There are few horror franchises as storied as Resident Evil, after the success of Resident Evil 4 there was a shift in the tone of the franchise. Less horror with a move toward third person action. With Resident Evil 6 being a huge disappointment for the fan base. With fans receiving an unfocused mess of global bioterrorism and multiple intersecting stories that created a narrative mess. After the outcry, Capcom promised to do better with Resident Evil 7 and deliver a more focused horror experience. What remains to be seen is whether Capcom would be able to successfully return to its horror roots. The following may contain spoilers.
Picking up roughly five years after the events of Resident Evil 6, players take on the role of Ethan Winters. Trying to survive his night in the Baker estate in rural Louisiana, he discovers the dark secrets of this haunted house in the fictional town of Dulvey. The player also uncovers the truth behind the disappearance of his wife Mia and other people that were reported missing near the Baker house over the last three years. Eventually learning about Eveline and uncovering a conspiracy to create biological weapons.
Not much is known about Ethan, other than that his wife has been missing for three years. He receives an email from Mia and goes to a haunted house to find her. For the most part, Ethan is a blank slate, outside of his reactions to the situations players can project themselves onto him. With the push for VR and immersion, this works but could be easily misconstrued as lazy game design. Though as the player progresses this feels like less of a story where Ethan is the central character. While things happen to him, it’s meant to drive the plot forward, this game isn’t necessarily about him. The story focuses almost entirely on the Bakers family and their estranged daughter Zoe.
The characters while convincing are mostly left ambiguous. This is especially true as you learn about Eveline. The distinction between how much of the Baker’s sociopathic was their own and how much is Eveline’s control creates a blurred line. Our first encounter with the Baker family is at dinner, every encounter after that is them trying to kill us. With Jack being the most up front using shovels, axes and other tools. Marguerite is more subtle, stalking the player and using mutated insects. Lucas prefers sadistic games, setting up traps and trying to force victims into no-win scenarios. However, the evidence you can locate allows you to draw your own conclusions on whether the Bakers are evil or are truly victims of circumstance. Like with Ethan this could be mistaken for lazy game design but here it works where in other games this type of character development would fall on its face.
The two biggest changes for Resident Evil 7 would be the refocus on horror and moving to the first person. Since the change from isometric pre-rendered backgrounds to the third person with Resident Evil 4, the series has been moving away from its horror roots and settling more into an action game with Resident Evil characters and themes. This refocus sees the player going through Ethan Winter’s night in Louisiana with the Baker family. The refocus on horror also comes with a blend of atmospheric horror, some psychological horror and seldom used but effective jump scares.