The Resident Evil franchise is like the bio-organic weapons it features: undead, constantly stumbling toward consumers even though it has taken many shots to the chest. Resident Evil 6 was rock bottom, with developer Capcom hoping a wide variety of subpar plotlines, half-baked modes and co-op action would hide a beast too long in the tooth. Pride was salvaged through Resident Evil: Revelations 2 and a course correction back into horror, but this caused fans to cry out even more, desperate to see the core franchise returned to its roots. As Capcom is wont to do, it not only listened, but doubled down.
The result is Resident Evil 7, a first-person survival horror experience — in optional virtual reality — that evolves the series more than Resident Evil 4 and its slant towards action. With the tagline “fear comes home,” Capcom promised franchise fans and newcomers alike a claustrophobic, tension-filled thrill ride, borrowing liberally from the flash-in-the-pan that was Hideo Kojima’s cancelled Silent Hills project, P.T. – and it’s succeeded. The risky move, yet again taking Resident Evil and flipping it on its head, has brought back all the things I’ve loved about it for years – and have wanted back – while opening up new gamers to a greatest hits package.
Playing as everyman Ethan Winters, things kick off as you enter the Louisiana bayou in search of your long-lost wife, Mia. Armed with little more than a flashlight, it all goes sour almost immediately. Visuals are decidedly inspired by Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with grotesque viscera piled over endless seas of sharp, rusty edges and just a smidge of torture porn thrown in for good measure. The Baker family – of which Capcom has thrown every single marketing dollar they can muster behind – is equally reminiscent of Tobe Hooper’s epic, violent and as hillbilly as can be.
While it may not seem it, the Resident Evil franchise is always in your peripheral (and even moreso if you’re playing with PlayStation VR). The Baker estate, of which the home in the “Midnight Hour” demo is a good example, instantly takes your mind to the original game’s Spencer Mansion. Further setpieces are reminiscent of Resident Evil 3, Revelations and even Gun Survivor. Optional meaty files and easter eggs only add to this, ensuring this adventure securely belongs in the core timeline.
As much as the story is tied to the franchise, a knowledge of Resident Evil is not required. What’s presented works on its own, pushing you down a reasonably well-crafted storyline that could easily work as a blockbuster, one-shot horror movie. That’s not to say things are perfect; a few messy tropes pop in from time to time, and one character’s motivations and backstory seem to be in place merely to service the plot and far too many people exclaim, “I don’t have time to explain right now!” But it’s a terrific ride nonetheless. The series’ first western writer, Richard Pearsey, goes to great lengths to ensure F.E.A.R comes home (think on that for a minute) and mixes well with Japanese notes akin to The Grudge.
First-person views – in VR or not – are certainly different, but they can easily be called the modern-day equivalent of the old fixed camera views. In the past, you were constantly wondering what might emerge from outside your view or around the corner; now, you’re forced to deal with that fear in a full 360 degrees. Lighting goes a long way to assist in this sensation, keeping you constantly on edge, even in subsequent playthroughs. The shift to first-person is a perfect fit; so much so, I hope Capcom decides to go it with for its promised Resident Evil 2 remake.
There’s still a lot to learn after the transition; a first-person view is perfect for other characters to get in your face and make you uncomfortable, but a couple of instances pull you away from the narrative, coming off as gimmicky. Think of any B-grade 3D horror movie when something’s fired at your face purely for shock value and you won’t be far off. These instances are thankfully few and far between, but are especially noticeable playing in non-VR. For our final verdict on whether you should play in VR or not, check out this sidebar. While the experience has earned Resident Evil 7 the accolade of Stevivor’s first must-play VR title, it’s a bonus and not a key feature.
A reliance on archaic VHS tapes provides not only horrific moments but introductions to several puzzles. They’re a bit dumbed down compared to Resident Evil in its prime — to the point where I accidentally side-stepped one with a lucky move — but they’re still rewarding and enjoyable. Load times between the VHS tapes, however, are not. Equally as puzzling are a handful of boss fights; I’m still unsure if a handful of encounters depend on damage or simply time elapsed, even after many full playthroughs.
In the case of Resident Evil 4, Capcom’s selfishness almost destroyed an amazing thing — sales and customer satisfaction dwindled because of a continually milked, once-winning formula. Things became bloated; action became co-op action with RE5, and that lead to everything but the kitchen sink in RE6. With RE7, Capcom has delivered a refreshing return to horror, saving face and the franchise by focusing on a tight single-player experience that takes around 10 hours to complete. Resident Evil 7 — and the franchise itself — will truly live or die depending on what comes next. It deserves to be highly successful, played by fans of the franchise and anyone who can take high-tension horror, but Capcom needs to continue with slow, methodical restraint. With DLC already in the pipeline, I can only hope critical acclaim doesn’t, again, come with an unexpected price.
Resident Evil 7 was reviewed using a promotional code on PS4 with and without PS VR (DualShock 4-controlled), as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.
Resident Evil 7 guides: The definitive list
- Resident Evil 7: All file locations
- Resident Evil 7: All 20 Mr. Everywhere locations
- Resident Evil 7: All 18 Antique Coin locations (work in progress)
- Resident Evil 7: All franchise easter eggs
- Resident Evil 7: Hidden puzzle and Stabilizer guide
- Resident Evil 7: M21 shotgun guide
- Resident Evil 7: M19 handgun guide