Resident Evil 7 review

Posted: January 27, 2017 by ryanlecocq in Reviews

resident-evil-7-hands

Creepy kid alert.

EDIT 1/31:  Sincerest apologies, again I incorrectly stated that a PS4 Pro game was running at 4K when in actuality it was up-sampling.  RE7 runs at 1700p natively.  Doesn’t change the point though, because no $400 PC could run the game at 1700p at 60fps either.

 

Playstation VR Update 2/12/17

Words cannot describe how much better this game is in VR.  It is absolutely terrifying and the most in-depth experience available in VR.  Killer app right here.

I would actually say this completely changes my view on the game.  What was a solid, yet short RE reinvention in 2D, is a genuine tour de force in VR.  At a length of 12-16 hours to complete, it’s one of the shorter RE games, but one of the longer VR games by far.  Since it can be pretty stressful to play it for more than 60-90 minutes, the game suddenly feels much longer.  I now get the sense that Capcom had to carefully balance length to make the title possible to complete in VR from start to finish, as advertised.  If the game were any longer, I think even I would lack to will and patience to finish the entire game in-headset.

The other major difference is the aiming.  I now see why the aiming feels crude on the non-VR dualshock; the developers obviously spent the last 6 months of development only playing in VR.  I can’t blame them, as playing this game in VR is extremely addictive and the perfect example of the experience we’ve all been waiting for.  The debate between different control types of the past has become utterly moot, aiming a gun in VR with your head is by far the best way to shoot things.  I am a relatively good marksman in reality and this become immediately evident if you watch my RE7 VR videos.  While I am a very poor competitive FPS player, I am effortlessly blasting things in the face as they jump out at me, with split second timing and accuracy.  Finally comes the technology than brings real ability to the playing field.

Finally there is the cool factor of being able to move your head around and look at things from every angle.  The game is advertised as being playable while seated, but you can actually move and lean around freely, limited only by how you have your camera aimed.  This becomes immediately evident, right at the title screen.  I was able to stand up from the desk, walk around Zoe’s trailer to a limited extent and even stick my head in the toilet.  This is possible at any time.  I found it was really useful to have my camera aimed low, so that I could actually lean forward off my couch and see beneath objects like desks, tables and the trailer in the front yard.  The game even allowed me to bend over with my head between my legs and shoot through my legs behind me.  I can’t imagine ever actually doing this, but it is possible.  The other main benefit is you can lean in closer than allowed with a controller and really check out the maggoty grossness of every single object (like Andre’s floating corpse).

Overall I would say if you are playing without VR, read the rest of this article.  If you are one of the few fortunate enough to have a PSVR, go buy this game immediately.  The real McCoy has arrived and there is nothing better to play in VR right now.

 

This is going to be a tough review for me to write.  Normally I am pretty kind with my reviews, because I put aside all fanboy expectations and rate the game as a product vs. other direct competition.  I also generally throw out my knowledge of development time and what the game means to the industry.  This is the odd case where I really want to break my own rules and do the opposite.  You see, RE7 is a wonderful example of Capcom taking the pulse of the horror game genre and making a Frankenstein’s monster out of it that will define the next generation of horror.  Just like RE1 did to Alone in the Dark and RE4 did to Eternal Darkness, RE7 takes what Outlast and Alien: Isolation did to another level with its own series twists.  On the other hand, unlike past Resident Evil games, RE7 is not more gameplay value for your money than the games that came before.

All previous RE games have fallen into one of two categories(the good, main series ones at least): they had multiple characters with short campaigns, or they had one longer campaign.  Resident Evil 7 has one fairly short campaign, 2 only slightly different endings and no additional gameplay modes or multiplayer.  If you create a separate save at the point 3/4 through where you make the decision which affects the ending and complete both, there is literally nothing to do after beating it.  Well, there is an additional difficulty mode if you didn’t already get it for pre-ordering the game.  My playthrough took about 11 hours and I found the majority of the hidden items and notes.  It added an additional 2 hours to finish the other ending (which was totally lame and a waste of my time), for a total of 13ish hours to see all of the content.  Now allow me to spend the rest of this review telling you why this game is amazing, even though it totally fails my normal standard of value.

 

res7_hall

It’s like the Hoarders version of the Spencer Estate.

It’s pretty obvious from the final product, that the main purpose of RE7 was to test out a new game engine and style.  To that end, the money spent developing this game and the money you may spend on it are wise investments.  Even clocking in at less time than it takes to complete the first act of other games, RE7 showcases 8-12 hours of horror that is currently unmatched.  While many other games have shown glimpses of gameplay mechanics that would define the next decade of horror, Resident Evil is once again the game that makes the final mold.  Just like RE4 lead to wonderful games like Dead Space and Lost Planet, we will likely see another boom in horror games making use of this gameplay design.  Furthermore, if you are one of the few and the proud who managed to snag a Playstation VR at launch, RE7 is the first big-budget VR game people care about.  While VR headsets have previously existed to wow us with tech demos, mini-games and FPS games in 3D, RE7 is the first game that feels like a full game made specifically with VR in mind.  Many have complained about the Sony platform exclusivity of the VR mode, but I would be very surprised if we don’t see it added to all versions of the game after whatever deal they made ends.  Even playing on a normal TV set, RE7 is a damn scary game.  I play so many horror games that I am completely desensitized to the same old tricks.  RE7 manages to strike the perfect balance of old fashioned jump-scares and suspense, blended with some new tricks that take advantage of this game engine and technology specifically.

If you’re curious what I mean by ‘new tricks’, allow me to explain.  One of the biggest things RE7 does better than other games is gross you the hell out.  It does this with very well realized tesselation and other texture effects.  Things like rotten food or crawling maggots have a much more realistic and “squirmy” look to them than in many other games where objects all tend to look like plastic.  Clearly a lot of effort was put into getting these textures to come off realistically, both in game engine design and art direction.  The effect created a feeling of revulsion I am not used to experiencing when I am not smelling or touching the filth.  Heck, I have even worked under houses, crawling through rat carcasses and this game grossed me out more than that.  It’s not something you would think about as being scary in a video game, because it was much less possible before.  The constant feeling of disgust greatly added to my overall unease while playing.

Another of these little tricks that RE7 pulls off masterfully is environmental destruction and fire effects.  Although most of the destruction scenes are clearly scripted, the animation and physics are pulled off so well that it feels like things could come apart at any time.  With the walls and floor collapsing and fire consuming parts of the environment, the fear of unsteady terrain is constant and pervasive.  While similar effects have been used in many past games, RE7 pulls it off so realistically that I found myself bracing for impact when my character fell.

Effects like these really show that technology as well as design need to advance when a genre becomes stale.  Capcom clearly understands this and has invested significantly in creating a game engine built to scare the crap out of people.  On that front, I would say they succeeded with flying colors.

 

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This does not look like a place you could safely use a flame-thrower.

When it comes to gameplay, RE7 is also the new standard for horror games.  If you really want to scare everyone, running away is not the ticket.  I can say this because for me personally, running goes against every fiber of my being.  I am not someone who gets a thrill out of running in terror.  To scare me, you have to give me a little hope and take it away.  RE7 masters this by letting you fight, but making it mostly a waste of time outside of boss battles.  Much like the early Silent Hill games, this is a game that lets you fight, but doesn’t really reward you for doing so.  Most enemies can be avoided and there is no gameplay reward for fighting, besides the enemies killed stat on completion.  So nothing like RE4, where mastery of the combat system would allow you to farm bullets and herbs from weak enemies with melee attacks.  I always thought Silent Hill had this balance perfectly and now that series has fallen from grace, I am happy to see Resident Evil give it a shot.  Combined with some very well done running away sequences (that RE7’s big budget allows to raise the bar), the tense gameplay style with short bursts of action is definitely the formula I want more of in the future.

The one gripe I have in the gameplay department is that while PS4 is clearly the favored platform, controllers are poorly optimized vs. keyboard and mouse.  I played the Beginning Hour demo on both PC and PS4 Pro and found it dramatically easier to aim with a mouse.  When played with a controller, the acceleration and dead-zone just seem to be very poorly calibrated, making it easy to waste a lot of ammo.  I was able to tweak it somewhat in the settings, but part of it just comes down to design and testing.  I still had no trouble completing the game and got used to it eventually, but it was glaringly obvious after recent games like Doom and the Halo series have taken gamepad tweaking of FPS controls to a higher standard.  Tracking the bobbing heads of enemies with a crosshair that jumps around like Navi in Zelda 64 can be extremely frustrating at times and made me wish I had sacrificed VR support for decent controls at several points.  I am being a little nitpicky, as the controls are easily as good as similar first-person horror games, but unlike most of those, RE7 was developed with tens of millions of dollars.  I just feel like shooting could have been a lot smoother on what is clearly the flagship platform for the game.

 

resident-evil-7-12

You can almost smell the rubbing alcohol.

I mentioned a little bit about the graphics when talking about the new engine above, but the visuals definitely deserve a section alone.  RE7 is really one of the first games that justifies the PS4 Pro vs. a gaming PC.  You see I have both, which may seem ridiculous to some of you who fall into the “loyalist” camp for either.  I personally only care about playing the best games in the best quality.  PC users have been able to claim that crown for the previous generation and half of this one, as most games appeared across all platforms, the PC being the most powerful.  With RE7, we are seeing consoles enter a debate that PC users have about games all the time; “Is it better to run at higher resolution or with higher settings?”  While the PC version of RE7 can handle more detailed shadows and textures, the PS4 pro natively renders the game in 4k, a feat which takes a pretty beefy gaming rig, even at similar settings.  This is the first true example of the PS4 Pro demonstrating that one optimized 4k console can deliver fidelity that is hard to match with a PC version running on thousands of configurations.  While the added level of detail in textures and shadows looks very nice on PC, the 4K resolution of the PS4 Pro version arguably makes the game look much better in motion.  Even when played on a 1080p monitor, supersampling in 4K is better in general than any other form of anti-aliasing and requires no shader overhead above rendering the basic image.  It would take a PC much, much pricier than a PS4 Pro to run the game at the same settings and I think many will start to understand the wisdom of a middle-ground choice with future games like RE7.  The fact that VR is initially exclusive to PSVR is a nice add too, though it will likely alienate players on PC and XB1 until it gets patched into their game and they forget about it.

