As most things seem to be nowadays, the choices in Resident Evil 7 are highly contentious. Some find them to be a refreshing change of pace, while others feel they spit in the face of all that came before it.
I can see where both camps are coming from, but I think the truth is far more nuanced than that. Old roots are clearly treated with the utmost respect, none of the design principles are compromised, and new breath is breathed into a franchise that was threatening to show its age.
But what is it about 7 that brings me to this conclusion?
It Started With a House.
It’s 1998, and the STARS unit finds themselves stuck inside a mansion filled with traps, monsters, and vile creations. They come unprepared and leave decimated.
A genre known only for action-packed games with spooky themes suddenly is defined by edge-of-the-knife survival, survival borne of blood, sweat, and pure wit. Survival horror comes into its own before the world is really ready for it, and it couldn’t have happened any other way.
This new genre, emerging from the shadows, finds its home because of its rewarding of determination, quick thinking, and pure skill and strategy. Over the years, however, it would slowly evolve into something a little bit broader.
Survival horror eventually came to mean any horror-esque game with inventory management and scarcity. This ironically umbrella classification brings in series like FEAR, Eternal Darkness, and Silent Hill. All these series have their own merits, and I’m certainly not here to argue that they ruined the genre. They simply diversified it, whether we liked it or not.
This genre-defining process would eventually come full circle with the release of Resident Evil 4. Eschewing the confined environs of its forefathers, 4 would further change the genre its great granddaddy built with his own two hands. It brought action back into the formula, as well as codified a camera system still used to this day.
But at what cost?
I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that I still enjoy 4 to this day. Hell, I rarely find a Resi game I can’t enjoy to at least SOME extent.
But to say it completely erased the trappings of the old games wouldn’t be an exaggeration. What used to be hordes of mindless drones now became smaller groups of competent opponents. I touched on this in my defense of 6, but changing the dynamic was necessary if the series ever wanted to grow.
Despite that necessity, it still hurt to see Resi lose its dark, bloody edge. Horror became panic. Fear became anxiety.
This loss of horror hurt, but not so much that one couldn’t enjoy the games that came from this change. I’d argue that Revelations 2 benefited from it the most, but it also gave us a glimpse into something that Capcom would soon be bringing forward for us.
The more human enemies of the series are some of the most fearsome. Sure, gigantic swelling pus-monsters can scare us, but I’d argue that the smaller, more agile foes are what really get the blood pumping. Think of Alien; the Xenomorphs skittering across the ceilings with designs on your kidneys may be terrifying, but their small frames and ability to be anywhere at any time were the real cause for concern.
By that same merit, one could argue that people can be some of the most terrifying foes of all. In fact, I’d say we don’t give ourselves enough credit. We’re capable of nearly silent traversal, we can survive unbelievable injuries, and we can devise some of the most horrific and cunning strategies the planet has ever seen.
Augmenting those traits, enhancing them to obscene levels, and unleashing them upon you is something I feel the Resi series should honestly be known for. For all the panic the Cerberus cause, the more memorable foes are far more like us: Hunters, Lickers, Tyrants, etc.
Taking that raw potential that’s only truly available to the sentient and making it horrific. I’d argue that that’s what Resident Evil is about, far before it’s about giant snakes and spiders.
This is what I’m getting at: Resident Evil 7 takes that concept, boils it down to its absolute base parts, and uses them each in fantastic ways.
It Started With a Guest House.
Your objective: find your missing wife.
Your obstacle: a family of 3 and their handful of killer monsters.
I can think of very little more terrifying than watching a man shoot himself in the head, only for him to come back at you with even more vigor than before. I’d even argue that Jack loses most of his true horrific potential when he becomes a giant monster.
There’s also not a lot scarier than watching a woman become a human insect farm. Her potential only increases as she becomes more monstrous, especially because she remains largely human in other ways.
This means that the almost entirely human son is likely the let scary, right? I mean, he whines over losing an arm. Wrong: he’s not even really infected, he’s just a complete, utter psychopath. How could anyone find that anything but chilling?
These three primary foes are really the only thing stopping you from getting what you want, yet their presence is absolutely commanding. They each carve their own niche and inhabit it so thoroughly that they practically redefine it.
This all through the eyes of a man simply looking for the woman he loves who really was never going to be prepared for it. He loses vitality and limbs for this quest, and we watch it all through his eyes.
THIS is edge-of-the-knife. THIS is blood, sweat, and pure wit. Dragging yourself out of the muck and viscera based solely on how good you are at staying alive.
Back to beginnings
Resident Evil 7 does what its more immediate predecessors failed to do – it brings us back to our beginnings. A struggle for life, both by the player and the character, simply because they have to want it more than the enemy does.
This is what it’s all about; at the end of the day, were you going to lie down and die?
Or were you going to take what was given to you, and shove it down that asshole’s throat?