Face-Off: Resident Evil 7

Resident Evil 7 is the biggest shake-up the series has seen since the switch to an action-based focus in RE4. With a new first-person perspective and gameplay elements reminiscent of Konami’s cancelled PT, this new horror title delivers a fresh take on Resident Evil that also manages to bring the series back to its core survival horror roots. From a technical perspective, a 60fps update offers up a level of smoothness usually reserved for remasters, rather than the latest current-gen instalments. The change in direction isn’t just used to facilitate a return to survival horror gameplay either: it’s also a direct result of the game supporting PlayStation VR, where the first-person action and 60Hz refresh makes an immersive low latency VR experience possible.

These aspects clearly drive the look and feel of the game, and used in combination with a heavy layer of post-processing, generates a vision unlike any other Resident Evil title. Boasting a dark and gritty aesthetic, liberal use of chromatic aberration, depth of field, static, scanlines, and other screen distortion elements, Resident Evil 7 generates a presentation resembling ‘found footage’ running on an old CRT. The result is a soft-focused image that is suitably grimy, but intentionally so, despite the high native resolution of the game across all platforms.

Both PS4 and Xbox One present Capcom’s bleak vision at a native 1080p, with raw clarity sacrificed in favour of a more organic video-like image. Both appear visibly soft, though the PS4 version looks more refined due to its implementation of higher quality anti-aliasing. Here Capcom appears to combine post-process AA with a temporal component, providing a clean image virtually free of edge-related artefacts. In contrast, shimmering is often visible on Xbox One across sub-pixel scenery and specular reflections resulting in a rougher overall look. A simpler post-process AA solution appears to be in effect here, seemingly lacking the additional temporal coverage found on the other versions of the game.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard review

Two decades since players first stepped over the threshold of the Spencer mansion, Resident Evil has rediscovered the peculiar thrill of opening a door. Among the original game’s most distinctive flourishes are its unearthly, cutaway room transitions: doors gliding through darkness, their jaws creaking open to engulf you. Resident Evil 7 draws on vastly different design traditions – many of which it sadly struggles to build on in any significant sense – but at least to begin with, its doors give off a comparably eerie vibe.

You’ll nose against them tentatively, feeling for the chink of a lock, the pickled paintwork glistening under your flashlight in a way series creator Shinji Mikami could only have dreamed of back in 1996. You’ll nudge them ajar and pause, ears pricked for a reaction, eye trained on a sliver of mantelpiece or desktop. If you’re making use of the game’s slightly ramshackle but quite impressive PlayStation VR support, you might physically crane your neck around the frame. Then – after checking your ammunition and, perhaps, reshuffling the weapons you have mapped to the D-pad – you’ll sag forward into the room, angling to place your back to a wall as you scan its invariably grim contents: the fizz of a CRT screen in a corner, flyblown pans of meat, the frayed aurora of a bloodstain. Encountering nobody, you’ll spin on your heel to appraise the corridor you’ve just left. Nope, no obvious signs of malicious intent. Returning your attention to the room, you’ll take another few steps forward and slowly breathe out. Then the door will swing shut behind you with the gentlest of clicks, and you’ll throw the controller at the ceiling.

Resident Evil 7 is, in its way, as much a grab-bag of influences and themes as the would-be series capstone, Resident Evil 6, a game that set out to merge every form Resident Evil has taken over the years into one, ungainly whole. The first-person perspective and lumbering character movement evoke F.E.A.R. and Condemned (narrative designer Richard Pearsey’s credits include two of the former’s expansion packs), while the dreadfully greasy and emaciated art direction calls to mind the Amnesia series and Resi’s ancient rival, Silent Hill. Resident Evil 4’s crowded encounters are a distant memory, but there are shades of its frenzied risk management in combat – you can target the limbs of certain enemies to stall their attacks, or aim for the head (or whatever most resembles a head) in the hope of a swift, ammunition-conserving finish.

Time crisis: Is this the end of the light gun?

For some years I’ve felt jittery at the absence of a cathode ray tube television in my home, as if I’ve forgotten to install some crucial appliance, which, worse still, is no longer manufactured. Sure, you’re able to plug a Super Nintendo or MegaDrive into a plasma or LCD screen, those size-zero supermodels of the TV world that so cruelly and so swiftly ended the CRT’s hundred-year reign at the beginning of this century. But, when forced to perform in high definition, the old consoles pale and shudder. Playing through an HD TV is like gazing at the past through the opposite of rose-tinted spectacles; the games are stretched and smudged, ghosted by modernity. When it comes to remaking vintage games, conscientious developers often attempt to fake the CRT aesthetic, adding scan-lines or screen curves. But, as I recently discovered, you can’t fake majesty.

Ever since I sold my 28-inch Sony Trinitron for an idiotic tenner, I’ve always kept a saved eBay search for a Sony PVM in an open tab. The PVM is the Bentley of the CRT world: a broadcast quality monitor used by production companies for film and TV editing. They once costs thousands but, having been rendered obsolete by the advent of widescreens and then summarily evicted from their Soho offices, can now be bought for a fraction of their original cost. After months of stroking a ‘Buy It Now’ button, I finally bought a PVM last month, a glorious 1986 model, complete with detachable speakers that, even at a modest volume, make the walls quiver with complaint. The set, a perfect 21-inch cube, is a reminder of how Jony Ive’s sensibility has permeated contemporary product design. No white lines and slim trim here: the belongs to a different timeline. It’s arrogantly chunky, traffic light totems of amber, buttons that light-up the bezels either side of the screen. It could have been ripped from the dashboard of the Nostromo. It is beautiful.

None of that, however, compares to the picture itself. Super Metroid, which shares the CRT’s stylistic sense of brooding, futuristic understatement, shimmers on the glass. 4K be damned. In those moments after the screen blinked to life for the first time in my home, and a blood red Nintendo logo emerged from the blackness, I was fully convinced that the future of interactive wonder lies not in the digital foundry, but on the digital scrapheap. Three weeks on and the joy of unpacking dusty consoles and, after an hour or two’s picking at tangles of undefeatable wire, hearing them sing again on the stage for which they were designed, is yet to dim.