Survival-horror has come a long way since the release of the genre's grandfather; the original Resident Evil, which released over two decades ago. I have been enthralled with the franchise ever since I played the first game, but longed for a returned to the signature survival-horror roots of the first games.
After playing the Beginning Hour teaser, I had high hopes for Resident Evil 7: biohazard, but nothing could prepare me for what I experienced in the Baker family estate.
Warning: There be spoilers.
Welcome to the family
You play as Ethan Winters, a man driven by a singular goal, to find his wife Mia, who has been missing for three years. After Ethan discovers that she left him a video message, warning him not to search for her, he pinpointed her last known location – a derelict house (from the Beginning Hour) in the swamps of Louisiana, he set off to find his wife.
Throughout my search of the derelict homestead, I discovered horrifying truths and sickening scenes. Fear and dread slowly clawed their way into every aspect of my being; and then I met a member of the Baker family.
The psychotic, cannibalistic family amped up the sense of horror to a whole new level. I was only a bug to them, something they could play with until they decide to crush me beneath their mold-stained boots; and probably eat afterwards. Even when I made an attempt to fight back, I soon realized that he was powerless. They had me in their clutches; a new plaything to terrorize as they saw fit.
It is that sense of helplessness that RE7 portrays so perfectly at the start of the game that the feeling lingered until the very end of my 12 hour play-through. The first-person perspective adds so much in terms of self-awareness and open up doors for jump scares on a level a third-person perspective just can't pull of.
Finding a weapon doesn’t mean you are safe or even that you can adequately fight back. Even though I had weapons at my disposal, ammunition was extremely limited and items to heal myself with was few and far between. Running and hiding is, for the most part, the best option I had to stay alive. However, at one point I became confident. Through slow and methodical play, I managed to acquire what I would call an arsenal considering the circumstances; and I could not only fight back but actually start killing some enemies with some well-placed rounds to the head.
Nope! RE7 didn’t only bring me back to earth, but smashed my head into the Louisiana mud.
Whenever you might feel safe for a moment, the game reminds you that you are the prey, not the hunter. Every single enemy you face can kill you, quite easily in fact. Enemies have a range of attacks at their disposal, depending on where you are and how you react, leading to different ways to tackle each encounter. The only encounters I felt was a bit overdone and had some gimmicks to them are two of the boss battles; where I was forced into a certain way of combating my powerful foes.
The game’s story is brilliantly paced. Every single moment is well thought out, up until the very end I was still afraid of what lurked ahead. At no point did the game allow me to become complacent in my environment; and that is exactly what a true survival-horror experience should feel like. Tapes found throughout the game allows you to leave Ethan behind for a short period of time and play as someone else.
These tapes reveal some backstory about a specific environment, gives the player much-needed clues or even introduce new mechanics that is needed to survive. They build upon the survival-horror experience in a brilliantly designed way; I only wish there was more of them to be found.
The key to survival
I now know the Baker estate better than I do the area around my own house. It was simply the only way I could survive. Items that can help you survive are scattered throughout the Baker estate and opening doors with various keys for a faster way out of an area is of the utmost importance. Knowledge of the Baker estate, including each corner and crawl space is the key to survival.
A survival-horror experience wouldn’t be complete without item management and crafting. Managing your items effectively is one of the things that will keep you alive for a little while longer. You need to decide which items you will need after reaching a save point, while you can store the others. RE7 allows you to combine items, for example an herb and chemical fluid to create a first aid bottle, which of course you can use to heal yourself with. However, inventory space is extremely limited and you have to decide which items to pick up and when; or which items to craft. For example, having over 10 bullets in my pistol, I decided to craft a healing item instead of more rounds; it was a grave mistake, as the game threw enemies at me that I needed a gun to kill. 10 bullets simply were not enough.
Further, you can collect antique coins to unlock much needed items, for example steroids which increases your maximum health or stabilizers that increase your aim. But even if you have all the items you can find at your disposal, they won’t necessarily help you figure out some of the game’s intriguing puzzles. The puzzles are intuitively designed. They deliver one of those eureka moments when solved without taxing the player too much or breaking the atmosphere. I found a birthday-themed puzzle in a tape to be the most rewarding, with a sense of dread growing ever stronger as I progressed through the puzzle.
It’s not only the puzzle set pieces that challenge a player to think, but in fact the entire game. You have to decide how you can get to a certain point or how you will attempt to destroy or evade an enemy. Your choices will either kill you or allow you to move a few steps towards uncovering the horrifying mysteries of RE7. Throughout the Baker estate, I stumbled (quite literally) onto a few collectable items called Mr. Everywhere.
These little bobble head figurines, unlike collectables in most other games, didn’t distract from the horror and you need to destroy them in order to “collect”. They add to the creepiness of the game and with a little sound they make as well as their appearance. At one point, I was running away from an enemy when I heard Mr. Everywhere. Normally, my instinct as a long-time gamer would be to stop and destroy it, for a PSN trophy.
The intense fear and horror that RE7 has instilled into me and the knowledge that something deadly was behind me kept me running, passing up on a chance for an achievement. When a game pushes you beyond instincts that you’ve had for over two decades of gaming, then you know it is doing something very right. In no small part, thanks to the game’s brilliant use of graphics and sound effects.
Under the hood of horror
RE7 uses a new engine, aptly named the RE Engine, which pushes horror to a new level. The game looks absolutely fantastic on the standard PS4 and best of all, I didn’t notice any dramatic frame-rate drops throughout my entire playthrough. Every room I explored and every new area I reluctantly visited was rich with detail.
The weather effects, lighting shadows and more built delivered a stunning atmosphere, to a point that everything around me felt real; not in the sense of photorealistic graphics, but rather how everything I could touch and look at in the game felt as if it was natural and belonged in the setting. The fluid character animations and for example, objects dropping of shelves only add to what is already an enthralling visual experience.
The only minor issue I encounter was high detailed textures (for example a photo pinned to a wall) which popped in as I got close. It really isn’t a big deal and didn’t detract from the experience of break the immersion I felt throughout the game. That’s it, and for anyone who has read some of my reviews, I do tend to nit-pick a bit when it comes to graphical glitches and performance.
The sound of the game delivers a truly terrifying experience. Background noises and small bursts of creepy music further increase the level of horror. Countless times a sound made me turn around in fear. Not once did I feel as if the graphical elements or sound effects broke the immersion; which is by itself an amazing feat.
The Verdict – Greater than the sum of its parts
Throughout my review, I spoke about how the game made me feel, the combat, atmosphere, survival elements and much more. Most the game’s aspects are well executed, make sense and builds upon the experience, except for a few boss battles that felt overdone; but RE7 is much more than that. It is a masterpiece, with all its parts woven together so brilliantly that it becomes something greater; a survival-horror experience that knows no equal.
In my 12 hour play-through, I experienced a sense of helplessness, fear and dread like I have never felt in a game before. As I mentioned at the start of this review, I love the RE franchise, so I do not say this lightly: RE7 takes the franchise to a whole new level of horror. It is not only the best RE game I have played, but the greatest survival-horror title ever created.
The game’s length is just right. It isn’t drawn out nor does it try to increase its length with time-consuming activities; and there is some replayability to be had. After completing the game, the Madhouse difficulty unlocks, which can challenge even the most hardcore survival-horror players. There is more than one ending, so a trip back to the Baker estate is, at least for me, inevitable.
If you want to visit the Baker family (and you really should), check out our SA price List and download size article. The game isn’t for everyone, as those who are squeamish or easily startled might not enjoy it as much as I have; but everyone else shouldn’t miss out on the survival horror masterpiece that is RE7.