Clearing Resident Evil 7 on the Normal or Easy difficulty setting is challenging enough for players who are experiencing the Resident Evil franchise for their first time. With dozens of horrific encounters scattered about the map and a collection of tightly enclosed spaces, surviving a playthrough of Resident Evil 7 on either base difficulty is usually all someone needs to be content with their experience. But if you’re someone looking for the ultimate challenge — one that changes how Resident Evil 7 operates across the board — Madhouse difficulty is right up your alley.

Unlocked once you complete the game on any difficulty (or by pre-order code), Madhouse drastically alters the core mechanics of Resident Evil 7 to provide a new way for players to experience the Baker household. The core narrative of Resident Evil 7 remains the same for the most part with a few subtle changes regarding item placement. Like on Normal or Easy difficulty, most key items such as puzzle pieces can be found in the same places. Necessary supplies for survival, like herbs and weapons, are placed in completely random locations.

This effectively limits how many resources you get while playing through Resident Evil 7 again on Madhouse difficulty, forcing you to explore new areas to continue looking for valuables you can use to stay alive. During my time with Madhouse, I often found myself heading to specific locations to look for items that the game had hidden in new locations, which kept things interesting despite me having already explored the areas I was working through.

This sort of randomized placement applies to enemy locations too. Now, enemies spawn at different locations in greater numbers to consistently keep players terrified while they explore for supplies. Every enemy has also been made more powerful, with nearly double the health of their regular counterparts. They’ll hit twice as hard, move three times as fast, and be much more aggressive in open combat situations; it’s all the practice you received while playing through Resident Evil 7 the first time won’t help you much on Madhouse. Most of the game’s combat remains the same in Madhouse, it just takes a few extra bullets to survive.

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The most notable change in Madhouse is the removal of most checkpoints, forcing you to locate and use a new cassette tape to save your game. Like ink ribbons from the first few installments of Resident Evil, cassette tapes can be found around the map and can only be used to save your game once. Even though there’s a finite amount of tapes available, I never felt that Madhouse kept them from me during my playtime, often leaving me with more than enough to make it through difficult sections of the game with little frustration.

As a complete package, Madhouse is a well-designed difficulty mode which brings a whole new layer to the standard Resident Evil 7 experience. Instead of opting to just increase the damage done by enemies and remove a set amount of items from the world to make things frustratingly difficult, Capcom worked to make the Madhouse experience a fresh take on the base game for players interested in a more challenging way to play Resident Evil 7. Honestly, Madhouse feels like the best way to play because it does such a good job of keeping you on your toes as a player. Everything isn’t guaranteed, resources are scarce to a point that makes you feel vulnerable, and enemies remain a threat no matter how prepared you are, which is exactly how you should feel throughout the whole game.

So if possible, I’d recommend playing Madhouse right out of the gate if you pick up Resident Evil 7 simply because it feels like the better way to experience Resident Evil’s latest journey.

Photos via Nicholas Bashore

Nicholas is a writer and content creator in Knoxville. He frequently covers video games and other consumer electronics. When he's not writing for Inverse, you can usually find him tweeting about Star Wars or streaming on Twitch.