Resident Evil 7 – Final Review

Resident Evil 7’s narrative is instantly engaging, seeing the player character, Ethan Winters, receive a distress signal from his long missing wife, Mia, clearly in a state of frantic desperation, obviously oppressed. Gone for some considerable duration, something inherently reassuring is attached to her message, grim though her mental state may be; she is alive, and for Ethan that is all that matters. Because of her continued existence, Ethan promptly removes to the vast Louisiana wilderness, to a plantation contained therein, long forgotten and lost to time by dent of its geographic isolation, the structure falling into gradual disrepair. The gameplay proper actually opens with this scenario, seeing Ethan pilot his vehicle through the swamps and the weeping willows, beautiful yellow sunlight flickering through the trees, while an immense humidity is detectable, a steaminess filling the air. While a scripted sequence – no real player control is required here, the driving being automated – it establishes a sense of place and largeness, especially when the plantation itself comes into view. Though menacing in construction, a menace only enhanced by its degradation, something alluring and beautiful exists within and without the walls, a sort of rigid durability, a refusal to be destroyed. When regarding the plantation and the grounds which surround it, the structure morphs into a character in its own right, abounding in palpable atmosphere, consistently evoking moodiness, this sense of place sustaining the title even as the narrative sometimes falters.  

But one major failing is attributable to the game’s presentation; while the game is moody and abounding in atmosphere, with a clever play of light and shadow, the environments themselves trend towards the ugly, with very poor texture quality, which contributes to a destruction of immersion. While environmental textures are of a poor quality, as are the various weapon models, facial animations are surprisingly impressive, Mia’s luscious hair being especially notable, imparting in her figure a certain distinct beauty. In cutscenes, though, which are quite abundant, the audio often desynchs with the video, resulting in a sense of cheapness. Developer ambitions here are immense – the environments are richly detailed, while many objects can be interacted with; fridges are packed with rotting meats and other undeterminable substances, while an eerie black ooze overtakes many structures. But these ambitions are again let down by technical failures, which are only amplified by a dearth of environmental diversity. Save for the opening driving sequence, the entirety of the narrative is spent at night, while the vast majority of gameplay occurs indoors, the beautiful stars above concealed from view, claustrophobia instead overtaking all. The game does not have a traditional level structure in a sense, in that no loading screens are ever present, but in practice the game embraces this formula, new areas barred, only opened when one or multiple key items are discovered and employed. Given the large size of these environments, they are simultaneously intriguing and intimidating, and the excitement was immense whenever these new environments were made explorable, repetitive though they may be.

The core inhabitants of the plantation mark the game’s initial antagonists – the Baker family, comprised of Jack, the patriarch; Marguerite, his affectionate wife; and their two children, Zoe and Lucas. Upon first gaze, something is clearly wrong with the group, their physical features warped and distorted, manifold scars etched across their frames and visages, odd growths sprouting from their bodies, most noticeable in Jack, in a particularly sorry state, a state which only disintegrates further as the narrative progresses ever onwards, reflecting the family’s characteristic instabilities. Marguerite gradually adopts a spider-like posture, less woman than beast, and while aesthetically Lucas seems normal, with beautiful, too-wide eyes, his internal distortions are amongst the worst of the entire clan. Zoe, rounding out the cast, is the only family member possessive of total sanity, though even that is waning by nature of her torture and captive status, which she fights through, desperate of escape and accordingly desperate to assist Ethan; she serves as a guide throughout. The Baker clan is first introduced around a dinner table, littered with rotting food and viscera, specially prepared for Ethan’s consumption by Marguerite. Reflecting their barbarism, they seek to shove these vile substances directly into Ethan, who naturally resists, agitating the family; the narrative is here set in motion. The introduction of these antagonists so early on provides a commanding sense of focus to the narrative; vagueness is totally eschewed. No longer is the objective merely to save Mia; rather, a secondary objective emerges – survival, an urgent fleeing from that place of total hostility.        

