Welcome back to our Game In Progress review of Resident Evil 7. In this second of three installments, Gameological editor Matt Gerardi recovers from a rough meeting with Marguerite Baker, pursues her asshole of a son, and meets up with an old friend for one final tango. Part three will pick up after the boss fight with monster Jack and cover everything through the end of the game. You can find every part of Matt’s review here.
One of Resident Evil 7’s most refreshing surprises is its deliberate change in tone. After a classically horrific opening—slow, dreadful, silent—it morphs into something more manic and comedic. For the first time, I found myself laughing with a Resident Evil game more than I was laughing at it. As we talked about in my last dispatch, a lot of that new personality can be chalked up to shifting cinematic inspirations. The crazed, murderous Baker family owes a lot to the daffy demons of Evil Dead 2 and the killer kin of Texas Chain Saw Massacre. But as mom and dad are (seemingly) laid to rest, and we leave the now familiar confines of the main Baker house behind, the game begins to invoke, in pretty direct terms, yet another unexpected horror film: Saw.
But before that new permutation, RE7 flexes its outstanding sense of pacing once again. The general rhythm starts with prolonged periods of disempowerment where you’re being hunted and scrambling to find what little resources are strewn around. These are the moments of quiet terror, where you’re completely out of sorts, navigating unfamiliar territory and afraid of what might be lurking behind every corner or closed door. Those segments culminate with the game coming unglued again, as you’re trapped in a wild boss fight that, unless you really know what you’re doing, drains your resources and leaves you shaking. After the action has piqued, you’re off to exploring a new area, delving once again into the dark unknown with just a few bullets and herbs in your pocket. This method of building you up and cutting you down is tremendously effective, making sure that even as you’re finding stronger weapons and roomier backpacks, you’re forced to push through a situation in which you feel weak and disoriented.
And so after a draining fight against Marguerite’s true form, naturally RE7 forces players into a prolonged theme park-like haunted-house scene. It’s contrived, especially in the face of so many first-person horror games that have pulled the same tricks, but it works thanks to the broader structure of the game’s emotional torture. After going through hell just a minute ago, slowing down and wandering what amounts to a shadowy funhouse lined with tasty little details about the Bakers’ story is a welcome reprieve.
Before long, the next member of the Baker clan steps up to put you through your paces. Lucas, the twentysomething son of Jack and Marguerite, would rather rely on his amateur engineering expertise than menace you face to face. He’s also, apparently, been shotgunning his way through the Saw movies and filled the family’s barn with an obstacle course of elaborate traps built in their image. The puzzles are never particularly difficult, but they’re so different from everything that the game has thrown at you thus far that this section feels like a distinct, welcome break. Lucas might share his parents’ sadistic side, but he’s far more stable and content with antagonizing you from a distance: over the phone, on loudspeakers, on video tapes. The one time he confronts you, it’s from the other side of a locked door as he playfully feeds you false keycodes in the hopes that you’ll sit at the door’s keypad long enough for a trap to spring.
At this point, you’ve spent several hours avoiding and/or decimating forces that were largely unrelatable and unknowable, so having a foe with this kind of cunning and chattiness is a marked change in direction. For once, you’re the pursuer, making your way through Lucas’ traps and trying to pin down that abusive asshole. All the while, he’s taunting you and giving you a perfectly punchable face at which to funnel all your pent-up aggression. Everything is building to a big birthday party puzzle sequence, where you’re stripped of all your equipment and have to get a candle from one room to another without sprinklers putting it out. It’s a brilliant change of pace and filled with homages to its filmic inspiration: an ominous clown doll, a shit-filled toilet that holds a vital tool, and painful booby traps that there’s no avoiding. And true to his nature, Lucas has rigged the game so that even when you’ve won, your chances of getting out alive are slim. In a last-ditch effort to put you away, he drops a literal bundle of dynamite in the room with you—just what you’d expect from this ridiculous Wile E. Coyote wannabe.
It’s one of the game’s great disappointments thus far that you never, seemingly, catch up to Lucas. He’s bolted from his control room by the time you show up, and with your hands on the MacGuffin he’s been hoarding, you’re off to the next sequence. It’s here that the real Resident Evil finally starts to rear its giant, amorphous, eyeball-covered head. Jack is back, and like every big-time villain the series has featured over the last decade, he’s exploded into a tentacled mess, and you’re dragged into a lengthy boss fight where you have to shoot his many eyeballs. It’s the first sign of RE7 really indulging in the series’ latter-day tropes, and my gut tells me there’s more to come. At the same time, it retains a bit of that absurd humor that helped energize the game’s first hours, as monster Jack slithers around hurling obscenities and insults your way.
In a way, it’s the most pedestrian of all the game’s crescendoes thus far. Anyone who’s played a Resident Evil game before is waiting for that shoe to drop, for the game to finally go big. But there’s something far more terrifying and entertaining about a fight against an unstoppable, unrelenting force your own size—the kind of conflicts we’ve been locked in up to this point—that’s lost when you blow it up to such ludicrous proportions. That said, the downtime of your waltz through the old house’s spooky second floor, and especially Lucas’ barn of horrors, really helps set the stage for this kind of escalation. RE7 gets as sedate and normal as possible before it reveals its craziest self and shuffles you off to its finale.