Release date: January 24th, 2017
Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed) Xbox One, PC
At the age of 13 in 1997, I took my first real step into horror gaming with the original Resident Evil. Nothing could prepare me for how much a single game would change my life and my perception of gaming, and even of horror and how it could be presented in a video game.
Now, as 20 years have passed, I have closely followed and anticipated every single release in the series, which is currently at around 30 games, not including various ports on different platforms, but in 2016, this all changed. In 2016, when Capcom announced and revealed their newest Resident Evil-related game projects (Umbrella Corps and RE7,) it marked the first time in nearly 20 years that I was not excited about a release from this series.
They announced they would be releasing these two games which seemed to stray so far from what the core elements of the series were always about, and in such destructive and superficial ways that it felt beyond reconciliation for me.
The general public has steadfastly complained that the RE series has taken bad and destructive turns in the last 10 years or so, taking a more action-oriented approach than a traditional horror approach, though I’ve personally thought that all the most recent releases through 2015 still felt true to the heart of what the series represents and felt like they belonged in the series, in some way or another.
Capcom seemed to have taken these complaints far too seriously (and probably saw an opportunity to make some easy cash) by turning the RE series into something that more closely mirrored modern “horror” gaming and movies, and took many big steps away from the unique world that they had built; the one that made Resident Evil feel like Resident Evil.
From the early teasers and demos, Capcom seemed dead-set on turning the franchise into a reaction culture/YouTube meme factory in an attempt to make the series relevant again to the mainstream public who had collectively disowned it. They drowned every media outlet with marketing buzz-speak catch phrases like “RE7 is what the series needs; a step in the right direction” and claiming that it was “going back to its roots of horror” to try to turn public consciousness away from their previous efforts.
This media barrage threw up a red flag for me immediately and from playing the first demo, I already had a feeling in my gut that this wasn’t going to be at all representative of the series I loved, but I chose to remain open-minded and play the game to try to get a better understanding of where Capcom was aiming to take the series from here.
Here’s my thoughts on my trip into Resident Evil 7.
Resident Evil 7 starts out with some extremely cliche cutscenes showing a girl who is sending her boyfriend/husband some messages with a laptop saying she’ll be home soon, etc. Cut to you, as the protagonist, driving out to the location she is supposed to be at, somewhere in the American South, after she hasn’t come home. Soon after, you get out of your car and get to take control, finally showing off the new first-person view and graphics engine.
For what it is, the graphic engine is pretty well done, using various newer technologies that focus on photo-realism, and it does a pretty good job of immersion in this respect, with most objects and textures looking fairly realistic and very detailed, even down the the dirtiest, grimiest detail. Unfortunately, that’s about where the good aspects of this game end and where the bad and mediocre ones start.
As you move forward in the very scripted and linear world of Resident Evil 7, you come to a big house that has a slight reminiscence to the mansions that Resident Evil is famous for. As you enter, you see this is more like a filthy, dilapidated farm house than a mansion, and as you look around, you are viciously attacked, leaving you unconscious and leading to the next scene, which essentially starts the main game.
As the main game starts, you’re treated to an extremely trite and tired cutscene full of gore, torture, pointless swearing, and a shoving in your face of countless redneck stereotypes and horror tropes/ripoffs, shockingly reminiscent of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre film series. Not a very good start to the game for anyone who knows much about the history of horror games or movies, and this leads me to my next and possibly biggest complaint about the entire game, which I’ll just get out of the way now.
Throughout the entirety of RE7, I started to realize that almost every single aspect of everything in the game was an of element or idea that was lifted right out of another horror game or movie, making the entire experience feel more like a collection of horror tropes and memes all lined up one after another instead of feeling like a unique experience in any respect. Every event, every line of dialogue, and every visual design of everything in the game is an almost direct reference or reallocating of ideas from something else.
This tells me the developers were just trying to throw in as many “recognizable” and popularized horror elements so that mainstream audiences would feel “in” on the game and “understand” that the game is a horror game. This is a common theme in horror movies from the last 15 years as well, but RE7 takes this to an extreme.
For the purpose of demonstration, I thought I would make a list of most of the direct references or elements in RE7 that were taken from other horror properties, just to give you an idea. This is not entirely exhaustive, but RE7 contains elements from the following; Condemned: Criminal Origins, P.T., Outlast, Amnesia, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, SAW, Left 4 Dead, The Evil Within, The Thing, Evil Dead, Silent Hill, The Ring, F.E.A.R., The Exorcist, The Hills Have Eyes, Clock Tower, and among many other things I won’t bother listing, all of the previous Resident Evil games.
It’s not that using elements from other things is inherently bad or makes an experience bad in itself; it’s actually a very common cornerstone of the horror genre in general to reference other things and pay homage, but the way RE7 handles its reallocating of ideas from other things is soulless, empty, and seemingly tacked-on to make it feel more “relevant” to a wider audience.
Instead of using these ideas sparingly and in ways that add something extra to a unique Resident Evil world that the creators had already developed or using them to pay tribute or homage to those other properties and creators, it uses these lifted elements directly to attempt to build the world from the ground up, as if to stand on the shoulders and the popularity or success of all the stolen ideas.
Maybe it’s just because I’m as familiar with the genre of horror as I am, but this makes every event and experience in RE7 feel like something empty and derivative from start to finish. I had no enthusiasm to see what was coming next, and it was instead replaced with an “is this over yet?” feeling that almost never let up. Every encounter felt tedious, boring, and like a carelessly constructed roadblock, meant to waste your time and effort to get to the next part of the experience or the next jump scare.
