Welcome back to our in-depth Game In Progress review of Resident Evil 7. In this final installment, Gameological editor Matt Gerardi works his way through a derelict ship and reaches the end of this grueling nightmare. You can find every part of Matt’s review here.
When last we left Ethan Winters, he was putting Jack Baker out of his misery (for real this time) and making one of the most asinine “moral choices” a video game has ever put forth. Regardless of whether you choose to save your wife or the woman you just met a few hours ago, Resident Evil 7 is poised to follow up its most empowering moment yet, your guns-blazing boss fight against monster Jack, with its most debilitating moment. Ethan and his female companion are on their way out of the bayou when their boat is attacked and they’re flung into the water. The next time you regain control, you’re playing as Mia, and all those nifty guns Ethan had collected are gone. It’s just you on a wrecked ship full of sinewy mold monsters and the answers to the story’s big mysteries.
This is the most fraught the game has felt since its opening hours. You’re surrounded by threats in a new, strange place that’s suffocatingly claustrophobic and you’re stripped of resources. Where once you were effortlessly blowing heads off with single shotgun blasts, now you’re running around narrow hallways just hoping to God you don’t turn a corner and find a snaggle-toothed atrocity in your face. You have to listen. You have to run. You have to outsmart.
It’s another quiet before the storm kind of sequence, your last bout with weakness before you’re once again controlling Ethan and set on a warpath with a backpack full of destructive goodies. At this point the game edges ever closer to being a clumsy first-person shooter, as you delve into the salt mine that doubles as a research facility for whatever shadowy corporation has turned Eveline into a mind-controlling fungus monster and blast away loads of her angry, mindless buddies.
But it’s also here the game makes its most impassioned attempts at pathos. Since early on, Resident Evil 7 has been feeding us clues about the Baker family and what seems to be an uncontrollable force that invaded their lives. It’s given a hint of tragedy to your psychopathic pursuers, something else to ground them in addition to their gruesome slapstick and familial banter. Before you head into the mines, Ethan has a conversation with a disinfected Jack Baker who explains everything and pleads with him to kill Eveline and “free his family.” As inexplicable as the scene itself is, seeing Jack in this gentle state just sitting in the Bakers’ living room is surprisingly affecting. The beleaguered father’s final request is delivered with such fragility and desperation that my heart really did melt a little for him. In this moment, the game is cleverly playing against itself, presenting a version of a character and space that’s now the complete opposite of how we once knew them—broken, calm, pitiable.
It aims for a similar trick with Eveline, who at this point is firmly established as the overwhelming evil power that took dozens of lives and corrupted the innocent Baker family. For as much as Mia and Jack want you to hate her, the game never stops reminding you about her past and the inhumane processes that made her this way. Eveline was born and bred to be a weapon of mass destruction. She was deprived of everything and the game’s events were largely a result of that childhood in captivity. Just as the bio-weapon corporation that was raising Eveline had corrupted her, so to does she infiltrate the Baker family and ruin them.
For as heavy-handed as the game is in delivering the truth about her emotional trauma, it acts completely tone deaf to that sympathetic backstory. In a perfectly executed coming-full-circle moment, we exit the mines and find ourselves back in the guest house, where the game began, retracing our steps in search of Eveline. The sight of that messy old house is shockingly comforting. It’s only right that we end things where they started. We get some flashbacks to what Ethan endured here several hours ago, but for the most part, it’s a quiet climb up to the attic where Eveline, who’s revealed to have been Granny Baker the whole time, is waiting. After the game’s heartstring tugging and the contemplative trip toward her, it feels like RE7 is building to a low-key ending, a chance to give Evie a lethal injection and free her from the horror that’s been her life. We get that, and then, of course, everything goes crazy and Eveline grows into a 20-foot-tall tentacle monster.
This is an ending that’s both batshit insane and completely expected. For as jarring of a transition as it is, the game earned this absurdity with the relative restraint of everything that came before. We know the kind of wackiness and spectacle the series is capable of, and we can see it constantly threatening to burst through RE7’s seams. It finally pokes its head out during the boss fight against Jack’s monstrous form, but doesn’t truly erupt from beneath the surface until we reach this finale. It’s also here that RE7 is explicitly tied back into the series’ mythology, but the conclusion raises more questions than it answers. (And in a particularly gross move, we’re teased with an advertisement for an upcoming downloadable side story that seems like it might tie up some loose ends.) Is this Redfield really Chris Redfield? And if so, why would he be riding in an Umbrella Corporation helicopter?
The biggest mystery in my mind, though, is how Capcom could possibly follow up on Resident Evil 7. This is a game that exceeded all expectations and brilliantly reimagined the series’ roots. It’s a masterfully paced and manipulative piece of horror, relying more on intimate scares and a dread that’s inescapable even when you’re lugging around guns and ammo. But this ending nods toward something grander and less powerful than the personal nightmare you just endured. It would be a pity if it were a sign of what’s to come, but even if the series launches back down the road that led to Resident Evil 6, RE7 will stand as a ballsy, much-needed reboot for a waning pioneer of video game terror.