Resident Evil 7: Analysis
A few weeks ago I tore through Resident Evil 7, it’s a great game and so I thought I’d do a little analysis of why I think that is!
I’m a huge fan of horror games, and it was the Penumbra series that originally sparked my interested in the genre. The mechanics that Frictional introduced with Penumbra (or at least, I discovered them in that game, but I suppose it’s possible they were used elsewhere earlier) helped to create the first horror game that I felt imparted a real feeling of ‘horror’.
I mention Frictional because ever since Amnesia I think other devs have picked up on the effectiveness of this style of horror game with a fair few attempts being made, most notably for me being Alien: Isolation which although in my opinion a few hours too long did a great job of making the player feel totally terrified and helpless with it’s Alien AI. You can see that Capcom have been paying attention as there are definite influences from the Amnesia side of horror here. They do a fantastic job of creating a believable belligerent AI, in fact: I think that the implementation of the AI stalkers in this game is the most polished attempt yet. They feel more fluid than they did in Amnesia; less ‘scripted’, and yet they don’t suffer from some some of the issues that I felt Alien had, the most annoying being the ‘teleportation’. I loved the Alien AI, but sometimes it threatened to break immersion with how the Alien would suddenly appear in an area when you just saw it heading a different direction.
To contrast, in Resident Evil 7 the AI always feels consistent - they do seem to patrol but they have some nice scripted behaviours that keep things feeling interesting. The triggered behaviours additionally help to make these sections of the game feel a little bit more dynamic as you may or may not trigger them depending on how you play the game.
Another great aspect that Frictional introduced to the genre, that they vastly improved with Amnesia, is physicality in horror games - having to actually push doors open and close them behind you; the ability to reach out and grab a door handle and slowly open it - these aspects ground you in the world and significantly improve immersion - and immersion is the central pillar of effective horror. Here as well Capcom have done a fantastic job - I love the door opening mechanics in this game; doors feel weighty, they impart a real sense of momentum loss as you heave open a heavy door - it feels so natural and it significantly increases your sense of panic as you run away from some horror. The only criticism I have of the door opening mechanic is the lack of a door closing mechanic: they have such a nice door opening mechanic and yet to close a door you just turn around and press ‘F’, it seems to me that they could have easily implemented the same mechanic in reverse, although I wonder if it would have slowed down the pace of the game a little too much; perhaps that’s their reasoning.
Movement is another great mechanic in RE7 - it uses an authentic style movement system, historically I’ve generally disliked this kind of system as most games I’ve played that use a similar approach just feel extremely clunky (with the amazing exception of Mirror’s Edge). However RE7 does a fantastic job; movement feels authentically clumsy without being frustrating, you get a real feeling of momentum when you run and it very much helps to enforce that idea that you aren’t just a camera, but a person with actual legs. Additionally, the movement system ensures that no matter how well armed you become the clumsiness of actually having legs and momentum means that you always feel vulnerable.
Every single truly scary horror game I’ve ever played has had the same problem which I’m going to call ‘horror fatigue’. That effect that means a lot of people end up playing these kinds of game in 15 minute bursts; because when you’re playing a game that’s actually scary well, it’s hard work to march on! Not once did I feel this during RE7; the game is exceptionally well paced, with well placed lulls and very intense periods that are sparse but effective. It varies so well throughout the game, repeatedly taking you from periods of helplessness to teasing you with some power and all the while doing a great job of making enemies always feel strong compared to you while at the same time allowing you to fight back. It does this through great enemy placement; lots of flanking, unexpected enemies that don’t feel cheap and of course a few well done set areas where the player knows going in that they’re getting into trouble - but has no choice but to go on (super scary!). Part of what helps the game to remain scary is the perfect flow of item supply - you run low on ammo and health at just the right points to keep the horror without the frustration, and you get powerful new upgrades at just the right times to help you rise up out of the despair, even if only a little and for a short while!
The variety presented in RE7 isn’t a mechanic so to speak, but it keeps the player on their toes over it’s entire duration unlike, for example; Alien: Isolation. Resident Evil 7 explores almost every horror trope you can think of; you have good old Amnesia style stalking, you have the zombie shooter, the little girl, you have ‘Saw’ style traps, creepy insect horror, crazy demon creatures, ghosts, and probably lots more as well! It’s amazing how much they’ve crammed into this game, it’s such a dense and interesting experience, and as the icing on the cake the plot is genuinely interesting with some nice foreshadowing that gives a great ‘aha’ moment (or makes you feel super smart if you guess it early on). Before I end I suppose I should actually criticise the game a little because it definitely is not perfect. The biggest crime that it commits in my opinion is that as you progress into the game some enemy types seem to have wildly varying difficulty levels without any visual difference whatsoever.
I think it’s a simple case of too much random variance in health and damage variables, but it leads to lots of frustrating deaths that happen because your expectations of an enemy type are being betrayed by a few outliers (and this occurs fairly often, but unpredictably). Finally the stalking enemies aren’t actually all that much of a threat most of the time, for example; even if they are blocking your path you can probably get away fairly easily if you just run past. This is totally different to the alien in Alien: Isolation where if it spotted you, you were likely dead unless you had a pre planned escape route; planning your escape was a big part of that game. The somewhat redeeming factor here is that because these sections happen in fairly short bursts the player may not have time to figure this out!
So to finish up; RE7 is a highly effective, extremely polished horror game, that packs in an incredible amount of variety and I highly recommend it especially if you’re looking for horror game inspiration!