Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Resident Evil 7: The Review

Capcom has had a rough time selling the idea of Resident Evil to Western audiences. RE6 received one of the franchise's most divisive review scores. Some enjoying the fast-paced amalgamation of over the top mechanics, while others turn away from Capcom's attempt to tie the series together. Which is interesting given that it's one of the company's best selling games with over 5 million units. The only "well reviewed" RE game that comes to mind is 4. Everyone seems to love 4, and it's something a number of fans and reviewers long to see again with Resident Evil.

Enter Number 7.

I had a chance to play a unique demo in VR at PAX West, and it sold me. Not just on the game, but on VR in general. My heart was racing. My palms were sweaty (it probably didn't help that I was wearing gloves). I felt the fear. I knew I had to get RE7. So far this game is topping out to be my favorite of 2017. It's only February 7th and that will probably change next month after a slew of new titles drop, but to start out the year with RE7 was the way to go. It's everything wonderful about Resident Evil while providing new content, new plot lines, and different ways to scare you that pull you into the action.

To note, I do not have a VR rig so I didn't play this game to it's full, discorded potential. It didn't make my experience less harrowing or challenging. RE7 serves up plenty of tasks to keep you busy, and some crazy boss fights that will test your reflexes in new ways. Spoilers below, but I won't give away any key plot details.

If you have played any of the demo's, you already know what to expect. And the cool thing I appreciate about the demos is that they didn't spoil the main game. You play as other characters that end up getting captured; you run through a small piece of the backstory. The setting takes a dramatic shift back to the early days of Resident Evil where you are confined to a rural home out in the swamp of bumpkin nowhere. It's clear from the get-go that RE7 is going to be very different from it's predecessors. While in the demo's you don't have the opportunity to utilize weapons, you do see everything from a first person perspective - it's no longer over the shoulder like in past games. You can tell that 7 is trying to update itself to better fit within the horror games that we see today. There is a greater emphasis on exploration, finding clues, and unlocking secrets (Five Nights at Freddy's and Layers of Fear). You'll see more dark spaces, shadows, and looming figures created by the environment (P.T. and Silent Hill). But you will also see some classic RE traits that make the games so enjoyable, such as the boxed in hallways and rooms, and the use of sound to heighten the atmosphere. The jump scares feel more intense in an RE game because they don't use it as a crutch.

7 is all about scaring you out of your wits. With a little bit of 'Deliverance,' um, charm wrapped up in this concept, you play as Ethan Winters. An every-man, man, who is on the hunt for his missing wife, Mia. He receives a video tape (and yes, it's totally a video tape even though they magically seem to have technology to make limbs REGROW!) from Mia years later with a general idea of where she is. Hung up on his love for her, he travels to Dulvey, Louisiana and finds the home of the Baker family. Their weird home looks like a run down bed and breakfast, with dead animals littering the landscape (some of them stuffed) and some freaky rooms with plastic babies hanging on the wall. Oh and monsters that look like they had a bad case of the Uroboros. The house that you play through in the demo is way bigger in the game. There are multiple floors including an attic, basement, and additional cabins outside. Plenty of opportunity to walk around and see the landscape in it's gurgle, creepy nature.

As you seek out Mia, you find her trapped in a cell in a pseudo-dungeon and try to break her out. It ends up going awry as you find out Mia has been officiated into the Baker family and transforms into a monstrous version of herself - this happens several times at the beginning to allow you to learn the game mechanics (blocking, dodging, aiming, etc.). Mia is captured again and so are you. When you awaken, you meet more of the Baker family and learn quickly that the game is all about you surviving. And trying to save Mia because damsel in distress.

Unlike the recent versions of Resident Evil that focused on hoards of zombies, your enemies in 7 are few. You've got Papa Baker as your primary villain, and a couple of other baddies roaming the Baker complex. There are some unique monsters, but very few of them. The game's sole focus is on you surviving in an extreme situation. The close quarters combat and the diversion/stealth mechanics are essential to upping up the intensity and Capcom did an amazing job of portraying the fear this round. A number of fights in this game can be avoided by eluding your captor. That's never really been an option with other horror games; you seem expected to kill everything in your path. But in RE7 you can pull a Metal Gear Solid routine, save some bullets, and continue seeking an exit.

