Resident Evil 7 took a big risk in changing up the much-loved formula that the previous RE games had adhered to so strictly. The POV shake up and the addition of VR was a surprise to fans of this long-running series (the first game came out in 1996!) but, if anything, it bought players so disappointed with RE6 back on board with the franchise. What follows in an in-depth, sequence by sequence discussion of Resident Evil 7 so WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.
The opening of the game ignites an uneasy tension that is held throughout. You play as Ethan Winters, a man who’s on a mission to find his wife Mia who hasn’t been seen in three years after she vanished mysteriously. No one has heard from her since and she is presumed dead. A curious opening leads Ethan to a seemingly abandoned mansion in Louisiana with the hope of returning home with his long-lost wife. After you leave your car you’ll slowly feel the tension build and start to get the niggling feeling that you’re not supposed to be here. Crude animal leg decorations, abandoned vehicles and the classic big rusty gate all signal that you should turn around and make off while that’s still an option.
The mansion that Ethan enters instead of going home for a mug of hot chocolate and an early night is a mess of neglect and clutter. Although vast in size, it seems empty and deserted. Creaks and ghostly noises keep you on your toes. Small touches to the environment such as, faded newspapers, unkempt pottery in the kitchen and the moth-eaten furniture feel authentic enough to remind us that the people who live here were once people themselves. Resident Evil mythology reminds us that they probably aren’t people anymore.
Resident Evil 7 uses an inventive style of gameplay in order to show flashbacks and fill them out as a playable experience rather than simply including a cutscene. Finding a videotape allows you to play as a different character in a different time, these unnerving clips reveal secrets that Ethan will need to uncover himself later in the game and give an insight to the mystery in the heart of the Baker home. This new dynamic is genius and puts a neat video game spin on that classic horror genre: found footage.
After descending into the cellar and finding the gruesome remains of unlucky others who have wandered into the house, Ethan is finally reunited with Mia. Here I had an issue with how the two main characters interacted. For a couple to have not seen each other for three years I expected a great outpour of emotion, a touching segment between two lovers torn apart. Instead, the interaction between Ethan and Mia is cold, rushed and unromantic. As Ethan and Mia make their escape Mia becomes increasingly volatile and a chaotic struggle ensues which results in Ethan losing his hand and Mia taking an axe to her neck. It’s obvious the developers of this game were going for a dramatic opening where in shock horror Ethan is forced to brutally attack the one he loves. Unfortunately, the lack of romance between them at their reunion meant that I felt no guilt in attacking Mia at all, even when I put myself in Ethan’s shoes. However, the fight is brilliantly choreographed, with sections of quietness where you know Mia is lurking in the shadows waiting to attack. Once Mia has been ‘seemingly’ killed you face a moment of peace, and then Jack Baker enters and we begin the real game.
Upon awakening from Jack knocking him out Ethan is faced with one of the most iconic and memorable moments of the game. Dinner with the Bakers is a beautifully orchestrated symphony of horror. In front of us is a concoction of animal offal and the other members of the Baker household. To our right is disdainful mother Marguerite, sneering over us as we look in horror at the food she’s prepared. Next to her and opposite us, the hulking and intimidating father Jack Baker, over from him is wary son Lucas, and finally to our left is seemingly comatose Grandma. The interaction that ensues is a horrific display of the Bakers violence and short tempers as Ethan witnesses their brutality first hand (pun intended). The tension is highlighted at the close of this nightmarish dinner when all three members of the Baker family storm off, leaving us alone with wheelchair-bound Granny.
Once Ethan has managed to topple over his chair and it becomes apparent that Granny isn’t a menace (yet) we’re free to explore the Kitchen and Pantry. With the constant threat of the Bakers returning, Ethan scavengers what he can find from the two rooms, but in true horror style in order to proceed you’ll have to exit through the same doors the Bakers did moments ago. Outside double doors Ethan is greeting with a looming hallway, and at the end, oblivious to us is Jack Baker. Once he turns away we have no other choice than to walk after him to retrieve the key for a locked hatch we spotted in the pantry. With a menacing cackle as we scurry back up the hallway it’s obvious that Jack Baker is on our trail. The tension builds and we reach the pantry hatch just in time to escape Jack’s clutches. Noticing as we dive into the hole that Granny has mysteriously disappeared. This is a recurring beat used throughout the game. Multiples times in your trek through the mansion you’ll open doors and be shocked to see Granny sitting there silently watching you.
