Written by Jonathan Wojcik
REVIEWING RESIDENT EVIL VII MONSTERS
Well, just one day before Halloween, we've made it to the very last new Resident Evil game at the time of this writing. From the comments on previous reviews, it sounds like people are fully expecting me to trash this game and rip on its lack of weirder, more diverse monsters, but that's not actually how I feel about it at all. I'm disappointed with writing decisions this one made, and I'll get to those, but I actually think the creature design, setting and atmosphere are fantastic for most of the experience. This actually IS a solid return to pure horror for this series, if not significantly scarier in places than any Resident Evil game. They absolutely outdid themselves in that department, and we're going to talk about why before I talk about the creative decisions that really did bring the whole thing down for me.
Resident Evil 7 doesn't drop us into the middle of a mass epidemic, but into the single, remote domicile of a family living deep out in the swamp where something has infected them and the surroundings with a mutagenic black fungus. Let me just say that the overarching motif if wet, mildewy rot in this game is a superb choice for horror, and the combination of that with an isolated, decrepit house and a single, deranged family touches on a kind of dread you can only really appreciate if you've had the right kind of wrong experiences.
I've LIVED this!!!
I've LIVED this!!!
The slick, slimy black fungus cakes entire rooms and underground passageways as it slowly eats away at what was, at one time, probably a beautiful home, and at any moment, the fungus can sprout its own vicious facsimiles of humanoid life.
You can argue that the basic Molded are aesthetically an awful lot like the Regenerators or Iron Maidens from Resident Evil 4, but I feel like they communicate a very different personality. There's an extremely goofy quality to those huge, fat teeth that makes this creature scarier, like a big dog that would be dopey and adorable if it wasn't hell bent on tearing out your throat at the time, and to make matters worse, it's shaped like a human and textured like the clog out of a shower drain.
Most of the enemies and bosses in this game are nothing but variations on the Molded, but there's really nothing wrong with that. Resident Evil did set a precedent for games overrun with weird, clever monsters and that is something I practically live for, but I appreciate focus just as much. I even enjoy horror games with just one kind of monster if it's done right, but Resident Evil 7 still offers an interesting variety within the boundaries it set for itself. I mean, look at the "blade molded!" What an absurd, toothy fungus puppet! What a beautifully, beautifully unhealthy texture! You can practically smell it just looking at it. That sharp, stinging smell distinct to wet mold that makes your eyes gush with liquid and your lungs want to clamp shut. Even if you survive these monsters, they would leave your respiratory health in shambles for quite possibly the rest of your life.
You know they couldn't set a Resident Evil game in a bayou without GATORS! I completely forgot there was also a giant alligator in the sewers of Resident Evil 2, so let's make up for that by at least acknowledging these big, mutated, fungus-infested archosaurs.
Fumers are introduced only in a DLC scenario, but we'll cover them before we move on to the "villains" of the main game. Fumers are encountered in an abandoned salt mine where an another strain of fungal bioweapon is thriving; this one a fuzzier, whiter kind of mold that seems to take over human bodies rather than just forming its own. A whole other flavor of mold-based terror! You get the wet, slimy kind of mold and dry, musty kind of mold in one game! What more could you ask for!?
They really look just grisly, too. Think about the textures going on in this one image; the skinless, exposed muscle that only looks dried out and sticky to the touch, strips of hairy fungus clinging to it like it rolled in lint, soft powder clumping to every step of its raw feet. Have you ever gotten cotton fuzz stuck to a bleeding wound on your skin? I assure you it is a uniquely disgusting sensation, and that is this thing's entire body. Most Resident Evil monsters have only had the same slick, meaty look to them, but the art department truly outdid themselves here.
Holy moley, this thing. Everything I just said about gross combinations of wet and dry textures is even more heinous in this almost yeti-like figure, and you really have to see her in action to fully appreciate her. This is one of Resident Evil's big, slow, relentless, unique monsters that just won't stop coming back to haunt you, and an exceptionally terrifying one for that damn face alone. Something about a wide open, toothless mouth in a humanoid face makes for one of the most unnerving expressions anything could have while it's coming to get you.
