Review: Resident Evil VII: Biohazard
Genre: Survival Horror
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Sometimes to move forward you need to take a step back.
A lot of things have been said about the iconic Resident Evil franchise over its twenty-year lifespan, but I think its most defining quality is its ability to reinvent itself with each iteration. However, evolution doesn’t always get things right. Sometimes you reach a dead end. Since Resident Evil 4, the series has moved away from its survival horror roots.Instead, it has borrowed more mechanics and storylines from action games and movies. This reached a peak with the QTE-fest that was Resident Evil 6. Mildly speaking, the fan reaction was not positive. With their backs against the wall, the series did what it has always done best: evolve.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a return to the survival horror that defined the franchise. That might seem like a bit of a paradox: evolving by going back to its roots. But, Resident Evil 7 has cherry-picked the best elements of the modern genre to create something that plays entirely different while feeling entirely familiar.
The best place to experience this is in the mechanics of the game. The first person perspective is an immediate break from tradition. It is a trick that Capcom has copied Amnesia and nearly every survival horror title that has come after it. It’s an effective, if slightly cheap, way of forcing you right into the perspective of the main character. When used effectively for horror, it is terrifying. Yet, controlling Ethan Winters, the protagonist, feels reminiscent of the old tank controls. Derisively, you could call it sluggish. Personally, I felt every movement was purposeful. You’re not that fast. Neither are your enemies. Your aiming is unsteady. Monsters are big and move slowly. The entire effect of the controls seems to be to slow down encounters, which has the added effect of drawing out the terror as enemies shamble slowly towards you. It is a perfect melding of aspects of the old and new that comes to define Resident Evil 7.
Outside of combat, most of your time will be taken up by exploration and puzzle solving. There are plenty of callbacks to the Arklay Mansion of the original Resident Evil with its various emblem keys and crank based problems, which add a much-appreciated level fan service. Unfortunately, the puzzles rarely amount to more than fetch quests to find increasingly abstract keys for increasingly abstract doors. It gets to the point when you need to find a lamp to open up a set of stairs to the attic. It’s a good thing that this exploration and backtracking is rewarding in of itself. Resource management is a necessity of survival horror. You have to keep track of your ammunition, weapons, health and key items all within a limited inventory space. Therefore, there is a natural compulsion to go over the environments with a fine tooth comb and map out the most efficient pathways. Outside of the items needed to keep you alive, there is a bevy of files and hidden treasures. These aren’t just collectibles to satiate completionists. A lot of the game’s lore and some of the best weapons in the game can be missed by not paying enough attention.
It is a shame that while a lot of passion has been poured into the gameplay, it hasn’t extended to the story. You play as the aforementioned Ethan Winters, who has been called to the murky swamps of Louisiana after he receives a tape from his wife who has been missing for the last three years. Despite what the obvious allusions to Silent Hill 2 might suggest, Resident Evil 7 isn’t the start of a more cerebral take on the series. After Ethan arrives at the derelict plantation in Dulvey, Resident Evil quickly returns to its schlocky horror self with the introduction of the game’s antagonists, the Baker family. Crazy, killer, rednecks may be done to death, but that doesn’t stop each of the Bakers from being a wildly entertaining and threatening villain in their own right. Each member of the family gets their own level, which is designed around the type of horror they bring. The runs the spectrum from Croneburgian body horror in a crumbling plantation house to twisted puzzles and trap rooms right out of Saw.
The fact that this is by far the best looking Resident Evil game certainly helps get this across. And I’m not just talking about technical prowess, though it certainly is impressive in that regard. Every environment you traverse through is unique, memorable and disgusting. Even the old franchise staples like the old mansions and underground research facilities fell fresh thanks to a healthy infection from the swamp that recurs as a visual theme over the course of the game. The enemies, shambling, humanoid mutants known as ‘The Molded’, also carry this bayou aesthetic. And while their designs originally shocking, there are really only three of four regular monster types. The more you encounter them, the more their patterns and appearance become less of shock.
At the end of the day, Resident Evil 7 accomplished the impossible. It changed nearly everything about itself and still remained faithful to the franchise. It is a game that utilises nostalgia but never lets itself be restricted by it. For those who wanted a return to the roots of the series, this game is for you. And for those who just want to experience a great stand-alone horror game, this game is also for you.
|The Resident Evil franchise demonstrates once again that it is the master of reinventing its own formula. A great survival horror experience for fans and newcomers alike.||4.1 4.1 ( on 5 rating)|