Usually, if a game makes you want to stop playing it, that’s a bad thing. With Resident Evil 7 I wanted to stop playing plenty of times, but for all the right reasons.
Horror games are meant to be scary, and Resi 7 has that down better than any other horror game out there. I don’t get scared easily by films or games, but playing the first five hours alone at night resulted in some of the most frightening moments in my life.
The story kicks off with Ethan Winters heading to find his missing wife, Mia, after he receives a video of her. It doesn’t take long for the pace to pick up. As soon as Ethan enters the Baker estate and its creepy atmosphere, just opening a door can take a bit of courage. The intro is great, but once it’s over the best part of Resi 7 begins.
As soon as the Baker estate opens up and you’re let loose with the goal to escape, the game feels exactly how I want a modern Resident Evil game to feel. Ethan finds all sorts of items and has to piece together puzzles and find a way out, and all the while Jack Baker can be heard roaming about. Being spoofed by Jack and hearing him call after you gets the adrenaline pumping and activates the primal instinctive fear that comes with being chased.
Of course, it wouldn't be Resi without some enemies to kill, and that's what the Molded are for. They feel perfect for the game, being strong enough and fast enough and gross enough to induce fear when faced with more than one at a time. For the first half of the game anytime I encountered multiple Molded in a closed space, I felt a real danger. Unfortunately, while the Molded are decently fun enemies to fight, they’re decently fun to fight for only the first few encounters. Once I’d killed my twentieth-something Molded I was itching for the next enemy type. Six hours into the game, I realised there wasn’t anything more coming.
While the enemies themselves aren’t that interesting, actually fighting them is fun all the way through. Combat has a physicality to it, with shots really punching into their targets. Shooting off limbs with the pistol, or blasting off a head with a shotgun at close range is awesome.
Boss battles are sprinkled throughout the game, and they vary widely in quality with one being an incredibly claustrophobic rush that resulted in pure euphoria when I won, and another that I firmly believe to be one of the worst and most disappointing boss fights I’ve ever experienced. Thankfully, the majority of boss battles are done quite well. They’re often in extremely tight spaces with fast moving enemies, meaning you have to think fast while under constant stress. My one gripe with the better boss battles is that it’s not always apparent exactly what you should be doing.
My biggest disappointment with the game happened to be my favorite part of the previous titles in the series: the puzzles. In making the game more accessible and modern, the developers have ratcheted back the difficulty and variety of puzzles well further than I’m okay with. Every puzzle has an obvious clue to its solution somewhere two feet away from where it’s found. I never had to think or explore to find my way forward.
So Resident Evil 7 delivers on the horror front, but does it deliver on the survival front?
Easy and normal are the only two difficulty levels available from the start of the game, with madhouse being unlocked after it’s been completed once through. I went through it on normal and then almost immediately jumped into madhouse to see how different it is. I can definitely say that playing on madhouse results in a much better Resident Evil experience than playing on normal, and it’s too bad that the devs decided to lock it for first time players.
On normal it takes only the smallest bit of frugality to ensure you’re never dangerously low on ammo and health, and by the time you’re halfway through the game you’ll never be wanting for bullets or supplies again. It’s ammo, chem fluid, and green herbs galore on normal difficulty.
Madhouse is another beast entirely. Every bullet counts here, and I felt it in my heart everytime I missed a headshot. In one instance I accidentally used a healing item while at full health, and that mistake gnawed at me from the back of my mind for the next two hours. It’s a true survival horror experience where almost every encounter throughout the game was a fight to, well, survive. My favourite part about madhouse is the return of saving items. Autosaves are heavily toned down, and to save the game you need to use one of the single-use cassette tapes littered about the world.
My normal run took me eight hours to complete while madhouse took nine, mainly due to one particularly hard boss fight. In both runs, I found nearly every collectible and secret. I completed my first playthrough in a single sitting, and that definitely enhanced the experience. This is a game that is best played when immersed, and so playing it in as few sessions as possible is the way to go. The experience is also heightened by playing at night with headphones to help with the atmosphere.
The story isn’t quite a reboot but is not quite a sequel. I won’t spoil anything, but I will say that it’s not just a familiar horror story that we’ve seen in plenty of films and games over the years. I was thoroughly engaged in the story the deeper in I got. It’s a great jumping-on point for newcomers to the series while catering well to Resi fans.
Loading can be pretty lengthy at times, but the environments feel so dense and creepy, it's difficult to complain about it. Every room has something interesting to examine, some secret that offers up a bit of lore or flavour to the world. Once you get into the world there are no load barriers to be found as well.
RESIDENT EVIL 7 (Reviewed on Xbox One)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
Resident Evil 7 biohazard grabs the crown of best survival horror back for the series that started the genre. It hearkens back well to the old games in great ways. At times it feels too streamlined for more casual players, but hopefully, this installment will serve as proof that there’s an audience for more games like it. By moving away from the action-oriented gameplay of the last few games, Capcom has brought us one of the best Resident Evil games ever made.