Resident Evil 7: Biohazard Review
There are few games I hold as close to my heart as Resident Evil 4. From its atmosphere and tense opening levels to its action-packed third act, Resident Evil 4 is a perfect game (to me at least), but gradually Capcom decided to focus on the action sequences of RE4 for its sequels rather than focusing on how well it blended both survival horror and action. Resident Evil 5 is fun to play through with a friend for a night or two but doesn’t have the same level of depth as 4 and encounters with enemies are less harrowing and memorable. Resident Evil 6 is a joke of a game, turning Resident Evil into Call of Duty, abandoning everything about the series its fans adored and focusing more on set pieces than individual moments.
Five years after the release of Resident Evil 6 at E3 2016, Capcom teased a first-person horror game that took place within a haunted house, akin to Outlast or P.T. Never would I have suspected that would be the seventh entry in the Resident Evil series had the title not told me so. In addition to their reveal, Capcom released the said demo on the same day for players to download and try out. My initial reactions to this demo were both optimistic and skeptic. The demo played like your typical walking simulator with glimpses as to what the final game might entail, but it didn’t sink its hooks into me until I got my hands on the full game. And oh boy, does the full release deliver.
Assuming the role of Ethan Winters, players must uncover a mystery that involves your wife, Mia, who has been missing for three years. Lured to the Louisiana swamp by a message from Mia, Ethan stumbles upon a decrepit mansion where a cannibalistic family, known as the Bakers, painfully welcome Ethan to their house of horrors. In order to end the nightmare, Ethan must sneak and shoot his way through the household while uncovering the truth about his wife.
I’ll admit the first hour or so of Resident Evil 7 didn’t grab me as much as I would have liked and I think that’s due to the walking simulator aspect it was trying so hard to emulate. I was immediately taken aback by Ethan’s interactions with the environment. There is some horrific imagery and situations that Ethan doesn’t react to, but reacts to other menial things that shouldn’t really matter, and it frustrated me to the point where I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to enjoy what the game would offer. After Firewatch, I expected the same level of character interaction if not more since this had an even higher budget but that was my expectation and my experience alone. However, after that first hour, Resident Evil 7 shines.
Post first hour, Ethan is subjected to the cruelty of the Baker family and in an instant, the game transforms into something resembling early Resident Evil. Things such as puzzles, weapons, and items quintessential to the Resident Evil mythos such as herbs and breakable crates become prevalent and essential to surviving the Bakers’ murderhouse, and even shortcuts linking later areas to starter areas were a welcome surprise and made me excited to see what was in store for later parts of the game.
Combat takes some time to get used to. Using knives and axes are pretty straightforward with a basic attack and even a heavy attack that damages enemies enough in normal mode with enough swings to the head, but on the harder difficulty, Madhouse, they’re basically ineffective unless to stun. There are guns and even heavy weapons that Ethan comes across but they feel too powerful for even him to handle and difficult to use until you upgrade them. Ammo is hard to find and just like classic Resident Evil, there is limited inventory space, which can be later expanded, but the player needs to be smart about juggling between ammo for different weapons as well as specific ammo types for each gun that are introduced.
A welcome new addition to Resident Evil 7 is the ability to block incoming attacks from enemies to reduce damage. Since the majority of the combat is close quarters, the defend mechanic is extremely helpful to survive desperate situations and is quite nifty in a pinch.
Engaging normal enemies feels pretty good for the most part and leaves scenarios open for different tactics to use but the boss battles leave something to be desired. The first boss battle felt more like a button mashing contest while the others felt like your typical run-and-shoot-at-glowing weak-spot battles. While the latter is inherent to the DNA of Resident Evil, I wished they had expanded upon this already worn formula. The game already makes fun of itself in the narrative so I wished they had subverted what I already know about Resident Evil with the bosses and did something a little different.
The biggest con of encountering both the normal enemies and the bosses is the mobility of Ethan. He can sprint, but strafing from side to side feels like you’re stuck in quicksand. To make matters worse, when fighting enemies that are fairly quick, maneuvering around is quite the pain and easy enemies can suddenly turn into deadly enemies.
My first impressions upon the presentation of Resident Evil 7 were less than enthusiastic as characters’ faces were in the uncanny valley territory and some of the textures in the areas outside the Baker home looked downright bad. Inside the Baker home is a different story; the house looks and feels alive. Every wall, every floor, and every blood smear tell a different story in the house and within minutes of exploring it, you can tell this is where the developers spent their time. Narrow corridors make you uneasy. Large rooms feel intimidating. There’s trash and paraphernalia throughout the house that make it feel lived-in, like the Bakers were a real family with a engrossing history. I played the game on PC and after downloading the latest driver for my Geforce 980TI, it ran at a more stable framerate than when I was playing without it and looks fantastic.
The sound design is absolutely incredible. I played the entire game with headphones on and it was just butt-clenching as I thought it would be. Moments sneaking around the house are tense as I would listen for footsteps of the Baker family but once I caught their line of sight, no matter how fast I ran, the score would tell me they’re about to catch up with me. Even the simple things like hearing the shells move around in a shotgun while walking and sprinting brought a smile to my face and the wind brushing up against window blinds made me alert to my surroundings.
Resident Evil 7 is a return to form for a franchise that was going through an identity crisis for years, catering to the hardcore and new fan alike. RE7 is a Resident Evil game through and through, and there is so much more to talk about within its story and mechanics but that would be giving away too much and I think this game is special enough to experience unspoiled.