Safe for a few moments we receive a phone call from a mysterious person called Zoe. Ethan is told there’s a possibility that he will be able to escape this nightmare by the main hall. Desperate to find a way into the hall Ethan happens upon a policeman, innocently investigating the numerous disappearances around the mansion. With this being Resident Evil, we already know that he won’t live to see the dawn and Ethan won’t be getting out of this house that easily but the deputy does give Ethan his first weapon. The classic Resident Evil pocketknife. We enter the Garage, an area that has previously been locked off to us. Here the horror builds as we watch the shutters close behind the clueless policeman and hear Jack Baker saunter up behind him. As we expected the policeman meets a grisly end and we are thrust into the second boss battle of the game against Jack Baker. Trapped in a small area with nowhere to run and option to use the car here as a weapon makes this boss fight original and horrifying.
After Jack Baker has been dealt with Ethan can finally enter the Main Hall. As we enter the impressive layout of the mansion it’s clear that this house is a throwback to the Spencer Mansion in the very first Resident Evil game. Complete with looming corridors, mysterious locked doors and innovative shadow puzzles the area somehow feels retro and fresh at the same time. Although the mansion is vast we can explore very little of it right now, and although the neatly presented shotgun catches our eye we also cannot claim it without a fake shotgun to perform a switch-a-roo, something that we’ve seen before in numerous other Resident Evil games.
Our curiosity leads us into the depths of the house into the basement where we encounter the B.O.W’s in this game. The Molded. Erupting from growths that cling to the walls these gooey humanoid figures armed with razor sharp teeth become our main assailants in this area. Places such as the ‘contamination room’ and the ‘morgue’ which are sinister enough on their own are littered with malicious notes of kidnapping and murder. We slowly start to grasp the magnitude of horror that Ethan is now tied up in. Aside from the Bakers these monsters (which appear to be a mash-up of Resident Evil 4’s Regenerador and the Ooze Resident Evil Revelations) are Ethan’s main threat, they appear in every section of the game from this point on and come in multiple varieties, with increasing strength and health. I found the molded to be satisfyingly scary to begin with, but they become overused in later sections when perhaps the edition of a new type of enemy would have been beneficial.
Avoiding the newly regenerated Jack Baker, we sneak outside where the morbid humming of Marguerite can be heard in the distance. In the caravan, we find a safe area and we also find another gameplay tape. We play as Mia as she attempts to hide from Marguerite in another short but wonderful horror set piece. As the tape concludes we receive a phone call from Zoe, who is revealed to be the daughter of Jack and Marguerite Baker, she’s aware of a serum that can be created to cure Mia’s aliment. But the catch is that we’ve got to find the missing ingredient.
Marguerite dwells in an old house looking over the bayou. Wax candles cast a dim and eerie light here and the swamp house is threateningly cut in half by the force of the water where the floorboards have broken away. Marguerite follows you unnervingly as you pick your way through the swamp house, her presence fills the air with unease, and makes the tension rise as you try to find the arm that you’ll need to create a serum. Eventually, you start to recognise your surroundings, this is the same area where Mia was hiding from Marguerite in her tape. As we get closer to the alter door our hope of finding the cure begins to grow, a key ingredient for the serum is inside. However, this is Resident Evil, so deep down knew it was never going to be that easy.
Marguerite kicks us back so forcefully that we fall through the floorboards and land a few meters below in the dirt. This section doesn’t last long after a few bullets to the face Marguerite falls down beside us and melts away. We’re convinced that Marguerite is still alive somewhere but for now we make our way up back up the stairs to the alter. Our heart drops when we see that to unlock the door, we’ll need to use Marguerite’s precious lantern as a counterweight. Begrudgingly we head back to the hole where we left Marguerite, there’s no sign of her but her lantern is there. As we make out way down the ladder a sinister elongated hand appears and snatches the light away. The second part of Marguerite’s boss fight is intensely scary and engaging. Now a monstrous insectoid form of herself Marguerite is a true threat. Thankfully once she goes down (unlike Jack Baker) she goes down for good.
