Review: Our First Five Hours With RESIDENT EVIL 7

This game is the goods.

Note: what follows is not a full review of Capcom's just-released Resident Evil 7

One day, back in 2006 or so, I got a wild hair up my ass and decided I wanted to buy a game console. I'd spent the previous decade all but ignoring video games, but - for reasons I can no longer recall - I suddenly had the urge to see what the medium had been up to. I drove to the nearest Gamestop, walked up to the counter and said, "Sell me a Playstation along with the two best games you have for it, my good man." Dude shoved a PS2, God Of War and Resident Evil 4 back across the counter at me

Thus began my abusive relationship with the Resident Evil franchise.

The highs of Resident Evil 4 were followed by the dueling disappointments of Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6, both of which dialed back the franchise's signature horror elements to become action-heavy affairs. Once the furor died down, it was painfully obvious the series was in need of a reboot, or - at the very least - a strong return to its survival horror roots. Quite frankly, the franchise could not survive another Resident Evil 6.

Enter: Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, which not only returns Resident Evil to its survival horror roots, but also feels - in its first five hours of gameplay - like a satisfying reinvention. Gone are the action-heavy set pieces of the past few Resident Evil games. Gone is the third-person perspective, replaced with a fresh-feeling first-person approach (fresh to this series, anyway). Gone are the ... well, the absurdly ornate door puzzles are still here, but this time they harbor no loading screens. You win some, you lose some.

I spent a chunk of my afternoon playing through Resident Evil 7 yesterday, and I'm impressed by what I've found. Capcom's created something truly frightening here, a horror title that plays a lot like an unholy combination of Evil Dead 2, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Red Barrels' Outlast. It's legit scary. In fact, one of my bigger complaints is that I can only stand playing the game for a few hours at a time, at which point Resident Evil 7's sustained tension simply becomes too much to bear. This is a good problem for a horror title to have.

I want to be very clear about this: Resident Evil 7 is not an action-horror hybrid. This is full-blown survival horror, and all that that entails. On more than one occasion, I've found myself frantic and trapped in one of the many dead ends inside the Baker Mansion, out of ammo and desperate to escape whatever's lunging at my back. In short, I have found myself shouting, "What the fuck am I going to do now?" far more often than usual over the past 24 hours (which is saying something!), and I am thankful for it.

I'd rather not dwell on the plot too much. For one thing, I haven't finished the game, and it's evident that information is being doled out to me on a purposefully steady drip. My suspicion is that we're meant to discover certain pieces of information at certain times, and I'd rather not trample all over Resident Evil 7's gameplan by spoiling anything here. Rest assured that the game finds you trapped inside an exceptionally filthy old mansion somewhere in Louisiana. Your job is to escape, a task that becomes exceptionally difficult once you meet the family in residence. They're an ornery, colorful lot, and they ... well, they're tenacious. Expect them to use every trick in the book (and then some) to keep you from getting out.

The level design is fantastic, with hidden passageways and looping corridors that call to mind some of the clever designs found in From Software's Dark Souls series (some of you know what high praise that is). On top of that, every square inch of the Baker homestead has been detailed to the gills: you can crouch down and inspect every last floorboard, gawp at the plaster peeking out from the strips of wallpaper peeling off the walls. At one point, I came across a trashcan which appeared to contain a discarded Whataburger cup, an environmental detail so precise (of course the Bakers would be getting Whataburger takeout, this is the South) that I just stopped and stared at it for a full minute. Bra-vo.

The game, for all its grunge and grit and gore, is absolutely beautiful. Everything about it is next-level immersive. It's also tremendously, almost cartoonishly violent. The Bakers (and the other horrors lurking in the shadows of their home) have a million ways to kill you, and you'll get to experience these deaths in startling detail. I'd mention this as a potential turnoff for some players, but then, I'd imagine such players wouldn't have much interest in a Resident Evil game to begin with. The bigger stumbling block are the puzzles, which (thus far, anyway) have struck me as underbaked at best and lazy at worst. Get this doohickey, stick it in that doohickey, and so on.

Another issue is combat, which can feel constrictive and clunky, particularly in the game's boss encounters. As I write this, I'm currently stuck on one battle that I've failed to conquer a half dozen times, and it's become clear this is more a fault of the game's controls than it is of me as a player. Luckily, these moments are few and far between (really, it's mostly just the boss fights), and it's worth noting that they're made all the more glaring for how smooth and intuitive the rest of the gameplay is. 

There's also a heavy reliance on stealth that I'm not entirely crazy about. In practice, some stretches of the game feel a lot like Alien: Isolation: hide behind this box until an invulnerable enemy passes, figure out their patterns to navigate your way towards the exit, run away if they spot you, etc. But even those moments are elevated by the masterful level design and some seriously impressive voice acting work from the main cast. I grow easily frustrated with stealth games, but I've only rarely grown irritated while navigating such sequences in Resident Evil 7. As disdainful as I am of the trope, the way it's employed here is generally too much fun to get angry about. 

Look, I'm only about a third of the way through the game, but even if the rest of this thing totally whiffs it, I'm almost tempted to recommend Resident Evil 7 solely on the strength of its opening third. A casual glance at the game's critical reception indicates that this is a safe bet (it's sitting at a solid 86% on Metacritic at the time of this writing). If you're on the fence about this one, I'd strongly advise you to give it a shot, especially those of you who feel like lapsed Resident Evil fans. This is almost certainly the return to form you've been waiting for.

Any of you guys playing this one? Sound off below. Just don't be a dick about spoilers.