Combining intense action with an atmosphere dripping with dread, Resident Evil 7 is a resurgence like never before.
I have had mixed feelings about the Resident Evil franchise. The first RE game I played was 4, my interest piqued by its landmark presence on the gaming landscape; no doubt, it holds a very significant position as pioneer of the third-person shooter genre. Story-wise, it was difficult to see the hype. I remember thinking that people seem to love this game out of nostalgia more than anything else. The story was standard Hollywood action fare, with barely any innovation on that end.
With Resident Evil 5, I lost all faith in the series. I broke routine and decided not to write a review. The cheesy b-movie action is appealing to some, but it didn’t work out for me at all. Not to mention the parts where the player ventures into an African village, gunning down infected natives (which is understandable given the location, or so I reasoned with myself) and can claim their treasures as ‘loot’ (I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether that’s understandable or not, given the setting).
RE: 7 was my last attempt at the series, my ‘third-time’s-the-charm’ hope. Egged on by the positive reception for Village, my hopes lifted ever-so-slightly. Maybe, the game would actually turn the series around and make me forget the bad taste 5 left in my mouth. Resident Evil 7 is the series’ lightning-in-a-bottle moment, where for the first time you can almost forget what came before and marvel at a near-perfect work of survival horror.
The Perfect Antagonists
Resident Evil 7 introduces a troubled Ethan Winters, who is pursuing a new lead on his missing wife, Mia. The email leads him to a remote swamp in Louisiana, where he finds a lot more than just his wife – a terrifying family of cannibals hell-bent on having dinner with him. The Bakers; husband (Jack), wife (Marguerite) and son (Lucas) are among the best antagonists I’ve seen in a video game.
They’re unpredictable, genuinely scary, and out for blood, hunting Ethan every step of the way – a real treat to play against. What seemed like hillbilly caricatures at the start quickly turned into wickedly terrifying psychopaths. Along his journey, Ethan is aided by helpful phone calls from Zoe Baker, seemingly the only rational Baker in the house.
Terror Like Never Before
Resident Evil 7 features the much-debated shift to first-person view. This was one of the things that sealed the deal for me. With this new restricted perspective, I was limited to a narrow field of vision compared to the previous games, where over-the-shoulder cameras provided sweeping views of the environment. Playing in first-person undoubtedly enhances the sense of presence too. The slick graphics thanks to the RE Engine make the environment all the scarier, and the shadows seem to jump out at you as you navigate the dilapidated Baker home.
The game excels not just at visuals and gameplay, but also at environment design. Take a look at the attic, for example. The first thing you see upon entering is a mannequin. In fact, there are two mannequins, cleverly positioned such that when you step inside and look again, they’ll appear to have doubled in number. Resident Evil 7 is great at making you jump like that.
That is not to say that this game is a fresh reboot that doesn’t retain some essence of its origins. Managing inventory space is still a challenge and you need to fill those slots wisely, more so if you’re heading into a boss battle. The puzzles are still there, although sparingly. More often than not, it was the boss battles that kept me from progressing quickly through the story rather than a puzzle.
Ethan encounters weapons of increasing power as he explores more of the Baker estate. This radically changes how you approach new areas. Where I started off crouching in the shadows, running away from the monstrosities as soon as my only handgun clicked – signalling it was empty – I felt unstoppable once I got my hands on the shotgun. Wise resource management and ammo conservation grant you the luxury of walking into a previously unexplored room with a fully loaded weapon in your hands, greatly shifting the power dynamic in your favour.
Boss fights are an exception, as they require strategically timed hits and dodges. Merely emptying bullets into the target doesn’t always work. Often, there are phases to the fight itself, with each new level triggering the enemy into upping their attack factor or even bringing a new move into the mix.
Though it feels more like a shooter than an adventure game for much of its runtime, it is a delightfully scary one at that. Much of the action takes place indoors, and the environments feel claustrophobic, the house almost alive with every creak and groan it makes. The story (and writing), though not quite the best towards the end, is a massive improvement over the previous games. Backed up by impressive visuals and a haunting soundtrack, Resident Evil 7 shockingly defies expectations to bring the franchise back from the dead.
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