Friday, January 27, 2017

Resident Evil 7 Review (XONE)

Resident Evil 7 is exactly the shot in the arm the franchise needed after floundering a bit in the last console generation.  It may have a new camera perspective and different gameplay style, but it is still Resident Evil through and through with the same puzzle-focused exploration that fans know and love.  It is fresh and new while also being familiar and this combination of classic RE with modern horror games is simply amazing.  I loved it.  See all of the details here in our full Resident Evil 7 Xbox One review.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Capcom          
  • Developer: Capcom
  • ESRB Rating: “M” for Mature
  • Genre: First-Person Horror
  • Pros: Amazingly creepy atmosphere; very intense; still feels like classic RE; great presentation
  • Cons: Last chunk of the game is lame; nonsensical story; load times
  • MSRP: $60

Resident Evil 7’s story is about a missing woman suddenly re-appearing after three years and her husband rushing down to the swamps of Louisiana to save her.  What he finds when he arrives at the sprawling plantation is a family of psychopaths with, in typical Resident Evil fashion, a basement full of monsters.  Surviving long enough to not only rescue his wife, but also to discover what really happened to the people here and how it all went so wrong then becomes the driving force of the narrative.

My favorite part about the story and setting and characters is that it clearly draws inspiration from some of my favorite horror movies.  Resident Evil 7 immediately brings  (classic, not the remakes) films like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or “The Hills Have Eyes” to mind but also borrows elements from newer movies like “The Blair Witch Project” or “The Ring”.  From the moment your character is forced to eat dinner with the family of psychopaths very early on I was totally sold on the experience.

The classic horror movie influence is also present in the gameplay as well.  You aren’t playing Resident Evil 7 as a cop or trained soldier – Ethan is just a regular dude thrown into a nightmare world like in so many movies – and his struggle to merely survive ratchets up the horror elements tremendously.  It makes the game very, very intense and, early on at least, it is easily the scariest game in the franchise as you have to hide from the psychotic family members and you never know when an enemy might suddenly burst through a wall.  The first-person perspective greatly contributes to the scares, too, as frantically looking around for enemies is quite thrilling. I will say, though, that you actually become sort of de-sensitized to the intensity of it all and it stops being so scary after the first couple of hours.  Getting a shotgun helps make things less scary, too. 

After a brief linear introductory section, Resident Evil 7 opens up and starts feeling more like the classic games in the franchise.  There are locked doors all over the mansion with animal-themed keys you have to find, files to discover, puzzles to solve, and lots and lots of items to collect.  In typical Resident Evil fashion, vital items are strewn all over the place so you have to backtrack back and forth through the mansion and other building multiple times before the end.  I’m also happy to say that there is a surprising amount of hidden stuff to find in RE7 with secret ammo caches, items, and even new weapons tucked away all over the place, which makes replaying the game fun since you can do things differently the next time.  I know my next playthrough is going to be very different for sure.

Something else I really like about Resident Evil 7 is that it is one of the most accessible survival horror games I’ve ever played.  I honestly don’t like survival horror that much because the intensity is always so high that I just feel exhausted while playing and it wears me out.  So why can I enjoy RE7 so much despite it being one of the scariest and most intense RE games yet?  As I mentioned above, you get de-sensitized to the intensity after a while, but there are other things, too. 

The game isn’t terribly difficult, so the fear of dying and running out of ammo and items isn’t a problem like it can be in other games for casual players.  The game also has an easy difficulty setting to let you just enjoy the experience, and the game actually has checkpoints and autosaves along with unlimited manual saves you can make in save rooms.  It undoubtedly robs the game of a lot of tension, but there are some folks out there (like me) that love horror but don’t especially care for survival horror, so having options like this in RE7 means more people can play and enjoy it.  And if you do want a crazy difficult game with limited saves and resources, the unlockable Madhouse difficulty mode is for you.  Everybody gets what they want in RE7!

I do have a couple of complaints, though.  First, the last couple hours of the game are nowhere near as good as the first main section of the game.  The first three-quarters of the game take place at the mansion and surrounding buildings and it is incredibly polished and well put together and awesome.  Then you escape and go somewhere else that kind of sucks.  I would have honestly been satisfied if the game just ended after the mansion.  This is a common problem in Resident Evil games, though – the first area is the best and then they shoehorn extra crap on at the end.  My second issue is the massive exposition dump you get right at the end of the game.  Easily 90% of the real story is told in the last hour, which is kind of ridiculous.  Also, because this is a sequel and not a reboot, RE7 ties into the existing Resident Evil storyline, which means everything is nonsensical gibberish.  Don’t worry, dear reader, I understand the RE storyline just fine.  I just think it sucks.

Another complaint is the extremely long load time in the game.  Apparently the game takes a while to load because it is actually loading the whole map all at once – there’s no loading doors here – but it still feels ridiculously long when you boot up the game and have to wait a couple of minutes to play.  Also, there are videotape “flashback” sequences you can find and play through and these sections do have extremely lengthy load times as well.  After finishing one in particular it ended with a high pitched whine sound effect that blared out of my TV for a good three minutes while the game loaded the main area again and I had to mute the TV to avoid going crazy.  Not sure if that was intentional or I just was incredibly unlucky with a glitch, but it was awful.  The game worked fine after that, though.

Presentation-wise, Resident Evil 7 is mostly gorgeous looking but a little inconsistent.  The opening exterior areas are kind of rough looking, but inside the mansion the game is pretty stunning.  The Baker Mansion is amazingly realistically detailed and worn and really looks lived in and feels like a real place unlike almost any other setting in the series.  The lighting effects are phenomenally great and really make everything pop, too.  I also can’t say enough good things about the sound design here.  The voice acting is believable and extremely well done.  And, more importantly, the ambient sounds of the old house creaking and groaning around you, plus all of the other environmental sound effects, give RE7 a fantastically creepy atmosphere that few other games can touch.  This game looks and sounds freaking great.

Capcom took a major risk with the dramatic changes in Resident Evil 7, but they have almost all paid off brilliantly.  The new first-person perspective ramps up the intensity in all sorts of wonderful ways and I love the nods to classic horror films present in pretty much every aspect of the experience.  It is new and different but still feels at its core like a Resident Evil experience.  It falters a bit towards the end, but exploring the mansion is pretty darn incredible and well worth the price of admission.  It’ll take most players 8-10 hours to beat it the first time, which is just fine by me particularly considering the game has decent replay value.  Resident Evil 7 is the first great game of 2017 and I highly recommend it for a purchase.
Disclosure:  A review code was provided by Capcom.