It's no secret that the Resident Evil games have been on a massive dive in recent years. From the mixed (at best) reception to Resident Evil 5 and the critical body slam Resident Evil 6 received, there's no denying that what made the original game such a success has been lost in translation to later years. The slowly sinking franchise has been in desperate need of a solid reboot for a long time now, and many were nervous about how Resident Evil 7 would turn out. It could have been a make-or-break situation, and with the amount of money Capcom has been pouring into this series, if this game flopped it could have been the end of an era. Fortunately, Resident Evil 7 is not only a breathtakingly new and original take on the serious, it's one of the best games in the entire franchise.
Resident Evil 7 is a game I'm not ashamed to admit I was terrified from. Unlike the later additions of the series which tilted away from horror and focused more on action, this installment goes back to the series' roots, planted firmly in horror and dread. The most notable shift in the series is that from third to first person perspective, and this change does a lot to boost the scare factor. It makes the game more of a slow burn. Rather than being able to see around you to some degree, you can only see what's directly in front of you, and when you notice things or hear things that are behind you, you'll find yourself turning around and regressing quite often. The game plays with your mind and brings in a psychological element, which is the absolute best compliment I could possibly give a horror game, and that's not necessarily because of it's more direct scares. I't's primarily because of Resident Evil 7's masterful grasp on atmosphere.
Atmosphere is arguably the most important thing in a horror video game or horror movie. It sets up a certain tone that the rest of the piece abides by, and if it's frightening enough, the game has scares locked in for the entire run. Resident Evil 7 executes this so well it makes the whole experience terrifying. The sound design in this game is unimaginable in the terror it can bring. The game seems to focus on repetition, where noises that are harmless early on in the game turn sinister later. With a headset on, the directional noises send you looking in several directions, waiting for a member of the Baker family to lead you to your doom. The house you're in seems like it was, at one time, a normal place to live, and now that it's in ruins you wonder how it got to that point and try to piece things together. The house gradually becomes more frightening, as if it's a separate character. Much like the sound design, it takes features and employs repetition to make them more frightening. It introduces something as seemingly innocent, and then it plays with that innocence and turns it into something malicious. It instills a feeling of uncertainty in the player, like there's nothing that can be trusted and everything you see is out to end your life. That brutal atmosphere combined with the first person perspective is enough to send chills down my spine.
Another brilliant change in this game is the combat system and how it is used. In the past few games, combat has been the primary objective and focus of the game. The previous few installments are basically action romps, rather than Resident Evil games. Fortunately, combat isn't the main focus here, and when it is there is a strategy to it. You aren't given much ammo at all. For a while, in fact, you don't have a gun at all. You have melee weapons for a good portion of the game. When you finally do get your hands on a weapon, you don't get much ammo to go along with it. You have to make every shot count, and if you don't, it will really come to bite you later when you're in a fight with no way to defend yourself. You have to have a set strategy to combat your enemies (or just the ability to shoot every enemy in the head, John Wick style), otherwise you won't make it through the game alive.
The game, at least for a while, has a very compelling story. While you're trapped in the Baker household, the tension is so tangible you can step on it. I'm not kidding, this game is amazing while you're in that house. It takes a level of skill to maneuver through this house and solve its puzzles, challenge its occupants, and figure out just what on Earth is happening. The story and the characters have layers to them here, and there are questions you ask yourself. It's gripping stuff. When you're able to escape the house and encounter something called the Molded, however, the story gets really stupid. I won't spoil anything, but the story, more or less, falls apart and becomes a bit of an action romp. It's very disappointing, but luckily it's not a horribly major part of the game. For the most part, it's an intimate experience, where the scariest thing is the world around you and the filth under your feet. When the story goes all 10 Cloverfield Lane towards the third act, however, it gets very silly and that's by far the worst aspect about this game.
Before that point, however, the game carries a strong unpredictability with it. You find yourself struggling with new enemies and you don't know what they can do or what they will do to you. You can't plan for these things. There is no mercy throughout the first two-thirds of this game. The difficulty is high and the atmosphere is unforgiving. The Baker family has no mercy on you, and their incredibly random behavior and seemingly indestructible bodies provide to be a horrifying combination, resulting in several difficult yet wildly entertaining combat sequences. It's a brilliant blend of terror and action, and it's executed to maximum impact here. The tension is nerve-shredding, and for several hours of this game you will be on the tip of your toes trying to figure out what's coming next, and you'll almost always be wrong.
I talk a lot about the Baker family, but are they actually effective? The short answer is yes. A resounding, horrified "yes". This family is fleshed out in a frightening way, and they are given their own distinct abilities and attributes, while all remaining somewhat of a mystery, especially the grandma. Something definitely isn't right with that grandma. There is an overarching hostile quality to this family, and you know there's a lot more wrong with them than just their hillbilly attitudes and confrontational demeanor. There's a lot more there than the surface will imply, and a few twists and turns later you'll find out why. This family even brings in mystery elements to this horror game, and the fact that it turns to the player and asks them questions is another reason why I really like this game. In that respect, it's undeniably intelligent.
Overall, Resident Evil 7 is a dazzling and surprising experience. Not only is it terrifying in a way much similar to the original game, it also brings in new scares to maximum effect. I haven't been this frightened by a video game in a very long time; I'm talking years. It's a smart, scary experience, topped off my an infinitely creepy atmosphere and fleshed-out and terrifying characters. Resident Evil 7 is one of the best entries in the entire series, and could even be the best one, dare I say that. It's a whole new level of terror; one that you will have to play yourself to believe.