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Let’s face it the Resident Evil series has seen far better days. The sixth entry in the long running franchise felt fairly rotten thanks to an avalanche of half-baked ideas and a real lack of any sort of focus. Revelations 2 while taking an interesting episodic approach felt exactly like the low-budget half attempt it clearly was. And the less said about the shambolic Umbrella Corps the better to be honest.
Sure we all remember the horror filled days of the original and of course the unforgettable fourth entry very fondly. Hell even two, three and Code Veronica delivered some great experiences too. But let’s compare those titles to CAPCOM’s efforts from the last five years or so. Bottom line is, it’s hard to be too positive about the downward trajectory the series has been on. Being a fan of the franchise myself as well and seeing how CAPCOM were handling one of their biggest and most loved IPs was both frustrating as much as it was heart-breaking. Then the trailer for Resident Evil 7 dropped last E3.
“Wait, what was that? Was that… Resident Evil?” I asked in disbelief as I turned to my friend who too was left jaw well and truly dropped.
Then the demo arrived. More shock followed as to the new direction CAPCOM had taken the series. It was tough to truly define whether I was more concerned or excited at the time. After all these weren’t small changes that were being made but rather a complete revamp of things. Suffice to say any concerns I had were immediately washed away after just one quick sweat-filled session with the final game.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (the first game to bring the Biohazard name over to the West) sees you taking on the role of Ethan Winters, a man in search of his missing wife Mia. After receiving a mysterious message from Mia several years later, he then takes the long trip out to investigate (one would assume to at the very least gain some sort of closure on the situation). His journey leads him to a rather large plantation out in the swamp-filled Louisiana where things quickly go from bad to worse. After a brief reunion with Mia (who greets you with the odd chainsaw or two) you’ll then need to contend with not only the psychotic family that inhabits the home but also the many secrets and horrors that plague it too.
The biggest and most obvious change is clearly the shift to a first person perspective. It’s a bold and risky move especially for a series that has (at least in terms of its main entries) stuck purely to third person but one that pays off in abundance. Unsurprisingly searching through every cobweb infested chamber, tackling every ooze-dripping monster and generally trying to survive the night feels much more personal when looking at it from Ethan’s viewpoint not to mention downright terrifying. The beauty of using first person for horror is that it restricts the view you have of your surroundings, meaning every turn you want to make is made all the more worse as you start to wonder what might be awaiting. Would the game have been as scary or fun had it taken the safe approach and stuck with the usual over the shoulder formula the series is known? I’d have to imagine it’s unlikely.
It’s very quick you realize atmosphere and mystery are two of the game’s biggest strengths. As soon as you leave the freedom of the outdoors and enter the dark, run-down house you suddenly feel a real sense of claustrophobia and dread. Every room you enter tells a story within itself, whether its scratches along the wall, a random photo on the coffee table or even the questionable shopping list pinned to the fridge. The Baker’s home almost feels like another character in itself and every creak, bang and shuffle will have you starting to believe it too is out to get you. This unpleasant feeling isn’t helped but the game’s drip-feed rate of ammunition to defend yourself.
On the topic of ammo, many will be pleased to hear Resident Evil 7 FEELS like a survival horror. Encounters can’t be resolved simply by pumping bullets or shells into it. You’ll need to use your environment, dance around enemies and try to outsmart them. It’s so refreshing to see especially for a series that many (myself included) have felt has strayed too far away from what made it stand out from the competition.
In terms of handling Ethan, he feels very slow and sluggish especially in the early goings before getting access to any of the game’s steroids, stabilizers and other upgrades. His managing of weapons too leaves a lot to be desired, reloads often taking an agonizingly long time and first aid uses offering the same gut clenching experience. While many might complain about his lack of speed I found it to work rather effectively especially considering we’re now dealing with your everyman in search of a loved one as opposed to a well-trained muscly special forces member ala Chris Redfield or Leon Kennedy.
Then there’s the story that unfolds at a slow pace, but deliberately so where every snippet of new info has you eager to explore further in hopes of more answers. It’s an odd sensation wanting to learn the nasty secrets of such a decrepit place but at the same time dread what the truth might actually be. As far as Resident Evil stories go, seven ranks as one of the better tales and despite a conclusion that’s more confusing than closing I left satisfied by the journey at the very least.
While the game might not look like your typical Resident Evil game, there are plenty of ideas plucked straight from the book of key identifiers you would associate with the series - everything from herbs and insanely awkward animal shaped keys to the 180 degree quick-turn and stowing items in storage boxes. There is plenty for fans to pick up on going as far as to even include references to past events.
Of course newcomers should feel welcome too, the adventure never really requiring much knowledge of previous entries in the series. In fact the new direction the game takes if anything may even bring in some new fans because of this.
A quick mention on the VR feature. It’s perhaps the best use the PlayStation device has seen since its launch last year. It should sound obvious but the horror genre is easily one that benefits most from the technology intensifying the fears in a way I never thought possible. While I’ve been scared by film, TV and video games in the past, I can safely say playing Resident Evil 7 with the headset tops all of them. No contest.
So is it the best Resident Evil game? Can it possibly top number four?
Well Resident Evil 7: Biohazard isn’t completely untouchable. One might argue the final third of the game doesn’t deliver the same high quality laid out by its first two acts instead taking a more lazy firepower intensive approach to things. In the end its still good fun albeit a little uninspiring. Unfortunately it’s tough to defend the game’s final showdown, a battle that offers little in the way of the creativity seen from previous encounters. Also missing are modes like Mercenaries or Raid, nice little extras that offer reason to come back long after the adventure is over. What you really get is just the game’s main campaign which while does offer the rejigged “Madhouse’ difficulty feels a little slim when compared with past games. That being said trophies and achievements that reward those willing to tackle the game using no more than three health packs or using storage boxes only when essential had me replaying three times.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard has put the series back on the map once again by reinvented the wheel (this time in the right way). The game is terrifying, intense, exciting, mysterious and did I mention terrifying? While indies have helped keep the horror genre afloat as of recent, its nice to see a AAA attempt hit it out of the park. Let’s just hope CAPCOM evolve what they have here for an eighth entry.
Welcome to the family indeed.