The Resident Evil franchise never really been genuinely scary. It’s always been cheesy-scary, a Saturday night at the movies with some movie full of pretty young things getting picked off by low-budget special effects that slowly cranked up the budget and cheese until the sister film series was practically a model of restraint by comparison. Bar high watermarks like Resident Evil 4, the series was, one supposed, comfy, a carnival funhouse with guns.
Resident Evil VIII chucks all that out the window. And in the process, it makes a credible bid for the best entry in the series.
Resident Evil VII (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Resident Evil VII often feels like a horror movie that gets every moment right, especially in its first half. It starts with the art direction, which is suitably unnerving in how gross and worn and moldy everything is. Even when nothing’s happening, a sense of something being wrong oozes out of every pixel. The largely quiet, restrained sound design is nearly perfect as well: Don’t play this game with headphones if you’ve got a strong startle response. The story even manages to tie its much more intimate and creepy setting and style, following normal guy Ethan tracking his wife to a creepy Louisiana plantation, to the wacky backstory of the other games without sacrificing tone.
There are bits of other horror games in here, most notably Alien: Isolation in the first half of the game as you have an unkillable enemy slowly, patiently stalking you as you try to solve puzzles. This manages to add a nice mechanic at the same time with videotapes; finding tapes (the first one of which you can check out below) not only unlocks creepy little bonus levels you can play through, the tapes also lay out secrets and traps to avoid, including one spectacular sequence where you run through a hellish gauntlet on the tape and then sprint through it as Ethan. When this game sings, it’s thrilling and scary as hell.