Speaking of lack of enthusiasm, one of the defining elements that made the previous RE games so interesting was the way they built the world by putting together a large collection of unique locations with unique enemies and information to explore, which made it feel like a bigger mystery and was actually fun to explore, and just a little detached from reality.
The locations in RE7 have none of the character, personality, or atmosphere of the locations previously found in the series, but they chose to go for a realistic as possible, which is a huge detriment to making a memorable game, making it feel more mundane in the process.
On top of all this, the gameplay and the pacing of the game are very poorly-executed. The progression of the game is very linear throughout, and rife with unexciting backtracking, little to no strategy or thinking involved in any of the busy-work puzzles, unsatisfying combat, and tiredly scripted VR jump-scares.
The puzzles are a bad mix of modern “walking simulator” horror games where you simply fetch item A and then place the item into slot A and move forward, but also trying to reference classic Resident Evil puzzles at the same time, making them feel very conflicted and not very interesting in the end.
The combat feels extremely basic and rudimentary, and generally not enthralling in any way, with every encounter’s success or failure boiled down to a matter of whether you have enough ammo or not, instead of having skill involved to any large degree. Enemies are largely bullet-sponges that require an entire clip of headshots to take down in most cases, making combat tedious and boring, since you can maneuver in any direction while fighting, taking away the sense of strategy and urgency to the combat that most previous Resident Evil games had.
Even if the lack of ammo for guns is a nice touch and a good way of calling back to many classic horror games, here it just makes the experience more frustrating instead of more scary, since melee combat is almost entirely useless, as you only get a knife for melee combat throughout the entire game, which does almost nothing to actually take down your adversaries.
The very obviously scripted jump-scares are what the game relies on the most in calling itself a “horror” game, and most of these were so scripted that they did not cause a reaction from me, even with the volume very high. The jump scares being so present and unsurprising really took away from the feeling of immersion they were trying to build.
The ambient sound design was one of the only other elements besides the visual engine that I could describe as effective and well-done at certain points in the game, with thumping, walking, and voices being heard at random times, but it wasn’t consistent enough to make me feel a constant sense of dread or being uncomfortable. There is also almost no music to speak of, which is another huge departure from the rest of the series, which usually features great, cinematic and atmospheric music to set the tone of the experience, but RE7 is mostly silence on this front.
On another level, the story is one of the most empty, boring, and uninteresting attempts at story in a Resident Evil game, and that says a lot when you consider how badly many people regard the story of the RE games. The entire game feels more like a series of scripted experiences cobbled together in a haphazard way, and none of them ever tell you much about what is actually going on. The previous RE games told the story through a number of ways, including reading documents, story cutscenes, or even simply visual cues to tell the story they were trying to tell, where RE7 relies more on over-used and unoriginal spoken dialogue between characters or on a phone.
RE7‘s attempt at story is like taking a Texas Chainsaw Massacre story (and believe me, it relies almost entirely on TCM for story influence the entire way through,) and mashing it together with a little spattering of previous Resident Evil story. You know almost zero important facts to explain what is happening until about the final 1.5 hours of the game, and besides them giving you almost no information to push the story forward, the dialogue and characters are just constantly spouting out cliche lines of typical “crazy redneck character” dialogue as well as screaming and swearing at each other with every other line.
Your main character is also the only real source for narration through the first 7-8 hours of the game, and he quickly becomes nothing more than a whiny, angry teenager, reacting to everything with swearing and short quips of disdain. About 75% of the way through the game, they insert a very long and tedious side-story where you change characters for a while, and it throws the pacing even further off track, making for a jarring move and breaking any tiny bits of momentum it had built up until then.
The ending is very contrived and desperately tries to throw in a number of Resident Evil series references all at once, seemingly just to say “Hey RE fans, this is still a Resident Evil game, see?” Even though these kinds of references are scattered throughout the entire game, they packed a number of them in right at the end in a desperate way. The ending falls very flat, and sadly enough, I already predicted most of the “twists” that come towards the end of the story when I was only a few hours into the game.
As if an overall lame story and ending wasn’t enough, after the end credits roll, they even advertise how you can buy all the DLC that will be released two weeks after the game, which has more story content, and how they’re going to add more even more story content a few months from now. This just proves Capcom’s indigence for its fans and players by admitting they released a game that was unfinished, and showing you how they’re going to charge you more money to get the rest of the story later.
I’d have to conclusively say that Resident Evil 7 is a failure to the series to which it belongs, and stands as easily the worst main entry of the series so far, feeling like a completely unoriginal “greatest hits” collection of as many horror tropes and references as they could scrounge up, and a game that’s very clearly aimed at the modern, reactionary, YouTube generation, and to accomplish this, it abandoned everything that made the series great to its followers.
Grasping at straws to feel more relevant and using meme culture as a driving force for creating a horror game is something that I thought would stay confined to the likes of Steam Greenlight and shovelware PC or mobile phone games, but Capcom used mass media manipulation to turn what is essentially just another one of these disposable, lazy games into what many people are calling a huge success and a “step in the right direction” for Resident Evil and horror gaming in general.
For all of it’s efforts, Resident Evil 7 becomes many, many things, none of which are original to itself or to horror as a whole, and nothing that is a cohesive piece in itself, but more a pasted-together collection of its influences. For anyone with a real consciousness of horror or of Resident Evil as a series, I’d say your time would be better spent even playing the worst entries of the Resident Evil series released before 2016, or playing some of the other more recent and obscure horror games that have been much bigger successes and more cohesive experiences than RE7 could ever dream of being.