Saturday, February 18, 2017

Resident Evil 7 review


    So, Resident Evil 7 is possibly my favorite horror video game. Well, after Silent Hill 2. Actually, I have far better feelings toward Resident Evil 7 than I do Silent Hill 2 but James Sunderland's' Bogus Journey wins out on the basis that the introduction to this game is clearly inspired by it. Also, Ethan Winters is more or less a cipher as a main character and I think those are cop-outs in writing. About the only games I think which rival Resident Evil 7 I've played are Alien: Isolation, the early Silent Hill games, and the remakes of the original Resident Evil games. It's really-really good and while it has a few speed bumps, I didn't realize these existed until my replay.

The family dinner scene is truly awesome and crazy.
    The premise is Ethan Winters, nondescript 1st person protagonist who drives old muscle cars, is heading to Louisiana in order to investigate a e-mail from his wife Mia. Mia has been missing for three years in an homage to James Sunderland and Ethan is determined to find out whether she's alive or this is a tasteless prank.

    Driving to the a seemingly abandoned plantation, he breaks into their guest house and finds his wife seemingly held prisoner in the basement. What happens next is a nightmarish game of cat and mouse with the murderous fungal-infested Baker family, murderers who literally cannot die. Can Ethan escape the mansion of horrors? Well, really, that depends on your playstyle doesn't it? This is a game where running and gunning won't keep you alive and I love it.

    Still, while Resident Evil 7 dials back the action from Resident Evil 4, 5, and 6 levels but it's still an action horror game. Just a very light action heavy horror game. You have the option of shooting up the Baker family's Molded servants (basically fungus zombies)  plus several Boss fights spread throughout the game with the unkillable Southerners. The action is just extremely toned down outside of the boss fights and more personal with limited ammunition as well as health for our protagonist. On Easy, you can defeat your foes with enough head shots or at least stun them. On higher difficulties, they're nearly impossible to harm and stealth is often a better option.

Jack is an implacable man equivalent to Jason or Myers.
    Indeed, the tense moments in the game where you are unable to do anything to the Baker family but stay out of their sight are the best in the game. There's only two moments in the game, though, when you're genuinely helpless and have to rely on stealth to survive.

    These are terrifying and left me looking over my shoulder for much of the game before I acquired the shotgun, burner, and other weapons which made me feel like I could drive off the Bakers indefinitely. It's a bit like when you have the flame thrower in Alien: Isolation. There's also a lot more "safe" zones than I initially suspected as the Bakers are only rarely actively hunting you--which is a shame as you could easily have done this game as a pure stealth game with no weapons or enemies other than your opponents.

    Those who are expecting a pure survival horror experience should also note the game doesn't take itself entirely seriously the way, say, Silent Hill used to. There's a lot of schlocky over-the-top camp to the game which doesn't ruin the horror but underscore it. At one point there's a car fight where you're either the runner or the runneth over with Jack the family patriarch, another scene is a chainsaw fight inspired by the Evil Dead, and listening to the Bakers' mad ramblings is often hilarious. I'm reminded of Freddy Krueger at his best where the bad sense of humor causes the absurdity of the situation to become even more frightening. It's basically the opposite of comic relief and is very common in B-movie horror.

Mia is beautiful but not glamorous like other RE girls.
    The Bakers are easily the best villains in the franchise, even surpassing Wesker and Salazar. They're funny, terrifying, disturbing, and even tragic at various points in the story. They're probably some of the best developed bosses in video games as the game devotes itself to doing something simple, "A Leatherface-esque group of cannibals" rather than trying to do something grandiose and epic.

    The small scale nature of their threat, being a group of serial killers with thirty victims versus previous games' tens of thousands, makes it all more personal and terrifying versus video games habit of making everything Michael Bay levels of over-the-top. We don't get much insight into Ethan or Mia, which is a shame, but the villains almost make up for that. Why do they do what they do? Have they always been like this? Are they infected by something we've seen before like the T-Virus or is it something new like the Plagas in Resident Evil 4? All these questions are answered but it's really incidental to how it plays out. Tyrants have always been terrifying but they've got nothing on Jack Baker when he shrugs off several shotgun blasts to the face while mocking you for thinking they'd work.

Go tell Aunt Rhody everyone is dead.
    Another star of the game which deserves to be mentioned is the Baker Estate itself. It's wonderfully well-designed and reminiscent of the Spencer mansion with strange puzzles, locks, and traps throughout. Even so, it feels like the kind of place actual people could live. There's trailers, laundry rooms, bathrooms, and bedrooms.

    A lot of people complained Fallout 3 lacked realism for the absence of crops and other materials to keep people alive. Here, the Baker family home feels genuinely lived in--by psychotic freaks but people who actually have garbage and human needs. That doesn't explain why they have a morgue, incinerators, and a WWE fighting cage but you take what you can get. Thankfully, even this breaking of immersion this is made up for by the VHS segments where you sit down to watch tapes you find around the house. While you watch, you get to roleplay as different characters in the game narrative and lose all your equipment. Those were legitimately terrifying even if I wonder why even a backwoods family would have a VHS player versus a DVD set nowadays.

Normal places like basements are terrifying.
    There's some flaws as the tension gradually starts to drain away from the game about halfway through and you develop the ability to start blasting your foes rather than running away from them or hiding as I mentioned. Despite this, I had an enjoyable time playing through the entire game. I also like the very subtle connections to the larger Resident Evil universe. I hope future games take this survival horror approach but also insert some stronger main characters.

    Elements I had mixed feelings about in the game were the myriad homages to horror movies which Resident Evil hasn't thoroughly covered. The Evil Dead, The Ring, The Grudge, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Cabin in the Woods, Saw, and The Blair Witch Project all get referenced. This actually broke my immersion momentarily and I think the game might have worked fine if they'd kept these moments more subtle. The game worked fine on its own and didn't need to have these Shout-Outs to be scary. It's kind of like Silent Hill: Homecoming when they have a moment straight from Hostel--it hurts the overall experience.

In the words of Ash, "You got real ugly."
    Be that as it may, I'm also going to say the game is surprisingly reactive. Depending on your actions, you can trigger special moments like Jack smashing through walls or crushing tables or getting your limbs cut off. These actions really add to the sense of this game being a living world. I also like the fact the protagonist is an every-man versus a super soldier. Mia and Zoe are pretty but they aren't beautiful the way Jill Valentine, Ada Wong, or Claire Redfield are either. The Boss Fights are all incredibly memorable, too, with challenge even on lower difficulties. It's hard to say whether I enjoyed them or fleeing from the Baker family more.

    Resident Evil 7 is probably the best game in the franchise. I was a fan of the original games back when they were on Playstation 2 and know they never got anywhere near this level of horror. I also know Resident Evil 4 is one of the best video games of all time according to a large portion of the game-playing public but it sacrificed horror for action. Here, this is horror which doesn't make you feel completely helpless but works wonders.

The VHS sections of the game are spectacular.
    Some might suggest the enemy variety in the game is lacking and they'd be right. The Baker family could have carried the entire game much like the xenomorph did in Alien: Isolation (Working Joes and looters aside) but the Molded feel like zombie substitutes. There's only three varieties of them and there's no reason the Baker family shouldn't have some mold-infested dogs or crows to add to the arsenal of creatures we deal with. You also are forced to deal with some bugs along the way but that's too little, too late.

    In conclusion, I should probably give it a 9/10 for the fact I see some areas for improvement and that things I thought were happening in certain areas weren't but that misses the fact I've enjoyed it over more polished games I've given higher ratings. It's very-very fun, possibly the most fun I've had with a horror game. The fact even the demo manages to work as a fully contained (albeit short) horror video game shows Capcom has something special here. I don't know if I'd like all future games in the franchise to be like this one (especially with how much of a wet blanket empty audience surrogate  Ethan is) but it's been an experience.

9/10

No comments:

Post a Comment