REVIEW: Resident Evil 7 (XBox One)
THE PREMISE: A boring lump of a man receives a message from his wife, thought dead for several years, telling him where he can find her. Against his better judgement he goes looking, confronting unspeakable horrors in search of the truth about his lost love.
Stop me if you've heard this one before.
Note: Resident Evil 7 is so incredibly spooky that the screenshots used in this article have been subtly digitally altered.
THE HOLY SHIT IT'S BEHIND YOU IT'S RIGHT BEHIND YOU: This game is scary in a way that Resident Evil hasn't really been scary in a long time. There are two reasons for this:
- You play as Ethan Winters, who's at the Baker Plantation in rural Louisiana looking for his missing wife, Mia. If you don't recognize these names, it's because this is the first RE game in a while that completely sidelines the main running cast of characters to tell an original story. This means nobody's off limits; you're no Redfield or Kennedy, guaranteed to see the credits roll. It adds a layer of vulnerability to the characters that's been missing for a while.
- The switch to a first person perspective just naturally makes things scarier. I haven't played Outlast or Alien: Isolation (both are in my perpetually growing backlog), but I did play the ill-fated Silent Hills preview game PT, and this gave me shades of that (particularly in the beginning). It may seem kind of derivative of other recent successful horror games, but RE7 does it really well.
These are some pretty big changes for the franchise, so it surprised me that by the time I was done I felt like I'd played the most old school RE game in years. Capcom has dialed back the globetrotting, Michael-Bay-esque insanity of the last few games and delivered something more in line with the franchise's roots. More than once I found myself saving my ammo, dodging past an enemy as I made a beeline across the estate to the nearest item box so I could pick up a key shaped like some kind of animal. Don't worry though - it scratches that old school itch without crossing the line into "archaic" territory. I never felt totally lost, the key points on the map are placed smartly enough that backtracking never felt like a hassle, and managing my inventory was always a snap.
Old school with modern sensibilities, basically.
That said, RE7 still managed to surprise me - from a gameplay perspective - from time to time. I don't want to say too much because it's best to go into this kind of thing blind, but it's a lot of fun.
Presentation is top notch. Play with a good set of headphones or a nice surround setup if you can so you can hear floors creak above you while you're snooping around and generally just ruin your evening for yourself. There were definitely moments where I thought "Man, this part would be really cool in VR," but I haven't tried it for myself because a degree in journalism does not get you fat VR-headset-buying stacks. Impressions from my friend Jim (playing exclusively on his PS4 VR headset) were positive, if one late night "I sharted and had to stop playing" text message is anything to go by, so give that a whirl if you're able to do so.
On the downside, the base game suffers a bit from a dearth of content. In past RE games, you'd unlock alternate modes and weapons as rewards for beating the game on certain difficulties or under special conditions. There's a little bit of that this time around, with a harder difficulty mode and a handful of weapons to unlock, but it seems like a lot of the really meaty extra content has been relegated to DLC. The first few paid DLC packs have already released and include some of the quirky bonus modes you're used to seeing in RE games - which is neat, but seeing them released so soon after the game's launch makes it seem a little like a ripoff. Probably just my inner old man talking.
There is a free DLC chapter coming this summer that looks like it will shed some light on a particularly big WTF moment from the game's ending, so that's nice, at least. But that didn't stop me from selling the game once I'd beaten it (gotta pay off my Zelda preorder, ya know). I'll pick up the Complete Edition or whatever they call it next year to see how all that pans out.
THE VERDICT: As your stereotypical jaded old asshole gamer, I really enjoyed RE7. It reminded me of the things that made the older games great without having to deal with actually playing through a game made in 1996. A good mix of camp and horror, with some surprising gameplay twists thrown in. I just wish there was more on the disc.
SCORE: 3.5 really ornate, unwieldy keys out of 5. Maybe bump it up to a 4.5 if the rest of the DLC ends up being good.
+ Presentation (particularly audio)
+ Super scary for reals
+ Feels like a good change of pace for the series
- Enemy variety is lacking
- WHERE THE REST OF THE GAME AT