Note: this review is for the non-VR version of the game. I’ll make a separate review for the VR version at a later time
Let me get this out the way already: Resident Evil VII is the best Resident Evil game since 4, and pretty much the best horror-centered one ever since the good ol’ Code Veronica back in the Dreamcast days. It manages to bring back elements from the classic RE games (such as mansions, limited resources, etc) as well as being ballsy enough to experiment with some new elements in the series, such as the debut of a first-person view. Such mixture resulted in an excellent game and a great return to form for a franchise, albeit with a few irritating flaws. Let’s talk about it, shall we?
First of all, was the new view mode good? Yes. Don’t you worry, this game is as far from a proper FPS as it can possibly be. Just like the classic Resis, ammo is very scarce, therefore avoiding combat as much as possible is extremely recommended, just like in other Resi games. The amount of enemies is actually pretty small (and the variety of enemies is even smaller, which is a bummer), but every single enemy can easily kill you with its pinky toes if you act carelessly, even more than in the older RE games. You won’t have much ammo as well, so don’t even think about going full Rambo against enemies. Every single damn bullet counts, especially if with these new combat mechanics.
While the gameplay itself isn’t bad at all (inventory management is simple, crafting is easy peasy, exploration mechanics are pretty solid), combat itself is quite clunky in this new game, partly due to the new view (aiming is a bit clunky in non-VR, although you can get used to it) and to the fact that your character is a bloody snail fighting against enemies with much faster movements and reflexes than you. Granted, you control a normal civilian with little to no combat history, but those mechanics get a bit cumbersome after a while.
Moving on from gameplay, I need to give major props for the game’s visual and sound designs. The lighting effects in Resident Evil VII are among one of the best I’ve ever seen in a videogame, especially in a console. The visual of the Baker mansion itself is also magnificent, resulting in the best Resident Evil setting since the original mansion. Everything looks completely decrepit, dirty, abandoned, (dare I say) haunted. Those visuals exhale a huge Texas Chainsaw Massacre atmosphere throughout the entire game.
The setting’s visuals are pretty much perfect, but the graphical department doesn’t get a straight 10 due to the character modelling. They aren’t bad per se, but their animations are quite clunky, especially when speaking. You’ll notice that early on in the game in some initial cutscenes.
The sound department is also pretty fantastic, especially due to the fact that it’s minimal. There’s barely any music in the game, and that’s perfect for its setting, as you’ll spend most of the time listening to lots of actually scary sound effects thrown into the mansion. You’ll constantly listen to door knocks, footsteps, wind sounds and so on, which help to create an even more unsettling environment for the player. Simply put, the damn game is scary.
The only slightly flawed aspect of the sound department is the voice acting. And that doesn’t mean the game’s voice acting as a whole, but some character portrayals are extremely wooden and lifeless, pretty much the polar opposite of the original Resident Evil‘s overacted dubbing.
All in all, the artistic department of this game is incredibly solid.
Resident Evil VII tries to bring back as many classic elements as possible and tries to implement them into this new viewmode, as well as the current gameplay trends of nowadays. The game’s initially available difficulties feature some elements such as autosaves and autoheal which don’t mix that well with the game’s intention of going full old-school Resi. While I can accept autoheal (it’s pretty small and you can barely notice it working in your character’s initially mediocre health), the autosaves are actually pretty harmful to the game’s horror atmosphere. To simply put, they are too frequent. If you die at the hands of an enemy, you’ll probably respawn a couple dozen feet away from it. That removes a lot of tension from the game, as some fights simply become quick trial-and-error attempts instead of actual challenges. The proper Resi experience, the Madhouse difficulty, which features limited manual saves, no autoheal and no autosaving at all, can only be unlocked after beating the game, which is incredibly disappointing.
In the end, Resident Evil VII was an excellent return to form to the previously mistreated franchise, as well as a return to form for Capcom itself. While flawed in some aspects, it’s still one of the best horror games in years, and easily the best RE since RE4. It’s grim, it’s scary, it’s unsettling, it’s not as cheesy as any of its predecessors. This was the first big release of 2017 and it surely didn’t disappoint.
Also available on: Xbox One, PC