Revisiting Resident Evil 7 Ahead of Village

You'd think a series based on zombies wouldn't take twenty years to really get the horror of transformation right.
You'd think a series based on zombies wouldn't take twenty years to really get the horror of transformation right. Screencap from Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
I was obsessed with Resident Evil as a teenager to the point that I got into at least one screaming argument with my brother over a plot point in a spin-off novel (Caliban Cove, represent). As the series moved away from its survival horror roots into a more military tactical direction, I lost interest, but like everyone else on the internet I perked back up when I saw the giant vampire lady with the swag hat starring in the upcoming Resident Evil: Village. Coincidentally, Sony was offering Resident Evil 7: Biohazard as part of the PS Plus Collection for those of us who could score a PS5 out of the trunk of someone’s car in shady part of town, so I decided to pick up the franchise once more.

Arguably, VII is a soft reboot of the series that takes it in new directions that have little to do with the world-spanning games that came before. None of it is controversial or groundbreaking for the genre, but it is for the franchise. In many ways, it’s the same thing Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare did, which is incorporate stuff everyone else in the genre doing but packaging it as a bold new take. Resident Evil VII is first person! It has fewer enemies and more places where you can’t fight back and is a bit more blatant in ripping off famous horror films!

The surprising thing is that it works. Resident Evil VII is really good.

Oh, it’s not great. Ethan Winters is probably the dullest protagonist the series has ever spawned and is no fun to play as compared even to Leon Kennedy. The enemy AI really wants to be Alien: Isolation and rarely works so well (though it did give me a couple of procedurally generated scares that legit made me scream out loud when Jack Baker came through a door I was sure he wasn’t behind). Sometimes the homages to classic horror films are just a little too on the nose to be anything but a crutch. The plot is slightly ridiculous, but it’s a little late to give the series a hard time about that.

What does work, works very well. Cutting down the number of enemies was a clever move that lends the game a much higher grade of realism and keeps you from getting numb to encounters. I always wondered why Umbrella and other companies were so keen to create an army of bioweapons that can apparently be taken down by a handful of cops from a city not much bigger than New Braunfels. In VII, the Molded and the Baker Family feel like a true existential threat when you face them. You could actually see why a government might want to use them, something I never understood with Lickers.

The Baker Farm still has all the contrived and weird art puzzles of the previous games, but here it feels much more like something that people driven insane by psychic mold would actually do. The house itself is a marvel of ruined beauty, combining opulence with rot in a way that mirrors the increasingly nonsensical arms race of both the in-game universe and our own tortured reality.

It’s also just scary. I remember being terrified the first time mutant dogs burst through the windows of the Spencer Mansion and having literal nightmares about the Hunters’ screams. As the series reduced the gameplay down to a tactical firefight over subsequent entries, I just never felt terrified anymore.

Resident VII actually scares me. The house is alive with something that is eating the people who live there, and the gameplay never lets you forget that guns are nearly useless in facing it. It’s rare for a game to put a weapon in your hand and show the level of contempt for the act that VII does. The game literally has an enemy blow his own brains out to show you how little he cares about your gun. For an American player, that is like having the floor removed from under you.

If you’ve been enchanted by the footage of Resident Evil: Village and want to either start the series or get back to it, I really recommend picking up VII while you can. It’s short (about 9 hours), brutal, cheap (or free depending on your current system), and a neat evolution of franchise currently engaged in remaking its own history. It’s not groundbreaking for horror games, but it is a remarkable in stance of an old franchise being willing to take risks to stay relevant.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner