Resident Evil has struggled with its identity for a few years. After the magnificent, genre-defining Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil 5 was basically the same game with better graphics and a cooperative mode. Resident Evil 6 was more ambitious, attempting to be four different games at once, but it was unfortunately about as successful in this goal as a man trying to juggle four different types of big cat. Resident Evil 7 represents yet another new direction, only this time Capcom has realised that ‘new’ doesn’t necessarily mean adding more stuff until the seams burst.
In fact, Resident Evil 7 does the opposite, paring down the exuberant action of recent sequels, and focusing again on slow, creeping horror, set in a location that deliberately recalls the 1996 original. At the same time, the game nudges cautiously toward innovation, adopting a first-person viewpoint and toying with a few interesting ideas in that perspective. Resident Evil successfully revitalises the best aspects of the first game for a modern audience. However, it’s also a little overcautious, and falls some way behind the recent spate of games that have explored first-person horror.
You assume the role of Ethan Winters, an American everyman who is searching for his wife Mia after receiving a message from her three years after her disappearance. His search brings him to a ramshackle plantation mansion in the swampy heartland of Louisiana, where he becomes the dishonoured guest of the Baker family, a bunch of psychotic hillbillies ripped straight from American slasher fiction. Alone and hunted, Ethan must escape the squalid labyrinth of the mansion, and discover the fate of his wife and the reason behind the Bakers’ psychosis.
As with the first game, the star of the show is neither Ethan nor the Bakers, but the sprawling, dilapidated house in which they reside. The Baker residence is a tribute to the Spencer mansion from the first Resident Evil, with a similarly convoluted layout to which you gradually unlock access by completing puzzles, finding keys and defeating monsters. In its own way, the mansion is a gigantic puzzle itself, a bloodstained Rubik’s cube that you must solve.
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