There’s a specific cycle which seems to have afflicted Resident Evil since the very beginning. You know the exact one - Where the series will suffer an abrupt identity crisis, produce a few bad games and then revive itself once more. We last saw this with the rapid decline in quality following Resident Evil 4’s revamp, which ended with 6 almost killing the franchise. However, the years since that game’s release have been well spent, and 7 proves to be a new high point for the entire series.
Taking more inspiration from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre than the typical Evil Dead influences, the game breaks from many conventions. Along with switching over to a first person view, it sees a new protagonist Ethan searching for his missing ex, eventually tracking her down to a seemingly abandoned house. Unfortunately for him, she’s not entirely well in the head, and its other occupants aren’t too happy with Ethan.
Distancing itself from Umbrella or the more iconic monsters, 7 focuses upon delivering a claustrophobic and borderline sadistic experience for its protagonist. Robbed of allies, weapons or even the basic familiarity established by past games, everything from the near perpetual darkness to unsettling background noises keeps the player on edge. There is quite literally nowhere which is safe here, and even the basic enemies will constantly prove to be a challenge. Yet, despite this, the variety of them on hand and their tenacity avoids the Outlast problem of turning antagonists into simple obstacles for you to overcome.
Best of all, however, the combat is back to its more methodical and tense self, rather than the action orientated outings of previous sequels. While weapons are plentiful ammunition is scarce, and many fast moving foes will often soak up more bullets than they’re worth. It can be almost impossible to predict where they will show up at times as well, meaning you can run down the same corridor nine times but bump into something nasty on the tenth. Running is usually your best option to avoid these foes, and hiding always helps, but rather than the usual air vents or lockers, the player has to make do with piles of debris or tight corners. This rewards skill more than just recognising certain bits of the environment. Combined with the excellent environmental designs it makes the dilapidated house one of the best settings the series has had since Spencer Mansion.
The backstory of the infection and its exploration takes a new turn here. As before you have the expected narrative logs and books to help flesh things out, there are also VHS tapes which are fully playable and provide some of the game’s best scares. So, even if you’re not one to typically pick up text logs, there’s much more incentive to do so if you want to get the best out of this game.
The faults here arise more towards the end than anywhere else, and relate more to the narrative than the core gameplay. One character driven choice proves to be practically arbitrary in how little it influences events, and the final boss behaves like something out of an entirely different game. Once you start fighting it, 7 effectively switches gears and starts mimicking Dead Space for the finale. For what had been a methodical, tense and dramatic story, it proves to be extremely underwhelming and is paired up with a twist you can see coming from the start. Once its over, the story also just sputters out, and is so open ended it seems almost built for DLC to be tacked on at a later date. Little is answered and only some of the basic issues are resolved, with a few big issues hanging over the story, which can leave players unsatisfied. Oh, and the VR mode is extremely problematic, which shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Still, despite stumbling at the final hurdle, the rest of Resident Evil 7 is nevertheless one of the best horror titles we have seen since Amnesia: The Dark Descent. This will likely be the game all other survival horror experiences will be measured against for years to come.
RESIDENT EVIL 7 / DEVELOPER & PUBLISHER: CAPCOM / PLATFORM: PLAYSTATION 4, XBOX ONE, PC / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW