It’s safe to say that most people underestimated Resident Evil VII.
Capcom’s latest entry in the pioneering survival horror franchise has smashed through expectations, ranking as the highest-rated series entry since Resident Evil 4. After over a decade of convoluted plots, countless bland characters, and entries that stretched the definition of ‘horror’ – Resident Evil is back on top.
But perhaps the most impressive element of Resident Evil VII’s success, is how it juggles the legacy of this franchise with the realities of modern horror games.
The original Resident Evil is one of the most beloved horror games of all time, a groundbreaking work of atmosphere and tension in game design. Players stumble through an abandoned mansion, using the limited supplies at their disposal to survive and vanquish unimaginable terrors. Resources vital to player success are constrained, as is available space to carry them. Every new room could bring salvation or devastation, with very real consequences.
As Resident Evil slowly transformed from a horror icon into an action standard, ideas like those were watered down. An emphasis on combat made creatures something to be craved, not feared. Characters still had finite inventory space but were able to carry an arsenal’s worth of guns and ammo. The open level design was traded in for directed, setpiece-driven gameplay. VII marks a reversal of course, bringing back design concepts from the original game with minimal adjustments.
The farm the player is stranded within is an open environment, gated by a series of mysterious locks and puzzles. Walking through these spaces is an intimidating, violating experience. Naturalistic floor plans and detailed environments make the player feel like an intruder. As the horrific story unfolds, new spaces on the property become naturally accessible. Within these levels are an array of safe zones, each containing an opportunity to save progress and stash items in a communal inventory.
Resident Evil VII accomplishes amazing things, essentially just by repeating the past. But it’s the new implementation that makes this sequel something special.
A Fresh Perspective
Of course, there’s one obvious change made to Resident Evil VII. For the first time in a mainline sequel, Resident Evil is now first-person. It’s a shift that echoes the revolutionary move to an over-the-shoulder camera angle in Resident Evil 4. Suddenly, tackling horror feels personal. Characters both friend and foe have a taste for invading your space. The effect really pops in VR, eliminating countless barriers between players and the digital horrors they’re presented.
While the original Resident Evil carefully framed every second with its fixed-angle camera, VII is wholly realistic. It’s uncanny how Capcom has captured familiar moments of walking through the darkness, becoming disoriented in the wash of black. The art style is far less stylized than previous games, allowing for the odd piece of hardcore horror imagery to land with a startling kick. VII plays it deliberately coy with combat, a trick that can be traced to some modern horror hits.
In the past decade, horror games have been a new breed dominate conversation and streams – realist, first-person games that deal in subtleties. Resident Evil VII has learned just as much from this new generation of horror, as it has from its own legacy. Walking through the tight, often repetitive corridors of the estate bring back memories of PT. Hiding in the shadows to evade a killer’s eye line is a skill learned handily in Outlast. Even the sense of being hopelessly lost in the darkness, unsure what direction points to the sky feels reminiscent of long nights spent with Slender.
Often, horror is a genre that dies for refusing to innovate. The era of the slasher flick faded when every character starred in a series that stretched into the double digits. Audiences tired of zombie stories when they started to only offer greater quantities of gore. Resident Evil was a footnote in the genre prior to VII – occasionally impressing with the odd spinoff that felt digestible.
But VII has changed the tide. The convoluted conspiracies of Umbrella, Wesker, and STARS feel like a distant memory. A new generation is finding Resident Evil, to find a petrifying experience that brings old ideas with astonishing modern polish.