I've been sneaking and shooting my way through Resident Evil 7 for the last day and loving it. It's a big breath of fresh air that's pretty damn terrifying. Here are some early thoughts on what works and what doesn't.
There's very minor spoilers below and at least one image of dismemberment.
1. This game is scary!
Let's be real here: This series hasn't been scary for a long time. Resident Evil 4 was intense but never quite elicited any long lasting dread for me the same way that running and hiding from Resident Evil 3: Nemesis' titular monster did. That was back in 1999, which means it's been almost 20 years since Resident Evil was actually scary.
Resident Evil 7 changes that. The move to a first person perspective was just what the franchise needed. Limiting player visibility means that you constantly feel vulnerable. The spectre of the unknown permeates the game. Moving around corners or opening doors takes on a new dimension when your view is so constricted. It's pure anxiety and I'm loving every terrifying second.
2. This game is basically a spooky version of hide and seek.
This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Some of the most memorable moments in Resident Evil 7 come when you have to hide from one of the nigh-invulnerable members of the Baker family. Tight corridors funnel them towards you and if you panic, you'll probably run into a dead end and get your neck snapped for the trouble. Instead, you have to take it slow. You need to hide behind objects, crawl silently and find hidden passages to slink through.
The bad part is that the game occasionally places these deadly foes directly in the path of useful items or key puzzles. The interior locations are tight and claustrophobic, which can make hiding difficult. This leads to clumsy chase sequences that feel far more Benny Hill than Nightmare of Elm Street. You'll make loops around furniture, figure eight through the map, and waste a lot of ammo trying to escape. It's tense but definitely frustrating when all you want to do is solve the next puzzle and move on.
3. The puzzles are too easy.
While I appreciate the game's focus on environmental exploration, the puzzles feel rather basic. Mostly, you'll find the right widget to put on the latest sprocket. You'll also repeat certain puzzle types including using found objects to create specific shadows on the wall. I've yet to encounter anything that teased my brain like the Resident Evil's crow infested painting galley puzzle or Nemesis' complex clock tower/gemstone sequence. Perhaps more are to come but I'm a bit disappointed that the puzzles have been so easy.
4. The combat is a damn good time.
The initial demo for Resident Evil 7 had players worried that the game would take after titles like Amnesia or P.T. and offer a largely sedate experience without combat. This is definitely not the case. The game is full of monsters to shoot and guns to blow their brains out with.
In many ways, it falls in line with the series' standards. Aiming limits mobility and leaves you vulnerable but it's the only reliable to way to do meaningful damage to baddies. This means that combat has a nice ebb and flow between shooting and dodging. Enemies are tough and aim matters. It isn't as action focused as Resident Evil 5 or especially Resident Evil 6, but what it lacks in flair it makes up for in raw tension.
5. This game has a very good shotgun.
Video games have some very good shotguns. The SPAS-12 from Half-Life, Doom's super shotgun and the M90 from Halo are some of my personal favourites. A good video game shotgun is chunky. It has heft and bellows hot lead when you fire. They hit like trucks and roar like dragons. Resident Evil 7 shotgun is one of the best I've fired in a long time.
6. Holy shit, this game is bloody.
The Resident Evil games have always had their fair share of gore. I've seen hunters slash Chris' head right off, Leon get torn up by a chainsaw and watched in horror as the Ustanak chewed Sherry up with a power drill.
Resident Evil 7 has some pretty fucked up shit in it though. It's full of viscera, chopped limbs, bubbling masses of flesh and at least one bisected skull. It's awesome but definitely not for the faint of heart.
7. Going grindhouse was a smart decision
The original Resident Evil games took heavily from George Romero's zombie movies, particularly Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Slow creatures shambled about, lighting crashed and cheesy dialog was everywhere. There was a lot of affection for old zombie movie tropes in the original games.
This slowly began to wane starting with Resident Evil 4, which sent the series into the realm of action movie pastiche. It worked but began to balloon to excessive heights in later titles. Luckily, Resident Evil 7 draws from grimier influences.
This game owes a lot to films like The Devil's Rejects, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Cannibal Holocaust and The Last House on the Left. The end result is a sticky affair caked in dirt, blood, sweat and fire. It's a strong departure from previous titles that helps cement a new identity for the franchise.
8. This didn't have to be a Resident Evil game.
There's such a minimal connection to the other Resident Evil titles here that the references come off as a little forced. I don't want to spoil much but even the smallest nods to the other games feel out of place here.
Likewise, there's a few moments that feel a little bit too much like Resident Evil with only a slight remix. Defined keys for doors recalls the structure of Spencer Mansion and there's even a shotgun puzzle that's basically unchanged from 1996. I'm sure plenty of fans won't mind; this is basically what folks have wanted for years. For me? The appeals to nostalgia are a bit too obvious.
9. Boss fights are a mistake.
None of the boss encounters in this game thus far have been good. It's mostly a matter of unloading enough ammo into the boss or finding out which part of the environment you can use against them. For a game that's all about creeping suspense, you'd think that the boss fights would be cathartic scream-fests. Instead of bangs, all you really get are whimpers.
10. It's good.
Resident Evil 7 is a solid game. The environments are spectacular, combat is rife with tension, there are plenty of scares and the mood is oppressive. It isn't revolutionary but it's left me jumping at small sounds in my apartment all morning.
I'll have a full review soon. Unless I die of fear first, that is.