The first Resident Evil game I ever played was Revelations on the Nintendo 3DS. The second was a re-release of Resident Evil 4 on Playstation 4. I didn’t play the original Resident Evil until after I had played those games and, again, it was an HD remaster on the PS4. All of this was done within the span of a month and as a result my perspective is probably going to be different from most critics. To me, Resident Evil is defined by its atmosphere, its action, and its fear generated as the result of gross corporate negligence and bad decision making.
I wasn’t sure of what to expect from Resident Evil 7. The marketing I had seen made it look more like a game like Outlast and the preview coverage I had read made it seem like Jack Baker, one of the games’ primary antagonists, would be pursuing you for most of the game. Now that I’ve finally played through it (twice) I can say that I think it is a very very good game. One that I’d place right up there with RE4 as one of my favorites in the series.
Resident Evil 7 starts strong, with an opening act that rivals some of the best horror movies. Sneaking around the main house and trying to acquire the pieces needed to solve a puzzle and escape without being caught is intense and individual moments that put Ethan, the player character, in direct conflict with Jack Baker are both fun and often ridiculous. Like some of my favorite horror films some of the things he did and said in these encounters prompted laughter and a vocal “wait what!?” from me. Always a good sign.
Unfortunately, the game only uses this tense game of cat-and-mouse effectively in its opening act.
Once the player leaves the main house and has to traverse the dilapidated “old house” the gameplay changes slightly. With the change in scenery comes a different antagonist–the second Baker family member Marguerite. The old house is a comparatively smaller environment and avoiding Marguerite–what would have been easy given the space–is offset by having to deal with large swarms of bugs that the game makes no attempt to explain. This is a minor gripe in the grand scheme of things, but every other instance of the virus has been represented as strength enhancement and a regenerative capability. That Marguerite alone can control bugs is confounding. I generally dislike bug sections in games to begin with and it is no different here. If no one implemented a swarm of bugs as an enemy type in their game ever again I don’t think we’d be losing anything. But to its credit, this section does culminate in a relatively fun boss fight that takes place inside a multi-tiered greenhouse.
Once Marguerite has been dealt with the game is done with its chase mechanic entirely. While I didn’t hate the section that came next–pitting the player against the Baker’s surprisingly crafty son Lucas (and one particularly memorable set of puzzles)–it was a departure from what I had thought the game was going to be.
I had thought the game was going to really play up its invulnerable antagonists and chase mechanic, but instead that idea gets ditched towards the end and a great deal of time is spent either fighting or avoiding an enemy called the Molded. The Molded are a totally fine stand in for traditional zombies. They appear to be covered in tar and their heads separate into gaping maws that you wouldn’t want anywhere near you. They are effectively creepy when they descend slowly from the growths on the walls or ceiling. They become much less fun when, while dealing with Lucas, a new four-legged variant is introduced. The four-legged Molded have a smaller head than their bipedal counterpart and move much more quickly, scurrying at the player and reducing the time allowed for lining up valuable headshots. While this ratchets up the intensity level slightly, I could have done without them. Likewise with the larger mini-boss style Molded that vomit everywhere.
For all my complaints about my initial playthrough of RE7, I didn’t think I would find myself having any more or less fun my second time through. I was wrong. There are two things I attribute to my heightened enjoyment of the game: I played on Easy difficulty–making enemies I previously thought of as annoying less of a hassle–and I attempted (and succeeded!) to speedrun the game.
On a first play of Resident Evil 7, because the player doesn’t have knowledge of where any of the enemies or items are going to be, it would appear to have pacing issues. Some would say that not knowing is ideal for a horror game, but because I found some of the enemy and combat encounters to be irritating as opposed to scary, going in to each with knowledge of what they were going to be allowed me to prepare and create fun for myself. This knowledge of where items are and where to go also greatly reduces the amount of time spent in each area and made me realize that the pacing issues–with some exception–were on me. My disappointment in lack of a persistent enemy like Jack also went away. Each discrete area, approached with the pressure of time, presents a new and unique challenge. None of which are tedious or overly repetitive.
Speedrunning Resident Evil 7 is a rewarding experience that further reveals strengths and weaknesses of the game. Luckily there are more strengths than weaknesses. While I wish that playing through the game on normal at a regular pace was as fun, I struggle to think of ways that could have been changed. Early in the game the player character has his hand cut off with a chainsaw by his possessed wife, Mia. Maybe they could have leveraged that moment and said, “You have four hours to get this done.” Regardless, Resident Evil 7 is well worth playing.
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