James Stephanie Sterling
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard Review – Family Values
Welcome to the family, son.
Developer: Capcom Publisher: Capcom Format: PS4 Released: January 24, 2017 Copy provided by publisher
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is not how it’s different from the other entries in the series, but how it’s similar.
Despite the first-person perspective and heavy borrowing of ideas from such games as Outlast and Alien: Isolation, Capcom’s latest attempt to revitalize Resident Evil feels truer to the series’ roots than anything since before Resident Evil 4.
This seventh main entry into the Resident Evil series takes its structure and pacing from series’ classic survival horror debut, placing players in a filth-ridden Louisiana homestead that, despite its decrepitness, has taken more than a handful of architectural cues from the Spencer Mansion.
From themed keys that open up multiple doors to precious safe rooms containing save points, inventory boxes, and other resourses, Biohazard‘s environment goes out of its way to emulate everything that made the original game’s setting so memorable. Most importantly, it does so to an impressive degree.
Resident Evil 7 takes players to the deep south, home of the horrifying Baker family, and proceeds to put them through some deeply unpleasant misery.
Protagonist Ethan follows a clue that leads him to believe his maybe-ex-girlfriend is still alive after she maybe-faked her own death (I’m being facetious, but the game really breezes past the backstory). However, he finds she’s not altogether “herself” when sprung from a curious cell beneath a rundown house.
In scenes reminiscent of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Ethan must not only find out what happened to Mia but avoid a clan of violently unhinged bayou residents who seem unable to die.
Resident Evil 7‘s plot is one of the more straightforward in the series, though it still finds ways in which to be convoluted and it suffers somewhat from poorly explained background information. More intel on Ethan and Mia, as well as further details on the Bakers and associated antagonists would have been great, too. The ending also feels rushed, which makes one raise an eyebrow when they learn how much story-based downloadable content is already planned.
Although some elements need fleshing out, the basic narrative is tons of fun, borrowing heavily from mid-2000s horror movies to create a game that’s not so much scary as unnerving.
Crucially, the presence of the Bakers sees a return to the kind of exaggerated camp that made Resident Evil 4 such a delight. While not quite as out-there as Leon Kennedy’s influential adventure, it’s definitely unafraid to get silly when it needs to, and that’s a fantastic attitude to see resurface.
As well as traditional puzzles and eccentric humor, Resident Evil 7 brings back a more methodical and tense form of combat. Ethan gets access to multiple handguns, shotguns, and a series of heavy weapons, though ammo is severely limited and the enemies that surface are more than happy to soak all the bullets they can before dropping.
Enemies – not just the Bakers but the mutant “Molded” creatures that turn up to add some extra hindrance – can be surprisingly swift while player movement can only barely outpace them. This movement slows down to a crawl when aiming, requiring a constant need to create distance before opening fire.
There are shades of Resident Evil 4 in this sort of “keepaway” action, and it’s fundamentally sound, but I feel like the protagonist should be just a touch faster to compensate for the assaults that sometimes fly his way. With only a weak block maneuver to defend himself, Ethan lacks the capability to dodge and sometimes can’t even maintain an effective gap between he and his pursuer.
The tight corridors lead to some enemies forcibly roadblocking players, which can be exasperating in a game where ammo conservation is a prominent concern.
It may pain some series fans to hear this, but Resident Evil 7 is at its best when it’s more shamelessly chomping Outlast‘s flavor, placing players in cat-and-mouse situations against the implacable predation of Jack or Marguerite Baker. As they howl threats and babble inanely, they prove both entertaining and intimidating in their hunt for Ethan.
Biohazard lacks suitable hiding places, relying on careful movement and the odd pile of debris for cover, but firearms balance out the limited stealth by providing a measure of stopping power and it’s simple enough to run away from danger, even if you’ll get a shovel in the back of the head while fleeing.
While it’s clear that modern first-person horror has informed Capcom’s work, it’s hard not to think of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis while being chased off by increasingly warped monstrosities. One at least can’t say Capcom hasn’t got at least a little credibility in this particular brand of horror.
