A look back at the game that revived Capcom’s beloved horror franchise.
With Resident Evil Village being on the minds of gamers all over the world right now, and rightfully so, it’s all the more important to remember what led this classic, world-renowned survival horror series to where it is today. To be fair you could trace the original ideas for the game all the way back to the early days of video games themselves, but more directly, it is Resident Evil 7 that the upcoming newest chapter of the series owes the most to, as well as many other modern survival horror games.
Resident Evil 7 is a masterclass experience in survival horror that gracefully blends some ideas of other modern horror games in with the conceptual pillars of the genre that were forged many years ago, and mixed in a few of its own as well – all to great effect. With such a multifaceted survival horror experience that has so many great things going for it that speak to the interests of such a wide variety of gamers, it can be difficult to drill down on just a few things that really elevated it above so many of its contemporaries, but a game of this caliber definitely deserves to be acknowledged for what it is and remembered – so let’s give it a shot.
Resident Evil 7 brought a lot of new ideas to the series at a time when the series needed new ideas the most. Never before in the lifespan of the Resident Evil series had fans of the original handful of games lost that much faith and interest in the franchise as a whole. With the first 3 games and Code Veronica being fairly strict with their survival horror format, and the move towards action getting kicked into high-gear with the Resident Evil 4, it was just a matter of time before those original fans who helped support the series for so long would start to drop off, and drop off they did. I know because I was one of them.
While Resident Evil 4 was a great action game, it was rarely scary. Despite how revolutionary it was for action games in a technical sense, there was a new trajectory for the series started by it that would advance further with 5, and even further with 6, which by that time had basically no resemblance to the concepts of the original games outside of its namesake and the characters that the games had in common. This was fine for the newer fans that RE4 had attracted and held onto with 5 and 6, but for whatever reason Capcom, at some point, definitely decided that they wanted those old fans back. So a proper analysis of what made the original few games so good and what fans of modern horror expected in 2017 was needed.
However that analysis was conducted, it’s clear that Capcom decided to mix things up in a very sudden, deliberate way – unlike the slow creep of over-the-top action gameplay that started with the Outbreak games and Resident Evil 4 that slowly led the series to where it ended up with 6. 7 needed to be drastically different and really lean into its ideas. Limited inventory slots, a tense atmosphere, a spooky, mysterious setting, and iconic villains. With the success of horror games like Amnesia, surely Capcom must have seen what was hot at the time in horror, so they borrowed that basic framework and mixed in those classic concepts from the roots of the series.
The setting in particular was something that also had an elegant balance of new and old. The rural, disconnected mansion somewhere in the south of the US was perfect. While the appearance of the house and the insane family who inhabited it felt like an interesting throwback to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies, the inner workings of the house and the core gameplay mechanics resembled the original game more than any game since those original few. Secret doors, puzzles, hidden areas, inventory management, and tension that you could cut with a chainsaw.
The Baker family also brought a nice dose of new energy, as their insane, demonic demeanors made them all unpredictable and an absolute thrill-ride to deal with. Throughout the game, the protagonist, Ethan Winters, would interact with all of them in various ways. They all had their things that made them stand out, yet they were all very clearly in the same family. Jack, the patriarch of the household was of course the stand-out character as well as the recurring antagonist of the story, and he was a sight to behold as his bloodlust drove him into more of a post-human monster as the story moved on and his state of being continued to deteriorate.
Speaking of the story, Resident Evil 7’s story is one of its stand-out elements. Just as the setting and gameplay took a lot of liberties with the Resident Evil lore in order to have a fresh slate, so did the story itself. Our new hero character, Ethan, is ultimately lead to an isolated – and reportedly haunted plantation house in the deep south in an effort to save his wife, Mia, who is struggling with a borderline-supernatural strain of issues herself. The story takes some twists and turns from there, but it generally revolves around finding Mia and getting the two of you out of there. Of course, things aren’t nearly that simple, but that is the gist of it. Along the way, the Baker family is Ethan’s main obstacle, with a few monsters thrown in for good measure.
Here is perhaps Resident Evil 7’s weakest area. While the mold monsters most often found in the lower levels of the house do provide some good scares and are well-designed, that’s about all there is in the game outside of the baker family, who are more like boss encounters than typical video game enemies. It’s almost as if so much effort was put into the baker family, and perfecting all of their personality quirks and fine-tuning your encounters with them that there wasn’t much time left to design more monsters. It doesn’t get in the way of enjoying the game, and you could argue it’s made up for with the Bakers being as awesome as they are, but it’s worth mentioning as no game is perfect.
Resident Evil 7 was important for the series and the survival horror genre for so many reasons. It’s ability to take ideas from what worked about Resident Evil for so long while filtering out what didn’t, it’s willingness to learn from what other modern horror games were getting right, and of course the addition of some fresh ideas with the Bakers and a new, more vulnerable main character who lacks the military experience of the S.T.A.R.S. team was a recipe for massive success. Many regard this game as one of – if not the – best horror game of all time and there’s certainly an argument to be made for that. I wouldn’t personally say it overtakes the true pillars of the genre like Silent Hill 2 or Clock Tower, but it certainly comes within striking distance in an era where so many great games are coming out all the time. Regardless of where you personally stand on that, it’s hard to deny that Resident Evil 7 is one hell of a game.
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