Playing the first half of Capcom’s first-person spin on Resident Evil VII is an intense and satisfying affair. You only have to read my glowing thoughts on the first half of the game to see how impressed I was by it. This is from the perspective of someone whose first Resident Evil game was Resident Evil V which, I have on good authority from fans, is far from a shining example of the series at its best.
I wasn’t a fan of Resident Evil V, but I also wasn’t a fan of what I’d played of Resident Evil VII in preview form, either. These lower expectations may have helped with boosting my positive feelings towards the first half of the final Resident Evil VII game. The second half takes a big dip into mediocrity that, like an elevator with cut cables, keeps dropping in quality until it smashes into an awkwardly handled final act that muddies what came before. If you haven’t played it, this article will touch on some potentially spoiler-y stuff, so bookmark it and come back if you’re curious.
But if you’ve finished or have no intention of playing it (and don’t quite believe that it’s got a 9/10 rating on Steam), please read on.
The first half of the game works because it borrows liberally from one of the best survival horror games of recent history—Alien: Isolation. In my opinion, Isolation absolutely deserves its 9/10 Steam user rating, whereas Resident Evil VII does not. If you judged Resi VII in terms of its first half, it absolutely deserves a glowing score, but if you take into account the second half—and you really should as that’s a lot of hours of the game you’re otherwise ignoring—it has to drop in line with the quality of the gameplay experience.
During the first half of Resi VII, you’re being hunted by two distinct and creepy threats. Initially, they both can’t be hurt, and your firearms serve to simply make them temporarily leave you alone (like the flamethrower in Isolation). Your better bet is to relish in the tense game of hide-and-seek with these stalking foes, until their inevitable respective boss battles allow you to vanquish them.
Both of these initial threats are creepy in their own right, and make your skin crawl in the right kind of way. By the time you’ve vanquished the second one, though, the game has a noticeable dip in quality. In fact, I’d argue the only memorable sequence in the second half of Resident Evil VII is the Happy Birthday VHS tape sequence. That one is legitimately great, but despite the satisfying complexity of the puzzle, it’s a short-lived experience in contrast to the tonal departure of the rest of the second half of the game.
The genuinely intimidating bosses (for lack of a better word) of the first half are replaced by an uninspired corridor-shooter formula with smatterings of Saw-lite. It doesn’t help that the new big bad—Lucas Baker, the son of the creepy Jack and Marguerite of the game’s first half—is more annoying than sinister. Until you encounter his big-boss form, his only threats are easy-to-spot tripwires, predictable booby-trapped supply crates, and clusters of lumbering goons that aren’t all that threatening.
On paper, I like the idea of Lucas Baker as an antagonist. He could still be an annoying character, but if his traps were more cerebral and varied, I could respect the gameplay mix-up. As it stands, the lack of cleverness in how this section is overcome, combined with the absence of that gut-wrenching feeling that you’re being stalked, means it falls flat next to what came before.
By the time I made it to the insipid Wrecked Ship level, I was frustrated. When I got to the end of that level, I was all but done with Resident Evil VII. At least the prior Lucas levels had the traps as a way of partially mixing up the gameplay. The Wrecked Ship stuff uses frustrating survival mechanics (oh, look, all my weapons are gone again, yaaaay) to mask what’s essentially an even worse version of the generic corridor shooting that came before it under Lucas’ reign.
I’ve heard from peers who are fans that the generic shooting sections are par for the course in a Resident Evil game, but I find it a tough pill to swallow in light of just how good the first half of the game is compared to the second. It’s like the devs ran out of ideas or were forced to shoehorn in the bland shooting-heavy sections to broaden the appeal. Ultimately, Resident Evil VII proves to be a tale of two cities: one a beacon of hope for the franchise, and the other a stark reminder of its recent history of mediocrity.