First Thoughts: Resident Evil VII is creepy and addictive

Just five more minutes of hell. Just five more minutes of hell.

First Thoughts: Resident Evil VII is creepy and addictive

I was incredibly late to the whole Resident Evil craze, so much so that my first introduction to the series was completely at ends with what fans had been raving about in terms of the series roots. My first game was Resident Evil 5, and I certainly enjoyed it enough to sink a couple of dozen hours into it. That said, I was incredibly frustrated by the artificial tension Capcom had injected into the game by one simple design choice: the inability to move and shoot.

Suffice it to say, the quality of Resident Evil games after this fifth numbered (and my first) entry went steadily downhill. What I missed out on with those earlier games, though, was a Resident Evil that was more ‘horror’ than ‘action-horror’ (or, arguably, what became just straight-up ‘action’). I had no intention of going back to the original games and, in fairness, what I’d played of Resident Evil VII during the preview rounds failed to get a rise out of me.

For some inexplicable reason, I was still hanging out for the full release, even more so after some of my peers started raving about it. With that in mind, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. There are some bizarre optimisation issues at play with the PC version of Resident Evil VII, and it doesn’t appear to play nice with multi-monitor setups (at least that’s my theory): it jumps back and forth between the game screen and a black screen when scrolling between different submenus.

Initially, I pushed the game to max (1080p) settings, and was impressed that my single GTX 980 was seemingly able to pull in close to 100fps during the opening driving section of the game. According to the specs listed on the Steam page, this shouldn’t have been entirely unexpected, especially since the game starts with a ‘NVIDIA: The way it’s meant to be played’ video. Once I got out of the car, the frames stayed similarly high, but after jumping into the menus to invert the mouse, I returned to gameplay that was clearly struggling at around 10fps.

I caved and dropped the settings to a High equivalent with Vsync on (too many jaggies otherwise), and was relieved to see a constant 60fps. That is until I seemingly reached an attempt at a seamless transition between one part of the map to another and the frame rate would noticeably drop (sometimes bottoming-out completely) for a breath. There have been other sporadic moments when the frame rate dies completely, but thankfully none of these have been during moments where such a dip has impacted gameplay. Given the scarcity of ammunition and the slow weapon fire rate, a consistent and decent frame rate is essential.

The other main negative is a restriction on save slots, which seems decidedly backwards (and entirely unnecessary on PC) in 2017. Now that the bulk of the bad is out of the way, let’s move on to the better stuff.

Resident Evil VII has haunted me between play sessions, both in terms of some damn creepy dreams and a desire to go back for more. Capcom has clearly taken notes from Creative Assembly’s surprising masterclass in first-person horror, Alien: Isolation. Manual saving is limited to fixed spots (tape recorders), which adds to the overall tension until you realise that there are some auto-saves at play, as well as obvious safe zones (like Dead Space) where you never feel threatened.

Outside of these spaces, though, threats lurk everywhere. Mostly, it’s in terms of the creepy haunted house, where sinister sounds often cause you to refocus your attention at what might be an incoming threat. Most of the time it’s nothing but, every once in a while, it’s worth being alarmed over. I’m about halfway through the game, and there’s a great sense of Metroidvania, in that you will encounter places you can’t access initially.

The puzzles aren’t particularly difficult (with the exception of one so far), but they’re secondary to the near-constant feeling of being stalked. Once again, like Alien: Isolation, the first half of the game (at the very least; I can’t speak for beyond that) has two distinct threats stalking you. Yes, you can collect weapons to fight back against them, but initially attacking them is more about buying some breathing space (and, in turn, wasting your ammo) and less about doing any meaningful damage to them.

Those two lurking threats eventually become individual boss fights, and both prove to be tough and tense affairs. Even though I’m enjoying the accuracy afforded by mouse aiming on PC, the slow rate of fire and ways the nasties shift or (sometimes) hide their heads means pulling off consistent headshots is a tricky feat. Every missed shot is met with some real-world profanity and the very real fear that I might run out of ammunition for my preferred boss-killing weapon.

If you do die during a boss fight, you’ll have to suffer through the cutscene preamble again, which loses its impact after the first freaky fight appearance. It’s not as bad as having to go back to your last manual save—if you’re like me, you’ll be manually saving a helluva lot, especially because of the inventory management mechanic—but it’s still frustrating when you just want to jump back into the fight.

The first-person perspective is a bold and awesome move for the series. It means you can’t cheat-peek around corners to scout out threats ahead, and it makes you connect more with the protagonist, even if he does seem to switch between blasé and wise-cracking more frequently than he seems to freak out at the horrific situation unfolding around him.

Crafting is a nice touch that carries over from older games in the series, and it’s great that you have to sometimes choose between combining items to, say, make ammunition or health. To be fair, though, I run out of ammunition more often than I run out of health, and there’s a way to upgrade the latter consideration about a quarter of the way through the game. Your inventory feels perpetually cramped for slots, though, even if you’ve just collected what appears to be a sizeable increase in storage space.

It’s the atmosphere and the reality that you very much feel like an underpowered underdog that keeps me coming back for more. I wish Capcom would make save zones and cleared areas feel less devoid of threats, as the bits of non-critical-path backtracking I’ve done have mainly been speed-runs where I’m safe in the knowledge that nothing is going to jump out of me. It’d only take a single instance of that changing for me to drop right back into the tenseness that comes from the glorious creepiness that oozes out of almost every other corner of the game.

I have it on good authority that Resident Evil VII is a win for fans of the series, and if you’re like me—someone who’s never really been a fan but has been curious—this is a fantastically freaky place to start.

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