Given the game’s immense linearity, these antagonists are fought in sequential order, Jack being the first foe, followed by Marguerite, conflict finally ending with Lucas. In a clever if bizarre design decision, these foes are not fought one time but multiple times, periodically emerging and reemerging to menace and harass Ethan, constantly reminding him of their presence until they are completely and utterly destroyed, a long, difficult process. The frequent nature of their presence might point to repetition, though somehow the opposite proves true, perhaps owing to the subtle differences accompanying their various appearances. Besting them, then, is a highly triumphant affair, especially when considering their immense restorative powers, able to sustain considerable damage and survive the ordeal. It takes a chainsaw to finally best Jack, his frame literally cleaved in two, thus preventing his restoration. Ethan is here overwhelmed, certainly physically. But in winning the engagement, a sense of empowerment arises, as if Ethan can draw on substantial reserves of strength, now made available to him by nature of his wife’s pitiful status, permitting him to triumph also over Marguerite, who possesses critical sway over an army of insects, damning and powerful. Lucas, too, who transforms into a literal monster, can also be bested, Ethan fueled by the powers of love.   

Towards the narrative’s conclusion, many narrative constructions are totally upended. The Baker family, it is revealed, were being manipulated by a mysterious, enigmatic figure manifest in the body of a young girl – this girl, the ultimate antagonist, goes by Eveline. Her influences seep not only into the Bakers, but even into the house, itself, black figures, the “Molded,” arising as strong if lesser opposition for Ethan. Eveline’s strengths, though, are immense, seemingly indescribable in their scope. Unravelling the precise nature of her powers, why precisely she is exerting them, is another of the game’s strengths, adopting a sort of investigative tone, with considerable depth here. The Baker family, then, were mere puppets, being manipulated behind the scenes, resulting in an excess of tragedy, the evocation of pathos. Knowing it was Eveline who caused this pain and infection – for Ethan, Mia, and the entire Baker clan – may cause bitterness towards her figure, but also sorrow at the state of things, how matters resolved themselves. Ethan, with his newfound powers, systematically slaughtered this family; and for what? In actuality, they were innocent, and accordingly should not have died. But Ethan was merely acting in the moment, acting out of self-preservation, so perhaps his actions can be explained away – but only just. So strong were Ethan’s instincts of self-preservation, he was even required to combat Mia throughout the narrative; while deranged and wild, acting against a beloved would be a no doubt difficult affair – tragedy again shows itself.  

The gameplay is consistently enjoyable throughout. The game certainly belongs to the horror genre, though effective, distressing frights are infrequent, though horror is a certainly subjective affair. Evoking some terror are the aesthetical distortions plaguing the Baker family, while the Molded, with their bodies formed of organic, black ooze, are also disturbing, their spawning and movement patterns erratic. But even if pure horror is lacking, the game is characterized by a state of perpetual tension, mainly stemming from the game’s survival horror aspects; executed flawlessly, they elevate the game into something greater. A perfect balance is struck, resources scarce though present in perfect abundance to progress through the game’s many combat scenarios. Exploration is key here, often bringing with it considerable rewards; ammunition can be found in the environment, as can crafting materials and even more substantial items like weaponry. Reflecting the perfect balance, a fair degree of ammunition can be amassed, only for that stock to drain away completely while engaging with one of the Baker family. But regarding this further, it certainly seems possible to enter into unwinnable situations – advance onwards without appropriate equipment, and death is a certainty; every missed bullet causes an abundance of anguish. Exploration, again, is vital, and finding something as seemingly mundane as ammunition becomes a joyous affair, equating as it does to further survival, to a preservation of relative power. Crafting is similarly important to success, and it is a seamless process – no recipes need be acquired, crafting done in the minimalistic inventory screen. In this manner, the game punishes hastiness, encouraging instead careful searching, a slower pace. It is in these quieter moments where the gameplay excels, as combat is frequently clunky.  

