The Resident Evil (RE) franchise has had a rocky past. In 1996, the original Resident Evil defined the survival horror genre by trapping players in a claustrophobic mansion with tricky puzzles, limited ammo, and awkward camera angles that enhanced the tension. Recent games in the series have eschewed survival horror in favor of a more action-oriented experience, culminating in 2012’s disappointing Resident Evil 6.
Plot and Atmosphere
Aside from the over-the-top action, the recent RE games feature well-equipped protagonists, further defeating the purpose of survival horror. RE 7 fixes this by putting the player into the shoes of Ethan, an ordinary guy whose wife Mia has been missing for three years and is presumed dead. When she contacts him out of the blue, he travels to a remote part of Louisiana to track her down, and is soon captured by the psychotic Baker family hell-bent on killing him.
In terms of horror, RE 7 strikes a good balance between tension and pay-off. Having Jack Baker suddenly pop out of a window with an axe and start chasing you is just as satisfying as slowly creeping around the corner, nervous simply because you’re almost out of ammo and might see something wild.
If you explore, finding files and notes hidden around the house reveals more information about its residents and the story behind your wife’s disappearance. You can also inspect some items like vases and boxes that can be opened to reveal helpful items, rewarding exploration. The music ramps up at the right moments, and little touches like seeing guts all over your weapon after killing an enemy up-close show great attention to detail.
You’ll spend about half your time with RE 7 in combat and the other half exploring and solving basic puzzles. Aside from one standout moment that we won’t mention for spoilers, these puzzles aren’t anything complex.
Like past RE games, 7 has limited inventory space. This means you have to constantly monitor what you’re carrying and weigh the pros and cons of holding, say, more ammo at the cost of missing out on a healing item. You can find both ready-to-use items like ammo and medicine, and raw ingredients that you can combine into what you need most.
While you’re able to upgrade your carrying capacity a few times, there were a few moments of item management we found tedious. It’s frustrating when you need to pick up a key, but don’t have any slots left. This leaves you to choose either dropping a valuable item to make room, or making the trek all the way back to a safe room to deposit something into a box.
Combat against standard enemies is excellent. Ammo is scarce enough that you can’t waste it, but never so low that you feel powerless. Dealing with the shaky camera while you carefully aim your pistol at a monster’s head is tense, and the weapons feel just right. The shotgun’s powerful kick is a particular highlight.
What’s not so hot are the boss fights. You’ll only encounter a few, but they’re clunky and don’t have the tension of fighting normal enemies. Because the area you’re fighting in doesn’t have much room to run and you have to spend what seems like all your ammo shooting the boss, the fights fall short.
For instance, during one boss fight you pick up a chainsaw and notice that the escape door is barricaded. Because you can’t tell that you’re damaging the boss if you hit it, and since game tells you that the barricaded door will “take something strong to destroy,” I assumed that you were supposed to escape, not fight. In actuality, you have to kill the boss before you leave. The loading menu provides some tips that will help you figure out boss fights eventually, but having to restart several times really breaks the immersion.
On a better note, RE 7 introduces a neat mechanic with its videotapes. A few times throughout the adventure, you’ll find a VHS tape that you can pop into a tape player. These let you play through past moments from another character’s perspective, and provide gameplay hints since the tape covers the area you’re about to enter.
You’ll also receive a few special items that make subsequent playthroughs easier. Completionists can collect a handful of optional items throughout the quest, along with a few tough Trophies such as finishing the game using only three healing items.
Should You Buy It?
Resident Evil 7 is a fantastic game. It makes amazing use of its first-person perspective and induces chilling horror from the setting and mechanics. Aside from some less-than-great boss battles, simple puzzles, and occasionally-tedious item management, RE 7 does everything right. The faint of heart need not apply due to the always-on bloody anxiety, but this is a must-play for horror fans.
However, we don’t recommend buying it at full price now. If you can borrow or rent Resident Evil 7, play it as soon as possible. Otherwise, wait for a price drop. There’s free DLC coming soon, along with a $30 season pass for more content, but $60 is a bit much for a game you can complete in a few days.