Capcom was in a precarious position with the Resident Evil franchise. Since its inception, it’s been popular, but it reached new heights with the fourth instalment. Blending action with terror, Resident Evil 4 represented a bold new direction, swapping out clunky controls and imprecise movement for tight aiming and immediacy.
So popular was Resident Evil 4, that it informed every decision Capcom would take with the franchise for the next decade. The game was ported to nearly every device under the sun, with its core framework trickling down into subsequent releases – all while trimming and appending systems as needed. This reached a tipping point with Resident Evil 6; a game so bloated in its design and inspirations, that it started to look like a Bio Organic Weapon itself.
Despite the numbered title, Resident Evil 7 represented a chance for Capcom to begin again – and they have. Instead of digging their heels in the familiar, the developer took a hard look at the iconic series’ building blocks, discarding those that were unimportant. The result is a survival horror that – on first impression – only shares the series’ namesake. But on closer inspection, it’s the truest Resident Evil has even been to itself.
The game focuses on Ethan, as he attempts to track down his partner Mia in the Louisiana swamps. But all of this is secondary to the game’s real main characters – the Baker family. Unhinged and unkillable, the Bakers shuffle around their swampy plantation house, providing pervasive terror and immediate jump-scares in equal measure.
The house itself isn’t just a backdrop for encounters or puzzles – it’s a character too. Like previous games in the series, it’s the most important one. You’ll become intimately familiar with the house’s oppressive corridors and decaying furniture, only to have that feeling dashed with every new door you unlock, with each creak and groan behind the walls. The loop of discovery, familiarity, and discovery again – or Recursive Unlocking – is what cultivated the pervasive sense of dread in the originals. Resident Evil 7 recreates this with aplomb.
You’ll crisscross over older areas and unlock shortcuts, with each discovery acting as a bitter-sweet victory, as the solution space for your puzzles increases in scope. Treks between your safe-room and objectives aren’t the result of a limited inventory size, but instead a carefully constructed challenge – planning a route, finding ways to deftly stick to it, and adapting when the need arises. Some of that level design does stumble in the game’s later chapters however, following events that feel more like a DLC mission than a meaningful addition to the base story.
Resident Evil 7 also brings something new to the franchise, in the form of a first-person perspective. This isn’t a design choice cribbing on the popularity of games like Outlast or Amnesia; taking the action to a different perspective afforded Capcom the chance to recreate the familiar within a new framework.
In the same way that set camera angles would obfuscate your view of threats in the originals, this is recreated in Resident Evil 7’s first-person view. You’ll lose track of enemies as you recover from the shock of a jump-scare, only to find an errant claw or shovel swing in from the side of your vision. The aiming and movement is imprecise but not maddening, ratcheting up the tension by adding a level of unpredictability. You’ll be cursing yourself for every missed shot, as enemies lurch your way.
There are some problems with these new additions though. Melee combat is an option, but it feels awkward and ineffectual. The occasional boss fight also presents problems, requiring you to read enemy movements before you can counter-attack. The quick timing on some of these don’t feel tuned to the game’s slower control scheme, which will often lead to your death. Feelings of frustration are reduced by the game’s generous checkpointing and loading screen tip system however, which will usually point you in the right direction.
By wiping the slate clean and beginning again, Capcom have gained perspective. With Resident Evil 7, they’ve identified the core tenets of the franchise – the building blocks of terror that captivated and inspired a generation of fans and creators alike. The first-person perspective isn’t Resident Evil, but the feelings it elicits certainly are.
Keith received a digital copy of Resident Evil 7 from Capcom for review.