After the huge misstep that was Resident Evil 6, the future of the classic survival-horror franchise seemed uncertain. Thankfully, Capcom heard the pleas of countless fans who begged that the series return to its survival-horror roots. Because of that, we now have a Resident Evil title that is a true return to form. Resident Evil VII is exactly what the series needed.
Like the original Resident Evil, Resident Evil VII (mostly) takes place in one location. This game ditches the grandiose set pieces of previous installments in favor of smaller, secret-rich environments. These tighter spaces help give the game a better sense of intimacy. In order to immerse players further, Resident Evil 7 is presented in a first-person perspective. Limiting the game’s field of view ups the sense of horror considerably since it is harder to tell what is around any given corner. The Baker home may not be as enormous as the Spencer Mansion from the first game, but it can be argued that it’s an even more terrifying place to explore.
Speaking of the Bakers, they are the game’s central antagonists. While there are a number of inhuman monstrosities to contend with in the game (the tar-covered Molded, among others), none of them instill the sense of dread that the Baker family does. They are among the series’ most disturbing enemies due in large part to how real they are. Yes, they are psychotic maniacs that have strange and horrifying powers. But at the same time, since they are a twisted version of a rural family, they inspired a fear that no monster could. A villain is scariest when there is a hint of humanity hidden underneath their grotesque exterior, and the Bakers embody that notion.
On the surface, Resident Evil VII appears to be a radical departure for the series. In truth, it is more “Resident Evil” than you would expect. Like before, you’ll have to scour the environment for weapons, ammo, and healing items. You can save your game inside of save rooms that also have lockers to store equipment. And even though there are less of them, players will still have to face off against powerful foes. Some of the game’s boss fights even echo the over-the-top encounters Resident Evil is (in)famous for. Capcom wisely made sure not to completely abandon everything that makes Resident Evil great — it is just presenting well-known elements in a decidedly modern fashion.
Resident Evil VII is effective due to its superb presentation. The new engine the game runs on is able to generate photo-realistic environments in splendid detail. Play for long enough and you’ll feel as though you are walking through a real-life location. As excellent as the visual elements are, it is the audio that truly brings one into the world. Most of the time, the game has no music. Instead, creaking floor boards, hushed whispers, rustling leaves, and other unknown noises are all that can be heard. Even with no immediate danger around them, the player never feels comfortable, jumping at any noise they hear (even if it’s their own footsteps). Resident Evil VII doesn’t need to do much in order to frighten users.
If there is any downside to be found, it is that Resident Evil VII might be a little too scary for some. This is a testament to just how frightening REVII is. Playing the game on a normal TV is terrifying enough, but playing it in VR is an entirely different experience. Resident Evil VII is actually a great ambassador for VR gaming. Ironically, it is also a game many will not want to play in VR in the first place because of how terrifying it is. This isn’t really a negative but it is something to note regardless.
The Resident Evil series gets a complete overhaul every few years. Given the ever-changing survival-horror genre, this is understandable. It remains to be seen how long Capcom will keep this new style for Resident Evil before redoing the whole thing again. But for now, new and old fans alike should feel grateful to finally get a truly spectacular, and genre-defining entry in this venerated and classic series. Capcom has landed a great victory with Resident Evil VII.
This review of Resident Evil VII is based on a review copy for the PlayStation 4 provided by Capcom.