Almost two years after its release, we revisit Resident Evil 7 to take a closer look at the best puzzle in the game.
Despite being set in mid-2017, Resident Evil 7 does a great job of transporting us back to a time when DVDs didn’t exist and if you wanted to watch a film at home, you’d probably have to rewind it first. The game has a small selection of tapes dotted throughout its terrifying environment along with a few conveniently placed VCRs. An inclusion that although excellent, makes it seem all the more sinister. Most of tapes are optional and have primarily been placed to help us understand what happened before we arrived at the house, allowing us to step into the past and experience these events for ourselves. They also give us information about where to find certain items or in this case, give us the opportunity to solve a puzzle that we will encounter again later on in the game.
Lucas’ ‘Happy Birthday’ tape places us in the shoes of Clancy Javis, who you may recognise as the cameraman that starred in the ‘Derelict House Footage’ tape at the beginning of the game, as well as the ‘Beginning Hour’ demo. The aim of the puzzle is pretty simple: just place a lit candle on the birthday cake. However, there are a number of components that you’ll need to piece together in order to achieve this goal.
One of the things that makes this a fantastic puzzle is that nearly all of its answers are hidden in plain sight. You just have to work out the order in which they fit together. You light the candle to put on the cake but the pipe over the door will extinguish the flame when you walk under it. You can’t turn the water off without the valve but that’s on the wall in a locked room that needs a password… and you get the picture.
As you find more pieces of the puzzle, you’ll feel like you’re encountering more problems until you start trying to make sense of these seemingly random objects. Finding a balloon doesn’t seem very helpful until you realise that you need to inflate it using the leaking gas pipe sticking out of the wall. Then you’re stuck with a quill and it’s pretty clear where that goes, but if you haven’t yet found the dummy finger you’ll feel as though you’re stuck at another loose end. Searching for an item for a long period of time, or not understanding how to use a specific item may therefore frustrate players. However, this frustration later melts away as you begin to appreciate how everything interlocks, and if you don’t encounter any of these minor setbacks, you’ll probably appreciate it even more.
As a result, the Happy Birthday tape stands out against every other puzzle that features in Resident Evil 7. The other puzzles provide us with temporary spikes of satisfaction, mainly because they can be completed with minimal effort. Due to their length, it’s unlikely that we’ll get as frustrated with them, which makes them fun but equally forgettable.
Take the The AAA puzzle for example, this one can be solved in a matter of seconds, consequently making the player feel really smart if they get it straight away. We work it out what those scribbles on that piece of paper are actually mean, eliminate an enemy, receive a treat that helps us progress and then move on. It’s short-lived and unlocks a new area for us to explore. Although this is very neat and helpful, it doesn’t achieve anything particularly spectacular.
Whereas, the Happy Birthday tape gives us far more variables to consider. Firstly, we’re dragged into a locked room which instantly makes us feel vulnerable and under pressure not to mess up. Lucas places us in his own sick theatre and expects us to perform for him, forcing us to partake in a more involved task that we consequently become heavily invested in. In completing the tape, we actually guide Clancy to his doom, step by step, despite having no control over his survival anyway as he has already died as a result of this very event, happening in the past. For this reason, we feel partly responsible for his death while still respecting the complexity of the task. Sure, we cooked Clancy, but more importantly, we learnt how to solve the puzzle and have experienced what Lucas is capable of. The fact that we revisit this area and have to improve our initial strategy cements it as the most impressive puzzle in the entire game.
Players that completed the ‘Happy Birthday’ tape are rewarded when they reach this part of the game. We find ourselves in the same situation as before, but this time we need to learn from our previous mistakes. We can therefore appreciate how well this puzzle has been designed. In the tape, each item had to be used in a specific order for us to reach the end, whereas in our second encounter, we can avoid a large portion of the puzzle, saving both time and our life. This may take some trial and error, along with us having to think on our feet at the end, but the satisfaction that we feel from escaping the same fiery fate as Clancy and beating Lucas at his own sick game is unmatched anywhere else in Resident Evil 7.
We now have a better understanding of why our encounters with Lucas stand out as the most interesting sections in Resident Evil 7. Unlike other puzzles in the game, Lucas’ Party isn’t as quick or simple as rotating an object in front of a light, or spinning a painting to mirror another one. It makes use of the tapes that are scattered throughout the game, providing players that are curious enough to pick it up with an early insight of what’s to come. This task is unique in how it asks players to approach a problem, greatly elevating itself in terms of design and importance compared to the other puzzles while transcending the limits of a traditional boss battle.