Zombies aren't the only thing to shuffle into view with the announcement of a new Resident Evil. Over the last few weeks, websites and magazines from across the games press have engaged in a very different act of reincarnation, digging up memories of the series' finest hour in what now feels like a tradition - even a ritual.
Resident Evil 4 is a landmark title, of course, but with the passage of time it has come to resemble something far less positive: an albatross around Capcom's neck, perhaps, or a stick with which critics can beat any sequel that fails to reach its dizzy heights - which, incidentally, is all of them.
This tendency to wax nostalgic about a now 11 year-old game is clearly driven by hope; the hope that someday there will be another Resident Evil that feels as fresh, as claustrophobic, and as confrontational as Resi 4 did way back when. Capcom, with what seems like an ever dwindling line-up of genuine AAA franchises, no doubt feels the same.
"The shift to first-person takes Resident Evil 7 closer to its roots than the series has been in more than a decade"
The seventh full game in the series might finally be enough to put an end to those reheated odes to Resident Evil 4. It has been clear for quite some time that Capcom was making a bold departure from what had defined the franchise over the last decade: the shift to first-person view, the well publicised support for PlayStation VR, and a subtitle, Biohazard, that referenced the Japanese title of the game that started it all more than 20 years ago.
Resident Evil 7 was designed to be a reboot, and any reboot carries a certain measure of risk. In this case, though, that risk has paid off, the critics near unanimous in their praise for a sequel that manages to reclaim the series' core values by striking out in a new direction. Polygon's review, which awarded a 9 out of 10, noted "echoes of the series' history" in design choices that, at one point, seemed ripe with the potential to divide longstanding fans - most notably the new viewpoint.
"Some fans have decried this change as further evidence of Capcom losing its way, but that couldn't be further from the truth. The shift to first-person takes Resident Evil 7 closer to its roots than the series has been in more than a decade.... While a fully controllable first-person view is quite different from the static third-person cameras of the old-school RE games, it shares a key element with them: a limited perspective. Resident Evil 7 limits this perspective even further by making turning speed very slow. This adds a huge amount of tension as you explore."
"The cumulative effect of all that adrenaline baiting is eventually one of terror fatigue and nausea"
Resident Evil 7 also trades the sprawling landscapes of the last few games to focus on a single location: a decrepit house in the swamps of Louisiana, a clear nod to the setting of the first Resident Evil. Polygon continued: "I had to scour every corner of the house for resources. I had to memorize secret passageways and figure out which doors I could hide behind, and which hallways could get me to safety fastest.
"That last requirement is notable, because no Resident Evil game since the first has done as good a job as RE7 at making me feel scared and helpless."
The Guardian was also gripped by fear, and offered a full five stars in exchange for its ordeal. Resident Evil 7 is survival horror that brings horror to the fore, placing an emphasis on "jump scares and fright making" that is further boosted by the switch to first-person.
"The cumulative effect of all that adrenaline baiting is eventually one of terror, fatigue and nausea. You learn to glance down at your phone when creaking open a new door in order to lessen the effects of the screech and screen shudder if something grabs your face on the other side. The designers are wise to such evasive manoeuvres, and position their scares at unexpected intervals."
Indeed, The Guardian concluded that, with Resident Evil 7, Capcom has finally released a game equal to the towering achievements of the past. "Reinventing older game series' to fit ever expanding technological boundaries while maintaining their quiddity is one of the great challenges in game design. Indeed, it's one that Resident Evil's creators have failed to meet on numerous occasions. Resident Evil 7, by contrast, is a masterclass: breezily new, yet quintessentially in character with its illustrious forebearers."
"I wouldn't go so far as to call Resident Evil 7 'casual survival horror,' but it's in that direction"
There are dissenting voices, though they represent a clear minority in terms of the general positivity that now surrounds Resident Evil 7. Time, for example, lamented poor choices made later in the game that upset the delicate balance Capcom strikes in the closed environment of the house: a trip through the surrounding swamps finishes with "a coda that's as rote as they come," a sequence that arbitrarily deprives the player of "combat competency" is described as "odious," and the game ultimately provides too much ammo, too many save points, and an overpowered blocking mechanic. "I wouldn't go so far as to call Resident Evil 7 'casual survival horror,' but it's in that direction," Time said, offering a score equivalent to just 50% despite the game's many positive qualities.
Eurogamer was more positive, if not inspired enough to award either its "Recommended" or "Essential" accolades. There is great merit in the game's environmental design and atmosphere, it said, but the frequency of "scripted jump scares" and the absence of "a higher class of monster" drags on the aspects of the game that are legitimately excellent.
"At heart [Resident Evil 7] is a fairly pedestrian species of bogeyman - a series of peekaboo jolts and serviceable gun battles strewn across a sumptuous, cohesive environment, constructed with no shortage of craft but not a whole lot of real imagination... Once you've acclimatised to Resident Evil 7's tactics, it seldom gives you much reason to be afraid of what lurks beyond."
If you own PlayStation VR, though, any such claim may be sorely tested. For the most part virtual reality support is absent from reviews of Resident Evil 7, and when it does feature it's often separate from the main text. Even within that small number of appraisals, opinions are mixed: Eurogamer found it "quietly gripping," if prone to the kind of technical imperfections that can prove unintentionally hilarious; Polygon was dogged by nausea, finding it a "less than ideal way to play" in all but the quietest sections of the game; The Guardian, meanwhile, simply marvelled at why anyone would want to play such a frightening game in an even more immersive format.
However, Ars Technica went further, gladly acknowledging moments of discomfort and jarring instability before making a bold claim. "A knife being held to your face; an enemy radically altering your perspective; a kill-cam moment where you deliver a final, grotesque blow-these fun moments look cool on a TV, but they are better in VR.
"This new game...shows up just as people start to ask, 'how do we do horror in VR?' RE7 doesn't just answer that question. It slams its winning, bloody hand onto a table like a defiant poker champ. To be fair, the game still leaves some VR territory unexplored, particularly things like hand-tracked controllers and room-scale experiences, but its tasteful handling of comfort, presence, and jump-scare gimmicks has no peer."