I vividly remember playing the first-ever Resident Evil game on the original PlayStation console. It was my first foray into survival horror, way before I played the original Silent Hill, sometime in the late 90s. I played the Director’s Cut edition. The first cut scene opened with a title card that read, “1998 – July, Racoon Forest.” The S.T.A.R.S. Alpha Team (live actors, by the way!) had been sent there to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the Bravo Team. It was night—everything was dark, and the Alpha Team were attacked by seemingly rabid dogs in the middle of the forest (more like a field, really). A couple of the team members were mauled. What followed was a chase sequence through the forest (field), ending in the discovery of a dark and sinister-looking mansion, where they attempted to regroup and process what had just happened.
I was no stranger to horror movies (I had seen films like the Child’s Play trilogy, Children of the Corn, Friday the 13th, The Amityville Horror, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Exorcist, and The Night of the Living Dead when I was in elementary school, so my exposure to the horror genre was quite varied), but I remember thinking and feeling how intense that cut scene was for a video game. It set the mood of the entire experience so beautifully.
The remaining members of the Alpha team decided to split up eventually, and the game proper was under way (I picked the Jill Valentine scenario). I began to explore the mansion, all the while still creeped out by that intro, and I made my way into that now famous hallway just off the dining hall. I heard crude sound effects, which gave me the feeling it was the sound of something eating something and, dreading what was coming next, I made my way down the hallway, where I found my first ever zombie in my first ever zombie video game. It was eating something, alright, but the worst part was when it became aware that I was there. It stopped eating, letting its meal—a severed head with a half-eaten face—fall with a thud to the floor, and it reared its ugly head to face me.
I ran back to the dining room in terror. Or I would have, if the control bindings weren’t so counterintuitive. Looking back now, I see how brilliant of a moment that was. Of course, in that moment, fear and panic had taken over, and my face had gone cold and numb as I attempted to escape. I think I died in that first encounter.
Until now, Resident Evil remains one of the games I haven’t finished. I chalk it up to that unpleasant gnawing feeling the game gave me—it made me feel exposed, vulnerable, and mortal.
When Resident Evil 7‘s Beginning Hour demo came out last year, I didn’t know what to make of it. Sure, I could tell that Capcom was trying to reintroduce the first person gameplay to the franchise (anyone remember Resident Evil: Gun Survivor?), and that it felt a lot like it took a page (or many) off the book of the now-defunct P.T., but I didn’t have any idea where Capcom was going with it, not even after I finished the demo’s Midnight iteration. I just knew it was creepy as hell, that it gave my boyfriend vertigo, and that it felt a lot like a departure from the action genre the Resident Evil series had come to conform to in the years since the original game. But I figured, “To hell with it, giving the new game a chance couldn’t hurt.”
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
In the couple of weeks after purchasing the game in late January, a prolonged, relentless ride that proved to be the scariest experience I have ever had playing a video game unfolded…worse (or better, depending on how you look at it) than my experience with Tango’s The Evil Within (another game that’s collecting dust on my shelf–how much of a loser am I?!?).
The game puts you, Ethan, on a search for your wife, Mia, whom you haven’t seen or heard from in three years. When you receive a random email from her asking you to come get her in Dulvey, LA, you drive all the way down there to do just that. What you find down there, of course, is something you never thought you’d ever have to deal with, let alone fight your way out of.
Without giving anything away, let me say that this installment puts Resident Evil back in the Survival Horror genre, and it does so without any reservations. What it does, it does so well, that I haven’t had the nerve to pick it up to give it another go.
What’s the big deal, you say?
Well, first off, let’s take the Baker family. In the Beginning Hour demo, the film crew in the video briefly talk about them as they go through that dilapidated house, and you just get the sense that there’s something that’s not right about them. The game itself proves just that. In fact, I found them to be reminiscent of that family in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, who live in a town so remote, so forgotten by the world, that its inhabitants have established their own rules and their own way of living, and anyone who crosses their paths is bound to meet a grisly end, but not before they are reduced to a pathetic heap of a human being. Just like those people, the Baker family—Jack, especially—make you feel powerless and small, like a rat in a maze of their own making, and you’re bound to find yourself wanting to just get the hell out, to just survive the night and forget why you came there in the first place.
Then there’s the environment. You find yourself in a place that, quite simply, will give Han Solo more than that “bad feeling” he’s been mumbling about. Underneath the seemingly harmless old house sitting quietly in the middle of a swamp, you’ll find a world you wouldn’t want to be in, not even in the perceived safety of daylight. Much like the Black Hills forest in The Blair Witch Project, the Baker home seems alive and aware of your presence. Every sound, every shadow, is designed to play tricks on your imagination and unhinge you just a little bit more with every room you enter and every encounter you survive. This is a world that doesn’t give you any hope, that makes you want to just sit in a corner and wait for either death to take you or madness to seep in.
And of course, let’s not forget the gameplay. While I was unable to play this game in (photorealistic) VR or on a PS4 Pro, I didn’t think it detracted from the overall experience. One of the great things about this game is that its gameplay elements are so cleverly put together that I didn’t miss the enhancements that VR or 4K gaming provides. A bulk of the terror is in the way the game runs, which is great, because at the end of the day, I’m not left with a game that only looks good. The moments I spent trying to make out what was in the darkness outside the little flickering circle of light I had, be as quiet as I could in true Don’t Breathe fashion because I knew my pursuers could hear me, ration what little ammunition and resources were available to me, and calm myself in the wake of each new terror and trauma all contribute to what makes R.E. 7 one of the best I’ve ever played in the series—nay, the genre—if not the best. Your objective is not to kill, but to survive, which is much more difficult and makes for a far more terrifying experience.
While I’m gathering the courage to play this game a second time to try and unlock as many of the remaining trophies I can, and even play the DLCs, maybe it’s time to pick up the game that started this beautiful mess of a series and finish it once and for all.
If you haven’t played any of the Resident Evil games, let R.E. 7 pop your R.E. cherry. If you were born in the 2000s and completely missed the first release of Resident Evil, or if, like me, you like being reminded of how far this series and this industry has come, the video below is for you.