REVIEW | Resident Evil 7

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Resident Evil 7's return to its roots sparks a resurgence in the Survival Horror Genre, and keeps us coming back for more Developer: Capcom Publisher: Capcom Platform: PC Release Date: 24th January 2017

Our memories of Resident Evil are a mixed bag, which for the past 20 years have been a roller coaster ride; from the dread-filled claustrophobic hallways and fixed camera angles of the first few games to third person perspectives, and what could be described as Call of Duty meets Not-Zombies, circa Resident Evil 4. That’s why both the demo and trailers piqued an interest that has long died down; the first purely first-person Resident Evil game, and a possible return to its roots.

I have to say first and foremost, that while I absolutely adore the survival horror genre, I am an abject coward at the same time. The first F.E.A.R. creeped the hell out of me, Amnesia gave me nightmares for a week, and Outlast well, I have a night light now. Thus, when presented with the opportunity to play (read: forced) Resident Evil 7, I enthusiastically jumped at the opportunity to play Ethan Winters, a man who wisely decides to travel alone to South Louisiana to search for his wife after receiving a cryptic email from her, after 3 years of her being missing. Good call, Ethan.

Graphically, the game is gorgeous, and is a testament to how well optimized the RE Engine is (which was created specifically for Resident Evil 7). The game runs at a consistent 60 FPS throughout, and stuttering/crashes are almost non-existent in the 6 or so hours I’ve played. What I appreciated most about Resident Evil 7 is that even though it’s a PC port, graphical options available to PC players are about as diverse as it gets. Yes, there are options. Many options. Rejoice!

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Lighting is used to great effect, and shadows are accurately portrayed. Imagine the shadow of a moving fan nonchalantly turning. Now imagine yourself in that room, alone, while a bloodthirsty madman rampages after you. Texture quality is also terrifyingly detailed, and serves to propel the reality of the hellhole you’re in. Rotting human innards? Check. Gash wounds? Check. Strangely immaculate herbs in a rubbish bin? Check that too.

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Aesthetically, the game does its best to surround you with hallmarks of Louisiana. From thick marshes and swamps, to rotting infrastructure and makeshift housing with confederate remnants, you are presented with a sense of homeliness in an age long gone, with a creeping feeling that you are never really alone.

Sound design compliments the game perfectly, inducing paranoia with every creek or footstep that follows you. Voice acting and the writing are an integral aspect of the atmosphere, and builds it up ever so nicely while you hunker down in the shadows of a corridor, hiding from the crazed Jack and Marguerite Baker as their grisly voices echo down the very same hallway you’re in. The background music is subtle and unassuming, slowly lulling you into a false sense of security as you traverse through the labyrinth that is the Baker’s rustic family house.

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Gameplay

Playing the game itself is fairly straightforward. You have 4 action items you can set at once, and a small inventory system that you can play Tetris with. Item boxes make their expected return, and with it comes the journey back and forth so you don’t miss a single item. My main problem with messing with the item menu – which you would need to especially in the heat of the moment – is that it feels chunkier than it should. Take a look at the image below.

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As you very well notice, there are 2 mouse pointers. One that react to your mouse movement, and one that looks like it came from Windows 95 within the item screen. When clicking on an item to interact with in your inventory, you have to click it twice in order for the item to actually be selected. Eventually, you do get used to it and double-click like clockwork, but the initial stages are a lesson in frustration as you accidentally right click and exit from the item menu as Chainsy McChainsaw takes a swing at you. The action item selection screen does look mostly unchanged from its console variations, but it’s functional, so no complains there. Oh, there’s also crafting. It’s not in-depth, nor are there actually many items to play around with, but it does give you a reason to explore every nook and cranny.

Speaking of nook and crannies, there are puzzles you have to solve in order to progress within the game. These puzzles normally involve finding specific keys for specific doors, playing a mildly infuriating form of shadow puppets, and treasure hunting for loot. The puzzles are relatively straightforward, and unless you’re the type that easily misses clues that are right in your face, you should have no trouble. Don’t expect a challenge, though. With that being said, level design is pretty well made. There are sufficient pathways and corners to run with, and certain areas allow you to traverse from one major area to another with ease.

The core mechanics of Resident Evil 7 takes place in 2 forms; combat, and a perpetual game of Cat & Mouse. Combat in Resident Evil 7 is fairly generic. Pick up gun, pick up/craft bullets, shoot baddies. Gun sounds and animations are mildly satisfying, but serve its intended purpose of fighting the game’s version of zombies, The Molded. The Molded are essentially walking humanoid black mold that are bullet sponges unless you pull of a few good headshots or limb dismemberment shots (think Dead Space). Of course, if you’re anything like me, you panic and then all your FPS experience is conveniently forgotten.

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The game of Cat & Mouse is what really makes Resident Evil 7 shines. You’re running from the Baker family for the most part, and while bullets stumble them, they don’t outright kill them either. Collecting items and solving puzzles throughout the map are generally easy, but not when you know you’re being hunted. What ensues is a perpetual level of tension that continually lingers and tugs at you. I have not felt such high levels of stress in quite some time, and it’s refreshing to have felt that from Resident Evil 7.

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The issue is that when combining both elements of the game’s mechanics together, you get an experience that fills you with terror and dread, and another experience that is painfully uninspired, and at times, drawn out. Don’t get me wrong, there are still elements of horror and stress infused moments during combat, but the dissonance between the both of them can feel forced, and jarring at times.

Lastly, for anyone who has played the demo, you would know that if you did a series of random and tedious tasks, you would get a dirty coin.

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As it turns out, the dirty coin functions the same way as an antique coin, which allows you to purchase upgrades such as health boosts or a sweet .44 magnum, one of the most powerful guns in the game. You find coins by exploring and then trading them in at bird cages. That’s about all there is to the upgrade system.

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Overall, Resident Evil 7 has been nothing but a breath of fresh air. Drawing similarities to games such as Outlast or P.T., but injecting them with Resident Evil’s own brand of horror, and doing it well, makes this a worthy successor to the series. Are there bugbears or issues that are annoying? Yes. But I’ll be lying if I said I wasn’t having one hell of a time, and I want to keep going back for more. Either way, I'll be playing the rest of the game and then some. Watch this space for more on Resident Evil 7!

Rating: 8.5 out of 10