Also available on Xbox One and Windows
This is the Resident Evil game for which fans have been waiting for over a decade. Not since Resident Evil 4 in 2005 has a Resident Evil game been this damn good, and not since Resident Evil: Code Veronica in 2000 has a Resident Evil game been this damn scary. Resident Evil: Revelations on 3DS came pretty close in terms of quality and fear IMO, but this is the reboot and revitalization that the series needed. It's also the vote of confidence that virtual reality technology needed.
The game is set in 2017 in a bayou in southern Louisiana. Generic protagonist Ethan Winters gets a cryptic message from his wife who's been missing for three years, so he travels to Cajun Country in search of his beloved Mia. When he finds her locked in a prison cell that HAS to violate some international treaty all Law and Order SVU style, shit starts to get weird (and I mean, seriously, how else could things get? Nothing gets normal when you start with an underground torture dungeon). You soon meet the Baker family, a lovely family of South Louisiana's unique flavor of redneck. Well, they're lovely except for the whole actually being hideous neigh-immortal monstrosities, but that's pretty standard stuff for Resident Evil, really.
What long-time fans of the series need to know upfront is that while this game DOES take place within the established Resident Evil universe and timeline, the only actual in-game connections are brief allusions - a newspaper clipping mentioning "the Raccoon City disaster," some redacted parts of documents implying connections to Las Plagas and the T-virus, etc. Honestly, though, I think that was the right move for the series. Resident Evil 7 is a reboot for the franchise, and it's one that I hope will take off and revitalize the series. They really NEEDED to have as blank a slate as possible to bring in new fans, but what they do to give those of us who've been big fans of the series for 10, 15, 20 years is perfectly adequate in my opinion. You're not going to have Barry saving Jill from becoming questionable deli products, and Leon isn't going to bust through the ceiling like a badass and make everybody hot and bothered, but Capcom does make sure that you know that you're playing a Resident Evil game. They just don't want to alienate potential new players who would have no idea who Leon Kennedy, Albert Wesker, or Chris Redfield are (and shame on them for not knowing!).
The gameplay itself is something else that might turn off hardcore Resident Evil fans. We, as a fandom, have become accustomed to a third person perspective. With the exception of the two Chronicles games on Wii and Survivor on PlayStation, that's how every Resident Evil title has been. That changes with Resident Evil 7. As you've probably gathered from my screenshots and the Beginning Hour teaser, this game takes place entirely in a first person perspective. I was skeptical of this at first. I'm a good ol' Southern boy; I don't like change, and I don't do well with it. This is a big change for Resident Evil. Fortunately, though, Capcom did an excellent job of making sure that the new gameplay style fits nicely with the established horror theme. This is not a first person Resident Evil 5 (which would basically be a "Call of Evil" dudebro shooter), but it's also not exactly Dead Space. There's a very slow, deliberate feel to the movement in this game. It doesn't feel sluggish or unresponsive by any means, but you won't be making any quick, agile escapes, and while that can be frustrating in some games, it's used to great effect here to enhance the tension.
Now let's talk about one of the big selling points for playing this game on Playstation 4 as opposed to Xbox One or even PC - virtual reality. For the first year, Resident Evil 7 is a Playstation VR exclusive in terms of VR compatibility. January 2018, I'm sure, support for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive will be added, but for the time being, if you want to play a AAA horror game in VR, you've gotta do it on Playstation. One of the great things about VR in Resident Evil 7 is that it's not a separate mode or minigame or whatever like a lot of games with Playstation VR compatibility are. It's the exact same game, completely unadulterated save for an obvious graphics downgrade, and you can switch into or out of VR at will from the options menu. This is good because I was about ready to puke my lunch all over the place after about 20 or 30 minutes, even with Dramamine in my system. I normally have no problem with VR. Until Resident Evil 7, the only game that had ever given me motion sickness in VR was Robinson: The Journey (still need to finish that, eventually...). The common denominator between the two? Free roam. What little I played in VR was absolutely amazing, and the decline in graphical fidelity wasn't NEARLY as bad as I'd anticipated. Capcom did it fucking right with VR, and it shows that virtual reality can work with big budget AAA experiences. The motion sickness, unfortunately, is just the nature of the beast and will vary from person to person. As far as what Capcom could have done to mitigate that - giving a plethora of VR options for turning and motion blur, locking a stable framerate, etc - they did 100%. I can't find anything that Capcom could realistically have done to make the VR experience less nauseating. Your body either cooperates or it doesn't. You better believe that I'm gonna be trying again and experiment with different nausea drugs, though, because it's exceptionally well done.
Outside of the VR mode, the graphics are stunning. They're not perfect, and if you're right up close, you can see some texture flaws, but it's the best looking horror game I've ever played. I did play with the PS4 Pro enhancements, though, so I'm not sure how it looks on a standard PS4; I would guess that configuration would give Alien: Isolation the edge, but still, that's not a bad game to come in second to. Speaking of Alien: Isolation, Resident Evil 7 feels VERY similar in style and atmosphere. Isolation hit the balance of horror atmosphere and enemy encounters a bit better, I think, but this is the most atmospheric Resident Evil game since Resident Evil 2. The game feels and plays very much like a hybrid of Alien: Isolation and the ill-fated PT demo, and those are two VERY good things to hybridize for your game.
I only have two real complaints with the game, and the first one is hella petty, so let's get that one out of the way first. The Bakers sound like North Louisiana rednecks, not South Louisiana rednecks. Most wouldn't know there's a difference without having some special connection to Louisiana (for me, it's where my family's from), but it's like the difference between Americans from the South and Americans from the North. They sound different, they act different, their lexicon is different...it's a different type of redneck. That's my little nitpick. My legitimate gripe is with the final boss. It's, hands down, the easiest boss fight of the game. I had been stockpiling magnum and grenade launcher ammo the whole game for the epic final showdown, and with how tense the other boss fights in the game are, I was expecting a clash of titans, essentially). I ended up not firing a single round from my magnum or grenade launcher because the final boss comes WAY sooner I expected and was so easy that I thought it couldn't possibly have been the end. But it was. By no means does it spoil the game, but it is a bit of a letdown.
Resident Evil 7 is, in my opinion, the third best game in the series, surpassed only by the legendary Resident Evil 4 and the remake of the first game. It's not a perfect game, but it's a damn good one, and for a genre that has had a bit of an identity crisis for the past ten years, trying and failing to find a balance between atmospheric tension and throwing hoards of enemies at you to create "horror," and this particular series was the worst offender, turning Resident Evil 5 into an action shooter instead of a horror game. The genre has definitely been on the upswing for the past few years, and Resident Evil 7 stands proudly near the top of that pack. Truthfully, the only full games that I think have done horror better in recent years would be Alien: Isolation and possibly Outlast. If the seventh main series game is any indication, Resident Evil has finally found itself again and is in for a fantastic future.
My Rating - 5 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.