Review: Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
The latest instalment of the long running series is set in this year, 2017, around four years after the previous main entry. It’s a world away from those explosive and action packed events as Resi 6 reins in the vast scope and focuses exclusively on a single derelict mansion in the swampy locale of Louisiana, USA. It really harks back to the Spencer Mansion lurking in the Arklay Mountains or the very first game and is almost a character in itself. Every corner and room has picture or something that adds a little bit of background to the plot or creeps you out and puts you on edge.
The person that you’re taking on this journey isn’t one of the usual characters you’d might expect from the series but a brand new person entirely, your average joe civilian named Ethan Winters. Not being a member of special forces or the like he’s doing his best to survive the hell that he’s found himself in in pursuit of his missing wife, Mia, who’s led him to the mansion, owned by the mysterious Baker family.
It’s tension building and it sees you slowly creep your way around the mansion uncovering the mystery behind the family, the reasons for Mia’s disappearance and the suspicious going ons that have infested this house. It’s well paced and as events unfold you get a deeper understanding of what’s going on. Plus being a numbered Resident Evil game clearly links it to the same story started way back with STARS entering Spencer Mansion over two decades ago. It takes it times to connect the dots but it’s rewarding when it all clicks into place. In fact it does take a little too long I’d say. As much as I enjoyed the game from start to finish the game got less scary as it went on as the game runs out of tricks plus you become too powerful on the whole. It’s not to the extent of Alien Isolation outstaying its welcome but a bit of a trim here and there and it would have benefited a lot.
Let me just state it right now, this is a proper return to survival horror. It is as close to the original Resident Evil as Capcom could have got. Series staples like herbs, health sprays and obtuse lock and key mechanisms persist, better suited to the environment you’re playing in, but all correct and present. The puzzles are a little too easy compared to some of the longer form puzzles in the past but you honestly can see how this is essentially a reboot to the series and a sequel. At times you could almost see this as a bit of a remake of the first title in the way you edge your way around the mansion.
For those that played the demo and wondered about how much action there would be, don’t worry. Things do get very shooty later on. If I was to say where it lies to other games in the main series it’s more than all the games up to and including Code Veronica X but less than 4 and a lot less than 5 and 6. So a good balance I’d say although the level of feeling overwhelmed does diminish around the halfway mark, say 5/6 hours in. The Molded, the game’s equivalent of zombies in the early games or the Los Ganados in Resi 4, are a horrid sight at first and do put you on edge when you only have a few bullets and a knife on you. Later on you gun down several with ease with well placed shotgun blasts and even variants of those creatures like a scurrying one or obese vomit spewing one don’t end up posing too much of a threat when you go in armed with remote detonated explosives and a flamethrower.
The main criticism of the Molded though is that they only spawn in places covered in the black gunk so you know that if you can see that stuff or even hear its squelching you can expect to see one. In fact there’s only one instance I can remember when one took me by surprise as it was the only place the black gunk wasn’t visible. More of that would have been good as I wasn’t on my guard in an already explored placed and my word did it make me jump!
A second main flaw, which to be honest is many game’s weakest point, is the boss battles. It’s by far the worst part of the game where you just have to unleash ammo into the baddy until they drop down dead. They’re more annoying than anything else as the games purposefully sluggish mechanics works against these firearm heavy moments. It’s far from being as jarring as Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s boss battles but the game does fall into the usual pitfall of a boss section even when the rest of the game is quiet far removed from these major set pieces. I also often wondered when unleashing a massive amount of ammo if I was actually doing some damage as it was impossible to tell sometimes as there was no feedback if what you were doing eventually worked.
There is one final thing to talk about and it’s one of the most important not only for this game or even genre but for the industry as a whole. I am of course talking about virtual reality. Resident Evil 7 is the first full length AAA game to fully embrace VR and Capcom have done a great job. The game can be played in full in both the traditional way or all in VR, all 10-12 hours of it, and it’s honestly amazing.
I played the whole game in VR, often for hours at a time, and enjoyed every moment of it. It did have the odd glitchy movement but a bit of playing with the curtains and ambient lighting and recalibrating and it was all good again. If you’ve played Outlast or Alien Isolation you’ll know how much more restricted your vision is which adds to the tension as in 3rd person games you can see things creeping up behind you whereas in Resi 7 you can’t.
It does mean the developers can add some cheaper scripted jumps but the new perspective does add far more to the game than if it was 3rd person. But on the whole exploring the nook and crannies of a disgusting, dilapidated mansion it added so much more to the experience. And that’s the key word, experience. The game is identical in both modes but never have I felt so immersed in a game. The first Resident Evil essentially created a genre, Resident Evil 4 redefined 3rd person games and I honestly think Resident Evil 7 could have a legacy for 1st person VR games. Time will tell but I do think this game will be a milestone in VR games and that’s no mean feat.
The swampy setting of the derelict mansion, your starting point, evokes nightmares of being trapped by Leatherface in his house in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. As I said earlier it’s a character itself and a very imposing place, especially in VR. Capcom have gone all out in the detail to make it as interesting environment to explore and also off-putting as possible. This is all enhanced by the fact you’re up close and personal to the grime, filth and horror or your surroundings when playing in VR.
It’s not the highest level of graphical fidelity around with some flatter textures around but it’s still very impressive at times with its lighting and art design. Throughout it continues to drive home how immersive and how much of a perfect fit horror and VR go together.
To sum up
Resident Evil 7 is not only an excellent instalment in the Resident Evil series, one of the best in fact, being a complete return to form in both gameplay and survival horror plus a high watermark for the genre and VR too.
Version reviewed: PS4
Resident Evil 7 is out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.