To say that Resident Evil 7 feels different than everything that’s preceded it would be an understatement. I’ve sunk dozens of hours into the franchise, from Resident Evil to Resident Evil 5 (I skipped 6, I’m afraid), and I can say with some authority that the latest iteration of the classic manages to change what it means to be a Resident Evil game without becoming something else entirely.
Perhaps the most obvious difference is the shift to the first-person perspective. Traditionally, Resident Evil is known for an over-the-shoulder camera or a fixed perspective in earlier titles. The former lends itself to shooting critters while still constraining what players can see, while the former is all about space and controlling how the player visually interacts with it.
Resident Evil 7’s perspective change has an obvious culprit in PlayStation VR, with which it is compatible, but it’s refreshing even without. Stylistically speaking, it has more in common with atmospheric horror games like Outlast than anything else. But there’s nothing wrong with that; it feels like the developers took a look at where they were, where their peers were, and simply incorporated what was working elsewhere.
I will readily admit that I’m no horror buff. Being scared for fun isn’t really my thing, and I can’t rightly say I’ve had “fun” with Resident Evil 7 so far. What I have had is an incredibly tense experience, slipping about under the notice of all sorts of things that want to kill me, and it’s left me with an uneasiness whenever I hear creaking floorboards or the distinct sound of a door being slowly opened.
One of the main antagonists wanders the house with a deadly object — it looks kind of like a rake mixed with a lawnmower? I never got close enough to tell — and he’ll attack if he catches sight of you. You can hear him move about the house, but exactly how close he is, and whether he’s above or below you, is never exactly clear. I’ve spent innumerable minutes sitting behind tables and sofas listening to him walk around, and waiting for my chance to sneak past. Whenever I put the controller down, I realize my whole body’s been tensed up for hours, and have to convince myself to relax.
While that might sound awful to some, it’ll be a selling point for others.
It’s also worth noting that the full title of the game is “Resident Evil 7 biohazard,” and the official logo folds the Roman numerals into the title so that a perfectly reasonable reading would simply be “Resident Evil biohazard.” It’s also been marketed as “a new course for the Resident Evil series.” In a very real way, it’s a way of starting over and something of a palate cleanser — and it works.
The game often reminds me of the time myself and a couple friends snuck into a dead neighbor’s house as teens. They’d passed several months prior, and the house had stood derelict since then. The local fire department had recently bought the property, and it was set to be torn down, so we snuck in through a broken basement window.
The inside of the house was a dim reflection of that which once filled it. Picture frames sat where they had, but empty. The sofa and television were where they would have been previously, and an abandoned walker stood nearby. The fridge was empty save for a few bits of rotting food, and a single jar of expired jelly. Every floor was covered in leaves and other bits of garbage. I have never felt more uncomfortable in my life than that day in that dead person’s house, surrounded by the detritus of their life.
Playing Resident Evil 7 brings me back to that day, that house, and that feeling of something sinister lurking just out of sight. Only this time it’s more than just a feeling.
Resident Evil 7 is scheduled to release January 24 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC for $59.99.