Late Night Rants – Resident Evil VII: Biohazard

Resident Evil 7 is a triumphant return to the roots of the series. It ticks so many of the same boxes that made the classic survival horror games we all loved so memorable and fun, while at the same time modernizing the series for new players. Here are my thoughts on the game,  what is important in survival horror, what it did well, and what I think could be improved in the next entry.

Note that the following is intended for someone that has already completed the game. It will contain spoilers.

On the Mark

It’s been twelve years since the release of Resident Evil 4, the first game of the series’ transition to action games, but finally survival horror is making a comeback. I’ve waited a long time to feel that sensation dread the first playthrough of a classic survival horror game evokes. This is the most important criteria that RE7 needed to fulfill. Fortunately, it feels distinctly like a Resident Evil game should. It accomplishes this feat in a few ways.

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Atmosphere

This is where the game thrives. Its dark, foreboding environments instill a sense of unease in the player which is only enhanced by the excellent sound design. Every closed door leaves you dreading what might lie beyond. Every knock, bang and creak in the background ambiance has you checking your back to make sure nothing is creeping up on you. Exploring the Baker house replicates the mood of the first game that I remember fondly from so many years ago. Most of the areas in the game are well constructed and are successful in building tension.

Gameplay

It’s great to see a solid presence of old-school survival horror mechanics in a new game. The most welcome returns are the limited inventory, ridiculous puzzles, and dangerous enemies.

 

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Stocked up. Add ammo and healing and you’re nearly out of space. Choose wisely!

Having a carry limit is key to the Resident Evil experience. It forces the player to strike a balance between offensive power, ability to recover health, and room to collect new resources or key items. This is kind of a mini-game in itself. If you want to maximize your damage by carrying a shotgun, grenade launcher, and ammo for both then you must make a trade-off in recovery items or space for new resources. You can’t be your strongest in every area at once, but you get to decide what you need most for each situation.

RE7 has an interesting tweak to the crafting recipes that plays well into the idea of deciding what you need at the time. You use chem fluid to craft both healing items and ammo, but it’s a limited resource. Every time you choose create more handgun ammo you are sacrificing an opportunity to add a recovery item to your inventory. It’s a great example of good resource management mechanics.

 

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“Who builds these things?”

Crazy puzzles are a staple of the series. We’re locked inside a madhouse after all. Of course nobody would really build a door that you need to insert three dog-head statuettes into to open, but having to search room after room for the missing pieces while dodging an insane, murderous hillbilly with a shovel makes for a good time. It doesn’t matter that they aren’t realistic. There is real magic in the moment when things finally come together, and it’s great to see puzzles back.

 

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Don’t miss!

Danger is what it’s all about. If you aren’t worried about the monsters in a horror game, something’s off. What’s great about Resident Evil 7 is that every encounter with an enemy is risky. Even in late game situations the enemies from earlier parts of the game are still dangerous. After a few hits you are going to die. If you miss a shot or two it’s likely you’ll pay for that misstep with your life, or at least a valuable healing item. I hope you saved.

Yes, the combat can be clunky at times and this can be frustrating to the player, but it also helps add the feeling of danger. Every missed shot adds to your anxiety. The key is to make the most with what you’re given. Classic Resident Evil combat was always a bit clumsy too.

 

Everything is here. All the key gameplay that made the classic Resident Evil games great are back. Resident Evil 7 is survival horror down to its core.

Other Hits

Outside of the core experience, the game does a few additional things well:

  • Collectables
    • Coins and Mr. Everywhere bobble-heads were fun to search for and not overdone
    • Treasure photos were nice mini puzzles with good rewards. Would have been nice to see some that were a bit harder though
    • Health and Inventory upgrades helped make the player feel stronger as you progressed onto the later parts of the game. Creates sense of development.

      Collectables were rewarding and were spread out well

  • Boss design
    • Interesting designs overall, especially Marguerite. Maybe the chainsaw duel could have used a little more work
  • Series references
    • The small nods like the article written by Alyssa Ashcroft from Outbreak and the Book written by Clive O’Brian were nice touches
    • Was nice to see a throwback to the RE1 shotgun puzzle
  • A more intimate story
    • Recent entries in the series were far too over the top to really be immersive
    • Scaling things down lets you more easily put yourself in the moment

Some Bits Off Target

Although it makes for a great experience, not everything in the game was perfect. It does have a few flaws that could use some attention in future iterations.

 

A big smile and puppy dog eyes

First, the standard enemy design is a bit lacking. I don’t dislike the molded because they aren’t zombies. Having new monsters is okay. The real issue is that there isn’t much variety. There are really only 4 types of molded, standard, blade-armed, 4-legged (licker esque), and fatties.  This problem is only worsened by the fact that they all are made of the same goop, making them feel even more similar in design. Other than the bugs, there really weren’t any other enemies outside of the molded either. When compared with the variety in REmake for example you had zombies, dogs, spiders, sharks, crows, hunters and more. Each of those were pretty different than the others in behavior and design. Additionally, I didn’t find the molded all that intimidating in design. I mean just look at that face! They’re kinda cute.

 

Second, is the underdeveloped use of certain mechanics. Most notably the tapes. I really liked that finding and using the lockpick had an effect later (extra coin!) in the current timeline. It’s a cool concept that didn’t really reappear in any of the other tapes, which were mostly used to give hints for puzzles or to add to the story.

It’s a shame we didn’t see more from the tape mechanic

Finally, there were a handful of minor nitpicks:

  • Auto-saves
    • There is no standard mode that has no auto-saves. Sure they are disabled in Madhouse, but it is also an arranged mode. The item locations are different. There is currently no way to experience the normal game without them.
    • The icon gives away important or dangerous moments when it pops up. Always happens before a boss or encounter.
  • Unskippable cutscenes
    • Really hurts replayablility. I don’t need to see the story in its entirety on my 3rd or 4th playthrough.
    • Could be restricted to second run and after
  • “Funny” moments
    • There were 2 moments near the start of the game that I found absolutely hilarious and it kind of ruined the mood the first time I saw them. Lucky for me I didn’t run into both on my first run.
      • Jack cutting the leg off and you “fixing it” with strong first aid
      • Jack driving the car when you take too long to get in or get pulled out
    • Maybe they should be restricted to additional runs too?
  • Consumable abundance
    • I know most Resident Evil games really didn’t have a problem with ammo scarcity, unless you wasted a bunch of it, but I would have liked to see it be more rare. You can easily kill every enemy in the game with ammo to spare.
    • Far too many cassette tapes on Madhouse mode. Sure they restricted saving but there seemed to be about 20 tapes. Every save room had at least one in it and usually there were 2-3 plus additional ones on the map.
  • Game length
    • The game was long enough, but I would have liked to see one more major area on the main baker estate. Maybe a third floor.
  • Loading screen tips
    • I don’t mind the general gameplay hints, but the ones for specific encounters or moments were a bit too revealing
    • Would be nice to have an option to disable them
  • Multiple endings
    • The Zoe ending feels very rushed. If you pick her she dies a few minutes later having very little actual impact on the rest of the game.
  • Missing sound effect
    • Why doesn’t it say “RESIDENT EVIL SEVEN” in a spooky voice when i start a new game D:

 

Just a few issues. Most of them are subjective anyway. This by far the best entry in the series in a long time.

Wrapping Up

Overall it is an etremely well-executed game with only a few problems. In the future I’d definitely like to see them continue in this direction. Hopefully the next entry will be a bit longer because they won’t need to work on engine development. I just hope they don’t feel the need to continually outdo themselves and end up pushing things over the top. The smaller scale in this game lent itself to more believeability. I loved it and I’m excited for what comes next.

What’s behind the next door for the series? Can’t wait to find out!

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