As a long-term fan of the franchise, the announcement of Resident Evil 7 filled me with both excitement and worry. The last few Resident Evil games have taken the series away from its survival horror roots and more towards the action genre, with plentiful ammo pickups and more powerful weapons blasting away the undead/infected has never been easier. Resident Evil 4 has always had a place close to my heart as my favourite of the franchise and the games released since then have distanced themselves from the fetch-quest puzzles that made Resi 4 such a platform defining game. Cut past 5, 6, revelations 1 and 2, operation raccoon city and umbrella corps to the latest installment, however, and after about 5 mins of gameplay it is apparent that this is not just new Resident Evil. It’s new new Resi, returning to its bed-wettingly scary roots (or rather spores).
With a small inventory, limited bullets and a plentiful supply of tough monsters to face Resident Evil 7 is not only one of the best games in the series, but gives Alien Isolation a run for its money as the most fear-inducing, nail-biting game on Xbox One. As would be expected, the opening levels are devoid of serious firepower and it’s not until later on in the story that you can happily blast through even the most basic enemies without breaking into too much of a sweat. Just like the early Resident Evil games you must find keys or objects and solve puzzles to progress through the story or discover new weapons. Some, like the homemade flamethrower, must have all their parts found before you can unleash the hurt on your mutated enemies.
As far as the story itself is concerned, I wouldn’t say it matches the attraction of the atmosphere or the new first-person gameplay. Resident Evil has never been one for long and complicated stories, preferring to lead players across multiple areas to confront monsters undergoing various degrees of mutation/infection. Most of the recent Resident Evil games have followed a strict 5 act structure with chapters and a fairly forced linear progression through large expansive areas counteracting the tension built in others (such as the swamp raft in 5). This completely changes in Resi 7 as the whole game would probably fit in that very same African swamp. By no means is this a complaint, however, as the tense and winding corridors of the baker’s farmhouse and surrounding areas really raise your pulse, never breaking the tension and paranoia of a true survival horror game. Some parts of casa del baker are seriously creepy too, if you get freaked out by noises, just off camera movement or dolls then Resident Evil 7 will fill you with spine-tingling shivers and ‘What the F**k? RUN!’ moments.
This being said, it took me 6 and a half hours to complete the entire story in my first play through, I explored everywhere and even hunted for the Mr Everywhere statuettes. Resident Evil 7 is not a long game by any stretch of the imagination and the lack of new game + or a weapon upgrade system is a huge change for the series, yet it captures the franchise’s true survival horror heritage and provides a welcome transition to the current console generation. The upgrades and firepower associated with Resident Evil in its last few installments would be seriously out of place in Louisiana where your untrained character with no connection to stars or umbrella struggles for survival.
The sound and visuals of Resident Evil 7 really capture the squalor and dilapidation of the baker house, each creaking floorboard or heavy footstep from adjacent rooms immediately puts you on edge. The run-down exterior with its overgrown vegetation provides the perfect hiding place for nimble, crawling horrors and even the dusty air hangs thick in the light causing you to double check corridors and question your surroundings. As with any survival horror game, Resident Evil 7 is best played in a dark room with decent headphones turned all the way up. Each one of Jack’s heavy footsteps reverberates through your head as you cautiously stop in a corridor and hear him on the other side of the thin and easy to burst through walls.
With the game’s season pass available for just over £20 you have access to not only the main game but seven extra modes or missions for you to sink your infected gnashers into. Whilst not all of them are equally brilliant, even the rather straightforward and simple 21 will entertain you for a short amount of time. My personal favourite is the Bedroom episode as you are tasked with escaping without raising the suspicion of your violent captor. It is refreshing to see DLC that is so different from the main game, as you have no hope of defending yourself against Marguerite Baker and are forced to return the room to the exact state it was before she left, or risk being force-fed a deadly broth.
Despite its short story and the lack of replayability found in most other Resident Evil games, Resident Evil 7 captures the fear and spirit of the franchise’s origins. Too many ‘horror’ games nowadays focus on bigger weapons and bigger set-pieces to attract an audience instead of gripping their fans with pure unadulterated fear. Resident Evil 7 is well worth a play for anyone who loved the franchise at its roots, where 4 may have revolutionized the control scheme and gameplay Resident Evil 7 takes the franchise on a bold step back into survival horror and away from the action heavy, well equipped jaunts that we have become used to since 5.