Resident Evil VII - Review

Since it's release in the early 90s, the Resident Evil series has gone on to become quite the hit. Back in the PlayStation 1 days it was known as a must play nightmare for horror fans, and in the era of the GameCube and PlayStation 2 RE4 was seen as a revolution for third person shooters. With each release the fan base grew and grew, and eventually even a long running movie series spun off from it. Resident Evil was something that showed no signs of slowing down, and fans couldn't wait to see what came next. Then, things changed.

While the original Resident Evil games were "horror survival" with a fixed camera angle, limited supplies, and a limited number of allowed saves, the latter entries started to change their focus. With Resident Evil 4's shift to full 3D, the save limit was lifted, supplies became more available, and the game took more of an action approach to the formula. While the game did retain some of it's horror survival elements, it wasn't quite the same as the games that came before it, and each release after RE4 continued farther down that path. Resident Evil 5 was pure action with a huge focus on the brand new co-op mode, and Resident Evil 6 took a cinematic approach with co-op once again being the main focus along with it's crazy story set pieces. Now sure, there were some games that were throw backs to the original style, such as Resident Evil 0 on the GameCube, but such games only added to the already split fan base. On one hand many fans still loved the classic survival games, but on the other many also preferred the newer action and co-op spin on things as well. So, what was once a series loved by many, soon became one filled with criticism, with a fan base that wasn't sure what they wanted.

When Resident Evil 7 was first announced, many fans were unhappy. The trailer hinted that the game may have a focus on ghosts rather than zombies and bio weapons, and rather than being action like 4-6 (and Revelations 1-2), it appeared to be a "generic" first person horror game without combat -- something that had become popular in indie horror games. These misconceptions fueled fans for quite some time, and the release of the combat free demo didn't help. Sure it had some puzzles, but it wasn't enough to appease fans.

Jumping ahead to today, and Resident Evil 7 is finally here, but what's it like? Capcom promised us a game that returned to Resident Evil's roots, but was that really true? Is there combat? How is the story? Is it scary? And above all, is it fun? Well, after spending quite some time with the game on both the TV and in VR... I'd have to say... I'll get back to that!

The Story:

Resident Evil 7's story is one of mystery. The game begins with our main character Ethan receiving (or not receiving) a video message from his wife Mia. She's current on a ship working as a "baby sitter" and she assures her husband that she will be home soon -- then, things change. Shortly after the original message plays, it switches over to one with Mia in a panic, warning Ethan to stay away and forget about her. Apparently she has something she's been keeping from him, and wants him to never come looking for her.

A few years later Ethan gets a letter from Mia telling him to meet her at a house. Assuming she was dead, Ethan quickly accepts the invention and heads out to find his long lost wife. He's not sure where she has been all of these years, or why she would send him a letter now, but he is determined to find out... Completely unaware of the nightmare about to unfold in the "Baker's Home."

The main story of Resident Evil 7 follows Ethan as he tries to find his wife, and escape from the strange new world he has walked into. Shortly after arriving at the house, Ethan is knocked out, tied up, and is forced to come face to face with the family that lives there -- the Bakers. The moment Ethan sees them eating human remains at the dinner table, it quickly becomes clear that all is not well, and that he must fight for his life to survive. Of course, they're not going to let him leave that easily.

While Resident Evil 7 does include full cutscenes with character interactions, a lot of it's story is told by the world itself. Similar to the original RE games, you'll find notes and other things to read and examine around the Baker home, and even the environment will hint at events that happened there. Eventually you'll start to piece together the truth, and even start to see connections to the past of the series. Although RE7 is very much it's own game and story, it is still part of the Resident Evil universe, and it shows.

The Gameplay:

RE7 is a true return to the series' roots. Although the game does take place fully in first person, everything else is what fans remember. The Baker home is a large open area, that players are asked to explore to uncover it's secrets. There are puzzles to solve, hidden areas to find, and supplies to scavenge for that are key to your survival. While the immortal Bakers stalk the house in search for you (similar to what was seen in games like RE3), there are also monsters to deal with, and often it's up to you to decide if you want to run or fight. As resources are limited, sometimes using that last healing item can be the difference between life and death later on -- although thankfully the game actually isn't that strict.

Unlike other pure horror Resident Evil games, RE7 does in fact have a large focus on fighting. You get your standard knife as a melee weapon (which can be used to break boxes with supplies in them), you'll find a handful of different guns, and you'll even unlock the ability to craft different types of ammo to use. The game has you covered in every way you can possibly think of, and it actually encourages you to use these tools to fight. On the default difficulties there's more than enough ammo to kill everything in your path (as long as you've taken the time to find it that is), and every boss fight supplies you with what you need to win -- sometimes even killing bosses with things other than weapons. While the rest of the game is more along the lines of the classic entries in the series, combat isn't much different from the likes of RE4 which is sure to make some fans happy. Of course the same cannot be said for the "Madhouse" setting that's unlocked later, but that's basically a game of it's own (complete with different item layouts, and limited saves).

Other than the fighting and the setting, RE7 also features other returning features from the days of old. Item boxes are back for you to store your equipment and found items, herbs are once again your main way of healing, your inventory space is limited, and you must find a save room if you want to save your game. These systems not only force you to further think about your actions, but they require you to learn the house and remember exactly where things are located. Often you'll come across times where you'll need a key item, but the ammo sitting next to it will be just as inviting. At times like these you'll have to decide which to take with you for now, and when to come back later after you've made it back to your item box. It's the same sort of item management RE fans know and love (or hate), and it feels great to have it in RE7 as well.

