It’s taken me a few days to assess how I feel about Resident Evil 7; that’s in no way a bad thing.
Years have passed since I was last affected so much by a game to the point where I’m speechless at its pure beauty. Honestly, I can’t remember the last AAA game that felt like a piece of art. (In fact, indies have recently dominated the “game as an art form” argument.) Since the jump to the new generation of consoles, much ado has been made over processing power, graphical shifts, and higher resolutions. What has been forgotten by major developers & publishers, sadly, are the games themselves.
I feel a change coming.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard starts off in a nostalgic fashion for me; the opening video clip is evocative of Silent Hill 2’s opening and tone. The journey to a derelict town to find a loved one may not be an original setup for fans of the genre, but that doesn’t matter. Once the perspective slips comfortably behind the wheel, the player — as Ethan — is drawn in inevitably. I was thoroughly invested in his quest to find his wife Mia, who mysteriously vanished in Louisiana three years prior.
The first thing I noticed was how subtle the frights could be. One thing that really kills me in first-person perspective horror games are the jump scares — especially when they’re cheap or without reason (or when the scares exist just to create “red herring terror”). All of the horror here is grounded; if you jump, you have a damn good reason to. I couldn’t get through games like Outlast because of this. Maybe I didn’t give Outlast a fair shake in retrospect, but I’m not a big fan of being scared for the sake of a “spook.” An excellent musical score aids the fear and tension release; I can’t tell you how many sighs of relief I exhaled every time I heard the “Saferoom” theme begin to play.
Horror references are bountiful; I found nods to The Blair Witch Project, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Evil Dead (to name a few). It’s a love letter to the genre that respects its influences yet never feels derivative or uninspired. In fact, it feels like the total opposite. In many ways, this truly feels like the first next-gen horror experience.
It takes powerful design to make one fear opening a simple door in a game. It feels like you’re experiencing the Resident Evil loading screens of old in real time… and it couldn’t be more horrific. The environments are varied and far larger than I expected. The design of the buildings are memorable to the point where I seldom found myself checking my map. In a world where gamers spend most of their time staring at a mini-map rather than the entire screen, such design is delightfully welcome.
RE7 evokes a game experience more along the lines of Silent Hill 4: The Room than Kojima’s ill-fated PT. It’s easy to draw comparisons and theorize that Capcom saw the response to Konami’s PT and acted accordingly. Regardless, the game carves its own identity and it stands out as a new beginning for the series much like Resident Evil 4 did over a decade earlier.
I got emotional throughout my time with RE7. Not because I was frightened or affected by the story at hand, but because of how truly perfect it was in terms of atmosphere and coherency. Never once did I feel like I wasn’t playing a masterpiece. This is the series at its most bare bones paired with an ambitious, exciting future. It’s potent because it isn’t bogged down by the overarching mythology, making it easily accessible for newcomers yet refreshing for old timers. I can’t express how incredibly moved I was by the set pieces and the mindboggling art direction.
It’s hard not to also gush about the story (and difficult to hold back all the moments I’d like to discuss) but I can’t spoil a moment of how the game unfolds. From the calm beginning to the speechless end, I haven’t been this invested in a horror game since the PS2 era.
If you love horror games, you’d be cheating yourself by skipping Resident Evil 7. If you’re a fan of well-written stories in gaming — but you’re kind of a scaredy cat — watch someone else play it on Youtube. This is a story you need to experience in any way possible. These are the kind of experiences that move the medium forward. I won’t soon forget my journey into the Baker compound.