My primary complaint with RE7 is in its baddies – the Molded. These are big lumbering stupid things made out of gooey black mold, and they simply do not deliver anything. You may think a zombie is played out territory, but do them right (as this series has done many times) and they’re inevitably terrifying. You stare so many things in the face – the fear of death, of rot, of being preyed upon and becoming nought more than meat between teeth. Succumbing to something so slow and witless that it can’t open a door, and yet here it is just going to town on meat that wants to be your organs. A fear of mindless crowds, of violent and confused voices in adjacent rooms, of degeneration in yourself or witnessed others.
The black molded bring no particular fears to mind beyond, perhaps, expensive house repairs. They are not recognisable as humans, or as anything beyond what a generative AI would show you if you type in “scary monster”. But this goes beyond just looks – it goes all the way to their basic behaviour.
The way a zombie attacks, has attacked, should always attack – a grab, and a bite. Perhaps a slash with broken fingers now and then, but the grab is the important part. Horror games where you don’t get grabbed1 are just no good. Grabs are inherently horrific, or at the very least extremely unpleasant – the player is yanked out of agency, they are slowed down and impeded as everything else shuffles closer. Even the camera itself may be torn from control for a closeup of pain, blood and consumption. In more high-falutin’ terms, a grab attack threatens to violate the closest thing a player has to bodily autonomy – even regardless of our immersion, we want to avoid it, which wraps back around and reinforces immersion.
Molded are actually capable of some nasty grab attacks – but they rarely ever employ them. Perhaps this is because of the first-person perspective, or possibly because of the (very strange) blocking mechanic. Instead, they mostly lunge and swing at the player, simple punches and claws – if the attack connects, you stumble for a moment, but no more. A number is subtracted from an invisible HP number. Everyone continues as normal. If the player dies, the sight isn’t of a horrible thing toppling the player and feeding – the player simply yells at the ceiling and falls to the ground, completely disconnected from the enemy. The enemy stands there and lets you check out its shins before you go back to a checkpoint.
Much hay is made about the Bakers; mama and papa are pretty cool and make all of the game’s best moments – but they only define a small slice of the time spent playing RE7. The rest is spent with the lame molded or their lame son. The game eventually ditches its main strength – the grimy southern country house setting, which is beautifully executed – for a lame mine and a lamer boat. But this is at least par for the series2 – I mostly just can’t get over how much I dislike the stupid goo boys.
But while the game flubs this fundamental, it actually gets another thing very right. Resident Evil has always been an exercise in offering more than just a one-and-done campaign. The series is a rich tradition of alternate characters, extra game modes, randomizers and unlockables – and provided that you forked out for all the DLC, the game delivers, trying all sorts of things in all sorts of directions. The game picks up a little bit of that manic promise that it had at the start and starts surprising you again. How bizarre that this game got this so right, while RE8 and the RE3 remake had so much less to offer here.
Really nice save room music.
Even Rare knew this in their dark Microsoft years, producing a game called “Grabbed by the Ghoulies”. Who wouldn’t want to be grabbed by a ghoulie? ↩
The impeccable RE2 remake is probably the one game that breaks this tradition – maybe because I don’t think the police station is that cool to make the labs a fall from grace, but perhaps because zombies stay relevant and scary the whole way through the game, as they should. ↩