I want to love Resident Evil 7.
I really do. You see, underneath all the stuff I’m going to rant about here is a solid, engaging and well-paced action horror game and yes, I said action horror. When Capcom said this was going back to the old days of limited ammo and thoughtful progression, they lied. I wasn’t being shy about my gun play and even I ended up finishing the game with enough weapons and ammunition to level a small city, or as Madonna calls it, “My Wild Dream” (too soon?). This is Resident Evil 4 in a first-person perspective, really. Replete with randomised items and collectables that unlock stuff later on or in a future playthrough.
It kicks off in glorious fashion, too. The introductory sequence, about the first half hour to forty-five minutes, is fantastic and memorable. It’s slightly downhill from there, unfortunately, as the game finally abandons its initial pretence towards mystery and intrigue and just starts dumping out horror tropes like they were going out of style.
Truth is, Resident Evil was never an ‘original’ concept; one part Sweet Home (a Capcom-made JRPG from 1989), one part Warning Sign (a 1986 horror B-Movie) and two parts Alone In The Dark (which predated the first Resident Evil title), with a smattering of Living Dead zombies strewn throughout the piece. Resident Evil is often at its best when it’s wearing influences on its sleeve, a cheeky wink and a sly nod to the audience and then moving right on to enemies and bosses and villains, which the series does so well.
But even by Resident Evil standards, this seventh instalment is wall-to-wall references, inspirations, tropes and recycled content from the series past. It’s hard to know where to begin – with elements of Splinter and Wrong Turn, a segment that feels like taking a liberal handful of SAW, being stalked like in Haunting Ground and Clock Tower 3, borrowing the feel and jumping into a genre littered with solid first-person horror games (Amnesia, Layers of Fear, Outlast, FEAR and many, many more!). And with so many puzzles and elements not just inspired by but borrowed wholesale from the series past, I found myself tripping over the references far too much. And part of this is the weakness of the villains of the piece.
I said in my last post I can forgive Resident Evil many of its key failings because it always comes up with strong, interesting villains. The Bakers are alright, but they’re not really fleshed out enough that they linger in the mind. Jack Baker is easily the strongest presence, but poor Marguerite and Lucas Baker feel like a side-show, and whilst they’re as much victims of a greater evil – that greater evil is so obviously a rip from FEAR that I had to let out a weary laugh. It’s a damned shame that the identifiable villains of the game feel so lacklustre when compared to the likes of Ramon Salazar, Alex Wesker and Alfred Ashford.
Having said that, The Molded prove to be the highlight; the trash enemies littered throughout the game are an interesting and fascinating element that strike at times genuine fear. Unlike Jack Baker, The Molded are often relentless and the tight, claustrophobic setting makes them a real threat at times. The poor AI is clearly obvious, as is the reality that they despawn and some even die the moment you find a Safe Room. But they’re strong enough that these foibles seem trivial. The only real shame as I see it is unlike past mutants and monsters, I don’t see where they can really take The Molded. They feel contained enough that I can’t see them becoming a major part of a future instalment. Like all the best Resident Evil villains and mutants, they’re a one-shot deal and I guess that’s fair enough, as we saw with Las Plagas – sometimes you need to know where to stop.
What bothers me, however, is how often I couldn’t suspend my disbelief. Some minor spoilers for the first hour of the game follow. You’ve been warned.
Spoilers incoming… NOW!
Right, let’s start with our protagonist, Ethan. Who seems to be a bit of a thing himself – part of the opening has his wife, Mia, chainsaw off his left hand and not too long later, you find it has been stapled back onto your arm. And it functions perfectly too! The Codex can read a pulse and everything. How? Well, that’s a question the game follows up with arguably the most hilarious moment – Jack uses a shovel to chop off your right foot! Offering a bottle of medicine/disinfectant, the following sequence sees Ethan holding the dismembered foot in place, pouring the disinfectant over it and watching as it miraculously bonds together and heals completely! His slight exclamation of surprise was nothing compared to the laughter coming from my end. At this point most of the ‘fear’ element the game was building was lost as I realised Ethan was literally –magic-. It is never explained with any degree of satisfaction how he comes to possess these incredible curative powers under the presence of a bit of TCP, but I’d hazard a guess that’s the sort of thing they can explain in a future instalment of the series (Ethan Winters – hmm, sounds a bit like Wesker, wouldn’t you say?).
