story, characters, combat and especially its co-op – but Resident Evil 6? Capcom tried to do too much with it, which inevitably resulted in an abomination of a product that just about everybody hated.
Thankfully, they took a step back and listened to their fans. The demands were never too vague to be quite frank. All anybody ever wanted was for Capcom to go to back to square one, to what made the Resident Evil franchise so good in the first place. They’ve done just that with Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, which I’m incredibly happy to report, is a magnificent game. It’s so good in fact, that I’m confident in saying that we might just have our very first contender for game of the year 2017.
Resident Evil 7 throws you into the shoes of brand new protagonist, Ethan Winters. He’s no cop, nor is he a special agent with years of training. He’s legit just a regular guy, on the search for his wife, Mia, who has been missing for three years. A video where she very clearly tells him to “stay away” leads him to Dulvey, Louisiana, where, in classic Resident Evil fashion, he encounters a creaky old mansion. Naturally It’s filled with its own share of secrets, and of course, scares. The latter is thanks largely to the resident Baker family, who’ll spend the duration of the game making your life a living hell.
What really drives their efforts to do so home is the new first-person approach Capcom have adopted. Purists will be furious at this change, it’s not Resident Evil’s classic static camera, but I swear, it’s a step in the right direction for sure. This new perspective makes exploring the Baker mansion both intriguing and terrifying. In a traditional Resident Evil title, you would enter a room and almost immediately see what you needed to grab from the pre-rendered backgrounds. In Resident Evil 7, you’re forced to scan around carefully to find whatever it is you might be looking for, whether it be much needed supplies, or the solution to one of the game’s many puzzles.
I’m grateful for this new forced view, because it made me appreciate the amount of effort Capcom have put into bringing the Baker mansion to life. Every visual and sound comes together to make one beautiful and tense playground – one that I thoroughly enjoyed exploring and rubbing my eyeballs all over.
Avoid all trailers except this one. It’s amazing, and basically spoiler free!
With regards to combat, bar the final act, I feel that Capcom have balanced things out quite well. Players will be doing both exploring and fighting, but the latter never takes center stage thankfully. When enemies do pop up, whether it be the Bakers, or one of their disgusting, molded friends, running is a viable, sometimes necessary option.
Ammunition is a precious resource, just as it should be in a game of this nature. There were often times I stockpiled “plenty” of it, thanks to my brave escapades with the series’ staple knife and some clever dodging. Yet the moment I felt comfortable and started firing off rounds willy-nilly, I began to feel anxious because numbers dropped to worrying levels.
Ethan isn’t even a great combatant to begin with (though side note, he’s unusually good at combining random items into useful stuff). Sure, he knows how to fire a weapon, but he’s not exactly proficient. His aim is lethargic, and his reload speed, painfully slow. Aiming through his eyes in the new first-person perspective was often a tense experience for me, particularly at the beginning of the game when I was still trying to figure it and my enemies out. Headshots, in case you didn’t know, are damn important. Trying to nail one, or a handful of them for that matter, while a lumbering beast of black ooze plods its way towards you is no easy feat I’ll have you know.
Hell, trying to figure out what to do while a Baker relentlessly stalks you is an even greater challenge. That happens regularly throughout the first half of the game or so, in a very Nemesis-like fashion. As you’d expect, they’re no ordinary foes. They’re powerful bullet sponges who’ll do everything in their power to stop you from leaving the mansion.
Doing so is classic Resident Evil, like proper classic. Initially, you’ll have access to a few parts of the building you’re trapped in. Solve a puzzle or two though, and you’ll be rewarded with an item (a themed key for example, because NOSTALGIA) that you can then use to open up another part of the mansion. The design of Resident Evil 7 is pretty stellar in this regard. Each part of the map comes together quite nicely as you work your way through it.
To digress quickly, Capcom are well aware that the way the mansion functions is borderline absurd. Ethan even comments at one point after besting an obstacle, “who builds this shit?” Between that and chests that defy time and space, using a tape recorder to save progress, and herbs that instantly heal cuts, bruises, and you know, the casual gaping chest wound… I don’t know, I wouldn’t want the game any other way. The roots are there man, they’re there!
“OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD!” – Matthew Figueira
You’ll need to work your way through mansion while dodging the pesky Bakers. This keeps players on their toes constantly, as they’ll need to search for a way out, as in, solve puzzles and find solutions and key items for them, all the while making sure they don’t become a kebab on the end of Jack Baker’s shovel, or a meaty feast for Marguerite Baker’s bugs for example.
The Bakers unfortunately, as great as they are in that stalking way, are also responsible for one of Resident Evil 7’s biggest flaws – the boss battles. Inevitably, when the narrative forces you to go toe to toe with one of them, it’s an exercise in frustration in most cases.
Where am I meant to be shooting? Can I even win this fight with my standard weapons? It may take several deaths to figure out what the best approach is, which was a bit of a pain.
But that’s a minor criticism when looking at the bigger picture. You don’t even need to be an existing fan to appreciate Resident Evil 7 to be honest. Its story, though set in the franchise’s extensive lore, can be appreciated by both newcomer and veteran.
As somebody who falls into the latter camp, I poured over every clue I found, trying my best to figure out how the Baker saga fits into the overall story. Take that away, and you still have a standalone title that tells an interesting, if not unnecessarily convoluted narrative that everybody can enjoy.
From the promotional material, it looked like Resident Evil 7 deviated from its usual scientific explanations in favour of paranormal occurrences. This did have me worried admittedly – the franchise has never explicitly treaded that ground – but I’m happy to say that by the end, everything about the Bakers and why they are the way they are makes some sort of sense. The reason for Ethan being summoned, and why Mia was there in the first place, compelled me to plough through the game to its satisfactory conclusion.
Don’t worry, this trailer is also spoiler free
The ending admittedly was a tad abrupt (and its boss battle, unbelievably unexpected and left field), but it leaves the door open just enough for the story to continue in some manner. That prospect has me stupidly excited.
Granted, Resident Evil 7 has some minor flaws, but overall, Capcom has really done the impossible. In very much a parallel to the very story they’ve been telling for the past two decades, they’ve managed to bring the franchise back from the dead. It’s in the best state its been in years, and I can’t wait to see where it goes moving forward.