Rising from the dead…
*Since I do not own a PlayStation VR, this review will not cover any virtual reality component of Resident Evil 7.*
The Resident Evil series has been a victim of its own success over the recent years, having struggled with multiple identity crises and fundamentally losing the particular elements that fostered the survival horror genre. Capcom’s latest entry into the series is a bipolar experiment as its perspective and overall tone are a relative far cry from the series’ renowned tendencies; while it rekindles certain gameplay and design elements that are not only reminiscent to the series’ golden age, but seamlessly blends the core fundamentals of the genre and the powerless implementation that has been popularized in modern survival horror game design, ushering a harmonic balance of the new and old. Resident Evil 7 is a resounding renaissance that acts as a true return to form for the series and establishes a new successful era for, what many would’ve considered, a fatigued franchise. It’s an engrossing experience that is exceptionally well-paced, with each key moment and discomforting setting serving a resilient purpose. Resident Evil 7 trades off its recent predecessors’ reliance on redundant action for a methodical approach to horror, rightfully returning the series’ key ability to instill fear through its haunting environment and impeccable sound design. It’s a terrifying ride that will undoubtedly send bracing chills down your spine, arguably attaining the top spot as the best horror game of the current generation. While it never reaches the meteoric heights of the Gamecube remake of the original or the masterful Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil 7: biohazard meets the established gold standard of the series and exceeds most contemporary expectations as it is the best Resident Evil game since the aforementioned fourth entry, and a textbook example on how to properly revitalize a dying franchise.
Resident Evil 7 is a robust culmination of thematic influences and concepts from a wide array of different entertainment mediums stemming from both the Western and Eastern front, weaving together a bevy of different elements which could’ve resulted in a disjointed disaster. There are conspicuous elements plucked from western horror classics such as The Evil Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a notable obeisance to the core fundamentals of Japanese horror through its influence from the Silent Hill series – the initial story premise is extremely Silent Hill-esque – and returning to the thematic roots of Resident Evil. Resident Evil 7 opens up with protagonist Ethan Winters in search for his wife Mia, who has been missing for three years, and is presumed to be dead. Things take a turn for the bizarre when Ethan receives an email from Mia telling him to come rescue her from Louisiana – sound familiar *cough* Silent Hill 2 *cough*. This initial essence in tone and notable shift in narrative perfectly encapsulates why Resident Evil 7 is a successful departure from the core series as its approach to storytelling is grounded, personal and candid, avoiding the disjointed, ludicrous nature that has plagued the franchise’s narrative for years. While its story isn’t on par with the impeccable writing of video game greats such as The Last of Us or Bioshock – with certain elements falling flat throughout the 10 hour journey – it’s still an engrossing experience that simply never lets up, and is arguably the strongest and most emotionally-driven narrative that Capcom has cooked up for its iconic horror series. However, the most notable thematic change is Resident Evil 7’s conspicuous influence from P.T. While Resident Evil 7 producer, Masachika Kawata, acknowledged the similarities between their new core entry and the Silent Hills playable teaser, he has insisted that their project was in development prior to P.T.’s announcement and that the comparison is purely coincidental. Despite his claims, the similarities between the two are clear even to the naked eye. Catering towards an eerily claustrophobic design, Resident Evil 7 predominately takes place in the Baker Estate, similar to the Spencer mansion of the original Resident Evil, bringing forth the return of the series’ iconic back-tracking adventure elements. Each terrifying segment of the Baker Estate is decrepitly detailed and realised, creating an unsettling aura that quite never dissipates and quickly instills a raw sense of terror when complimented with the stellar sound design. Every grotesque groan and/or subtle creak in the floorboards is amplified in a successful effort to insure a sense of paranoia and fear is appropriately distributed and consumed. Resident Evil 7’s opening moments are impressively strong and its illustrious sense of quality is consistent throughout its entirety, quickly establishing itself as an instant classic in the survival horror genre.
