The player controls the protagonist, Ethan Winters, from a first-person perspective. Although Ethan is a civilian who offers few combat skills, he is able to arm himself with a variety of different weapons including handguns, shotguns, axes, flamethrowers, explosives and chainsaws against enemies including the Baker family, and a newly introduced type of creature known as the "Molded". Additionally, he is able to quickly turn 180 degrees to avoid enemies, as well as block incoming attacks to reduce damage. Various portions of the game are spent being pursued by members of the Baker family, who if engaged in combat, can only be temporarily incapacitated. However, these encounters are entirely avoidable by means of stealth, or simply running away.
Unlike many recent Resident Evil installments, the gameplay emphasizes horror and exploration over action. The inventory uses a grid-based system with an initial capacity of 12 slots, but may be expanded several times over the course of the game. An item can occupy up to two spaces, and four items may be assigned to the D-pad. Item boxes may also be used to manage and store items for later use. Items in the inventory can be used, examined, or combined with other items to increase their usefulness. Many of the game's puzzles require that items be examined under certain conditions in order to reveal secrets. Although the game features an autosave system, tape recorders can be used to manually save the game's progress, which depending on the given difficulty level, may require the use of a cassette tape. Videotapes are scattered for Ethan to find, which place the player in the perspective of a different character, oftentimes revealing plot information or clues needed to solve a puzzle.
The PlayStation 4 version of the game is also fully playable in VR using the PlayStation VR headset, with the core gameplay mechanics remaining identical. Compatibility with VR devices for Windows and Xbox One will be released in 2018.
In 2017, Ethan Winters is drawn to a derelict plantation in Dulvey, Louisiana, by a message from his wife Mia, who has been missing for three years. Exploring a seemingly abandoned house, Ethan finds Mia imprisoned in the basement. During their escape, Mia is possessed by an unknown force and attacks Ethan, forcing him to kill her. After receiving a call from a woman named Zoe offering assistance, Ethan is attacked by a revived Mia and then subdued by Jack Baker, patriarch of the Baker family. Ethan is held captive by Jack, his wife Marguerite, their son Lucas, and an elderly wheelchair-bound woman. Although Ethan escapes his captors, he is repeatedly confronted by Jack, who demonstrates the ability to regenerate from fatal wounds and dismemberment.
Zoe again contacts Ethan, revealing she is the Bakers' daughter. Zoe informs Ethan that she, her family, and Mia are all infected with the same ailment, but can be cured with a special serum. Ethan makes his way to an old house to retrieve the serum ingredients, where he is forced to kill Marguerite. After recovering the ingredients, Ethan begins experiencing visions of an unknown young girl. Lucas captures Zoe and Mia before Ethan's return, and forces him to navigate a booby-trapped barn to find them. Ethan outwits Lucas, causing him to flee, and frees Zoe and Mia. Zoe then develops two serum doses, but Jack, now heavily mutated, attacks the group and Ethan uses one dose to permanently kill him. Ethan must then choose to cure either Mia or Zoe. Choosing Zoe leaves Mia heartbroken, despite Ethan's promise to send help. As he and Zoe escape on a boat, Zoe reveals that the Bakers were infected after Mia arrived with a young girl named Eveline when the wreck of a tanker ship washed ashore. To prevent their escape, Eveline psychically kills Zoe, and Ethan is knocked from the boat by a creature. If Ethan chooses Mia, Zoe gives a bitter farewell to him and Mia. As he and Mia escape on a boat, they come across the crashed tanker where they are attacked by the creature and knocked from the boat.
Following either choice, Mia ends up on the wrecked ship and searches for Ethan while experiencing visions of Eveline, who refers to Mia as her mother. Eventually, Mia's memory is restored, revealing that she was a covert operative for an unnamed corporation that developed Eveline as a bioweapon. Mia was to escort Eveline as she was being transported aboard the tanker when Eveline escaped containment and sank the ship. She then infected Mia in an effort to force her to be her mother. After finding Ethan, Mia gives him a vial of Eveline's genetic material. If Ethan cured Zoe, Mia succumbs to Eveline's control and attacks Ethan, forcing him to kill her. If Ethan cured Mia, she resists her control long enough to seal Ethan out of the ship to save him.