More than that, accusations of cynicism are deftly avoided thanks to the skill in which the perspective shift has been employed. RE7 utilizes the restricted visual scope of first-person to tremendous effect. Looking away is something done at one’s peril, and there’s always the sense that something could be creeping up behind you.
That said, it’s also quite obvious just how hard the game’s riding the virtual reality train, with several in-your-face jump scares intended solely for those wearing a bulky headset. These sequences – though not so regular as to overwhelm the experience – come off as a bit too staged and obvious to have much of the desired effect, at least when not indulging in VR.
The Molded are a disappointing foe, another attempt by Capcom to move away from zombies while trying to retain exact same threat. These generic humanoid lumps of tar just aren’t visually compelling or varied enough to hold a candle to the series’ classic creatures, which seems to be a running problem for the Resident Evil since it abandoned the Ganado introduced in Resident Evil 4.
Fortunately, boss fights hold up their end pleasingly enough, with a number of memorable fights and sequences that liberally help themselves to all the horror tropes under the Sun. Jack, Marguerite, and Lucas Baker each tackle Ethan in unique ways, all with a supervillain-level extravagance that I can’t help adoring.
Though Ethan is the main playable character, VHS tapes containing side stories can be uncovered and played on regularly appearing television sets. These tapes are fully playable and shed further light on the backstory, as well as potentially provide clues that may make Ethan’s life easier.
One such tape requires a SAW-like trap to be navigated that, when later encountered again as Ethan, can be overcome with minimal harm due to the player having seen how all the nasty tricks work. Little touches like these help make Resident Evil 7 so much more evocative.
There are some light upgrades to keep players hunting for secrets and treasures. Steroids can be taken to permanently upgrade health, while antique coins are found and spent to unlock a handful of extra benefits, including a powerful MAG handgun. Photographs of hidden treasure locations provide an amusing distraction, even if they’re a little bit obvious.
At around ten hours, RE7 doesn’t outstay its welcome even if it could have stood to present a more involved finale. Some might find that a little short, but for a horror game it’s a perfectly sufficient length and I feel much more would have dragged the whole thing out far too much.
Resident Evil 7 is gorgeous in the most disgusting of ways. Taking advantage of UHD resolutions while maintaining a smooth 60fps even on console, this is definitely worth playing on the biggest and best television you can find. What truly impresses me is just how filthy everything looks.
Disturbingly indistinct goop shines with a sickening slickness as maggots writhe amongst invariably rotten food. Everything feels unhygienic and long-since abandoned to decay. I’ve not seen a world so committed to highly detailed bleakness outside of the Souls series.
Level design deserves a lot of praise, too. Space is used efficiently and the winding corridors often loop back on themselves to create shortcuts and open up previously limited areas. A lot gets done with relatively small environments, which is a trick so many peddlers of open world games would do well to take note of.
Music is used sparingly but always has gravitas when it appears, voice acting is superb for the most part, and sound effects are just as grisly as the nasty accompanying graphics. Unsurprisingly, Capcom well and truly nailed it on all aesthetic fronts.
Well… almost all. The game’s health feedback system could use work, in that it should be nearly totally removed. Ethan has a watch with which he can check his health, and that should be enough until he’s literally a swipe or two away from death. Instead, even taking light damage causes a blood effect to appear onscreen which lingers until it’s healed. It’s a distracting annoyance that display options do little to solve, and it only gets worse as more damage is taken.
Player communication would benefit from an overhaul as well. A number of objectives are vaguely expressed, and at least one boss fight doesn’t let you know it’s a boss fight right away – I thought I was supposed to run until I checked my inventory and caught a little note in the corner telling me to fight.
Fix that, improve the look of the Molded (their behavior is fine, they’re just dull to look at), maybe add at least a little dodging capability, and I think this could have been a damn near perfect horror experience.
In its current form, Resident Evil 7 is a damn fine game. Damn, damn fine. Although it initially looks like a desperate chase for Outlast‘s credibility, it slowly reveals itself to be more of a traditional Resident Evil adventure than one might believe, while taking successful elements from contemporary horror games and utilizing them effectively.
After Resident Evil 6, this is exactly what the series needed. Both a change of pace and a return to long-neglected roots, it thrills me to say that, for the first time in a long time, Capcom is on the right track.