Release Date: January 24, 2017Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PCDeveloper: CapcomPublisher: CapcomGenre: Survival Horror
All anyone could seem to talk about leading up to the release of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was legacies. The legacy of the franchise, the legacy of the genre, and even speculation regarding the legacy of Resident Evil 7. The primary concern of many gamers had shifted from “Will this game be good?” to “Will this game live up to the legacy I have assigned it?”
To those gamers I say, “Don’t worry.” Resident Evil 7 does such an incredible job of keeping you a prisoner of the moment that you’ll rarely be burdened with thoughts of legacies throughout the course of its campaign.
If you’re trying to imagine what it’s like actually playing Resident Evil 7 now that the franchise has moved to a first-person perspective, don’t think about Amnesia, Outbreak, or even P.T. Instead, think of the tragically underrated Xbox 360 launch title Condemned: Criminal Origins. Much like that game, Resident Evil 7 features a fairly well-balanced mix of puzzles, combat, and exploration all wrapped in a thick horror atmosphere that robs you of your breath when you attempt to inhale.
Where Resident Evil 7 separates itself from the legion of genre titles it has been compared to in the months leading up to the game’s release is in its level design and pacing. Your first run through the game is going to take you anywhere from 8-10 hours depending on your chosen difficulty, fondness for distractions, and whether or not you get hung up on a couple of the story’s trickier sections.
Before you perform an exaggerated spit take at the thought of a $60 game that can be beaten in under 10 hours, consider that Resident Evil 7‘s campaign is 8-10 hours in length not because the developers were trying to get away with short-changing you, but because they envisioned an adventure that so happened to require exactly that much time to complete.
Resident Evil 7’s campaign is one of the greatest single-player adventures released in recent memory. Looking back, it’s funny to think that I worried about how Capcom would stretch the experience outlined in the game’s demo into a full-length adventure. Then again, nobody could have ever quite anticipated the brilliance of this title’s level design.
Nearly every section of Resident Evil 7 incorporates some new theme or mechanic designed to keep the experience fresh. One area might put you under the thumb of a persistent stalker, while the next forces you through an elaborate series of traps designed by a madman. Remarkably, most of these areas are strung together to create a cohesive Metroid-like overworld that can be seamlessly explored.
Because of this layout, you are constantly moving between brilliantly designed areas while dealing with few interruptions to your immersion. Each time you think you’ve seen the game’s grandest spectacle, you are immediately confronted with some new incredible occurrence that reminds you that you haven’t seen anything yet.
While all of these memorable moments are worthy of praise even out of context, they ultimately do serve to advance the game’s story. Actually, 90% of Resident Evil 7’s story is captured in the game’s opening moments. You are a man named Ethan Winters who comes to Louisiana to look for his missing girlfriend, Mia. In the process, you are taken hostage by the mysterious Baker family and must find a way to escape.
What really matters, though, is that last 10%. The closing moments of Resident Evil 7’s story are going to be divisive. The basic problem is that the finale of the game tries to neatly wrap-up the initial 90% of the experience. Not only does this rob the story of some of its “What the hell is going on here?” appeal, but the explanation itself hinges upon a fairly undercooked revelation that feels like it was implemented in an attempt to start some of the world building work required for future sequels.
The gameplay features a similarly favorable ratio of brilliant and unfortunate. Most of your time in Resident Evil 7 is spent either exploring your environment or combating some of the game’s most diabolical creations. The big surprise here is the quality of the gunplay. While combat in this game rarely extends beyond grab whatever weapon happens to have ammo in it and point it at the nearest enemy, it’s implemented in a way that ensures you never feel truly powerful. Instead, knowing that you could be faced with a combat scenario at any time only increases your general level of anxiety.
Sadly, that compliment does not extend to the game’s boss fights. Early on in Resident Evil 7, you participate in two boss encounters. The first one is a simple point-and-shoot affair that offers little value beyond the initially shocking reveal of the boss. The second is an immensely clever confrontation that makes brilliant use of the game’s mechanics and your environment.
Unfortunately, that latter battle proves to be the exception. Resident Evil 7 borrows from Bioshock: Infinite’s school of boss design, which is to say that bosses in this game are elaborate bullet sponges designed to service the story more than they are designed to provide a creative conflict. These big baddies look appropriately imposing, but they rarely offer you the chance to do anything more than pour ammo into them until they die. The fact that it’s almost impossible to tell how much you’re hurting them only adds to their general frustration level.
These few underperforming boss battles will do little to ruin your overall enjoyment of the experience, though, thanks largely to how well the game handles exploration and puzzle solving. Walking around the Baker”s residence and later locales is an experience in pure terror that only the best horror games can prepare you for.
In fact, I was surprised by how little the game relies on jump scares. So many of the scares in this title stem from the ever-present feeling that your next turn is going to put you face to face with something you are not prepared for. One particularly brilliant area even expertly toys with your expectation for a jump scare moment until you’re begging for one to occur just so it can be done with. This feeling of constant dread is amplified by the game’s impressive visuals and minimalistic soundtrack.
While it’s admittedly a little frustrating that Resident Evil 7 repeats a few basic puzzles considering how relatively few puzzles there are in the game, this is still the series’ best use of logic-based obstacles in decades. In fact, one section involving a Saw-style trap and a VHS tape may very well be the finest puzzle in franchise history.
Actually, let’s not measure the game against its forebears quite yet. That’s a conversation that will only serve to distract you from the brilliance of Resident Evil 7 as a standalone experience. Whatever your preferences are regarding concepts like first-person gaming, horror titles, or Resident Evil in general, I can assure you that you will not find a more immersive and thrilling single-player experience than the one Resident Evil 7 has to offer. The brilliance of its level design, pacing, and atmosphere can be easily appreciated by anyone who respects a game’s unique ability to grab you by the soul and refuse to let go.
But hey, I get it. You still want to know how Resident Evil 7 stacks up in terms of legacies. Well, I’ll tell you. It’s the most notable horror game released since P.T. It’s the greatest horror campaign we’ve seen since Dead Space. It’s the greatest game bearing the Resident Evil name since Resident Evil 4 and the scariest such title since the GameCube remake of the original Resident Evil.
No matter how you choose to view Resident Evil 7, the one thing I can assure you is that you won’t be able to look away until late in the night when you instinctively boot up your second playthrough because you’re too scared to sleep and not yet ready to leave Resident Evil 7‘s world.
Matthew Byrd is a staff writer.