Resident Evil 7 Part 2: The Impotence of the Reset Button

Upon finishing Resident Evil 7 on my third sitting in a scant seven and a half hours, my first thought was, "What now?" Well, fine, it wasn’t quite that philosophical—I laughed about Chris Redfield’s new boy-band-Ryan-Gosling-in-The-Notebook-ass-face and wondered aloud why the hell he was working for Umbrella now (the series’ stock Evil Corporation.) Still, despite the ending’s seeming dogged determination to wrap every story thread up with as pretty a bow as possible, I left feeling rather unresolved on the future of the series.

First, a quick recap on the story and events of the game for those who don’t know. Ethan’s wife, Mia, after having disappeared for three years, sends him a message to come to a run-down Louisiana shack of a property. He shows up and finds her rather promptly, but she rapidly vacillates between sanity and attempting to murder him against her will. Then, Ethan is captured by the Baker family, who own the property and keep talking about “her gift.” I wonder if this has anything to do with the creepy little girl we keep seeing? It’s a plot point so obvious that the sarcasm in my voice should register in words alone. As to what “her gift” is, even the game hand-waves it in late game exposition; “the effects vary from individual to individual, yet they are all imbued with super strength.” I’m paraphrasing, but only a little. It’s the science-y equivalent of “eh, we dunno, but they’re all super tough for the player to defeat!”

But not too tough, in real terms. I played on Normal, after being convinced by the game’s emphatic warning against Madhouse difficulty the first time around, and left it barely bruised at all. I had a disgusting amount of ammo for all my weapons, 8 or so health items, and the materials to make 7 more should I have ever required it. I didn’t. I’m not bragging about my prowess at these games—if anything, I’m mediocre, therefore I’m sure most players had a similar experience. There is a drastic downward difficulty curve near the end as players can run by most monsters, and even if they can’t, they’ve been drowned in ammo at the end of the second act of the game.

Anyway. After dealing with each of the Baker family (and condemning the only sane one to death, at least in my playthrough) Ethan rides off into the sunset with Mia, only to be stopped by the aforementioned creepy little girl. So, the last act of the game has you trudging through (or running past) crowds of black goo cannon fodder monsters as you try to find this Alma-stand-in and defeat her. Between the embarrassment of resources and the increased enemy count in tiny corridors (as opposed to the more, open, backtrack-y level design of the first two thirds of the game), the design takes a real turn. Not for the worse, necessarily, it’s just trying something different and more tightly guided than the rest of the game. I just happen to like it less. A lot less. (Although there was something indulgently satisfying about being able to blow through enemy after enemy with my surplus of shotgun ammo at the end.)

Ethan defeats the evil little girl (who turns out to be an evil old lady, gasp!) with the help of Chris Redfield and his Umbrella homies (who are clearly covering up their own mess, by the way—all the random documents lying around imply Umbrella as the creator of this bioweapon). There’s a nice little hallucination where Ethan talks to the Baker patriarch, Jack, in a not-insane-mood and he apologizes for how he’s behaved and explains what happened with Eveline (the little girl). The sun rises as Ethan gets on the Umbrella helicopter and—gasp!—his wife Mia is there and fine! Sentimental music plays as the helicopter flies into the pretty horizon and Ethan says the following:

“They say that when one door closes, another opens. Well, a door closed tonight. And what a long night it was - but not just for me. Mia and I weren't the only victims here. So were the Bakers. It was that... thing, Eveline, who made them that way. But now Eveline's dead. And these guys are here to clean up the mess. I had just come to terms with losing Mia. But now she's back and wants to start over - put all of this behind us. Maybe this is where the next door opens.”

What? Pardon my French, but this is—to borrow a term from Scholarly Circles—the most saccharine shit. Like, really? “They say that when one door closes, another opens?” “We weren’t the only victims here?” I understand I got the supposed Good Ending, but this doesn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the game at all. In fact, the ending sticks out so sorely that it almost seems intentionally incongruous. (Although it supports my theory that Ethan is the most boring white guy.)

Given that this is all Umbrella’s doing, and Ethan is now stuck in a helicopter with them with his wife, maybe the super chipper ending is intentionally ironic. He says that “here to clean up the mess,” but as a witness he is part of that mess. Maybe he’s about to bite the dust? Perhaps that isn’t Chris Redfield at all? There’s a fan theory, given his appearance with the helmet, that he’s HUNK, a soldier created by Umbrella (though I only know him as that dope Mercenaries character from RE4). That would make sense. If this is all ironic, then I am completely on board and can’t wait to see Ethan in Umbrella’s custody next time around. Otherwise, I give zero fucks.

Then again, Resident Evil as a franchise has certainly been through its own “long night” with 5’s lukewarm reception and the downright catastrophe that was 6. The ending can be seen as the creators’ statement—“let’s put all this other nonsense behind us and start again.” And the game itself supports this, as a fresh start or reboot with the first-person perspective and a renewed focus on survival horror over action. Yet if this is a fresh start with limitless possibilities, why are we returning to the well on all these ideas from Resident Evil 1 and just mixing in whatever’s been hot in horror lately—first person hiding from invincible enemies, found footage, Saw style traps? In modern mainstream art, be it movies or games, the “reset button” is clearly impotent. It’s no longer a chance to do something new, but one to do more of the same from years ago and get away with it. There is no “reset” in anything in life, so why do we keep attempting it in our franchises? Resident Evil has fallen into the same trap.

This all sounds incredibly critical, but these are big picture concerns. Resident Evil 7, on its own, is an incredibly engaging modern survival horror game with—in retrospect—near impeccable pacing and constant forward motion, despite certain nitpicks (all of which I’ve already gone over.) Even more than that, I’m deeply impressed and heartened by the return of big budget horror games—products such as this or Alien: Isolation that clearly took many millions of dollars to satisfy a seemingly niche audience. It’s awesome to see, and the game mostly succeeds in its goals. It returns to what people liked about the original Resident Evil games while making it fresh (for now).

I only worry about the future. Reboots often get it right the first time around but then don’t know what to do with their new canvas—remember Mortal Kombat or that new Star Trek? At the end of Resident Evil 7, our characters are looking at a bright sunrise... 

...yet the horizon feels uncertain.