While I’m known to be a fan of Resident Evil games, this particular entry was something that I never expected. Resident Evil VII takes two steps back in a good way. The game brings in everything that fans loved about the older games – with a twist. The game is played in a First-Person Perspective and it was a brilliant alteration, to say the least. Is Resident Evil VII the ultimate survival horror experience though? Let’s find out.
Survival Horror to the Core
What made the original trilogy (Resident Evil 1, 2, and 3 for you young’uns) so good was the feeling of helplessness. Ammo was scarce, and enemies encountered for the first time were terrifying. VII kicks things up a notch by suffocating you in first-person. And all the while, it creates the best-damned atmosphere -in any genre- in recent years.
See, the thing about The Baker’s residence in Louisiana, is that it looks so real that you could almost smell every nook and cranny. The enemies look grotesque, as they always have, but this time they have this life-like appeal to them. My favorite part about Resident Evil VII are the Bakers themselves.
This motley crew of a dysfunctional family retains some of their humanity. Although, to be fair, they’re twisted to a sadistic, even primal, mindset. See, this is what makes everything scarier. Because every single named enemy in the game is someone that could actually exist in real life.
I have never felt this cornered and helpless in my life of playing video games.
I’ve played most of the hard ones to completion (Shin Megami Tensei IV, anyone?). And I’ve even managed to beat the original Resident Evil titles using only a knife. So yeah, I know all about tough games. VII on the other hand, does not allow me that confidence as it is an entirely new experience. And one that I welcomed with open arms.
The best part about VII is the atmosphere, and the way the enemies were designed. It makes everything feel so realistic that I sometimes had to pause the game just to catch a breath. I’ve talked to some people who played the game exclusively on VR and all of them have said that VII is best experienced with a headset. All of the tension and fear that you would feel playing on a large television? It’s amplified with the PSVR, making the game even more suffocating.
(Full Disclosure: I will not be including the VR aspect of the game as I have yet to experience it for myself.)
Sights and Sounds
I’ve said numerous times that it was the atmosphere that best influenced VII. Everything about the game is eerie, from the scratching on the walls to the occasional footsteps. And this, in my opinion, is a very good thing because it makes the game all that much scarier.
That’s the goal in the first place anyway – to scare the living crap out of the players. During your first playthrough, unless you’re some hardcore battle hardened super soldier, I guarantee that you will genuinely be disturbed by how surreal the game is.
I’d also like to praise the character designs, as most of them look great. One could even argue that they look realistic enough to pose as real people. I’ve seen some of the motion capture actors and they definitely resemble their characters. Well, save for a few creative retouches here and there.
I’d also like to strongly criticize though, how poorly the generic “regenerator-esque” enemies looked. There are basically 3 varieties: Crawlers, Regular Ones and Fatties. “The Molded” (basic monsters -ed) are some of the laziest designs I’ve seen in recent years. Honestly, Capcom could have done better.
The various locales in the game, however, look astonishingly real. I like how the mansion really felt moldy too. So much so, that I felt like I could almost smell the walls. It’s disgustingly great.
Controls and Gameplay
If you’ve ever played Resident Evil 4, 5 or 6, then you will find yourself completely at home with RE VII’s control scheme. If not, that’s fine too as the controls are fairly simple enough to pick up in a few seconds or so. Though, if anything needs some getting used to, it’s the new blocking system.
Back when Resident Evil 3 was first released, Capcom came up with a revolutionary new “dodge” mechanic that people didn’t really get. Luckily, Resident Evil VII overcame that hurdle by creating a new system that’s easy to pick up, but familiar enough to entice Resident Evil veterans to give it a try.
Generally, VII is a Resident Evil game through and through. In the place of the action games that pretended to be Resident Evil (I’m looking at you 5 and 6), VII brings back the survival horror feel that players craved. Gone are the days when problems were solved with a gun because, in Resident Evil VII, even your guns feel useless.
I’ve come across the statement “even in the latter parts of the game, I never felt powerful.” and I can vouch for this personally.
In normal difficulty, enemies can only be dispatched after 5 or so well placed bullets. The problem is that these enemies do their best to dodge your bullets and most of the time, players miss due to their own nervousness. I know this was true for me, and I can only wryly shake my head at how much ammo I’ve wasted trying to down the molded.
More and more powerful weapons become available to you as the game progresses, but again, ammo is scarce. Even having the biggest gun in the game is not enough to give you the gravitas to pretend you’re Leon Kennedy or something. Resident Evil VII doesn’t pretend to be any other game. It could have become a generic Outlast or Alien Isolation clone but it didn’t. It’s still Resident Evil but in a completely new -albeit terrifying- form.
I mentioned that ammo is scarce but scattered around the house are materials to create bullets or first aid kits, not entirely dissimilar to Resident Evil 3’s gunpowder mixing. It helps a bit when it comes to item management but materials are hard to come by as it is. It’s at least a comfort knowing that you have one extra tool to help you when you need it to.
Also, Resident Evil VII wouldn’t be a Resident Evil game without Herbs. Although they don’t really play the same role that they did in earlier games, herbs in this game are more of a material than an actual healing item. Herbs don’t heal a lot on their own but if combined with the right materials, they can be counted on to get you out of a pinch.
Case in point, one of the best (and worst) parts about the game: Jack Baker.
See, you can’t really kill him with conventional weapons which makes it frustrating to find him chasing after you. In easy and normal, it’s easy to run away from him but in Madhouse, it’s almost impossible to shake him off. More on that later.
It’s devastating to have him chase after you. And seeing him shake off handgun bullets like they were pebbles is incredibly demoralizing. Even Nemesis himself went down after a few shots. Jack on the other hand, will go down… but only for a few seconds. It’s terrifying and I think that’s amazing.
To help fight against the almost impossible odds, the game does allow you to purchase upgrades. You’ll be able to do this at bird cages, using ancient coins which are scattered around the premises (yep, it’s RE alright -ed). Upgrades range between higher HP and having stabler aim which empowers you, but it doesn’t make you overpowered.
Resident Evil VII is a delight to play, because of how both familiar and new it is at the same time. There are many things that you would like to do differently after every run, but I recommend playing Resident Evil VII in this order: Normal Difficulty > Madhouse Difficulty. While Madhouse is the quintessential Resident Evil experience, it would be better to start with Normal simply because some story elements and monster encounters are changed or removed entirely in Madhouse. Some scare factors come to play better when you play the game on normal.
After your first playthrough, only then could you confidently play Madhouse Difficulty. And there’s a reason. Finishing the game on Normal unlocks a special gun that’s basically a superpowered pistol. While it won’t make Madhouse a breeze, it will at least allow you to survive a little better. It is basically like giving a farmer a pair of scissors to cut a field of hay; at least it’s something!
Madhouse changes things up by completely moving items and enemies around. What you know the first time around may not necessarily be correct the next time you play the game on Madhouse. So it’s like playing a new game, only harder.