For the past few installments of the Resident Evil franchise, the series took a turn towards a much faster-paced playstyle. Shambling zombies were plentiful, guns were always loaded and witty banter combined with a range of emotions and conflicts thrust the characters into reality. But in the latest inclusion to the RE catalog, firepower—and zombies, for that matter—are nowhere near as common. What replaces them is the old-school element of exploration and a rolled-up sense of dread, uneasiness and downright horror that exploring the decrepit environment only magnifies.
Upon first impression, the ramshackle Louisiana estate the player navigates can seem a bit concerning. It becomes quickly evident that much of the game would be spent inside the house, and when stacked up against the sprawling environments offered in previous installments such as RE 4 and RE 5, I wondered whether the single locale would be ample room to accommodate the entire game. But through a clever use of backtracking to uncover new routes and additional secrets, the already massive swampy grounds begin to feel even bigger than they seem. A maze-like interior creates an area that’s just confusing enough to instill a sense of excitement when you find a new key or similar method of opening certain paths; you don’t remember exactly where you saw the lock that fit that key, but you know you saw it somewhere on the second floor, thus beginning the exploration process anew.
And not remembering exactly where you saw something is to be expected in this game. After all, most of the game’s exploration will be hurried along by the knowledge that some creature is either lurching towards you or waiting just around the corner . . . or in a closet, or in the rafters or really anywhere that can provide a decent surprise.
The game doesn’t hold back on these scares and shocks either. A newly-introduced first-person view, much different from the over-the-shoulder perspective offered by previous RE, puts the discomfort right up and personal. The ever-present gore that RE for which the games have become so well known is also amplified by this. Having enemies hack away at you and impale parts of your body because you failed to move quickly enough somehow gains an even heightened sense of urgency when the carnage is front-and-center.
Enemies and NPCs often get directly in your face, giving an eyeful of their grotesque features that mask an underlying sense of insanity and savagery brought to the table by the “human” enemies. And even though there is much less variety in the enemies, the main antagonists in place—the sadistic Baker family—have enough depth and personality to them to make them terrifying in their own regard. The stray away from hordes of zombies to a few monumental enemies introduces a new kind of adversary, one that’s just as unpredictable as flailing zombies but still as cunning as you’d expect a fully human opponent to be. The Baker family’s erratic movements that shift from confident gaits to frantic sprints combined with the narrowed first-person view ensure that you never know exactly how far they are behind you.
A lesser enemy, the molded, beg resemblance to historic RE enemies. Tall, dark-colored and armed with razor-sharp teeth and appendages, these recurring foes come in different forms with slightly varying abilities and tactics. Even worse, they have the ability to emerge at will from moldy areas, be it a wall, a ceiling or the ground. Running and hiding is a perfectly valid response to these creatures, but it’ll only get you so far. They will occasionally despawn if left out of sight for an extended period of time, but that just means they’ll appear somewhere else later. One of the most unsettling realizations I came across during encounters with the molded came forth during one of the many times I met my demise at their distorted hands. After returning to the location of my downfall, this time armed with my measly supply of ammo and prepared for a scuffle, I found the room empty. It was at that moment I learned of the unpredictability the creatures were apt to display; they moved freely about between rooms, and could certainly appear in different places depending on how quickly the player moved through the environment.
One aspect the game does falter in when it pertains to enemies is the boss fights. In almost every encounter with the Baker family patriarch, Jack, the boss fights were just downright confusing. RE games have a long history of requiring crafty and innovative ways to defeat bosses, but the methods are typically hinted at to guide players, or at least there’s a sign that the method is working. Fighting Jack with mainly guns and ammo and a few environmental threats, especially when faced with taunts from Jack about how “guns don’t work well ’round here,” made it extremely frustrating to tell if I was even accomplishing anything against him. I’m not asking for an overlaid health bar to show my progress, but some sign that my tactic is working would’ve saved quite a bit of time and vexation.
Overall, the latest RE installment is an extremely refreshing return to what the series was first known for. Horror, survival, exploration and fleeing for your life are all things that should be occurring in a game such as this, and many modern games that try to emulate the series’ past success often leave out one, if not more, of these core elements. RE 7 reminds veterans and newcomers to the franchise why it’s considered one of the founding fathers of the survival horror video game genre.