Without a doubt, Resident Evil 7 is the best in the series since Resident Evil 4 debuted back in 2005. RE7 is not only profoundly in touch with its roots, it also stands confidently as its own independent work of interactive horror.
What made Resident Evil 4 so damn good was its remarkable sense of balance and self-awareness. Every bullet mattered, every room was worth exploring. Resident Evil 7 carries that torch, urging the player to consider all the little things -- ammo conservation, for sure, and a little light inventory management. And like RE4, RE7 is at many times almost too frightening to stomach, filled with gruesome visuals and plenty of jump scares.
That level of gore, and all the camp that goes along with it, is a hallmark of what players expect a Resident Evil game to be. And for those with long enough memories, RE7 provides serious fan service. Fans of classic horror will revel in nods to The Evil Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The entire game is played from a first-person vantage point -- a first for the series. You will flinch in your seat. You will want to look away. Sounds will uncontrollably escape from your mouth. Scariest game in recent memory? Resident Evil 7 is certainly in the same conversation as 2014's brilliant playable teaser, PT (RIP). And even though there's no behind-the-scenes crossover between the two, Resident Evil 7 feels like it's been cut from the same grimy cloth as PT. This is a very good thing.
There's a cavalcade of reasons why Resident Evil 7 is worth your time, from its crafty puzzle design to its off-putting sound direction and score. But the game's locale is an unexpected star, a swampy Louisiana plantation that's been overtaken by a gruesome infection of black veins and decay. The owners of the property, the Baker family, are some of the unlucky few who've been horribly transformed by the sickness. They leave quite the first impression -- to say the least.
You play as Ethan, a man searching for his wife, Mia, whom he assumed had been dead for years. From seemingly out of nowhere she contacts Ethan, forcing him to search for her in Louisiana. The game's story is interesting enough, but various VHS tapes you find scattered throughout provide more context. It's an engaging way to convey flashbacks, and these side chapters smartly set up what's to come later for Ethan.
Resident Evil 7 is an achievement in refinement. The game doesn't overdo it with upgrades or skills and won't overwhelm you with weapon choices. Its simplicity is a response to what modern games rely too much on. There's the right amount of difficulty and progression -- it dangles the carrot just enough for you to push on.
That said, Resident Evil 7 is probably easier than what you might remember from previous games, but that doesn't take anything away from the sense of urgency and dread it's able to create. You still feel like you're running for your life.
In hindsight, the game's earlier stages felt tougher than the ones later on. There are useful tips that are displayed in the loading screens, so be sure to take note.
You may incur a few frustrating checkpoint placements here and there and a number of sequences are accompanied by noticeably long loading times. As good as Resident Evil 7 looks and performs (I played on PS4), there are a few areas where textures are super low-res, but you'll never experience any frame-rate drops or lagginess -- that all remains very solid throughout.
Capcom's latest entry in the decades-long series is a tip of the hat to its ancestry and represents what's hopefully the dawn of a new generation of survival horror. Resident Evil 7 plays like a contemporary reboot of what a Resident Evil game has historically felt like, and converts it to a first-person game. When you're done, you'll be wishing for a first-person Resident Evil 4 remake.
Incredibly, what seemed to be essentially a Hail Mary for the series' viability -- especially after the disappointing sixth installment -- Resident Evil 7 is a triumph in nearly every way.
Resident Evil 7 in also completely playable in VR exclusively for PSVR. Be sure to check out our separate impressions of it.
For more, be sure to check out GameSpot's coverage of Resident Evil 7