WHAT’S GOING ON.
General nobody Ethan Winters heads out to a remote plantation/mansion in Nowheresville, Louisiana after getting a message from his wife, Mia. Wouldn’t be that weird if she hadn’t been missing for the last three years. He rocks up at an eerily quiet and decrepit old house, starts poking around in the dark and, after coming across various bits of filth, dank corridors and a general air of terribleness, he runs into the Bakers; a family of strikingly strong, murderous folk capture him. Your task is to escape, hide, indulge in some light puzzles and shoot your way out of danger whilst figuring out what the craic is with your wife and just why everyone wants to kill you.
That assertion is mostly correct. Much has been made of Capcom’s desire to tread in the footsteps of Resi’s early days, and the use of manual saves, inventory management and the decision to base the bulk of the action in one location definitely helps with that. But don’t assume that Resi 7 is obsessed with aping the past; this is an intimate, claustrophobic and intense experience that succeeds in putting serious distance between itself and the series’ recent action/commando heavy instalments.
It’s a genuinely and consistently unsettling experience, for a start. The atmosphere is deliciously thick, and whilst it’s nicely paced, avoiding the trap of becoming an exercise in exhausting, unrelenting sadism for the sake of it, it’s rare that you feel truly safe. You couldn’t move for the outcry provoked by the decision to switch to a first-person perspective when the game was announced last year, but it works so damn well in practice, and only serves to exacerbate the game’s intensity. It helps that Ethan isn’t necessarily all that fleshed out as a character, which allows plenty of room for the experience to become more personal as a result.
It helps that there’s genuine threat on offer, too. If it wasn’t already clear from numerous demos and videos, the Bakers are a strong, violent and formidable bunch that aren’t in the habit of going down easily. Ethan’s about as basic and unremarkable as protagonists come; he has no special abilities and no super strength to speak of, so don’t expect to be constantly blasting your way through this homestead. You’ll frequently need manage ammo, healing items and utilise a bit of stealth whilst simultaneously deciding if some encounters are really worth the effort. Even if you decide to flee enemies, your movement feels deliberately clunky and slow, like trying to drag a bag of rocks through a lake, so expect almost every chance meeting with something that wants to kill you (and it’s fair to assume that pretty much anything that moves in this game wants to eat your face) to feel that little bit more tense.
Special mention needs to go to the Bakers’ decaying residence, which mirrors their crazed, dark and aggressive personalities well. There’s rubbish everywhere and every surface that your eyes focus on looks like it’s been through hell but they’re punctured by enough instances of order and pictures of a previous life to hint at this family’s tranquil existence before everything went to pot. And then subsequently got boiled in said pot and served to you.
DIG THAT CRAZY, MODERATED NOSTALGIA.
That desire to lean on Resi’s history whilst also taking this new entry in different directions is frequently evident. Ethan gets fitted with a fancy watch early on that measures his health, for instance, but there are nice uses of and a reliance on old tech present, too. You save on an old tape recorder, for example, and the game offers up several optional sections via the form of old VHS tapes. Each of these tells a little tale related to the main narrative, and offer a little respite from Ethan’s current predicament whilst also offering up some of the game’s most intense and memorable scenes in the process. On the whole, it’s nice to see Capcom return to the series’ past without making a game that feels like an extended nostalgic trip, or something intrinsically tied to its predecessors. Sure, the narrative takes place after 6, but it’s not linked in any way that could be deemed relevant, or an obstruction to series newbies.
It mostly is. Resi 7’s run time will depend purely on your desire to poke around, pick up collectibles and explore the Bakers’ home. Even with those optional tapes, a playthrough that avoids the top difficulty setting can be wrapped up in 6/7 hours.
It needs pointing out that there are faults here, however. Without delving into specifics, despite lots of excellent groundwork and an initially intriguing plot, the narrative doesn’t so much jump the shark so much in its final third as it paddles out to sea to find some other marine wildlife to cavort with. Given what came before it, the conclusion remains unsatisfying and fairly blank.
Those poor Bakers, too. They’re are a scarily brilliant bunch, and being stalked by them, interacting with them and fighting them is often great fun, but beyond them, and without them, the game just runs out of puff, and it’s difficult to escape the feeling that as you progress, Capcom have overplayed their hand. It’s disappointing that Resi 7 runs out of ways to scare you a good chunk of time before you’re finished, purely because it can be so very good at making you jump when it wants to.
Great atmosphere, (mostly) engaging setting, strong visuals and nervy combat. Even with its problems, it’s still worth trying, unless you’ve got a problem with hicks doing their damndest to mess you up.
Resident Evil 7 is out on PS4, Xbox One and PC. I didn’t play on VR because I value sleeping at night.