Resident Evil VII: Biohazard
“…throughout it all I was tense, on edge and often genuinely scared…”
Sometime over the last two decades Capcom seemed to forget what made the Resident Evil video game franchise awesome. It wasn’t the gunplay or action movie-style cutscenes, it wasn’t the increasingly convoluted narrative or baffling plot twists and it certainly wasn’t whatever the hell Umbrella Corps was supposed to be. No, what made Resident Evil awesome was its “survival horror” core, a foundation of suspenseful, creeping fear and clammy-palmed desperation.
As the credits rolled on my first playthrough of Resident Evil VII: Biohazard, I sat back on the couch and let out a deep, shuddering breath. Over my 10 hour journey I’d been clobbered by a seemingly invincible madman, stalked by a cackling lady who controlled insects and eviscerated by my own psycho ex wielding a chainsaw. I’d fought shambling, ink-black creatures in dank sub basements and solved devious puzzles in elaborate death traps and throughout it all I was tense, on edge and often genuinely scared.
RE VII wastes little time immersing you in its grimy, horrific atmosphere. After an incredibly brief cutscene you’re thrust into the first person view of likable everyman, Ethan Winters, who has received a weird message from his missing wife, Mia. Ethan has traveled out of the city to the sprawling, unkempt rural property of the Baker family, which has clearly taken design tips from The Evil Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Initially unarmed and increasingly agitated, you’ll explore the filth-encrusted stink palace, descending into the cellar and that’s when the horror really begins.
A big point of contention for RE VII has been the shift from third person to first person POV. While initially jarring for longterm fans of the series, this proves to be an excellent move and increases the immersion to a huge extent. The early hours of RE VII, when you’ll find yourself with nothing but a pocket knife, handgun and very few bullets, is the literal stuff of nightmares. Every corner you turn around or door you push open can lead to a messy death, especially when the members of the Baker family are following you. As the game progresses you’ll get better weapons, including the shotgun – your new best friend – but you never feel particularly overpowered as your foes will find inventive new ways to end your existence.
Ironically for an entry that seems to be such a massive change in terms of perspective, the gameplay in RE VII most closely resembles the original 1996 classic, Resident Evil. You’ll find yourself in a focused environment, with puzzle solving opening up new regions and objectives, and you’ll constantly need to manage your inventory and backtrack through areas that were previously inaccessible. It’s classic Resident Evil through a grimy, first person perspective filter and it works to a revelatory degree.
The boss fights in particular are showcases of gleefully creative grindhouse gore and you’ll need to keep your wits about you to defeat them. This will be a recurring theme, in fact, as puzzle solving under duress is what Resident Evil does best. Are you able to craft some burner fuel for your flamethrower? Yeah? Well how about we send a hideous, clawing, insect/human hybrid creature after you at the same time? Let’s see how you fare now, professor!
That’s not to suggest everything in RE VII is stellar. The 10-12 hour playthrough time is a little on the short side, and while it’s nice to have an experience not artificially expanded with tedious filler I would have liked another 3-4 hours of content. Another sticking point is more subjective: there are no zombies in RE VII. They are instead replaced with a group of creatures known as Molded; filthy, slurpy, black things that gurgle and gibber and slide from ceilings and out of walls. They’re undoubtedly cool looking but RE purists may be disappointed that you’ll never fight off traditional shambling undead in first person.
Possibly the biggest bummer is the game’s third act. It isn’t bad per se but compared to the rest of the game it’s a little unimaginative. Like a lot of previous Resident Evil titles it mostly eschews horror for action and in a game that gets the horror so right for so long that’s a little disappointing.
That said, Resident Evil VII: Biohazard is easily the best RE title since part four. Capcom seem to have course corrected this sinking ship of a franchise and delivered an intense, nerve-shredding experience that delivers scares, gore and a satisfying story (almost) completely free of franchise baggage.
So grab your green herb and your shotgun, gird your loins and get ready to crawl into the murky depths of the Baker residence and beyond. Resident Evil is back and this time it’s up close and personal.