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.