Resident Evil hardly needs an introduction. Capcom’s zombie thriller practically invented the genre of survival horror, challenging players to fight the zombie horde with a limited amount of supplies. Throughout the years, the series would experience highs and lows just like any long running franchise. Stories got convoluted, plots grew outlandish as major players frequently crossed paths with megalomaniacal corporations looking to weaponize the undead. Not since the fourth game has Resident Evil experienced such a drastic change in formula. Resident Evil VII is a delightful departure from the norm and retains the spirit of what made these games great.
Different though it may be, Resident Evil VII shares the same universe as those games that came before. Set 16 years after the Raccoon City Incident (Resident Evil 2), the story concerns the plight of Ethan and Mia Winters. Separated by reasons unknown, Ethan believes Mia to be dead after receiving a mysterious video confession. Three years later, Mia supposedly contacts Ethan by email telling him to rescue her from a mansion in the fictional rural town of Dulvey, Louisiana. Upon his arrival, there are immediate signs that something is wrong. It isn't long into Ethan’s exploration of the dilapidated homestead that he is captured by Jack, the head of the Baker family. Ethan is at the mercy of a bunch of crazy hillbilly types and must evade his pursuers while searching the grounds for his wife.
I really liked the direction of the story because it's personal and character driven. It's also a more serious story that eschews the typical Night of the Living Dead horror and camp that was so pronounced in the first two games. Resident Evil VII draws its inspiration from games like Silent Hill, PT, and Amnesia, creating an atmosphere of dread that far surpasses any other game. However, it doesn't shy from moments of comic relief, giving the major antagonists a chance to indulge in some grim humor as they try to kill you. To my surprise, there are a significant number of parallels to other Resident Evil games, so many that I wonder if they were all deliberate. The architecture of the main house strongly resembles the mansion from Resident Evil, the gamification of managing inventory feels lifted from Resident Evil 4, and the new creatures, the Molded, look an awful lot like the first generation Umbrella BOWs. Fans will recognize these elements and smile though new players just coming in won’t feel like they are missing out.
The most striking change Capcom implemented for the new game is a first person perspective. Doing away with Resident Evil 4 and 5’s over the shoulder camera, which replaced the static camera angles and pre-rendered backgrounds of the first three, playing in first person increases the immersion and terrible dread. Beyond audio cues that trigger at the last possible moment, there’s nothing to indicate what lies beyond doors and corners. This is especially prevalent during sequences when you’re being hunted by Jack and Marguerite Baker. They will make their presence known by taunting Ethan and tromping across creaky floors but it’s only when they go quiet that things get really intense. Moving around in first person controls well enough and is built to handle sneaking around the environment when enemies are on the prowl. Unfortunately, it stumbles during boss battles. The transition from slow and plodding stealth gameplay to an action driven shoot ‘em up is jarring and disorienting.
PlayStation VR owners will get the most out of the new camera because of how well VR mode is integrated. Right now, Resident Evil VII is one of, if not the best, virtual reality experience on the console. It’s more immersive of a game but it is also a lot scarier. Having Marguerite’s infected face appear in front of me out of nowhere is scary enough on a TV set but in VR it was almost too much! Capcom didn’t half ass VR by slapping it on the title and shipping it out. Conscious of its players, VR mode comes with a small set of camera tweaks to ensure the experience is comfortable and vomit free. There are some drawbacks, however. Because PSVR operates on a lower resolution, the game’s beautiful visuals, which makes for such incredible light, shadow, and particle effects, take a hit. Certain animations are cut, like seeing Ethan’s arm move in front of him to open smaller doors and hatches, and more than a few times I witnessed floating limbs. Such trade offs are a disappointment though Resident Evil VII in VR is still pretty incredible.
Like Resident Evil 4, Capcom found a great way to breathe new life into a series that felt like it was getting more and more out of control. Previous entries had a hard time getting a handle on a coherent plot as they added faction after faction who are interested in weaponizing Umbrella’s original research. Resident Evil VII is a great pivot from the formula and also works as a fantastic re-imagining of the original game and a perfect jump in point for newcomers. There’s a warm feeling of familiarity but it never feels gratuitous or as a result of Capcom running out of ideas. Resident Evil VII successfully kickstarts an exciting new chapter in the long running franchise and is certainly worth your attention.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.