Over the last few Resident Evil entries, Capcom seemed to be on an action game high. What made the series great and a genre defining series had been boiled down to over the top action and ridiculous stories even by Resident Evil standards. Capcom seemed to forget why fans loved the series. Much like Square Enix did with Final Fantasy; Capcom decided to course correct the franchise and bring it back to its roots. Did it work? Yes it did and I have never been happier to have been scared while playing a game.
The story starts off simple enough with Ethan getting a message from his supposed dead (for 3 years) wife, leading him to an old home in the Louisiana bayou. Of course this leads to a warm welcome from the family and shenanigans ensue as is the norm with a Resident Evil game. Don’t let the seven in the title throw you off; while the story takes place in the Resident Evil universe you needn’t have played any previous title in the franchise to understand what it going as it is standalone with some little easter eggs here and there for fans to enjoy. That being said the story is…dumb. It’s not bad, but for the first two-thirds of the game the story has Ethan constantly doing things that defy all common sense. I guarantee you’ll find yourself confused as to why you’re having to do some of these tasks when you’re only stake in this is your missing wife who spends a good chunk of the beginning of the game trying to kill you. There is a point in the story where you’re given a choice to make yet it is rather pointless as it neither adds to nor changes the story in any meaningful way other than a slight difference in endings which makes you wonder why the developers even bothered. It eventually boils down to a typical, over the top Resident Evil ending with some answers to the mysteries the game presents, but overall you’re not missing much.
Capcom made a smart move going back to the core of what made Resident Evil a scary, intense series. Tight corridors, combined with creatures coming from the shadows and tight inventory management will keep you on your toes for most of the game. For the first few hours you’re pretty screwed when it comes to defending yourself as you find yourself on the run from certain death. The game does a great job of teaching you how to play the game while at the same time throwing you into the deep end making the early hours of the game more terrifying. Inventory management becomes either your best friend or your worst enemy as supplies are scarce and inventory space is low for good portions of the game, forcing you to choose what to keep, what to leave behind at your storage box and what items to craft to make it through the game. This makes the game all the more tense since in your first playthrough you won’t know what is waiting for you as you explore the areas so you’re never quite sure if you’re prepared for what lies ahead. The down side to this system is that it requires a lot of trips back to safe rooms (where you can save your game) in order to dump or pick up items in your storage box. It can get tedious and annoying having to make multiple trips in a short span though thankfully there are plenty of safe rooms, with shortcuts to get to them, that make surviving a bit easier. There are puzzles in throughout the game as with previous titles, but nothing that really makes you think hard to figure out a solution. They act more as slight inconveniences to slow you down. You’ll also find a few VHS tapes which you can watch that will show areas ahead in the game to give you a good idea of what you need to do next and also fill in some of the story. This worked well and I wish there were some more if only to help flesh out the story some more.
You have a good variety of weapons; however the game never pushes you to rely on anything other than a handful of them for most of the game. This becomes a bit of a problem in the long run as once you learn the tricks of the game; confronting monsters doesn’t feel as terrifying as in the early parts of the game. Any sense of terror during combat goes out the window later in the game as you are armed to the teeth with more powerful weapons and you become a monster killing machine. Blocking works well for taking less damage making it an important mechanic for surviving and saving your healing items for tougher situations. Sprinting feels sluggish when compared to other FPS games giving off more of the old school Resident Evil tank maneuvers though thankfully camera movement compensates for that. Shooting works well, but don’t expect pinpoint accuracy with all your shots as one would in other FPS games so unloading your clip wildly is not wise unless you want to waste ammo.
Most of the tension comes from not knowing what lies ahead and the fact that enemies can chase you into other rooms. However once you learn that enemies are bewildered by a closed door, situations become less tense when you need to give yourself some breathing room. Also safe rooms are impenetrable to all enemies regardless of whether or not the door is closed. You could have the door wide open standing in front of an enemy and you might as well be invisible. Again this helps with giving you a breather and planning where you need to go next as bringing up your map or inventory does not pause the game and will leave you vulnerable for those pesky enemies that sneak up on you.
This game has all the bells and whistles of a survival horror game. Creepy house, disturbing sounds, dim lighting, etc are all in there. The environments look great and the house is surprisingly large giving you many nooks and crannies to explore and regardless of which areas of the game you go to there is never any loading time making back tracking less of a hassle. There aren’t many enemy types so once you’ve played through the first half of the game there are no surprises left outside of where you need to go next. This makes the combat less challenging as the enemies aren’t terribly difficult to fight and you never find yourself facing more than a few at a time. Capcom could have done with a bit more variety to make it more challenging and thrown in a few more encounters as you tend to spend more time exploring than you do fighting monsters. The biggest challenge you get comes from the bosses, however the fights themselves don’t require much strategy outside of being overly aggressive and blocking when needed. The bosses themselves are cool, I just wish there was more to them as the only difference to the encounters are the locations and design of the boss.
Characters look great and are well animated making them a tad scarier when they’re coming after you. The only issue seems to be the lips not moving quite right when they’re talking. As characters tend to talk right in from of the camera it can be a bit jarring at first though eventually you just ignore it. Capcom put in a great level of detail into this game making it one of the best looking Resident Evil games to date. The sound is phenomenal and will keep you tensed up for most of the game as you contemplate whether the sounds you’re hearing mean death it lurking around the corner. My only complaint about the lighting is that it can be too dark and some players may have to bump up the brightness just to see where they’re going, let alone find supplies which can dampen the eerie mood.
Resident Evil 7 had a lot to live up to as part of such an iconic franchise. With the game design and gameplay going back to its roots, Capcom shows that it is capable of creating a tense filled experience from beginning to end. While the story fell short, the game play makes this worth giving a play through for Resident Evil fans and all gamers. Hopefully they can stay on this path while improving on what did and did not work for any possible future installments.
This review was based of the PS4 version of the game rented by the reviewer.