After leaving the shipwreck, Ethan discovers a hidden laboratory inside an abandoned salt mine. There, he learns that Eveline is an E-Series bioweapon capable of infecting people with a psychotropic mold that gives her control over her victims' minds, resulting in their insanity, superhuman regenerative abilities, and various mutations. Eveline grew up obsessed with having a family, influencing her to infect Mia and the Bakers, and lure Ethan to the Bakers' home. Lucas is also revealed to have been immunized against Eveline's control by the organization in exchange for providing observations on her. Using the lab equipment and Eveline's genetic material, Ethan synthesizes a toxin to kill her, and then proceeds through a series of tunnels that lead back to the Baker house. Eveline assaults Ethan with hallucinations, but he overcomes them and injects Eveline with the toxin, ending her facade and revealing her as the elderly woman in a wheelchair, who has been rapidly aging since her escape. Eveline mutates into a large monster but, aided by the arrival of a military squad, Ethan is able to defeat her. With the threat over, the squad and their leader, who identifies himself as "Redfield", extracts Ethan by helicopter. If Ethan did not cure Mia, he throws his phone containing her last message to him from the helicopter, saying "goodbye". If Mia was cured, she is found alive aboard Redfield's helicopter. As the helicopter flies away, it is revealed to be branded with a variation of the Umbrella Corporation logo.
Following the release of Resident Evil 6, producer Masachika Kawata noted Capcom had a lot of internal discussion regarding the direction of the next installment. A preliminary version of the game, developed in 2013, featured a more action-oriented gameplay, similar to that of Resident Evil 6. However, Capcom staffers recognized that the scale of the last game, which had bioterrorism attacks happening across the world, had grown out of hand and, as a result, what made the series special had been lost, and decided to return to the survival horror genre. To regain that, Kawata's boss, Jun Takeuchi, who is the executive producer of the game, requested that the series be "stripped down to its core": horror. Taking inspiration from the Evil Dead film, the developers figured scaling back the game to one location and using a first-person perspective to immerse the players in the environments would be the best way to achieve that.
Development began around February 2014. The game is built on a new engine, named RE Engine, which includes VR development tools. Kawata explained that the decision to make the game first-person was made well before VR was even considered. A year before the game's announcement, Capcom presented to attendants of E3 2015 a first-person horror-themed VR demo called KITCHEN, which ran on the same engine. While Resident Evil 7 had been in development long before KITCHEN, with the latter the developers saw the opportunity to evaluate how the RE Engine and its VR capabilities would be received by the public. As a hint to the demo's relation to, at the time unannounced, Resident Evil 7, the logo of KITCHEN had the letter "T" designed so that it resembled a "7", but Kawata said that it went largely unnoticed. Four months later, in the company's annual Integrated Report, it was stated that the Resident Evil development division of Capcom (Development Division 1), would be focusing on creating experiences for the VR market. These included both a new VR engine and games for the eighth generation of consoles.
The game was directed by Koshi Nakanishi, who previously helmed Resident Evil: Revelations, leading a development team exclusively from Capcom Japan numbering at about 120 staff. However, for the first time in the series, the narrative designer was a westerner, Richard Pearsey, writer of the two expansion packs of F.E.A.R. and one of the narrative designers of Spec Ops: The Line. Discussing first-person games similar to Resident Evil 7, Nakanishi explained that they played "all the first person horrors out there like ... Outlast" but decided in contrast to offer weapons to the player so that they could fight against the enemies. At the time of the game's reveal, development was around 65% complete. Some of the creature models in Resident Evil 7 were first created in physical form – a number of them from actual meat – by make-up artists, to then be scanned through the employment of photogrammetry. This technology developed over half of the general assets of the game, but posed a problem in researching the setting of Louisiana because its considerable demand for equipment made it unviable for transport, which required Capcom to model by hand.
The game's original score was composed primarily by Capcom's Akiyuki Morimoto, Miwako Chinone, and Satoshi Hori, with additional contributions from Brian D'Oliveira and Cris Velasco. The game's theme song, an arranged version of the traditional American folk song "Go Tell Aunt Rhody", was written by Michael A. Levine and performed by Jordan Reyne. Levine's step-daughter Mariana Barreto was the original choice, but ended up doing the background vocals. The song went through about 20 versions until completion. An official soundtrack was released digitally by Sumthing Else Music Works alongside the game on January 24.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in North America and Europe on January 24, 2017, and in Japan on January 26. For the first 12 months of its release, the virtual reality format is exclusive to PlayStation VR. In October 2016, Capcom launched a 10 part video series called The World of Resident Evil 7, teasing pieces of the game's contents. A cross-save feature between Microsoft Windows and the Xbox One was confirmed in November 2016. If bought on either PC through the Windows Store or on the Xbox One digitally, it is playable on both platforms through the Xbox Play Anywhere program, making it the first game published by a third-party to be a part of the program.
The internal marketing team at Capcom collaborated with creative agency iam8bit to produce an escape room called Resident Evil Escape Room Experience, in which groups of six are guided through a series of rooms by Umbrella Corporation employees. It was held at a gallery space in Echo Park, Los Angeles. In London, a similar event was hosted in concurrence with the release.
