In 1997 the first Resident Evil game was released on PlayStation and it is seen by many as the game that created survival horror. I remember picking it up and getting utterly absorbed by its atmosphere: the gameplay elements used were (at the time) pretty unique. The mansion and the horrors within really did elicit a sense of dread and foreboding. Since the original the series, (very much like the T-virus,) Resident Evil has evolved and spread into a plethora of new games, films and comics. If you are new to the series there are many well-researched videos on YouTube which will fill you in on the complicated history of the Resident Evil series. However, this new game is largely unrelated to anything that has happened before so it is a great time to jump in.
Lost and found
As the series progressed through the years the developers started taking the Resident Evil games in a more action orientated direction, abandoning the horror elements which the franchise was built upon. As this happened I lost interest and I'll be honest, it is only due to a radical shake-up of the game's formula that I am now playing Resident Evil 7.
You are stepping into the unfortunate shoes Ethan, who has just received a video from his fiancé: she has been missing for three years and presumed dead. Ethan is just an average fellow with no combat training and this certainly helps create a sense of helplessness when the shit hits the fan. With no ransom or set of demands, it is beyond me why young Ethan doesn't contact the FBI or local police officers: but that wouldn't make for a very exciting horror game now would it. Like the original the game, this story takes place within the walls of one house (and surrounding area), the family home of the Bakers. This grounding is the first major step towards a far more intimate horror experience that we saw with the first Resident Evil games. As you play through the various encounters you will rush into rooms you've already been in only to find new deadly enemies lying in wait. This house isn't just a staging area for the next big mission, this creaking maze of horror is your prison and you will have to fight for every breath.
Resident Evil 7 likes to get right in your face and the developers have done their best to make you feel every horrific act that happens to Ethan. I won't spoil these but it is fair to say that the opening few hours shocked me with a level of brutality we only see in the likes of SAW films and their ilk. Even when you have acquired a firearm and feel a little more ready to take on the Baker's: they will do something totally unexpected. In my first confrontation with Jack, the man of the house, I foolishly tried to knock the old bastard down: that didn't go so well. As I limped away thinking I had lost him the wall ahead of me exploded: Jack's cut me off and snapped my neck.
The second major departure from previous games is the move to a first person perspective and I think this was a fantastic decision. When playing games from an over the shoulder viewpoint the player usually feels detached from the experience but with first person, every spine-chilling event feels more personal and threatening. As you make a few futile attempts to dispatch the Baker's you will realise these guys have been putting something extra on their cornflakes. The best you can hope to do is slow them down enough to make your escape and hide until they wander off. Having unbeatable enemies is always a risky move but the way RE7 handles these situations deserves applause. It is these moments that help ratchet up the terror because when you see them you must either run or hide. Alien Isolation put the player in a similar situation and it is this feeling of helplessness that creates fear. There are other enemies you must deal with that come in the form of the 'moulded' which look like humanoid trees with shark heads. These lumbering killers do come in various configurations that you can kill but compared to the Baker's feel tame and a little bland.
It is such a shame that the horror and dread the game creates in such wonderful ways seems to fade away in the games last chapter. In fact, I would go as far as to say I wish they had stopped before the last stretch even happens. It is not just a change of setting that is the problem but more the change of pace. I cannot say more for the sake of spoilers but I feel like in this end sequence the developers had just run out of ideas and so opted for a generic boss fight. There was also the sense that the team who wrote the game didn't trust the players to figure out the links to the wider Resident Evil world, which I suspect most will have done before passing the halfway point. However, you cannot please everybody and for some this more shooter themed conclusion will seem like a natural progression of the story.
There are a few unmistakable Resident Evil traits that fans will instantly recognise such as an overly clunky inventory, life giving green herbs and safe rooms where you can save your progress. Thankfully you can save as much as you like on normal difficulty so gamers with less skill won't be replaying whole sections again and again.