Then the first ‘kill’ of the game comes to a poor deputy cop. Who happens to be of African-american descent. Yup, he’s the first character to kick the bucket, and not only is he a bit dumb (I have a stapled-on hand and a massive gash on my face from Jack’s little torture session, how about assuming that I’ve been abducted eh?) but he dies shortly thereafter, a little bit like… oh, I don’t know… Marvin Branagh, the cop from the second game who kicks the bucket early on. RE7’s cop looks very similar too, strikingly so in fact.
Also, the first NPC to die is a black guy. Yes Capcom, it was a little bit racist in Resident Evil 2. It’s still a little bit racist now. And it’s a little bit racist that they look so alike (unless Marvin somehow was cured of zombieism and aged a bit, and that’s a story I’d like to hear…)
What makes this hard to take is that Resident Evil 7, like #5 and #6, takes itself way too seriously despite this nonsense. It doesn’t play on these events, it just assumes ooh creepy are you scared yet, whilst I’m doubled over crying from the unbridled hilarity of it all. No, Capcom. This isn’t creepy and in truth, it’s not scary either. A couple of jump scares and a few hairy moments with The Molded and a couple swarms of bugs, Resident Evil 7 was largely devoid of the menace it so promised.
This feeds back into the unoriginality of the game – there’s still a chance to be unpredictable even when you’re being unoriginal, but RE7 is as far from unpredictable as it is possible to get. Things are telegraphed in advance, and with puzzles and elements from other games, past games and movies so clearly on show, you can fairly easily predict what’s about to happen next. That’s unfortunate, because it denotes Capcom playing this unusually safe and for such a huge shift in pace and tone, that Capcom didn’t take more risks here annoys the hell out of me.
Then there’s the moral choice bit bang in the middle. One is safe, predictable and obviously leads to the good ending, and that’s fair game. The other comes with the biggest, most brutal dick-move I’ve ever seen a company pull, and it’s quite funny when you think about it (Isn’t it Ironic, dontcha think?). It’s a punishment for being a jerk, a double-bluff of extreme weight, but truth be told – I don’t understand why the moral choice is even in there. It feels so out of place, so crudely engineered. The series has had a few moral-choice elements in the past, and rewarded those who took the time to think outside the box and root around for stuff. This is simplistic, the bare minimum, and lands with such an audible clunk that it underlines much of what is wrong with the game.
Which is the idea is solid, and when the game gets going it’s endearing and charming and even – dare I say it? – fun. However, the execution often lets it down, and lets it down terribly. When things need explaining, they’re not explained (and when they don’t, the game goes to great lengths to explain it to you). So much is unrefined, pared back to its most basic form with none of the charm or creativity of the series past. And there are really strong parts which stand out, let down with weaker parts that don’t do the game any service (and a final boss fight I believe is impossible to lose as well).
So too is Capcom’s fascination with large freaking ships back in force. Capcom, we get it, you like boats, can you give it a rest in the Resident Evil series for a while please? I’m sure you can dream up something just as large and scary as an abandoned ship! And whilst I’m being a dick here – let’s mention Zoe’s southern drawl. Here’s a drinking game – when you’re speaking with Zoe, take a shot every time she uses that clearly fake southern accent and drawl.
Enjoy your alcohol poisoning!
Yes, I’m being mostly facetious here because I like Resident Evil 7. It’s a solid game and yes, it’s better than #5 and #6 (though they’re hardly high benchmarks). There’s enough in this game and enough replayability that unlike many horror games, you’ll find yourself trying to shave precious minutes from the timer like the olden days. I’m about to start the Madhouse Challenge, the hard-mode which I always relish in a game like this.
I also think this is the sort of game VR was made for. Resident Evil 7 drips with graphical splendour, drenched in the right kind of atmospherics to keep you focused and engaged, and whilst a one-year deal with Sony for PSVR will keep it relatively niche for a while (which is arguably a shame, I don’t like exclusivity deals like this…), I can see in the future this kind of take being a real selling point for VR Headsets. It’s the kind of thing they’ve been made for, in fact. Still an expensive little gimmick but hey, I like expensive little gimmicks here and there. Keeps things interesting.
But for the most part, it just falls short. It’s by-numbers, takes no chances and reaps no rewards. It’s a seven-out-of-ten kind of game; worthy of a punt, and it’ll keep you busy for weeks if not months, but I doubt this will have the kind of staying power of Resident Evil 1 or Resident Evil 4. It’s a game which declares where it is headed, and I’m fascinated and intrigued to see where Capcom goes with this. It’s a solid and reasonably polished stab at a new direction, which falls just short of the mark.
It’s a shame, but this little amalgamation could have done with a few more stitches to stop it falling apart. I appreciate and applaud the effort.
I just wish I didn’t have its giblets all over my shoes.