Purchase of a GameStop-exclusive Collector's Edition included an eight-inch model of the Baker mansion, which when opened functions as a music box playing the main theme rendition of "Go Tell Aunt Rhody", a mannequin finger-shaped 4 GB USB flash drive contained within a VHS tape box, a SteelBook Case containing the game, a lithograph of the Baker family, and a note. The UK version added the Survival Pack: Action Set DLC, a 20th anniversary artbook and a seven-inch replica of the mansion, but did not feature the music box. U.S. pre-orders on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One came with a code for a free digital download of Resident Evil: Retribution. A 4D candle with the scent of the Baker House Mansion was made to enhance the virtual reality experience.
On June 13, 2016, shortly after the game's reveal, a playable teaser named Resident Evil 7 Teaser: Beginning Hour was released on the PlayStation Store. The demo takes place in a dilapidated house, which the unnamed male player character needs to escape. Depending on the actions taken by the player, the teaser may have four different outcomes. Capcom later revealed that the teaser was a standalone experience and not a segment of the game, which has more variety in its environments, and additional mechanics, such as combat. It takes place after KITCHEN. By July 2016, the demo had been downloaded over 2 million times. An update called the "Twilight Version" was released on September 15, 2016, and gave access to new rooms and items to find. Along with the new version, Capcom also released a trailer for the game. Another update called the "Midnight Version" was released on December 3, which unlocked additional areas of the house, along with several new items to find and a puzzle concerning a riddle in the Twilight Version. The demo was released for Xbox One on December 9 and on December 19 for PC.
A playable demo called Lantern was made available for attendees at Gamescom 2016, as part of revealing the first Resident Evil 7 story trailer. It makes use of found footage and first-person narrative as it tells the story of a young woman by the name of Mia hiding from an agitated old lady holding a lantern. The old lady is Marguerite Baker, who was first mentioned in Beginning Hour.
The first downloadable content (DLC) package for the game, titled Banned Footage Vol. 1, was released for the PlayStation 4 on January 31, 2017. Banned Footage Vol. 1 includes two scenarios, called "Nightmare" and "Bedroom", and a new game mode, titled "Ethan Must Die". On February 14, Banned Footage Vol. 2 was released for the PlayStation 4, which includes two additional scenarios, called "21" and "Daughters", and a new game mode, titled "Jack's 55th Birthday". Banned Footage Vol. 1 and Banned Footage Vol. 2 were released for the Xbox One and PC on February 21. Not a Hero – a story chapter where players control Chris Redfield – will arrive as a free download in Spring 2017.
Due to its first-person presentation, the game has drawn comparisons to Konami's cancelled Silent Hills title and its P.T. demo. Capcom responded to this by pointing out that Resident Evil 7 was in development before the reveal of P.T., and dispelled any rumors about staff of P.T. having been hired to work on the game. Shacknews noted that Beginning Hour had several similarities with Sweet Home (1989), the Capcom horror game that inspired the original Resident Evil (1996). These similarities to Sweet Home include the plot of a film crew going to an abandoned house, a paranormal female presence in the house, and a tragic tale involving a family that once lived there. Eurogamer found the element of survival horror in Lantern to be reminiscent of Alien: Isolation. Resident Evil 7 was well received for the dissimilarity to its polarizing predecessor, in particular the change from action-oriented combat and effects to an approach more grounded in horror.
The game received generally favorable reviews, according to video game review aggregator Metacritic.
Destructoid's Zack Furniss felt that the primary accomplishment of Resident Evil 7 concerned its pacing, which was praised as "masterful". Furniss' apprehensive expectations of how the story would unfold were subverted to his liking, deeming the result a blend similar to the horror and comedy found in The Evil Dead films. He found a sense of finality in the combat and lauded it for having produced lasting tension. What held more sway, however, was the priority of survival horror, with the management of limited resources meeting a positive response. Furniss considered the boss fights to be "harrowing" and welcomed the consistent surreality of the game. His playthrough with the PlayStation VR inspired unease, unpredictable jump scares and ultimately an "intuitive" experience. Ray Carsillo of Electronic Gaming Monthly favored the atmosphere's constant mood of anxiety, which was partly impacted by the interiors of the main setting. The sound design was also thought to complement this sense of dread, increasing the level of player involvement. He noted the slow narrative build as the game's most substantial achievement, and likened its efficacy to that of earlier games in the series. Like Furniss, Carsillo expressed appreciation for the pacing, and opined that it brought considerable intrigue, accommodating lengthy play sessions. Playing with the virtual reality headset was "even more frightening than doing it normally", according to Carsillo, echoing Furniss' view that it made the game more immersive. Writing for Game Informer, Andrew Reiner commended the "tense, unsettling, overly gory" atmosphere for providing a competent introduction to Resident Evil 7. The Baker house and the nature of exploring it posed significant interest to him, for together, they would present new aspects regarding the occupants and be enhanced by the first-person perspective. Scott Butterworth at GameSpot enjoyed the narrative overall, valuing its memorable moments and the thematic consistency of the writing. He was impressed with the reliance of atmosphere as opposed to jump scares to heighten the feeling of danger. Using the Baker family to multifarious ends of gameplay was complimented as a logical extension of the established world; the interactive VHS tapes were approved of for the same reason, said to serve "beautifully as both a narrative device and a way to break up Ethan's exhausting mission". On PlayStation VR, Butterworth mentioned that, in its employment, the element of horror appeared more realistic.