I want to play a game
While Jack is an unstoppable killing machine the other family members have their own way of doing things. Marguerite Baker is more devious and has abilities that make her just as deadly to deal with. Then we have their loving Son Lucas Baker who likes to play with his victims with diabolical traps that usually end with the victim dead: very Jigsaw darling.
As you progress the game will throw some basic puzzles your way and while well put together they will not keep you stumped for long. I particularly liked the light puzzles in which you must create the correct shadow on the wall using a certain object. One mechanism that you will also come across is the use of VHS tapes that let you see events prior to you being there. You actually take control of the personal involved and must work through that story segment. These usually reveal some information about what Ethan will face in the near future: so shameless reuse of game assets but I didn't mind all that much. Once you have finished the game you can always dive back in to try the higher difficulty mode or see if you can find the other endings to the game. Obviously given the scripted nature you will find a second play through far less terrifying (in theory) but I have heard people having very different results in some areas of the game.
Beauty and the Beast
So how does Resident Evil 7 fair in the looks department? Well, it is a mixed bag but overall does very well. The texture work is actually a little hit and miss but does a decent job as long as you don't get too close: I would like to see an HD texture pack in the future that takes advantage of what PC can do. The Baker house is dripping in horrific detail that makes it looked lived in but also gives you a window into the history of the family. It becomes clear to those who observe the various paintings and photographs that the Bakers were not always psychopathic killers. There is also an excellent use of lighting throughout this game, from moonlight reaching across darkened rooms to the low flicker of a dying candle. I found the way the game decides when and where to use the flashlight frustrating but I can also see this helped the developers ramp up the suspense in some scenes. I was surprised that in a game using a first person view and was largely about peeking around corners there was no lean function. This was something that I constantly wanted to do but instead, you must move your whole body and thus risk getting spotted. These are small niggles and shouldn't put you off buying the game.
The sound work in RE7 needs a special mention as it is excellent throughout. I have lost count of the times I would be in a dark room and I could hear something moving around in another part of the house. With the Baker family members stalking you and other horrors trying to sample your sweet meats you are constantly alert for the slightest movement and in this way the sound design is just astounding. In one scene I entered a wing of the house where the outer wall was missing, as I approached the wind howled through the gaping hole and the plastic sheeting on the floor fluttered: genuinely chilling stuff.
Is it PC?
This is a PC port and a Capcom game: the laws of the universe clearly state this should be an unoptimised steaming pile of code. Not so and in fact, the game runs very well for the most part. The options menu is decent and lets you change most of the important settings. I have read many reports that the big killer to framerate is the shadows: so if you are having problems knock them down a little. You will also want to turn the shadows cache off as it was causing crashing and instability for some readers.
The major problem I kept running into was some crippling freezing that occurred when moving between the areas of the game. Sometimes the game would literally jam up for ten seconds with frequent micro stutters to follow. This is strange because I have struggled to find a single mainstream review that mentions this problem. While the game environments are certainly very detailed there isn't a lot going on in terms of physics or number of enemies on screen. For the lucky PlayStation owners with VR headsets, this game is entirely playable in virtual reality and this is an exclusive PlayStation deal lasting a year. I surely hope that some way down the road we get this brought to the Oculus and Vive because it sounds like they did good with this version of the game.
There is no doubt the developers have been influenced by many pivotal horror games and films in the making of Resident Evil 7. The scene early on when you face the whole family around the dining table is very reminiscent of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The now infamous PT demo also came to mind while creeping down creaky corridors, indeed there are so many games and films that I could call out here.
Resident Evil is one of the best horror games I have played in recent times and that is down to some excellent art direction, smart gameplay design and wonderful sound work. Yes, the last part of the game let the experience down in some ways but I wouldn't let this put you off and I have to give them credit for breathing new life into a series that had become stale. If Capcom is smart they will take this success and build upon what they have done. What I hope they don't do is equate series progression with 'more zombies, more guns, more action'.
Thank you for reading my review of Resident Evil 7 on PC, I hope you enjoyed it. Please check back for more reviews soon. If you can tell your friends about my site I would be most grateful.