I’m an easy guy to scare in real life – it’s not hard to sneak up on me, especially when I’m concentrating on something else. Movies and games, however, generally leave me unfazed. Horrors stopped being scary sometime in early high school, once I realized that it was all fake. Even P.T. – save for one or two ‘gotcha’ jump scares and some sustained moments of uneasiness – was emotionally tolerable.
But RE7 scared me the hell out of me. Nearly every jump scare got to me. And more than a few times, I was wincing while moving my character as slowly as possible through the map. I even woke my girlfriend up once after shouting in terror. I tried reverse-engineering the levels in my head, analyzing where the map was funneling me, in an attempt to foresee which areas had the highest potential for hidden frights. But the game always found a way right back under my skin. RE7 knows more than how to scare you – it knows how to keep you scared.
The photorealistic environments do much of the heavy lifting. The locations are gross, grimy, and totally believable. Evidence covers the Baker’s land of a place that was once inhabited, lived in. This extends to all of the different locations: their new house, their old one, the trailer parked in the yard with Christmas lights fixed to it. The places themselves contain a wealth of information about the psychotic residents, inviting you to investigate every detail. In most rooms, I inspected each cluttered bookshelf, framed picture, and cupboard around; I wasn’t scouring for supplies alone. I was driven to scan the rooms slowly, absorbing all of the minutiae.
The scant supplies and slow pace are a direct throwback to the original. Even the save rooms are similar, with big green crates for item storage and tape recorders for saving (similar to type writers in the original). These elements, that have been mostly removed from the series since RE4, return to fine form here. RE7 is a testament to why these mechanics worked originally, and how well they can still hold up today.
Weapons are slow but powerful, and combat is methodical. Each round feels potentially devastating, but enemies attempt to defend by swerving and holding their hands in front of weak spots. The shots from the shotgun have a totally satisfying blast (any good shooter should be able to pass the shotgun test). I never felt entirely powerless, but I was always clinging to every round, mulling over every wasted bullet. And while the last act of the game leans into action-focused gameplay, much like the other entries in the series, I never felt overpowered or bored, and the game ends before it overstays its welcome.
Each member of the family plays into a different horror villain archetype. I gleaned enough details about each to figure out what makes them tick as I explored their domain, which made them even scarier. One likes to create puzzles for his victims, for instance, and you must solve his Jigsaw-like games. It gives each new area a unique mechanic and leaves you imagining the twisted machinations that the baddies have planned.
Resident Evil 7 resurrects the best of what made the series great. I’ve beaten it once and plan on replaying it again, on a higher difficulty. It’ll be interesting to see what the DLC looks like as well; the single player was a contained story. But with the level of quality that the campaign offered, I’m more than happy to go back and have the crap scared out of me again.