Overall, regardless of the platform you play on, RE7 looks amazing.  The art design is so stellar that very little in the way of shader “window-dressing” is needed.  Realistic fog, fire and smoke effects just complete the creepy picture of a game in which most screenshots could be desktop backgrounds.  Every bit of this game is just so creepy looking that you want to soak it in, even while running for your life.  The different areas themed around members of the Baker family each have a unique style and vibe to them.  The final episode is reminiscent of RE:Revelations in that you explore a derelict ship.  This area is distinct from the earlier parts of the game and the cramped design adds to the terror.  The only gripe I can mention with the visuals is character facial expressions.  While Final Fantasy is pushing facial animation to the point that you can really feel the ‘meh’ rolling off Noctis at all times, RE7 seems to be stuck in the days of Half Life 2.  Rubber faced mannequins jabber at you, loosely synced to voice acting.  It isn’t horrible on the scale of all gaming (and nothing like the early RE games!), but compared to other recent AAA titles, RE7 has a bad case of plastic-face.

 

The sound and music are great, but not a huge stand-out.  The soundtrack is very minimal, which I think is necessary in this game.  What really does stand out is some excellent Foley work (that’s recording sounds from other things to use in media).  Somebody spent a lot of time at a construction site breaking, hitting and walking on every type of building material to make this game sound convincing.  I have played in both 7.1 surround and with headphones using virtual surround, both had a very realistic soundscape.  The voice acting is definitely on par with the less campy tone of the past 3 RE games.  I would even say it’s toned down another notch, as there is no Leon shouting one-liners at huge monsters or Chris grunting with bestial fury.  Characters are largely believable, besides a few campy moments like a boss saying “Groovy” when he grabs a chainsaw.  I had to give a chuckle at the few moments like this though, as they felt more like a nod to classic RE than the actual tone-deaf writing of classic RE.

 

bmrdp5n

Wondered what this meant?  It’s what Capcom is giving you for caring about the plot.

The big glaring flaw with this game that I have to come back to is the branching path and endings.  I think I remember writing a whole article just devoted to how stupid “arbitrary choice” endings are.  While this is not nearly as bad as Mass Effect or Deus Ex: HR, that strung you along thinking all your other choice mattered OR Silent Hills Homecoming and Downpour that totally decide who your character is at the end, it’s a much lamer choice overall.  I don’t want to spoil it, though I feel like it would be totally irrelevant if I did.  Basically the game gives you one moral choice towards the end, but that choice is totally stupid and the results are even more stupid.  If you choose the obviously good path, you get what is clearly the normal ending of the game.  If you make the other choice, the game makes it clear you chose wrong 2 minutes later, then you get the same ending but the game will spend the last chapter telling you how wrong you were.  It is a completely pointless and unnecessary addition to the game that doesn’t even add much replay value.  I was able to reload my save and complete the “bad” ending in an additional 2 hours.  It added one pretty simple boss fight, that mostly existed to make me feel bad, but was otherwise the same.  While overall my feelings about RE7 are positive, this is a complete slap in the face compared to past Resident Evil games.  Like I mentioned in the opening, RE games either have multiple scenarios and endings (each with unique content), or they have one long scenario with a ‘complete’ ending.  Re7’s plot feels neither long nor complete.  I think I would have been happier with a minimal plot and a vague conclusion honestly, compared to the totally asinine ‘moral choice’ that RE7 tries to pull off.

Besides that the writing is pretty good.  The Bakers are a fun collection of maniacs, that rank right up there with those crazies from The Devil’s Rejects and The Hills Have Eyes.  While many of the scenes are reminiscent or horror films and games past, RE7 pulls off things like the ‘bug house’ and ‘trap rooms’ very well.  It’s clear that movies like Slither and Saw were on Capcom’s watch list, but it comes off more like loving tribute than shameless ripoff.  The Baker house deserves a place next to the House on Haunted Hill and the Bates Motel in the annals of brilliant fictional horror houses.

 

Overall Resident Evil 7 is one of those games that is like being an early adopter of a hardware device.  You are paying a premium for what you get, but you get it before everyone else.  Sure, next year some new game will come out with the same formula, plus multiplayer and extra side content.  That’s next year and this is now.  Right now you can play the game that is the future of horror and I feel that is worth the investment.  Sure, it can be completed in a weekend, but you will remember that weekend for years.  While it’s difficult to argue against the wisdom of waiting for the inevitable GOTY edition that will bring added content a year from now, I have been waiting years for a game like this and want it now.  How much you need to play this game will depend on how much you feel is lacking from recent horror games.  I have played everything from hits like Outlast to indie games like Alchemilla and DreadOut and I can tell you that this game does what those don’t.  It combines all the best things that horror does now and introduces things it should be doing.  Best of all it scared me repeatedly, which is an experience I have to seek farther and longer to find these days.

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