Mama Mold even introduces to us a more "classic" sort of Resident Evil monster, my kind of weird little mutant. It's basically how she gets her name, because she can force out these spidery little things from her putrid, moldy guts whenever she wants. I'd already like them if they were just featureless, scuttling lumps of fungus, but they throw in a single eyeball and a toothy mouth skewed like some kind of a messed-up flounder that used to be a person's head. Are they clots of fungus and human remains, or are they grown wholly from Mama Mold's tissues??
THE LITTLE CRAWLERS
So now we get into the main bad guys of the original campaign, and Jack Baker, the husband and father of the household, is absolutely, without a doubt, one of the scariest antagonists I have ever seen put into a video game. The mindless, senseless rage pent up in him, the way he can snap between a calm, soothing voice and a jarring outburst of emotion are frightening, to me, on a viscerally realistic level I have never seen incorporated into a game before. He isn't just a snarling monster; he's a shockingly life-like representation of how nightmarish an ordinary, every day person can be. I have known this guy in real life. I have also been politely greeted and then screamed at by this guy in the middle of the night on city streets for reasons that never became clear. Is that just me? Just bad luck? Does nobody else kind of expect any random person to just snap in mid-sentence for no reason sometimes?
Jack's home was polluted by the experimental fungus when a wrecked tanker drifted into the swamp, and now he's seemingly immortal. No matter how injured he gets, his flesh comes bubbling and boiling back until he's almost good as new, and the pure zeal he has to first show you the "miracle" is downright chilling.
Jack does, of course, ultimately erupt into a more over-the-top fungus monster, with a giant upside-down head and hideously enlarged eye. If anything, his horror factor really diminishes in the process, but it's a necessary sacrifice for a more traditional Resident Evil monster battle, and he's still pretty scary. It really emphasizes why this type of monstrosity was always supposed to be effective; that we're seeing a human being completely lost to mindless, bestial violence.
In the DLC, we discover that Jack actually survived, or his body did anyway, overgrown with mold into a cliche "swamp man" that I'm more or less glad found a home in this franchise.
Good GOD. The fact that Jack's wife remains almost completely human looking only makes her mutation the most unpleasant in the game, her entire groin and stomach area having become a hollow basked of porous, hardened tissue that plays host to tiny, wasp-like insects. Her ability to control arthropods is never explained, but she can even command swarms of spiders and has a bunch of centipedes concealed in her mouth!
The way her skin is stretched taught around that calcified cyst is just godawful, and they had to go and give her just slightly-too-long arms, too.
Marguerite's personality is as harrowing as her husband as she stalks you throughout the darkest, most rotten old structure on their whole plantation, and is under a constant delusion that she's just dealing with a rude, ungrateful guest. She's in charge of preparing all of her family's food, and it's almost all made from a mix of mutant fungus and the people they've been kidnapping from the nearest town. I guess I should have mentioned earlier that this was also a "cannibal family" horror scenario.
It's a close contest, but Jack and Marguerite's son might be the creepiest of them all; a philosophical pseudo-intellectual who obsessively subjects their kidnapped victims to a maze of death traps he's constantly tinkering with. It's implied that Lucas was a cruel and violently antisocial kid well before he was corrupted by parasitic mold, but an engineering genius who never had the opportunity to apply his talents. Too bad that in this setting, we already know what kind of companies are hiring people who a) know how to build insidiously clever security systems and b) have no regard for human life. He's someone we might have encountered as a mastermind villain in any of the previous installments, but this one's stuck acting out his power fantasies in a series of rotting shacks.
Lucas's mix of sadism and ego, with a pronounced sense of entitlement and superiority, are another of those things you won't find scary if you've only ever seen them in fiction. Trust me when I say, again, that this exact person is real and I have had interactions with them.
