I’m not a fan of scary things. I recognize the appeal, and I can even appreciate when well-crafted horror figuratively and literally jumps in front of my face. But I’ve put my time into the numerous Resident Evil games over the years, and I’ve never been so spooked out as I have by Resident Evil 7. The latest iteration’s secret sauce? Its sound.
It’s worth noting here exactly how I’m hearing Resident Evil 7. I have a Vizio television from 2009 that’s slowly dying, so I traditionally keep the volume low. But I knew going in that sound would be important in the game as it tells me exactly when shit is about to start hitting the fan. So instead of just letting my dumb Vizio TV garble the heck out of it, I’ve resorted to using the previously standard Apple iPhone headphones plugged into my PlayStation 4 controller to get some more direct sound.
It’s not a particularly graceful solution, but it means I’m hearing the game’s sounds directly and with more clarity than I have in years. I haven’t decided quite yet whether that’s a good thing. Between the time where I stopped paying careful attention and now, the industry has managed to embrace atmospheric horror with a vengeance. Resident Evil 7’s just the latest in a string of them.
And that embrace means a renewed focus on sound. It’s not that the earlier entries didn’t have good sound, but Resident Evil 7 is on a whole different level acoustically speaking. Wandering around the guest house, the first major location in the game, is a creaky, windy, shifting mess of sounds. I can’t count the number of times the sound of my own footsteps caused me to whirl around, looking for intruders, only to create even more as every turn renewed the footfalls of my protagonist.
Even the fridge is somehow made menacing. There’s a click as you interact with it, and then a sticky, gross-sounding pull as it comes away which fades into the soft tinkling of jars long forgotten. It might not seem like much on its own, but it serves to transport players to that place, standing there in front of the fridge. Add to this the layered sounds of literally everything else happening at the same time, and it’s enough to establish a sort of reality that then jumps you with the horrible and surreal to twist the knife.
Every little creak, every fridge door opening, and every clack of a foot landing on unsolid ground combines into a cacophonous whole that is impossible to escape. If you get the chance, run around a bit and just touch things while listening to them all. Doors, microwaves, all of it. It’s a delightful auditory smorgasboard. Considering that Resident Evil 7 is meant in part to be a virtual reality experience, the focus on sound makes sense. But it’s something that’s easy to overlook if you’re not looking (well, listening) for it.