'Resident Evil 7' Brings the Original Survival Horror Game Back From the Dead

'Resident Evil 7' Brings the Original Survival Horror Game Back From the Dead

'Resident Evil 7' Capcom

After the artless cheesefest of '6', Capcom blends genre flicks 'The Devil's Rejects' with 'Wrong Turn' to bring the scares

After the artless cheesefest of '6', Capcom blends genre flicks 'The Devil's Rejects' with 'Wrong Turn' to bring the scares

Here's a short list of events most of us hope to never experience in life: having our arms amputated by a chainsaw; retrieving a mutilated head out of a refrigerator; getting force-fed a spoonful of maggots at a family dinner; cowering in a pitch black sewer while dead bodies bob to the surface; or witnessing someone we love collapse as their blood spills onto the carpet in crimson rivulets.

And yet, these are just a few of the curious delights available in Resident Evil 7, the newest installment in gaming's most tenured horror franchise. As you sample its loathsome delicacies, you'll find yourself willingly making choices your brain begs you to abandon. "Don't peer into that toilet full of dirty syringes. Don't stick your hand inside that squishy cadaver. Don't you dare go down that disgusting dark hallway." But off you'll go, dutifully marching through a litany of nightmares with trepidation, terror, and (let's be honest here) a perverse dollop of excitement.

Over the past two decades of making our blood run cold, Resident Evil has had its ups and downs. The high water mark of the series, Resident Evil 4, brought a fierce originality that shaped game design for years – its influences can be seen in everything from Gears of War to Uncharted. Resident Evil's stature in the zeitgeist sank in recent years, though, as the series slowly drifted away from pure horror to bland, soggy action romps, unmoored from its foundations.

After years of stagnation, the stage was ripe for a revamp and revitalization, and on that front, Resident Evil 7 succeeds wildly. It wisely swaps its continent-crossing conspiracies for a provincial tour through a solitary dilapidated homestead in Louisiana. It cleaves away its bloated, lore-laden mythology for a brand new cast of characters who don't require hours of poring through fan wikis to decipher their motivations. And most significantly, Resident Evil 7 tosses aside the series' once revolutionary third-person camera perspective for a dreadfully immediate first-person view.

It's by no means the first horror game to use the first-person perspective; Alien Isolation, Outlast, and even early pioneer Doom have already proven that POV's potential for delivering grisly genre gore. But Resident Evil 7's creators were clearly invigorated by their fresh frame of reference. The game feels charged with manic energy in its carefully crafted encounters with the zombified Baker family – a disturbingly tight-knit clan who hold you captive in their home while you search for your missing girlfriend Mia.

The Bakers roam their hallways with gleeful malice, sending you scurrying behind couches and crates to avoid their endless array of tortures, your character's heartbeat pulsing through the speakers as you scavenge your surroundings for something, anything, that will lead to your survival. Resident Evil has always been at its best when it forces you to walk the thinnest tightrope between life and death. Resident Evil 7 pursues this goal with renewed potency, which will undoubtedly please fans who have longed for a return to the series' roots of resource hoarding and panicked puzzle solving.

Its indelible sense of place and lush Louisiana setting is the perfect callback to its predecessors. The Baker Home's sad saga slowly unfurls as its tightly interconnected passageways spiral both inward and outward, with trapdoors and surprises begetting further secrets and puzzles. Not since the original Spencer Mansion has Resident Evil's setting provided such a bulk of its scares. Listening to the floor creak, warily watching a curtain blow, cursing as your footsteps crunch over broken glass... these often prove more frightening than an outright attack. You'll spend the majority of your time dreading your next encounter with an adversary rather than actually fighting one.

Of course, it wouldn't be Resident Evil without the requisite minecarts, shotguns, healing herbs, and tripwires. At points, the game struggles to continue delivering unique elements at a steady pace, recycling horror tropes so universal they've long been drained of any real potency. The Baker family can sometimes follow plodding loops, making progress a matter of patience rather than skill. You can only play ring-around-the-rosie with Grandma Sassmouth so many times before the ordeal goes from terrifying into merely exhausting. Backtracking for missed items in moldy hallways that have already fired off all their jump scares proves similarly dull.

Unfortunately, Resident Evil 7 also saddles you with embodying one of its least interesting characters – another sad-sack video game everyman whose dialogue remains limited to artless profanity in response to every fresh horror. It's hard to care about his continued survival apart from the fact that you temporarily share his skin. At its nadir the game even swerves into grotesquely gendered violence and a brief instance of refugee fear mongering. In its defense, few are spared the brutalities of the plot's carnage, but these moments feel hateful at worst, tone deaf at best.

Ultimately, the Resident Evil series has never garnered praise for its storytelling nuance. And at first glance, Resident Evil 7 seemingly traffics in backwoods Southern stereotypes so well-trodden the soles have worn out. But as you delve deeper into the dysfunctional Baker family's history (and their sprawling estate's twisting topography), the game manages to strike surprisingly graceful notes of empathy for its villains. It's not exactly Flannery O'Connor, but the Southern Gothic-tinged story isn't as bombastic as previous games – there's less curdled B-movie cheese and a more muted sense of melancholy. It's a welcome development.

While not crucial to the experience, Resident Evil 7 excels on PlayStation VR, where most of its weaknesses melt away. For those of you not cursed with motion-sickness, actually tilting your head around a corner to catch a glimpse at the imminently approaching feet of your tormenters brings a level of immersion simply impossible to achieve in video games until the advent of VR. The sense of physical embodiment in an unsafe location taps into a primal fear, starkly demonstrating both the promise and peril of the new technology. If you can play it without constantly shivering in fear, you possess stronger nerves than me. For a prodigal franchise returning at last to it's corpse-infested home, it's hard to think of higher praise.