I like Resident Evil 7.
Okay, it didn’t shatter my world with its brilliance – and it’s got more gaping plotholes than any TV drama I’ve ever seen (hell, more plotholes than your average Final Fantasy game) – but I enjoyed it. I joked about its strange plotholes, I lamented the Bakers had no real chance to develop as characters – not helped by the game being so embarrassingly brief – and I felt that whilst it was a brave new venture for the series, it was hardly an original take.
Thing is, time has a habit of developing your thoughts more sharply and I’ll make no bones about this; Resident Evil 7 slipped so expediently in my opinion that I wouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed to say that when we get a few years distance from this game, we’ll all look back on it with some disdain.
The first problem is the nature of the game. A first-person horror extravaganza. I like horror games and I do actually have a soft spot for mysterious, puzzle-driven first person horror games. Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Layers of Fear are up there for me as fantastic examples of this genre, whereas on the action horror side it’s impossible to not mention Dying Light – a game getting another years worth of free DLC from Techland, and a game which still boasts an incredible 500,000 weekly players on Steam. When you compare Resident Evil 7 to any of these other games, things start falling apart for Capcom – not only are they not first, they’re not even doing it nearly as well as others. PT was short, but it was free, and it continues to be a point of contention that Resident Evil 7’s demo came off as simply their attempt at trying to match the mystique of PT.
It’s not unreasonable to compare Resident Evil 7 to other games in the genre, because that’s ultimately the yardstick by which Resident Evil 7 should be measured. It’s unquestionably better than most of the first person attempts for Resident Evil to date, by a long way too, but it’s still a long way short of even things like Outlast.
Yes, I concede that as a VR “experience”, Resident Evil 7 is up there. But VR is a relatively fresh genre (with some problems with sales figures right now) and Resident Evil 7 got there at somewhat the right time. Great. That doesn’t make it ‘better’ than any number of horror games out there. It’s kind of embarrassing, really, that we all kind of missed this earlier in the year. Great, it’s a competent VR horror experience. Woohoo. Does this inherently make it a better game than, say, Dying Light – which has a campaign significantly longer than Resident Evil 7, with an open world that’s just as beautifully executed as Resident Evil 7… seriously, I’d have been pretty pissed had I been Techland earlier this year. Sorry about that, ladies and gents of Techland.
I also felt somewhat cheated by the difficulty of Resident Evil 7.
There were the usual promises of ammo being scarce and having to run or hide or choose your battles wisely but in truth, I don’t remember ever being that strapped for ammo in Resident Evil 7. It was abundant, the weapons had plenty of punch to them and even on the harder setting, it just felt… well… soft. I did play Code Veronica: X not long after Resident Evil 7 and it was much harder though that is down to the combat system and fixed camera angles I’ll admit. But still… even old Resident Evil games felt like there was some variety in the mix, something interesting going on, something stronger behind the scenes puppeteering the whole ensemble. The lickers were distinct from hunters, who were distinct from the crimsonheads and the tyrants, then there was Yawn and Nemesis and Birkin and Alexia Ashford and the series has always ensured that there was enough difference to matter, to change things up gameplay wise. Resident Evil 7 is pretty damned lazy, and the best and most interesting fight is the one that arguably makes the least amount of sense – that being Marguerite Baker, and there’s an embarrassing quantity of ammo and healing items strewn about her arena. You know, just in case.
So it’s not better than other games and it wasn’t that difficult, or really even that scary. And whilst I mocked the game for having elements of FEAR, turns out the guy who wrote the script also wrote the script for FEAR so… uh… yeah, I think I might just about let that one just be for now.
The DLC has also been an issue – the DLC Season Pass was a mish-mash of experimental bits and bobs that would have given the full game a little more longevity and value had they been default options, but seemed awfully token for what was ultimately a £25 season pass. I’ve spoken about the DLC before, but the real issue here is the proposed ‘free’ DLC, Not A Hero. A unique campaign focused on Chris Redfield – because he was so likeable in Resident Evil 6 ugh – it was touted as coming in Spring 2017. That didn’t happen, as in April it was revealed it would be delayed. Today, we’re hearing alarming things; the Not A Hero campaign has become enormous, bloated and is costing Capcom a small fortune, enough that there have been suggestions that they spin it off as a new Resident Evil game entirely – possibly even push it as a sequel, and the thing is, that would mean that the thing in Resident Evil 7 that people most wanted and looked forward to – a chunk of free story content – might end up costing them the price of a new game so Capcom can recoup some of those costs back.