The heart of the Resident Evil series remains intact with its latest entry, promoting a heavy emphasis on resource management, ammo scarcity, exploration, puzzle solving, and the aforementioned back-tracking – a rightful return of the adventure elements. Let’s address the elephant in the room shall we: Resident Evil 7’s biggest gameplay departure from the core series is its first person perspective. This not only adds a significant layer in combat depth, but elevates its sense of immersion exponentially, contributing to the monumental fact that Resident Evil 7 is arguably the scariest entry in the series. While it may not represent as much of an innovative push into the franchise, Resident Evil 7’s perspective change into the first-person is comparable to perspective change that came with the masterful fourth entry of the series. Resident Evil 7 differentiates itself from the modern examples of survival horror – such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Outlast, and SOMA – which heavily rely on an emphasis on helplessness and desperation, as Resident Evil 7 encompasses these elements of vulnerability, but also provides the necessary tools to protect yourself for the time being. Ammo is, for the most part, scarce and should be used sparingly, inventory slots will quickly be filled so managing resources efficiently is imperative, back-tracking is strongly recommended in order to attain powerful weapons and/or resources in order to even the odds, specific item combinations can create additional first aid medicine, extra ammunition, or other useful resources, and a light emphasis on puzzle solving alleviates the overall flow of the core experience. These fundamental gameplay elements are woven together impeccably and are spread out accordingly, coming together to deliver an experience that is exceptionally well-paced and expertly designed. While its sense of back-tracking and independent guidance is nowhere near as ambiguous as the original and its puzzles are not nearly as intricate in design, it’s still a welcomed return from the bombastic mess that encompassed Resident Evil 6. Speaking of welcomed returns, Resident Evil 7 brings back a manual save system, similar to the typewriter mechanic of the originals. While there is still an auto-save system for key moments and checkpoints, these instances are relatively scarce so manually saving is strongly recommended. Resident Evil 7: biohazard is an unabashed breath of fresh air for the stagnant series, and an impeccable entry that’ll feel novel to both newcomers and veterans alike.
While Resident Evil 7’s gameplay strikes a reinvigorating chord, it is by no means perfect, with a few crutches holding it back from reaching the immaculate heights of Resident Evil 4. First of all, the game suffers from a severe lack in enemy variety, admittedly hindering, what is otherwise, a perfectly paced experience. Other than the Regenerador-esque creatures, called the Molded, there are essentially no other enemies left to encounter in Resident Evil 7 – aside from the nearly indestructible Baker family, who serve as the game’s bosses. Since you’ll be combatting the Molded for over ninety percent of the time, their initial petrifying nature wears relatively thin by the end of the journey. Their oversaturated frequency is an unfortunate oversight as they serve as a great, intimidating enemy type that rivals the fearsome aura of Resident Evil 4’s Regeneradors. As I previously mentioned, the illustrious Baker Family serve as Resident Evil 7’s bosses and for the most part, they feel quite underwhelming. They are quite intimidating as they are nearly indestructible, thus resulting in a gameplay style that mirrors the likeness of Alien: Isolation and Amnesia. However the actual moment to moment gameplay during boss fights leave much to be desired. One particular fight against Jack Baker literally requires the player to do little to nothing and simply survive up to a certain point, as normal weaponry has no effect on Jack. So the first stage of this fight is rendered to nothing more than running away in an elongated circle, until the next stage of the fight is triggered. This is downright tedious and not fun, as you will constantly have to replay the monotonous stage if you die at any point during the boss fight. Boss fights mirror the slower, methodical nature of Resident Evil 7’s core gameplay structure, predominately avoiding the explosively bombastic nonsense that can be found in other entries of the series – however, there a few boss encounters that cater to the series’ over-the-top nature and clash against the slower, grounded nature that Resident Evil 7 established. Certain segments will require you to avoid confrontation all together, approaching the indestructible Bakers in a stealthy manner – while these segments induce a terrifying sense of paranoia and dread, this emphasis on stealth does not jive particularly well with Resident Evil 7’s gameplay structure as rudimentary stealth mechanics such as simplistic hiding, silent takedowns, and peeking around corners are questionably absent.
Resident Evil 7: biohazard is a peculiar package to analyze as it’s a return to form for the series in a multitude of ways but also inherently feels like the most detached entry in recent memory. Its narrative ties to the overarching universe of Resident Evil is relatively uncertain, questionably residing in a level of ambiguity that is not thouroughly explained, but the relation is there nonetheless. Its severe lack in enemy variety does hurt its overall sense of horror and hinders the impeccable pacing ever so slightly, but these diminutive complaints never detract from what is easily the best Resident Evil experience in recent memory. Chock full of exquisitely placed jump scares, exceptionally well-realised environments that evoke a discomforting sense of terror, masterfully executed sound design that is second to none, and a thrilling balance between old and new design elements of the survival horror genre, Resident Evil 7 is an exceptional success story, breathing new life into a dormant franchise that was once thought to be dead. Although the exhilarating experience is relatively brief, clocking in at about 10 hours, it is undoubtedly a glorious nightmare that is absolutely worth delving into, a nightmare that I simply never wanted to end. Resident Evil 7: biohazard is unquestionably, in regards to the current generation, the new gold standard for survival horror.