The final piece to RE7's gameplay is something quite different. Throughout the game it's possible to find old VHS tapes that follow the stories of multiple characters. These tapes often offer different types of gameplay, and help fill in the backstory of the main game's events. Sadly though not all of these tapes can be found in game, as many of the other gameplay mode tapes are in fact paid DLC. While this shouldn't be a deal breaker for most, it is a bit of a let down that the mercenaries like "kill everything and survive" hoard mode wasn't in the main game. Even so the tapes in the main game are still fun, and most can be replayed time and time again.

Stepping into the world of Resident Evil (VR):

When Resident Evil 7 was first announced, Capcom also mentioned that the game would be fully playable in VR. Many people were unsure of how this would actually be, or if it would even change anything. How would playing in VR be any different than on the TV? Is the VR version better? Is the TV version better? How does it even work? What about motion sickness? There are a lot of questions about VR, but hopefully this will clear it all up.

To put it simply, RE7 is a complete nightmare in VR -- in a good way! What many who have not played a VR game before cannot understand, is just what VR actually does to you. Take a moment to look around the room you are currently in, and try to convince your brain what you are seeing isn't real. Tell your brain what you are currently seeing in real life is just a game, and that you are actually seeing a virtual world. Can you do it? Most likely not. Putting on a VR headset isn't much different than how you see the world every day. Your eyes and ears both send signals to your brain to convey where you are, and your brain simply accepts these signals as fact. So what happens when a VR headset changes your vision and hearing to that of a virtual world? The same thing happens. Although YOU know what you are seeing and hearing isn't real, the brain will not agree with that. It will be tricked into thinking the world before you is real, and it'll react in a realistic way.

Upon setting foot into the Baker home, your brain is instantly screaming "I want out." Suddenly all the smaller details you never noticed before is right in your face, and you never know what is around the next turn. Even after memorizing the game's layout without VR, telling your brain that "there's nothing there" isn't an easy task to do. Your senses are heightened, and even the smallest thing can be enough to strike instant fear. This feeling gets even stranger when enemies start to show up, and combat becomes a thing.

In VR combat is actually much smoother than with a controller. Aiming is done by simply looking at your target, and you can actually tell where your body is and where the enemy is. While your movement is still limited by the controller's analog stick, its still not much different from actually being there face to face with the creature in front of you. Just how immerse this is becomes even more apparent when an enemy goes to hit you and your reflexes cause your body to tense up and lessen the pain of the blow. Of course the hit never actually comes (as it's fake), but even though you don't feel the pain, you are often left feeling numb. It's actually a very strange feeling, and not something you'd expect from playing a video game.

Although the VR mode is possibly one of the best experiences out at the moment, it isn't without it's issues and cut backs. First of all, the graphics have been downgraded. While everything still looks really good, sometimes reading notes hanging on the wall and looking at smaller detailed objects can be a challenge, and some of the earlier areas in the game (specifically the opening scene) are pretty blurry. Thankfully it's not a major issue that takes away from the game, but it's not as nice looking as the game in TV mode. The second issue though is the fact that your character's model is completely removed from the game while playing in VR, and floating hands appear instead. Although it's not a big deal considering the game was in first person anyway, it can be a bit strange not seeing your arms and you also miss out on seeing some animations. For example, a piano lid closes on it's own as you reach for it in the intro, but since you can't see your hands during that scene it looks like you were the one that closed it. Again this isn't a big deal, but it can be a bit odd at times. Also due to the nature of some cutscenes being true cutscenes, not all of them can be viewed in VR. Instead a floating screen will appear in front of your face, and you'll watch it just as you would on a TV.

The only real issue with RE7's VR mode is one that will depend on the player. Since this is a full VR game where you get to move your character through the world freely, motion sickness is possible. There are modes to help cut back on this (such as a snap turning mode), but it's really going to depend on you if you can handle it or not. While it's true that over time you'll build up tolerance to VR sickness, RE7 may not be the best game to try to get over this. You'll often be moving through enclosed and cramped areas, and it'll feel as if the walls are flying at your face if you're not used to VR. On the other hand, it's also possible the fear alone will help you get past the sick feeling, but again it depends on who's playing.

In short, if you can play in VR then it is very much worth it, but it isn't required to enjoy the game. It's one of the best experiences out there, but it can also be sickening.

The Good and the Bad:

Resident Evil 7 is a solid game and a nice return to the series' roots. Although it's focused on new characters in what some may consider a side story to the main story line, it's still interesting with a mystery you'll want to get to the bottom of. The setting is well crafted with a good sense of horror, the inventory and resource management works perfectly, the combat is smooth, and the game never overstays it's welcome. It constantly throws something new at you, and by the end of the possible 12-15 hours you may spend on the initial run, you'll feel compelled to dive back in and work on the extra challenges. Madhouse with it's changed item placements, and limited saving is also a great challenge for classic fans, and the standard difficulties are perfect for both old timers and newcomers alike. The game is a lot of fun (especially when playing in VR), and well worth the time. However, it isn't perfect.

Putting aside possible motion sickness in the VR mode, RE7 does have a few other things that brings it down. Sadly enemy verity is pretty limited this time around, and is very similar to Resident Evil Revelations. Rather than white slime zombie monsters, RE7 features the black molded creatures which also only have a few forms to fight. Some are fast, some are slow and strong, and some jump -- that's about it. The bosses are also not quite up to par considering previous entries in the series, but they are at least entertaining. At least, in VR they are. Other than that there are some shaky moments in the story (specifically near the end), with some questions going unanswered, but it's nothing that ruins the story as a whole. All of these issues are actually pretty minor, and shouldn't stop anyone from enjoying the game.

If you're a fan of Resident Evil, are an owner of a PlayStation VR headset, or like horror games, (or all three), then RE7 is a must play. Yeah, it's not perfect, but it is fun.

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