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.
A relatively conservative demo and marketing materials had previously lead many to believe Resident Evil 7 was a walking and running simulator, akin to contemporaries like Amnesia and Outlast. Thankfully, the game features as much an arsenal as any other game. Whether it be pistols, shotguns or grenade launchers; the designers were not afraid to decks players out with a fine selection of weapons. The combat itself is manageable, though some players might need to adjust their aim settings to get it just right. It’s not perfect, but it works. Once again, like the classic Resident Evil games.Although combat is only really encouraged during key moments, there are many times when Resident Evil 7 throws you into an open environment with a very resilient member of the Baker family who stalks you. Those worried this would be an affair akin to Alien Isolation need not fear; the stalker enemy types move in a way that doesn’t feel unfair and aren’t anywhere near as unforgiving if you’re noticed. Once again, these moments are well spaced out so as not to diminish their effect or become an annoyance to the player.
Inventory management, a key component of any classic Resident Evil, is brought to the forefront too. From the get-go, your inventory will slowly fill up and there’ll be times where you’ll either need to travel back to an item box to store valuables or just throw them away if you’re in a rush or being chased but absolutely must pick something up. A crafting system exists as well – and is fantastic – designed in a way to make players effectively choose between ammo, health and other items rather than giving them enough materials to make everything.Unfortunately, the same high praises cannot be sung for Resident Evil 7’s line-up of enemies. Beyond the members of the Baker family, there’s no more than five enemy types to avoid or take down when exploring the estate. When about four of these are just variants of the same enemy, it feels a like a bit of a disappointment. Such lack of variety is slightly offset by some pretty spectacular boss battles (and monster / mutation design), but the bread and butter of Resident Evil 7’s menagerie feel uninspired. The series has seen more creative enemies in its day which is a disappointment as Resident Evil 7 gets so much right.
A hard practice to master, the game also does a great job at balancing cheaper jump scares with more intrinsic psychological ones. Just exploring a dilapidated room with some blood and some obviously used tools can be enough to make you afraid to progress to the next room. On the other hand, there are some jump scares, but they aren’t so frequent that they become annoying. There were even times where something, or at least the idea of something, was so horrific that I froze in my position for several minutes to build up the courage to progress. Playing the entire game in VR only heightens the tension, which is fantastic.Resident Evil games have always been about replay value and the latest instalment is no exception. Upon running through the main game, which will take most players between 9 to 12 hours, Madhouse Mode is unlocked. Madhouse remixes item locations and increases the difficulty to closer mimic classic Resident Evil games – including limiting your saves. Heaps of weapons, items and abilities can also be unlocked too. It is slightly disappointing to have no modes like Raid or Mercenaries, but given the new direction and style the series has now taken it’s hard to imagine they’d fit anyway. At least another playthrough on Madhouse will keep things fresh.
From a visual standpoint, Resident Evil 7 is stunning. The developers have reconstructed most of the assets in real life, then scanned them into the game using a form of photogrammetry. The result is a game that, for the most part, looks almost photorealistic. The locales you’ll explore are grimy and dilapidated, mouldy and abandoned, and sometimes even slathered with viscera. Sound is similarly remarkable with every footstep, every creak of a floorboard, every bang on a door sounding as authentic as ever. The voice work does a fantastic job at bringing the characters, especially Marguerite and Jack Baker, to life.
Resident Evil 7: biohazard manages to successfully consolidate the exploratory, slower paced, tension filled gameplay of the early games with the modernised visuals and technology of today. A new first person viewpoint will prove controversial with more seasoned veterans but such a change allows Resident Evil 7 to feel fresher than ever before. Make no mistakes, Resident Evil 7 is a victorious progression for the franchise which successfully melds new with old. The weight and harshness that technology like Playstation VR brings to the scares and tension is especially welcome.
While Resident Evil 7: biohazard does a fantastic job at balancing old with new, there’s still some cracks in this spotless veneer that keeps the game from being truly perfect. The lack of variety in the creatures that stalk Ethan through the estate and the relatively linear yet still terrifying final moments are the worst disappointments. But given how atmospheric, tense and arresting Resident Evil 7 is, it’s hard not to recommend it.