Operation Racoon City, Umbrella Corps and Resident Evil 6. Need I say much more than this?

Yes, over the last five years Capcom has seemingly done everything in its power to insult fans and sheepishly follow market trends – years after they’ve ceased to be trendy. At every turn they have appeared desperate and out of touch. However, after finishing Resident Evil 7, I can’t help but feel that something within them has clicked. For once, it’s as if they’re very much on the ball. For Resident Evil 7 is as lean, tense and gloriously silly a modern survival horror game as one could realistically hope for.

Resident Evil 7 is as lean, tense and gloriously silly a modern survival horror game as one could realistically hope for.

Lean is a very good way of describing their new approach. The game, in general, benefits greatly from Capcom’s intelligent streamlining and/or removal of recent series mechanics. There are no unnecessary and arbitrary upgrade paths or overly time-consuming allusions to the wider mythos. In fact, the setup and storytelling are extremely taut. You get a call from a missing ex and then you’re off to Louisiana where all manner of delights await you. Again, I can’t express how relieved I was to find that 7 (for the most part) gives a wide berth to the quagmire of dumb that is the wider Resi universe.

This is by no means a reinvention. If anything it’s a modernisation, often hearkening back to its roots as much as it pushes forward with VR compatibility and the new first-person perspective. Long time fans might wish to see more challenging puzzles (or even actual zombies), and I can imagine many are still finding the move to first-person hard to swallow. But to those people, I’d certainly say to give it a go. Despite bearing little obvious resemblance to the originals, this is the closest the series has been to actual survival horror since the time of the PS1.

Even when it’s not outright scaring you, it holds you in a state of suspense. It can be genuinely stressful at times when the tension rises as an encounter looms and you start cursing yourself for every missed shot. The early hours feel like a series of well-done set-pieces, where you slink in and out of cover, attempting (often in vain) to avoid the attention of the Bakers. These segments are paced perfectly, offering just enough control while maintaining an impressive intensity.

Things open up later, allowing you to collect keys that unlock various areas. Thankfully, there is just enough backtracking to allow you to become familiar with the environments without making exploration stale.

When combat does become a necessity, it is heavy and brutal, with death animations to rival the best of them. There is a healthy selection of both melee and firearms and while they can’t be upgraded, they certainly pack a punch as they are. Basically, the combat serves its purpose and then some.

THIS IS CANNY AND REFERENTIAL HORROR.

In horror, sound design is king and Resi 7 absolutely delivers on this front, running the gamut from satisfying (headshots) to wince-inducing (dismemberment by chainsaw). Music is also used sparingly and mostly in safe rooms, where the repeated track often elicited an uneasiness within me that never quite allowed the safe rooms to feel very safe at all.

Environmental design is also terrific. The Baker mansion and its surrounding areas are a joy (or terror) to explore, being packed with secrets to uncover and atmosphere to soak up. It’s a genuinely exciting world to discover and exist within as you’re compelled to push onwards – forever wary of what may lurk in the next room.

This is canny and referential horror – full of nods to everything from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to more recent ‘torture porn’ flicks. Tonally, it strikes a near-impossible balance between being farcical and genuinely frightening. I laughed as much as I jumped, which for me, is a wonderful thing indeed.

All of this being said, the game is far from perfect. All but one of the boss battles are handled rather poorly, mostly due to the clunky nature of the first-person movement. The descent into repetitive action and running sequences in the final hours also feel like an unfortunate misstep. And enemy variety (besides the Bakers themselves) is somewhat lacking, with only a handful of different types which eventually leads to encounters with them feeling like irritating barriers to the exploration gameplay.

Sadly, the story doesn’t quite satisfy overall and the voice acting from Ethan and Mia is very odd, often sounding less human than the cannibalistic Bakers. The inclusion of multiple endings also feels like a bit of an afterthought given that the choice you have to make is more or less cut and dried from the start.

Some may find that the only references that it flubs are those that it makes to its own franchise. Things like themed keys for specific doors and the shotgun puzzle room (a la Resi 1) feel like rather forced callbacks given the fact that the Baker mansion is (or was) definitely more of a family home than the comparatively chilly Spencer mansion.

Tonally, the game strikes a near-impossible balance between being farcical and genuinely frightening

None of this is necessarily deal-breaking, but the slow decline in quality after the second act did leave me with a rather sour taste in my mouth. This wasn’t helped when the realisation came that some of the additional story chapters appear to have been carved up for release over the coming weeks and months, as part of the season pass. A scummy and insulting move as always, that is especially irksome here given the main game’s relatively brief 8-hour runtime.

I definitely don’t want to end this by being overly negative. The game certainly gave me more joy than any Resi since Revelations 1, and it’s an exciting and respectful entry that knows what to take forward and what to leave well enough alone. You’d be forgiven for writing it off as a knee-jerk reaction to the Amnesias and Outlasts of the world, but I genuinely think that there is so much here to like. So much that is surprising, frightening, utterly daft… and distinctly Resident Evil.

 

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