Resident Evil and I go back quite a ways, though I went through it in quite a different order than most. Nemesis (RE3) was my first horror game I played after Alone in the Dark and, graphical leap aside, the thing that struck me most was the thought of a lone creature that could stalk you and couldn’t be put down. Then it was on to RE2, 4, 1, 0, and 5. The last one completely killed my interest in the series, so much that I have never been interested in trying to muddle through 6. With the announcement of 7, that changed and my interest flared up again. Scaling things back to a small house instead of a country-wide outbreak, with the stalking creatures I loved? While skeptical that it might turn out to be just an Outlast clone, I still held out hope that it could turn out well. Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed.

It’s a tale as old as time. Boy meets girl. They fall in love and get married. Then the girl takes a job and suddenly goes missing for 3 years. Ethan had just gotten over her loss when he received a video, warning him to stay away. Doing just the opposite, he heads to a house in Louisiana where he believes she might be found. Things go south quickly and Ethan is captured by a family of, to be polite, disturbed individuals. He’s then tasked with finding out the secret they’ve been hiding and somehow putting an end to it.

Resident Evil has never been known for its storytelling, and tends to fall more towards camp and B-horror more often than not. While there are certainly some of those elements still present here, there’s also an attempt to give everything a deeper context. The murderous family members, the monstrous creatures, and more all have something going on. That doesn’t mean it all works, but it’s interesting to see the added effort in grounding the story. The only thing that really throws a wrench into the works is the inclusion of an incredibly pointless moral choice that leads to one of two endings, though the two have very few differences.

Welcome to the Family

Welcome to the Family

That’s not to say that the quirky charm is completely gone. There’s still plenty of eye-rolling silliness, like the First Aid Med – a magical liquid that Ethan simply haphazardly splashes over wounds to treat everything from light scrapes to crushed bones and, no joke, severed limbs. There’s also the dimensional oddity that is the save room’s item box, allowing stored contents to be accessed from any item box in the world. Players will even come across self-referential humor that comes close to breaking the 4th wall, such as when Ethan activates a device by casting a shadow on the wall using a weirdly-cut sculpture and comments, “Who builds this shit?”

Some of the best moments in the game are spent simply soaking up the atmosphere. Ethan moves at a snail’s crawl, even when “dashing”, so you’ll have plenty of time to do it. The graphics, while certainly not on the level of something like P.T., are still quite well-done…at least inside the house. There are drastically different areas like the cold stonework of the basement level or the flooded, infested woodwork of the side house. There’s plenty of backtracking and retreading throughout the game and the environments often change along with the story, adding another interesting element. Of course, the best place to be is in the save room, which offers a comforting glow and relaxing music to ease away the tension.

But make no mistake, tension is in no short supply. There are several times in the game when you’re lightly armed or completely defenseless, and often being stalked around cramped corridors by the lunatic family or other deadly monsters. This is no Outlast or Amnesia – if cornered, you can always fight back, even if it’s just to give you some breathing room and an escape route. If all else fails, flee to a save room, where an invisible prevents enemies from entering, even if they watch you run inside.

There was initially some fear that this title wouldn’t really have the feel of a true Resident Evil, but playing through the game it’s obvious that those fears were unfounded. So many of the old tropes are still present, from picking up strange objects to serve as keys in mysterious doors to dealing with extremely limited inventory space (that’s expanded by picking up backpacks) to rooting through mountains of documents to piece together what’s really going on given the limited storytelling involved in the actual scenes. The ending, in particular, may be completely confusing if players don’t take the time to go through some of the documents.

Recorders and backpacks, your new best friends.

Recorders and backpacks, your new best friends.

One of the more interesting uses of this is in the game’s implementation of VHS tapes. Remember those? A handful of them can be found while exploring the house and played on various VCRs (all without clocks set). Here, the story takes a break to shift your control to another character’s perspective. Typically, these are used to find the answer to some kind of puzzle, but they also fill out more of the narrative as well as provide an extra look into the characters. The game even allows for paradoxes – by doing certain things in a few of the tapes recorded in the past, something in the present might be affected. None of them are absolutely required except for the final one, but each one is worth a look.

Over the course of the game, Ethan is able to build up his personal arsenal to include plenty of powerful guns and even pick up items that will buff his health. Still, combat never reaches the point of something RE4-6, where constant waves of enemies come pouring in while you blast away. They usually come alone or in pairs, but don’t be fooled – wielding a gun doesn’t always save the day. Most monsters can survive a few hits and will dash forward while bobbing and weaving to close the distance, which isn’t difficult in the cramped quarters of the house. It adds to the tension by keeping things tight and making it seem like each shot is absolutely crucial.

If the creatures get close enough, it really doesn’t take much to send Ethan to an early grave. Fortunately, there are a few options available, like the ability to guard against attacks to mitigate damage. There’s not a lot of variety at all in the enemies, so you’ll quickly learn how to deal with each. My personal choice? Run. Even in small hallways, there’s usually enough room to squirrel around an opponent. A lot of time and ammunition can be saved by taking the coward’s way out, with boss battles as the sole exception. If you’re locked in? Time to fight. If not, save those bullets.

The face of fear. I think I'd like that exit now, thanks.

The face of fear. I think I’d like that exit now, thanks.

This might make it sound like ammunition is scarce enough that you should hold on to every bullet. In a way, this is true. RE7 is full of items that will keep you well-stocked for the apocalypse, but only if you’re putting in the time to explore. While there are a few scattered boxes in the open, I felt a real thrill out of finding things like shotgun shells hidden behind a picture frame leaning against a wall.

Of course, there are also bigger secrets. Antique coins can be collected and exchanged for powerful items, and there are bobbleheads clicking away in all areas of the game, so keep your ears open. It’s amazing how much RE7 has to offer in this way. While the story does have a pair of (very slightly) different endings, the true replayability comes in discovering its additional secrets, unlocking new modes, and new items. It’s amazing to see how well the series has done in adopting a new look and feel while still holding on to the best parts of its past. There’s definitely room for more and I look forward to what comes next.

(I wanted to write a brief segment on playing the game in VR, but it turned into a beast worthy of an article all on its own, so that will be coming soon. Suffice it to say, playing RE7 in VR has a few hitches, but is definitely the best way to experience the game.)

KAIJU VERDICT

4/4 Pops:  Essential  The rarest of things, something that everyone calling themselves a game enthusiast should pick up and try once, regardless of preferred genres or themes.

Review based off a digital version, played on a PS4 Pro, with and without PSVR.

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