I remember being tense and uncomfortable approaching the gates to the Dulvey Haunted House. The immense estate sitting behind a chained gate with a call box buzzer where, when pressed, no one seems to want to let me onto the property. “Welp, I guess no one’s home. I’ll just leave now,” I think to myself. Of course, there’s another way around, there’s always another way around. Walking past a van containing a book with an encouraging invitation written on the back of it, I’ve spotted a man disappearing into the woods. Attempting to follow him, I’m met with a wall of sawblades and bloody, separated dear limbs. I’m cracking jokes to keep myself calm as my brothers and nephew giggle and encourage me while streaming Resident Evil VII: Biohazard, the first and only Resident Evil game I’ve played to date.
Let me preamble this by saying that I can watch any horror movie and be completely unaffected by the intricate character experience told on screen. Give me any Saw, The Exorcist, or whatever movie you think is scary and I can handle it, but put me into the action as the main character and I’m a nervous wreck wearing the expression of a nonchalant human person. I know the game is fake and I know that what I’m seeing couldn’t possibly hurt me in my physical reality, but when a game does it right, which Resident Evil VII absolutely does, I’m immersed to an extent where I can’t decipher where the character ends and I begin. I’m cautious looking around corners, I tremble in terror, and I scream in fright. My brothers love watching me stream these types of games because they are clearly sadistic, but because of them I am slowly branching out into a gaming genre I’ve always been interested in, conquering some of the games as well as some of my fear little-by-little.
I’ve always enjoyed the stories the Resident Evil series has offered. I watched while others played the games, intrigued by the puzzles of moving statues and relocating gems while infected zombies or mutated monsters would stalk my friends trying to solve them. I once tried to make myself play Resident Evil 3: Nemesis after receiving a demo of it, but I never could make it through even that. Now, when I think that I was able to make my way through the houses of the Baker Family Mansion (or ranch, depending upon your version of the game)and through all of its puzzles with an inexhaustible amount of enemies dubbed “The Molded” gunning for me and incomparable boss battles, I get a bit impressed with myself. Sure, I had to take it a little bit at a time but in a house that gives off some serious Texas Chain Saw Massacre vibes, and where literal chainsaw fights take place, that was a big achievement for me.
Resident Evil VII marked a definite shift for the series into a first-person perspective that was very briefly used in the ill-fated and seldom talked about Resident Evil: Survivor. Originally coded for use with a light-gun attachment (like Time Crisis or House of the Dead) Survivor abandoned this concept when arriving on PlayStation in North America following the tragedy at Columbine, though it did serve as the precursor to the arcade version of Resident Evil: Survivor 2 aka Code Veronica. REVII also serves as the first Resident Evil game fully-playable for a lengthy 12 hours in VR, I didn’t try the game in VR because I likely would have to be admitted to a place with padded walls where I could suck my thumb all day after that experience since I was plenty frightened without a headset. Critically speaking, however, the shift on both fronts was entirely successful for Resident Evil VII, probably thanks to better graphics and an immersive story, headlined by one of the most sinister families in gaming I can recall.
If you’ve never been introduced to the Bakers, they are all about family and they can’t wait for you to join theirs… forever. Your character, Ethan (Todd Soley), is desperately rummaging through the dilapidated Baker homestead of houses after receiving a video message from his wife that has been missing for two years. The plot thickens when you find your wife, Mia (Katie O’Hagan), after a mere 30 minutes of gameplay, but she’s changed. Now a warped, alternative version, eerily reminiscent of Embeth Davidtz’s transformation in Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness, possesses the woman Ethan has come to save. Attempting to save Mia from this nightmare has proven to be an arduous task as Mia tries to kill Ethan and toxic relationship patterns start to emerge. Ethan does find a way to bury the hatchet, albeit it straight into Mia’s neck, who then returns to relentlessly try and murder Ethan, chopping his hand off in the process. Ah, love.
Before I knew it, Ethan’s hand had been returned and I’m sitting around with the family, grandma looks helpless enough but I know better and she instantly becomes the most suspicious family member, even as patriarch Jack (Jack Brand) literally tears his son, Lucas’ (Jesse Pimentel), hand off. The dysfunction ensues until the family leaves and I have to break out of my chair, resulting in an anxiety-filled me looking for a weapon to brain whatever is coming for me next. Jack chased me around the table and through the living room until I was able to make it to the hallway where he then burst through the wall and I physically screamed, jumping out of my seat and landing on the floor. This was my favorite and most memorable scene of Resident Evil VII that I’ve been told is more of an Easter egg than something that happens for everyone.
Jack is hands-down the best villain in Resident Evil VII. Period. I will fight anyone on this. The family matriarch, Marguerite (Sara Coates), may be the next best and equally terrifying, but the finale of facing off against big baddie Eveline (Paula Rhodes) didn’t live up to the far better fights I found myself in earlier in the game. Jack and Ethan have one hell of a first battle in the garage, as Ethan pins Jack with a car, shoots him several times, and sets him on fire before allowing Ethan to move on. Later, and as I touched upon earlier, Jack and Ethan have an epic chainsaw fight similar to the one Nicolas Cage finds himself in at the end of Mandy, before facing off a final time in a burning boat house with Jack’s mutated remains. As much as I hated that he absolutely refused to die throughout the game, I grew to admire his persistence and the character’s cheeky tone bearing down on me from a place of elated evil.