And like Resident Evil games, there are inventory restrictions! Because realism. You can't carry everything on your back, but they were kind enough to give you save points and a chest that will magically transport across the map so you can store items in there. The inventory slot system reminds me a lot of Diablo. You have blocks in your inventory. You can either carry a lot of smaller items until the blocks are full, such as a handgun and a load of herbs, or you can carry 3-4 larger items/weapons and go for broke. Classic elements such as combining herbs and weapons are still in 7, as well as the rareness of bullets. Make all of those head-shots count. You will need every one of them.

As you make your way through the home, you find out more about the Baker family and the circumstances that allowed them to become super human. I don't know what else to label them as because they have some weird powers. They have apparently lived for a really long time, they can not be killed (Papa and Mama Baker are your primary enemies that will hunt you from the moment you step foot onto their property). They have super strength. Their limbs regenerate. They can break through walls. You can decapitate them and they will still come back! The villains have not been this daunting since RE 2/3. And somehow they get kicks out of torturing people that enter their realm. Within the first 20-30 minutes of the game as you learn the mechanics, Ethan will have his left hand cut off (thanks Mia) and his right foot hacked away by a shovel. A shovel!

I mean...what the hell Resident Evil? I'm already scared but now you've got me caged in with this lunatic family that wants to tear me apart.

What makes it intense is that the Baker family gives you potions and healing kits to reattach your limbs. They want you to be in one piece, so they can pull you apart again and again. It's a very twisted approach to horror and makes the game all the more terrifying.

I'm having too much fun with this game, because it's kind of sick. I'm scared. I'm horrified. I'm disgusted (but not too much - not like Saw). And I'm intrigued.

My favorite aspect of the game thus far is picking up video tapes and being able to replay them in your "safe rooms." You can experience other people walking through the house, just like the demos, and use their knowledge of the space to avoid traps that would harm Ethan. It's a very clever use of mechanics that give the player more opportunity to make decisions on how they want to proceed.

There are some aspects that flop. The puzzles are too generic and simple. They're not meant to test your meddle too much since your goal is to get out the house as soon as possible. But I didn't feel that they challenged the gamer on the level that they should have. It's a lot of "find this and put into slot to go forward." Woo. I guess if you're not big on puzzles it's fine, but for me it was flat. I also felt that the fights and excessive boss battles were unnecessary - no one should be able to regenerate a torso that quickly to prompt another fight. You miss out on the scenery of the game by focusing so much on defending yourself. The quiet moments are wonderful in RE7. Eerie and indepth. The loud moments are really loud and can clutter up the game. The battle system is great. It's streamlined from previous RE titles, but it felt like too much for an isolated area. We're not battling hundreds of zombies; just a weird family.

But if you need a good scare and some fun, puzzle-inducing game-play, pick up Resident Evil 7. You won't be disappointed. Glad to have you back in the family, RE.

2 comments:

  1. I like scary games, but this one seems weird. Do you think it's worth a shot?

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    Replies
    1. If you're a fan of the horror genre, this is a must play. You don't need to have any knowledge of past Resident Evil games to enjoy it (but if you do, you'll find nods and inside jokes that allude to its predecessors). RE7 is trying to capture the joy people get with playing today’s more modern “scary games” while maintain the fear that Reside Evil is known for. It’s frightening in a different way – the Baker family is a weird bunch that can be quite terrifying. They like torturing their victims. They live to play with their food, literally and figuratively. Being trapped in their prison of a home creates a terrifying experience that feels more real than any horror game I can think of to date.

      If you have VR, I’d recommend playing through the game first before diving in. There are a number of high action fights and boss battles that can be disorienting on VR. Going virtual is best reserved for the quiet moments when you’re hiding or searching the home for collectables.

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