Once we’ve collected the D-series arm we start to feel and thick tension in the air, haunting childlike laughter begins to resonate through the area. Jump scares become more frequent and the tense atmosphere made me bolt back outside to the caravan, to safety. Lucas is our next adversary; his section is a lengthy maze and puzzle solving game, ending with a showdown in the barn with a particularly gruesome variant of molded. All of this is begins with Ethan finding a tape named ‘Happy Birthday’ in Lucas bedroom, filled with memorabilia of football games and a large plush alligator (a fun throwback to the zombified alligator in Resident Evil 2). The tape reveals the sick and twisted mind of Lucas Baker as he subjects a kidnapped man to a ‘Saw’ style puzzle in the barn. Watching this tape allows Ethan to see the key passcode of the puzzle, which in turn lets him cheat death when he faces the same game a little later himself. This section seems to tie in older games and the puzzles that were successful in them. For example, Lucas’ attempt to outwit us reminds seasoned players of Resident Evil Code Veronica and Alfred’s cunning puzzles and mazes.
Lucas doesn’t hang around long after we outfox him leaving us to free the captured Mia and Zoe that Lucas was using as bait. At this point in the game we’re forced to choose to cure either Zoe or Mia. The choice for me was simple, one woman is our wife, and the other someone we don’t know. I saved Mia with little thought for Zoe. Leaving behind Zoe, Ethan and Mia take a boat and set off for an escape. Things don’t go to plan and we end up washed ashore under the looming shadow of a breached freight ship. Suddenly playing as Mia we have no choice other than to search the ship for the missing Ethan. The tanker evokes memories of Resident Evil Revelations as we explore the abandoned ship with little ammo to defend ourselves and little health to repair the damage the molded lurking here inflict upon us. Playing the role of Mia, without any weapons we feel vulnerable and for the first time in the game we find ourselves running away from threats, attempting to complete the ship area without confrontation. When playing the section on the boat I couldn’t help but compare it to Revelations which I thought was a more successful representation of an abandoned ship riddled with B.O.W.s. In fact, along with the mines, I thought that the ship, (especially when compared to the excellence of the mansion) was one of the weaker sections of the game.
At many times during Mia’s search for Ethan we see flashes of a young girl, often deployed as jump scares. The child appears to frighten us and then disappears for long chunks of gameplay, leaving us feeling uneasy and on edge. It’s clear now that this girl, Eveline, is a bioweapon who’s infected the Baker family and Mia with her ‘Gift’ to create her own family. Using her as a guide Mia follows the mysterious Eveline to Ethan’s location.
Now back in Ethan’s shoes we see Eveline once again take control of Mia and we have no choice but to leave her behind (or kill her here if we chose to cure Zoe instead of Mia). Collecting the E-Necrotoxin (A sample of Eveline’s tissues that will destroy her) Ethan shortcuts his way back to the mansion through the underground mines. Filled mostly with molded that we’ve seen before the mines are a weak point in the game. They only serve as an area to waste all your ammunition before the final boss fight. In comparison to the strengths of the mansion, the mines feel like an afterthought that could have been left from the game entirely. I couldn’t help but compare this area to the superb mine and mine cart section in Resident Evil 4.
Back inside the mansion Eveline’s attempts to control Ethan and share her ‘Gift’ with him grow stronger and she’ll form hallucinations of a chain-saw wielding Mia at Ethan. These ghostly aberrations of Ethan’s wife are terrifying and we automatically pull out a weapon and waste a few bullets by shooting at her. This ghostly replication of Mia takes no damage and disappears only to reappear brandishing her weapon at us more frequently as we get closer and closer to Eveline. In the loft, we find her, it seems very fitting that the place where we were introduced to this nightmare is the place that it all ends. In a childlike manner, Eveline will scream at you, pushing you back unless you block her only attack is her. Once we reach Eveline and inject her with the cure she reverts into her real form. Granny! it suddenly becomes clear that the wheelchair-bound granny was moving from room to room silently watching us as we progressed through the game. Bonding herself to all the molded in the mansion Eveline becomes the final boss of the game destroying the house as she explodes in size. Just as we begin to run out of ammunition a shadow passes over us. A helicopter branded with the Umbrella Corporation logo aids us in the final fight and with the help of their stronger weapons we manage to destroy Eveline for good.
Resident Evil 7 ends with the bombshell as one of the men helping Ethan into the helicopter reveals his name to be ‘Redfield’. An obvious connection to the rest of the series. Our elation at beating the game continues as we board the helicopter we are reunited with Mia unless we killed her on the ship of course. If that’s the case Ethan throws out the last message he received from her which drew him to this awful place.
Overall the game roots itself in the survival horror elements that make the Resident Evil series great whilst taking an innovative risk that pays off exceptionally well. The shake-up of Resident Evil 7 shows that the series has a bright future, one that makes me exceedingly excited for future games and the Resident Evil 7 DLC that is in development. A strong installment to the series Resident Evil 7 is a must play experience.