I wouldn’t mind it being spun off as a full game, but it further impacts my viewpoint of Resident Evil 7. I mean, jeez, Nintendo has proven how to support a new game long-term with paid and free additional content, as has Techland with Dying Light. Capcom is expected to be better than that; instead there’s a massive porkie at the core of the whole experience.
That’s not to say that I think Resident Evil 7 is a total waste.
There’s clearly something between Ethan and Mia that could be developed – as I said, she was infected for a long time, and Ethan proves time and time again he is far from your average human being. Mia is an undercover agent for BOW management – which begs the question; is her relationship with Ethan strictly business? Did she marry him to keep tabs on him and his amazing healing powers… and if so, why was she then pulled to escort an unpredictable and frankly dangerous experimental BOW without leaving a support network behind to keep Ethan from chasing her? And did Evie want Ethan because of his special abilities – it might make tie up at least one of the plotholes in the game, that’s for sure. Overall, Ethan and Mia have a further story to tell, and I’d be okay with them back to resolve that. Capcom introduced two new characters who are, at least, interesting enough to work for a future game even if The Molded are a one-shot deal and done kind of thing.
And the RE Engine is well made. It’s a bit rigid, like Doom 3’s engine a bit, but I like it and I can see this being a good thing for Capcom. Resident Evil 2 Remake is supposedly using this engine, so will be interesting to see if that can switch between camera viewpoints for people or will be a first-person only affair, but Capcom also has Dino Crisis which would be fantastic in this kind of engine, with this kind of technology behind it. You could also argue Clock Tower would be awesome in this engine, really strip it all the way back and push for a real true survival horror experience with no combat, and a lot of running and hiding. It’s a solid bit of work, and I’m sure it’ll serve Capcom well in the coming years. It’s got plenty of horror franchises to work with in this engine and they’d all be great, I’m sure of it.
The problem underneath all of this is that Resident Evil 7, just a few months from release, already feels kind of dated. Maybe it was rushed to completion. Maybe ambition got the best of them. Maybe they wanted a clean break – though that doesn’t explain the Chris Redfield cameo, for sure. It’s a game that feels kind of… there. It was alright, but it’s not special in any real way. There are better games worthy of your money, and Capcom’s mishandling of the DLC Season Pass content and the Not A Hero free campaign only serves to continue to highlight that Resident Evil 7’s development seems troubled at best.
I don’t believe Resident Evil 7 will make any worst list this year; but I’d also argue it probably shouldn’t see the best lists this year. I’ve already played at least ten games which I can say have given me far more enjoyment and value for money than Capcom’s little horror experiment, so we’ll have to see where it goes but for many I think Capcom has kind of let this one run away from it. What was a nice and interesting if a little shaky horror title now has ample baggage and it’s impossible, for me, to let that slide.
And hell, short and flawed as it is, I’ll be the first to point out that it’s a damn slight better than Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6. The stripped back nature of it does at least let the game hunker down and focus on its darksome graphical marvel and it’s unquestionably a pretty game. It does build a fantastic atmosphere, the best Capcom has pulled off since… well, Haunting Ground. Nope, I’m not sorry for mentioning one of my top five horror games ever once more. I’ll have to make that a thing I guess.
But for me, the real test will be with the Resident Evil 2 Remake. RE7 hasn’t changed the world, but it has at least given Capcom the tools by which it can rebuild a franchise that feels like it has been running on fumes for a good decade or so now. If Capcom can take this and build upon it, I’ll be very happy. I just don’t think anyone will be pining for a Resident Evil 7 remaster in a decade the way people are pining for a Resident Evil 2 remaster now. The Ethan and Mia thing aside, RE7 is narratively far too neat and tidy. It is what it is. It begins, it ends, and aside the two characters who could be placed in any decently contrived horror setup now, everything that needs to be answered about Evie and the Bakers gets said – with the exception of Lucas, who was meant to be concluded in the free DLC. So his fate is more or less sealed too.
So yeah, I’m not as angry about RE7 as I was. It hasn’t excelled even by Capcom’s estimates, it expected 4 million in a month and I think last count it was at 3.7 million, but then having said that Square-Enix thought Tomb Raider 2013 would sell 6 million in a month, more than double any previous entry in the franchise on its debut. I’d still say 3.7 million to this point is a resounding success, when you consider Street Fighter 5 still hasn’t broken 2 million a year and a half from release (and it seems even the crappy Ultra Street Fighter 2 on the Switch is outselling it, I’d try to not look amused at that but I’d fail resoundingly).
I see Resident Evil 7 as an experiment. It was… interesting. I like where they’re going.
They’re just not there yet.