04
Jan
18

Game Review: Resident Evil VII

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Finally getting around to playing the surprise horror game of the year; I know it’s roughly a year late, but between other games, health and work issues, moving and a general lingering malaise as regards the Resident Evil series in recent years, I didn’t feel much of a pull towards this one until I could pick it up on the cheap.

I feel bad about that, now. The game is surprising, in many ways. Ditching the action-hero premise of the last couple of entries, dropping us into a purely first-person experience (including all the cutscenes), and crowding you into a more intimate environment with a limited number of random monsters but some incredibly memorable “boss” characters, Resident Evil VII feels like an entirely different game… and that’s very much a good thing.

If you’re looking for something to compare it to, I would say RE7 has more in common with hide-and-seek thrillers in the vein of Outlast and Alien: Isolation than any of its forebears, though unlike those games it doesn’t leave you feeling completely powerless with absolutely unkillable antagonists; instead it gives you just enough power to think you might stand a chance, then swats you aside any time you get overconfident.

The graphics are well-done and suitably disgusting, though through almost the whole game it feels like someone applied a white gauze filter over it; given the similar appearance of PT and screenshots of Allison Road, it makes me wonder if this is the future design aesthetic of survival horror, the same way most third-person shooters seem to consider layering everything with a brown slime filter is the standard. The character models of the Baker family are also well-done and suitably off-putting. Mia Winters, the protagonist’s thought-dead wife, seems “off” somehow. Whenever she’s on screen, I find myself looking at her teeth and wondering why they just don’t look right. I can’t put my finger on it, but they just look wrong, and not in the way that a horror experience should give you the heebie-jeebies, but just like the artist was having an off day. Also, the lip-synching is, honestly, atrocious. It doesn’t impede the overall experience any at least.

Sound-wise, the game gets the job done and little else. The sound effects are kept to a minimum and are stock-standard: creepy little girl laugh, buzzing insects, door slams, piano riffs from nowhere, basic gunfire. The voice acting is by turns flat or overdone, and never really feels “good;” depending on your viewpoint, the lack of it being as cheesy and B-movie as previous games may be a detriment or a bonus. The one exception here is Lucas Baker, who puts in a great performance as the trap-obsessed sociopathic tinkerer of the family.

Gameplay wise, you’ll find all your basic Resident Evil concepts; limited inventory leading to playing Tetris with the items you want to carry and what you leave behind in the item box, limited ammo leading to running away and scavenging like a madman – as well as inadvertent spoilers that a boss is coming up when you suddenly find 60+ rounds sitting in front of a door – most of the time, and chewing on mysterious green herbs anytime you get bitten, clawed or chainsawed. Aside from the shift of viewpoint, the main new feature you’ll encounter are the videotapes.

While most games of this type would either subject you to a flashback cutscene or a dry, multipage text description of the solution to a puzzle or clue as to what happened, RE7 instead has a handful of VHS cassettes lying around. Watching these in the players scattered about the Baker Mansion puts you into a minigame, where you’ll have to solve the puzzle or act through those flashback events yourself. It’s different and creative, and they are very entertaining (“Happy Birthday,” in particular.) The one complaint I have about this is the logic behind it; I get that the Bakers are supposed to be sort of backward hicks, but the game still takes place in 2017; who the hell has dozens of VHS tapes, camcorders and players lying around? There’s also the illogic of how some of those sequences are even on VHS tapes to start with, but the answer is probably “because videogames” so I’ll let it slide. (Also in the list of “bizarre technology choices,” the save points are cassette recorders. The typewriters from previous games would have made more sense, or possibly use the phones or a notepad or something.)

Story-wise, the game is decent enough and when it’s doing its own thing – the tale of a strange family’s cannibalistic tendencies and what that may or may not have to do with a mysterious little girl and your wife – it’s surprisingly good. Where it falters is when it tries to shoehorn it into the overall RE narrative of bio-weapons and the evil Umbrella Corporation’s legacy. Honestly, it feels like they could have had an overall better experience by just making the game a standalone, a reboot, or ignoring the other games entirely. Make Eveline a ghost and swap a couple of items for something with a similar purpose but lacking the rooted-in-bad-science explanations of past games, done. The game feels like it wanted to be free of the rubbish but couldn’t quite make it, and the last boss fight and the cutscene that follows feel like tacked on requirements due to the numeral on the cover rather than necessities of the game’s story itself.

Overall, the game is solid, fun and well-made. Much better than any game in the series since Code: Veronica (which is heresy, I know, since everyone else is in love with RE4, but c’est la vie.) I’d give it a solid 9/10, though the insistence on ties to older games that break the narrative of this one drops that a bit. Final verdict? 8/10, and well worth a look even if you’ve hated recent entries or enjoy other games like Amnesia or Outlast more.

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