Leon Hurley, writing for GamesRadar, was of the opinion that, while the "gore and guts" were sparingly effective, a number of his most favorite moments had to do with investigating the "beautifully designed" Baker house. As for the VR, it was dubbed as a terrifying experience "where the mildewy atmosphere gets into your soul". Giant Bomb's Dan Ryckert referred to Resident Evil 7 as the reinvigoration of earlier components in the series while at the same time yielding a fresh outlook with a yet-unrivaled story. The main antagonists bore substantial weight to Ryckert's cause for worry, and gave way to thrills when prompted to flee them. He viewed the first-person perspective as "bold", and attributed to the PSVR, an earnest addition to the "scare factor". Chloi Rad of IGN endorsed the pervading tone of eeriness in the game, owed entirely to the plantation, which she thought was "one of the creepiest single settings since the Spencer Mansion". Also, she observed that the game world gave off a robust sense of place with unwavering exploration. To her, the Baker family were the most compelling of the characters because of the consequent emotional strain felt in their presence. Andy Kelly at PC Gamer began his review, writing, "It's a return to the atmospheric, slow-burning horror of the original". He disagreed with Ryckert's assessment that the first-person was a bold reinvention, instead praising it for being "classic Resident Evil through and through". Kelly saw the regular state of vulnerability he was faced within the game as one of its greatest strengths, giving credit to the visuals and audio for adding to the "rumbling sense of dread". Flashbacks via VHS tapes also received commendation, as it offered him one of his favorite features. Polygon's Philip Kollar applauded Resident Evil 7's return to form, declaring that "no Resident Evil game since the first has done as good a job as RE7 at making me feel scared and helpless".
Conversely, Furniss observed the final boss fight and ending as disappointing. He also cited issues with the PlayStation VR, including the prospect of sacrificing graphics for improved aim and immersion, as the resolution would decrease while in virtual reality. Carsillo disliked the inventory system because its restricted capacity left weaponry and ammunition with the same amount of space as other items critical to story progression. The lack of character development for the protagonist Ethan Winters was disparaged as well, with Reiner stating that the plot suffered flaws of inconsistency from this approach. Also subject to criticism was the required body movements while in seated VR mode, which were described as stomach-churning. Butterworth felt a loss of excitement by the end, blaming the repetition of certain assignments to be carried out. He faulted enemies for exerting less of a threat than was preferred in the given difficulty level. Unlike with other platforms, Butterworth detected inferior visual performance on the Xbox One with degraded colors and textures. Hurley expressed disapproval of the decision one comes across near the end of the game, calling into question its relevance by arguing that it could be quickly resolved in the event of regret. Rad criticized Resident Evil 7 for its dependence on "overplayed tropes about rural America" which would eventually resemble a cartoon, and the puzzles were appraised as the sole shortcoming of the setting. Kollar accused boss battles of interrupting the inherent suspense.
Capcom's pre-release sales projection for the game's launch window, through the end of March 2017, was 4 million copies. The game had shipped over 2.5 million units worldwide days after the release, while the demo exceeded 7.15 million downloads. The modest shipment figure had an effect on Capcom's stock price, which fell more than three percent following the Tokyo Stock Exchange. It was the best-selling video game in the UK during its week of release according to Chart-Track, amounting to the third-best debut in Resident Evil history behind 5 (7.1 mill) and 6 (6.6 mill). 200,000 copies had also been sold through Steam during that time. It ranked first in the Japanese charts for the week ending January 29; the PS4 sales totalled 187,306 copies, 58.9 percent of its initial shipment. In the month of January in the United States, Resident Evil 7 sold the most out of any video game. On February 1, Capcom communicated to its investors that the game had recouped its budget. It remained at the top of the UK sales chart in its second week. By February 10, Resident Evil 7 had shipped over 3 million copies worldwide.
February saw Resident Evil 7 ranked as the second best-selling video game in the United States, behind For Honor.