Lucas's big mutation might be the most "Resident Evil" sort of design in this game, including multiple faces, branching giant fingers and a left arm that also looks like some kind of giant, rotten fish or reptile. Not bad, though again, actually less menacing than he was as a human.
Here we are at last, not just the final monster from this game but our final Resident Evil monster of the entire year...and, sadly, the point at which I felt kind of cheated by this game's storyline.
Eveline seems, at first, to be just another member of this mutated family, appearing at first to be an innocent child who became a dangerous monster under not just the influence of the mold, but the influence of a psychologically and physically abusive family. As you slowly unravel, however, she is actually the original source of the infection, central hive mind of the Molded and was never a normal human to begin with. Rather, Eveline was created from a human embryo infused with genetically modified fungus, artificially aged up to the form of a ten year old girl and programmed to function as an insidious biological weapon - one that would use its harmless, sympathetic guise to infiltrate enemy territory and begin to spread as an intelligent infection.
Unfortunately, Eveline still possessed a very human desire to be loved and have an actual family, like any other child, but was assigned only a pair of escorts to act as false "parents" while transporting the weapon. It was during this transportation that Eveline ran amok, infecting the entire crew of the cargo ship Annabelle and grounding it in Louisiana, where she was eventually found by the Baker family, took control of them the very way she was designed and programmed to do, and soon took on the guise of a helpless old woman as her artificial aging continued to progress, morphing back to her child-like form or other, more dangerous shapes as necessary to protect herself.
Everything we have seen here is a result of Eveline's desperate attempt to create a family for herself, something she handles about as well as you could ever possibly expect. She should technically be nothing but a baby, but has been forced to age and develop in a short amount of time knowing no love or compassion, knowing she is nothing but a weapon intended to terrorize and kill human beings. She was given no choice and no chance to be anything other than a monster, and through rage and hurt and confusion, her attempt to find a place in the world has unavoidably resulted in a nightmare for everyone involved.
This is about the point at which this game made me feel a level of emotion I don't think I ever felt from a horror game or even many horror films up to that point in time...and then it all very abruptly fell apart.
Everything about Eveline is, to me, heart-wrenchingly unfair. She is the saddest, most sympathetic character in the entirety of Resident Evil, and it seemed very strongly like that's exactly what we were supposed to feel, from her horrible upbringing to the horrible human family she wound up stuck with.
No sooner do we finally learn her story, however, then any apparent sympathy for her is thrown out the window by the game's writers. The Bakers are revealed to have been kind, innocent people until "corrupted" by Eveline, and as she reveals her "true form" as a scary, rotten giant witch made of smut, she's treated by the narrative as nothing but the "real" evil villain, and even blown to pieces as our hero calls her a "bitch" in a hokey, tactless Hollywood Action Ending that I found completely out of place for the game's atmosphere.
Perhaps these feelings are driven in part because, before these events, the writing of the Baker family as abusive, murderous and cruel was, to me, refreshingly realistic. A game had never really presented this kind of thing so powerfully before, and the "twist" that they're actually innocent victims might have sat just fine with me if the writers had afforded that same sympathetic framing to the actually innocent child who was literally AND figuratively "molded" into a killing machine. That they weren't willing to take her tragedy to its conclusion and give her a more dignified ending is just, well, mean. It's mean, it's shallow, and it's boring.
On another note, but one that many others have already analyzed in more detail, yes, it is extremely uncomfortable that they put a single black character into this game only for him to be the one victim we actually see slaughtered and chopped up by cannibals. After well known criticisms of Resident Evil 5, I sure hope this was sheer thoughtlessness and not some kind of deliberate joke about the situation, and I'm sorry for the both of us if you're one of those people who thinks these normal, healthy criticisms are some kind of dumb joke or "hysteria."
Resident Evil 7 could have been the best game in the series, to me personally, but ill-conceived story decisions stained the whole experience darker than Eveline's mold, and one of those two constituted the entire climax of the storyline in a story-centric game which ultimately makes several hours of emotional investment just feel like a waste of time.
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