The game possesses a commanding sense of immersion, never breaking from the first-person perspective, which serves to make the moments of violence all the more visceral; when considering the great frequency of this violence, then, the game does succeed in evoking distressing emotions. The HUD is completely clean, with no health meter or anything of the sort present, heightening further still immersion. When considering further this violence, one notable scene early on depicts a great loss for Ethan – in a struggle with a crazed Mia, he loses a literal appendage, hand cleaved off with a chainsaw. The violence is so exaggerated in these moments that it almost ventures towards the comedic, an odd admission. Still, this level of violence – the maturity of the game’s many themes – is conveyed unflinchingly and boldly, increasing player engagement. Early on, a police officer shows up at the plantation, bringing with him seeming hope. And then, just as prompt was his entrance was his death, abdomen splintered by a shovel, Jack exercising his cruelty. But even with this immersion, the gunplay is unintuitive, weapons sometimes difficult to control, the crosshairs taking considerable duration to reset after a shot. Accordingly, combat is occasionally disincentivized, though in a failing, abilities for evasion are slight, Ethan possessive of slow movement speed even while sprinting, while climbing or dedicated jump buttons are also lacking; everything is grounded, for better or worse.          

As the game nears its conclusion, a radical break occurs. Lucas, the final family member has been bested, while both Mia and Zoe are rescued, both having maintained their sanity throughout it all. An unexpected if excellent morality decision is in place, the player forced to decided who precisely to inject with the one remaining vaccine. Given Zoe’s stranger status, naturally I spared Mia, dearly beloved. Seemingly, the conclusion has been reached. In actuality, the narrative stretches onwards for a few hours more. Ethan is promptly seized by Eveline’s power, and control over Mia is provided, tasked with navigating a decrepit ship some distance away from the plantation proper. More attention is lavished upon Eveline, the ultimate revelation of the Baker’s innocence being especially impactful, though even tragedy surrounds Eveline’s figure, oft used as tool of war, frequently exploited, perhaps deserving of pity, even as logic says she should be utterly despised. No fundamental gameplay changes accompany the shift of protagonists – Mia is no more fragile than Ethan – but other changes do occur. By this point, Ethan has been empowered for some duration, possibly wielding a shotgun and pistol, through towards more exotic weapons like a flamethrower or grenade launcher. But here, at the beginning of this epilogue of sorts, that empowerment is completely stripped away, Mia made vulnerable, possessive of no firearms; tension is accordingly revived. Find a pistol; find anything – that is the objective. The damning effects of this powerlessness are only amplified because empowerment has already been felt. In other horror games, like Outlast or Amnesia, power is never tasted, the player growing accustomed to this defenselessness. Resident Evil 7, though, frequently vacillates between empowerment and powerlessness, resulting in an erratic experience – the game expertly fits the survival horror mold, characteristic tension showing itself.   

Despite these narrative and gameplay strengths, almost impossibly Resident Evil 7 is a sometimes unenjoyable experience, where logic says it should be highly enjoyable. Some admirable originality is here present. So many other titles – principally those in the open-world genre – can fast grow addictive, an hour long play session somehow stretching on for countless hours, engrossing and engaging. Upon completion of this title, detailed statistics are provided, informing me that I spent roughly twelve hours on the title, though somehow the game felt far larger than that relatively short playtime. But even if it is not addictive or especially enjoyable, as an experience it is excellent; roaming about a sprawling map, ascending radio towers, constantly expanding an arsenal of weaponry and gradually obtaining more and more skills – all of these things can be enjoyable. Enjoyable yet hollow. This game is the antithesis to those titles, original and engaging in a unique way, excelling most strongly narratively and in its excellent survival horror elements. The sum is better than its parts, something which inspires contemplation, taking a unique stance within the horror genre, the player neither completely helpless nor totally and consistently empowered, resources being slight, sometimes necessitating evasion, though in this regard tactical considerations are frequent, flee or fight; a perfect balance is struck. While the game may stumble as a horror title (though horror again is subjective), being rarely frightening, it is carried both by its gameplay and by its narrative; while the latter suffers from an inconsistency of pacing, it culminates wonderfully, resulting in a rewarding experience, an impactful one.   

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