As a franchise, Resident Evil was beginning to have a bit of an identity problem. Whereas the series used to do a fantastic job at setting trends, Resident Evil 6 was a mishmash that borrowed too many. With Resident Evil 7: biohazard, Capcom have managed to reinvigorate the franchise once again. I use that term very specifically, as it does not revolutionise the way the game of Resident Evil is played, but rather, merges old with new to create a veritable package of the best bits of Resident Evil. Both past and present. Resident Evil 7: biohazard is a true and triumphant return to form for the franchise, but one that’ll have some work to do with series purists regardless.
Almost completely scrapping the convoluted canon that came before it, Resident Evil 7 takes place four years following the event of Resident Evil 6. You play as Ethan Winters, a man summoned to the Baker Plantation Estate in Dulvey, Louisiana, after receiving an email from his wife three years after her disappearance. While it looks like a dilapidated, abandoned house on the outside, Ethan discovers there’s much more to the plantation that meets the eye and that the family who had long thought to have disappeared from it are as alive as ever.The most impressive aspect of Resident Evil 7 is just how much the developers have scaled back the tone and the atmosphere of the whole affair. Gone are the sequences where roided up heroes run away from exploding cars and crashing planes. Instead we have a very modest, slower paced, cerebral experience filled to the brim with tension and mystery. Given how integral the mystery is to the experience of Resident Evil 7, it’s hard to talk about the story without ruining the whole thing, but it’s refreshing to see a story in a Resident Evil game told in such a simple and yet straight-forward manner. And yes, it does manage to fit quite neatly into the series canon, though later updates will clarify exactly how.
While the opening scenes are extremely linear (and similarly shocking), once this is all over the game loosens the reigns and becomes the experience that Resident Evil fans have been clamouring for ever since it reinvented itself with 4. You’re in an estate, there’s lots of locked doors with macabre insignia on them, and you’ll leave these areas having only explored half of them, keen to return later. And while it’s not as vast or as sprawling as games like Resident Evil or Resident Evil 3, it still retains the identity of previous games enough that this feels like a classic Resident Evil game, only in first person.
But there’s an important distinction to be made here. While the slower paced, exploratory experience of the first half harkens back to the design of the more traditional Resident Evil games, the second half borrows more liberally from Resident Evil 4. The tone and the atmosphere remains as tense as ever, but there’s notably more shooting and less inventory management than in the first half of the game. It’s bound to be a deal breaker for those who want a full, traditional Resident Evil game. But starting the player out relatively helpless and slowly turning them into a powerhouse feels like a natural progression, especially for a classic Resident Evil game.