Resident Evil 7 was a success to say the least. After receiving extensive praise over the past few weeks, Resident Evil is back in the game. While Resident Evil 7 isn’t innovating by leaps-and-bounds, it’s built on such a foundation of reconstruction and purpose that it hits every mark that can bring such enjoyment from playing a game. Yes, it’s horror, and it does horror well, but it’s what the game is as a whole that gives it such a quality of pure satisfaction. Resident Evil 7 isn’t just Resident Evil revamped, it’s a combination of games, that like any good formula, will create such an experience.
It’s not something to be noticed in the initial opening hours of Ethan’s stay with the Bakers. As Ethan progresses through the nightmare that is his reality, it becomes apparent from a player perspective that Resident Evil 7 has some exceptional games within it. And what better way to bring an outstanding good time than with narrative themes audiences know and love?
The first thing the eye might be drawn to is the striking resemblance to a game like Outlast. Resident Evil 7 shares qualities with Outlast — helpless protagonist, first-person perspective, average Joe. Yet Resident Evil just being the title it is means it was most likely in production while a game like Outlast was also being created. All one need do is look at a general timeline and this can be made clear. Resident Evil 6 was released in 2012 with Outlast following it up with a 2013 release. Capcom being a AAA developer means that most likely they were already hard at work on what would be Resident Evil 7. It is a completely possible reality that Capcom saw Outlast come out and say, “yeah, let’s move in that direction.” Capcom could have easily learned from a game like Amnesia though too. As with any artistic endeavor, learning from one’s peers is equally as important for the growing process as learning from one’s self. Moving through the game proves something else — Resident Evil 7 wasn’t just learning from recent titles within the same genre, it was drawing from a deeper well. As stated, it doesn’t become too apparent until making it past the more Resident Evil-ish part of the game, being the first few hours with the game. Let’s say, getting past Jack.
Upon arriving to the Old House on the Baker property, of course the thought of a striking reminiscence of Dishonored 2 came to mind — with there being bugs and all. It evoked another game though, something I wasn’t ready for — Bioshock. There is a certain area in Bioshock named Annie’s Treefarm and Greenhouse. It’s a rather small area not playing the most significant role in the game, however, Resident Evil 7 also sports a greenhouse. Upon entering the greenhouse in Resident Evil, it clicked; it was a déjà-vu for gaming. It’s like I had already visited the space, but hadn’t. As it locked more in place I was reminded more-and-more of tiny touches throughout the Baker residence giving Resident Evil 7 certain Bioshock-like qualities; tight corridors, damp-spaces and a certain haunted quality. All of these things culminating to create a ripe atmosphere of fear, dread and uneasiness. Who knows what lurks through such haunted corridors, whether in a fallen metropolis at the bottom of an ocean or in a backwoods abode. It was the feeling of the atmosphere itself created that brought such dread to player agency. It is also this atmosphere that carries certain moment within the game. As the game begins to move from one type of horror to another, the environments move with it and thus the draw from other games.
Around the mid-way point in Resident Evil 7, the narrative begins to shift into more action than horror. How surprising then to see one of my all-time favorite games in such an unlikely place — Half-Life 2. It was immediately apparent once beginning the Lucas section of the game. Lucas loves explosives and trying to blow up Ethan. Upon entering a certain room, the player is greeted by a familiar game mechanic in the form of trip-wire. Set one off and it’s lights out. Yet arriving to such room didn’t feel like opening the door to a room in the Baker home, but part of the deadly Over Watch Nexus from Half-Life. I kept waiting to hear the steady gunfire from the ensuing fire-fights in the courtyard as rebels took on the Striders decimating the city. Of course, this is not how it plays out, Resident Evil 7 being more personal and all. It wasn’t just this small portion of Resident Evil that gave it a certain Half-Life 2 quality. It began to seep into other facets of the game as well, especially once on board the beached ship, but that too hid another game within it.
The crashed ship that the player must venture through (now playing as Mia) towards the end of the game begins to shift away from the Resident Evil 7 first presented. While in no way does Resident Evil 7 lose sight of itself, it can be a stark change from the unrelenting horror presented in the first half of the game. Pausing to reflect, though, Resident Evil 7 once again proves its drawing from some quality pools. F.E.A.R. is a game that arrived in the mid-aughts and was terrifying for an action game. How strange then to see a haunted-little-psychic girl be the cause of all the woes that make up Resident Evil 7. Aside from having to deal with crazy humanoid mold monsters, Resident Evil 7 nailed the F.E.A.R. factor on the head. Mix that with elements of such games like Bioshock, Half-Life and modern horror game Outlast coming through and Resident Evil 7 is a solid brew.
It’s this solid combination of games that make for an experience in gaming that is enjoyable on all levels it’s firing on. Resident Evil 7 is most certainly horror. It’s the narrative within the narrative though that gives it the frame it needs to succeed on those levels. By looking at what made the original Resident Evil such an exceptional game — as well as combining things learned over the years from other games — the end product is an experience that carries the franchise forward while showing it keeps up with the best of them. Resident Evil is a household name in the game industry and having the humility to learn from what others are doing/have done, while also being true to core principles, can be tough for any title that has grown up with generations. Resident Evil 7 shows how to achieve new height in style, owning it every step of the way.