Happy Resident Evil Day! The Baker family have landed, and the scores are in. Are you clued up on what to expect when you boot up your brand new copy? Yes? Great, then let’s take a look at what the critics are saying about Capcom’s return to the roots of its survival horror franchise.
“This is the most fun i’ve had with a Resident Evil game in years”
“It’s an excellent game that pushes the series in worthy new directions”
“Its constant changes of pace, intense action and genuine terror made Resident Evil  the most enjoyable horror game i’ve ever played”
“This is the game’s greatest triumph – it manages to straddle the line between respecting the past and truing something new startlingly well, coming up with a compelling formula in the process”
“If Resident Evil 7 is a return to form for the series in terms of environment design, and a pleasantly atmospheric exercise after the chaos of the past few outings, it never quite matures into a terrific horror game. There’s a dispiriting reliance on scripted jump-scares”
Survival horror thrives on its atmosphere, with a lacklustre environment a terrifying experience can quickly be reduced to cheap drivel. Thankfully, Resident Evil 7 masters its approach. IGN have suggested that the atmosphere is the strongest the series has seen in years due to the more intimate mansion setting. For these guys its the domesticity of the Baker family home that sets the horror on edge – for once a labyrinth mansion has actually been lived in and that’s just straight up terrifying. Trusted Reviews thought the game’s sound design was the real atmosphere MVP here though. They attribute the creaks and footsteps that are swarming headsets across the world to the breeding of fear traditional RE games relied on stocky controls for.
This sound design, plus Resident Evil 7′s unexpected scare tactics, placed reviewer Brett Phipps in a constant state of terror. VG24/7 were thinking along the same lines, and praised the game’s impressive music work despite suggesting that it was under-utilised in the experience as a whole. In terms of visuals, we turn to Eurogamer, who have heavily praised the textures of the backdrop. The peeling wallpaper and photorealistic environments apparently served them well in their immersion.
We’ve heard that Resident Evil 7 has taken strong influences from American horror stories like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, however IGN feels that these rural American horror film tropes are relied on far too much throughout the experience’s design. Eurogamer similarly laments how the title has a wide range of design influences, and yet struggles to build on any of these in actual gameplay.
There’s a noticeable trend among emerging criticism that Resident Evil 7‘s boss battles aren’t its strong point. Polygon goes as far as to label them the worst part of the game, describing the frustration of being plied with ammo only to expend it all on bosses that ‘sponge’ it up.
Previously praising the game’s feedback when attacking standard enemies, Polygon questions why this feedback has been withheld from boss battles to such an extent that reviewer Philip Koller had no idea what kind of impact he was making on his hench foe. Similarly, VG24/7 points out that the game lacks enemy varieties, and Eurogamer calls for a “higher class of monster”. Reviewers frequently report becoming bored with the standard enemy type, to the extent that their scare factor is significantly reduced (IGN). IGN explains that the settings in which you encounter these enemies are all largely similar, and so the game falls down in its tendency to signal everything it’s about to throw at you ahead.
That’s not to say everyone agrees with this. In fact, other outlets have argued that it’s Resident Evil 7′s unpredictability that has set it apart from its action predecessors (and many survival horrors on the market today). TrustedReviews goes to great lengths to describe the game’s dedication to lulling you into a false sense of security before launching a well timed yet equally unexpected jump scare or glimpse.
While TrustedReviews has been generally in favour of Resident Evil 7‘s enemies, citing boss battles as “some of the greatest and most creative… in the series to date”, Eurogamer is less forgiving over the game’s supposed reliance on cheap scare tactics. Similarly, The Guardian’s review, though mostly consisting of a contrived list of basic survival horror genre tropes lazily tacked onto a brief plot description, notes a far greater emphasis on this tactic than tradition RE titles.
The first person perspective is new to the Resident Evil series, and has caused some divisions among long term fans of the series. However reviews are considerably favourable towards this shift.
Polygon argues that the move brings the game closer to its roots due to its resulting limited field of vision and enhanced by Ethan’s slow turn speed. Tension seems to be at the heart of the move to first person perspective, and when combined with the sound design and intimate setting, critics are raving about its horror potential.
IGN highlighted most keenly the clarity with which Resident Evil 7 tells its story. A linear progression and distinct objectives made for an extremely accessible storyline which unfolds at a steady pace through both narrative and environmental plot points. The events tie in with the existing lore of the Resident Evil universe, and IGN found particular enjoyment in recognising files pertaining to events in previous games.
They did however note that references to early Resident Evil titles within the gameplay itself (doors, crests, and certain puzzles) were appreciated but often felt out of place. TrustedReviews were similarly appreciative of the impressive voice acting on the project as well as the compelling story. However, they felt that the crucial narrative shift that occurs half way through the experience was perhaps less impactful than developers thought. VG24/7 appreciates the game’s content depth available through repeated playthroughs. In fact, Eurogamer suggested that one of the “most intriguing” elements of the game was the necessity to retrace your steps through the mansion in a single playthrough.
Most of these reviews have been written based on the stock PS4 title, with some dabbling in VR along the way. Both Polygon and Trusted Reviews argue the discomfort of the VR gameplay, and TrustedReviews notes the considerable graphical difference between the two systems and fiddly movement mechanics when you’re in the headset.
VG24/7 is slightly more forgiving, arguing that the VR experience will certainly impress, but only after an initial standard playthrough. Eurogamer sums up popular opinion with its statement that the VR is “slightly ramshackle but quite impressive”.