Were it physically possible for a human skeleton to crawl out of a body through the mouth so that all the flesh peeled down to form a bloody skirt made of guts, and for that skeleton to run around the room getting tangled up in bunting and pulling bookshelves down on itself, then Resident Evil 7 would have ejected my panicking bones in a matter of minutes.
This is a very scary game about a creepy old house, and a surprising return to form for an increasingly diluted horror series. With too few exceptions along the way, the Resident Evil games had devolved into mindless, action-focused zombie blasters, high on thrills but low on subtlety, oddly obsessed with cooperative play and too bogged down in overblown lore.
With Resident Evil 7, Capcom hits the reset button and drags the decades-old series back to its single-player fundamentals. You’re alone and barely armed in a spooky mansion in the woods, you’re being hunted by a family of hillbilly psychopaths with bad hygiene, and behind every creaking wooden door loom threats both imagined and real. This is first-person survival horror in the purest sense, an homage to the original Resident Evil that draws inspiration from cinema’s greatest hits. Blair Witch lends the game some found-footage moments, whereas the dirt and bloodstained grime of the mansion itself owes a debt to grindhouse classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
You spend much of your time creeping between badly lit rooms in search of the various keys and emblems that will unlock the path forward, deeper into the labyrinthine house in which you’ve been trapped. The deranged Baker family forms an almost supernatural threat, appearing at random moments to howl and chase you around with shovels, occasionally bursting through the walls of their own home with scant regard for the property value. Even when you’re not playing hide and seek with these toothless menaces, their presence is still felt and heard in the distant creaking of floorboards, and in the rattling of door handles in previously explored rooms.
It’s a pervasive and exhausting sense of tension, and one that follows some well-observed pacing tropes: at times rescue seems tantalisingly close, only to be violently denied.
Things get a little flabby in the latter half of the game, marred by some less interesting encounters with more “gamesy” enemies, but the early hours of this game represent the Resident Evil series at its forgotten best. An authentic and genuinely terriying survival horror experience.