With Marguerite I felt a degree of difference probably because she is not nearly as persistent. I didn’t find her as fun to fight but she is terrifyingly creepy, like a mutated version of Darlene (Lisa Emery) from Ozark. During my run I had no trouble with her in the first battle, as she trapped me in a pit forcing the low ground on me. When I finished her I didn’t notice the tunnel she left, which left me thinking I had to go back through the maze that led me here, that was annoying, but it was my fault. The second meeting with Marguerite was far more notable; her jumping through the window right at the start scared me half to death. When I made my way into the greenhouse area, I stopped at a cabinet to gather supplies, not knowing I had already triggered the fight. Marguerite snuck up behind me and when I turned around her bug body was about to attack. I screamed like a child. I didn’t have a lot of trouble through any of the boss runs but I do confess that the greenhouse fight was likely the one that caused me the most. Marguerite is wiry and elusive and it took a good amount of tries before I realized that flamethrower refills were all over the place for a reason and I was being stupid trying to beat her with a shotgun.
Mia never really reaches boss level status because she is sort of your introduction to the Baker family fight club, though not exactly one of the bosses she is more an immersive tutorial to how boss battles are going to feel. She’s scary as hell when she goes full-on possessed and considering she’s aiding you throughout the first area of the game, her being a monster is somewhat unexpected. So her driving a knife through your hand, throwing you through a wall, chopping off your hand and trying to end you with a chainsaw all seems pretty hardcore. I mean, Ethan could have maybe just moved on and settled down with someone new, leaving this murderous bayou of mutated misfits alone, but instead we get tutorial battle lessons from his chainsaw wielding, possessed wife and it’s far more fun this way.
With Lucas, I honestly had to look up the boss battle. I remembered going through his Joker inspired birthday party videotape sequence which ended the cinematography of the videotape leaving, trespassing ghost hunters in the Baker family’s abode but it provided Ethan the necessary means of escape from Lucas’ trap. Apparently, Lucas escapes a final battle with Ethan and becomes the central villain of the “Not a Hero” DLC pack to Resident Evil VII. The mission picks up right from the end of the game where Mia and Ethan are returned to safety and debriefed before Chris Redfield (David Vaughn) and Blue Umbrella mercenaries move into the location to find Lucas before he can move the venomous bioweapon to threatening crime syndicate, The Connections.
That just leaves Eveline. The creepy goth-doll looking child of the Baker estate, the crashed ocean liner, and the salt mines. Infecting the Baker family and making them into monsters, Eveline has been the source of Ethan’s troubles all along, hiding in plain sight as (you guessed it) granny throughout the game. Eveline is a child trying to create a family unit using the mutated bioweapon and anyone who has disobeyed or threatened her has suffered at her hands. Either you “accept her gift” or die. Eveline is a fun concept but though I feared facing her, I felt disappointed in the end. Jack’s fights were fun, challenging, and I gritted my teeth in sweet satisfying vengeance when I defeated him. Eveline’s defeat definitely felt geared more toward the VR helmet as she became a large black mass that came hurdling towards the screen. When she went out with a whimper, I was proud of myself for finishing the game, but I didn’t feel the accomplishment.
Beyond the bosses the game also features a single decision-making mechanic which can trigger alternate endings in the game. Right after Ethan’s final fight with Jack the player can choose to give a serum that they’ve spent a chunk of the game collecting viand features witchcraft like ingredients, to either Mia or Zoe Baker (Giselle Gilbert), the only Baker willing to help you the entire game. Choosing either will continue the story with little difference, the same events occur until the end, with a slight difference in how fast you uncover Mia’s story. Zoe is killed by Eveline as Ethan and she approach the ship Eveline and Mia came in on, and Ethan is captured by Eveline. Choosing Mia is pretty similar except Mia isn’t killed as they approach the ship, Ethan is still taken and either way you play through the next part of the story as Mia.
My least favorite part of Resident Evil VII was probably the ship. After Ethan goes unconscious and Eveline captures him, Mia runs around the capsized ship trying to rescue him. Survivor mode is in full effect here as you continue through the area without any of Ethan’s collected weaponry or goods. Though the area is profoundly creepy it just seemed tedious to me. There’s a couple of flashback sequences and a lot of the running around just leads you back to the same place, though It contains plenty of jump scares—and it’s really not all that bad per se— it just felt unnecessary. Where Mia finds Ethan is the end of Mia if you choose to give the serum to Zoe, and Ethan takes a helicopter ride to the debrief session alone after defeating Eveline. Choosing Mia sees both Ethan and Mia leave Dulvey with the hope to never return.
Resident Evil VII is currently the final game in Capcom’s long running series but not for long. Resident Evil: Village will soon be gracing your PCs and consoles and continue Ethan’s story. The game is rumored to be dropping in April 2021, but nothing has been said officially by Capcom. Though trailers for the game show Ethan and Mia far away from the Dulvey Haunted House, before Chris Redfield puts a damper on their life together, I wonder if the game is going to import data from how the player finished Resident Evil VII to reflect whether or not Mia even makes it into Village at all. I can’t say if I know for sure that I will be playing Village or not, I may still need to work up the courage, but I will say from everything I’ve seen the game looks downright horrifying and that is going to make it a lot harder.