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Resident Evil 7: Biohazard Review: Welcome to the Family

A glorious, if flawed, return to form

January 31, 2017, 9:45 am

The Gist
It hasn’t been exactly easy for longtime fans of the Resident Evil series (and no, we’re not talking about the terrible movies). The fourth game in the series, while excellent, radically changed everything and led to a more action-oriented experience with its core, numbered titles. This was the beginning of some bizarre choices, and this was no more apparent than in 2012’s RE6, a poor experience mired in run-of-the-mill gameplay and lacking in the signature monsters-puzzles-monsters-guns style that had boosted these games into beloved status. Nobody really liked it.

But never fear, as Capcom has heard its fans and gotten back to the things we love. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is the game we’ve been waiting for and a glorious return to form in almost every way. With a renewed focus on atmosphere, isolation and tension, Capcom rights the series’ course and gets back to what drew fans to survival horror in the first place while adding just enough to its gameplay and mechanic features so as to be accessible to newer players.

You are Ethan Winters, an everyman who receives a jarring email from his wife, Mia, who has been missing three years, telling you in no uncertain terms to not come looking for her. Yeah right. Apparently Mia is somewhere in a Louisiana bayou, held captive, and Ethan sets off to find her which—duh—sets into motion a terrifying series of events rife with the RE scares we just knew were laying dormant someplace. 

Ethan, unlike other protagonists in the series, is just some guy thrust into extreme circumstances. This subtly echoes Leon Kennedy’s first steps into Raccoon City as a rookie cop in RE2, but also heaps on the player the constant reminder that they are ultimately powerless and must adapt to survive. In tracking down his wife, Ethan is pursued and tortured by the Baker family, a terrifying cadre with a mysterious secret and a penchant for just not dying no matter what Ethan tries. Within the Baker’s labyrinthine estate, Ethan will face horrors worse than he could possibly imagine—and it. Is. Awesome!

Capcom interestingly changes the player’s perspective to first-person a la developer Red Barrels’ horrifying Outlast. This adds to the frights not only by making the experience feel more real, but also by limiting what we can see at any given moment. Add legitimately spooky environs and top-notch sound design, and the bulk of the early game segments become a stressful affair ripe for horror. But it isn’t just cheap jump-scares setting the tone here—the Baker family house is packed with sinister trappings, from disgusting rot dripping from basement walls to cramped-quarters hidden behind perplexing doors. It’s not uncommon to wander into an unsettling room filled with children’s things or to realize it’s been just a little too long since you’ve been attacked. You must explore and discover resources, but even as you get your bearings and begin to feel more comfortable with your surroundings, the far-off sounds of closing doors or clanking pipes or maybe even footsteps require you to be ever vigilant, and never is there a point where you’ll feel at ease.

The Bakers pursue you relentlessly and sneakily provide structure (do note that the game is fairly linear and scripted) in the form of changing play styles. The father, Jack, for example, gets up in your face, forcing you to switch between aggressive tactics and running the hell away to consider your methods. The mother, Marguerite, however, requires tact and stealth as you slowly begin to use found items to your advantage. Lucas, the son, prefers twisted game-like rooms in the vein of Saw, but make no mistake—it’s not cheesy so much as devious. Not only does this mean plenty of experimentation, it brings variety and light puzzle elements into play, adding a further layer of frights. Particularly clever is a side-mission type mechanic wherein playable found video tapes provide a different perspective to the goings-on from other characters, which ultimately rounds out the narrative and is, let’s face it, just pretty cool.

There are guns, too. A fairly varied set at that, though through ammo and resource management, there is never a moment when you’ll overpowered, and the loss of a weapons upgrade system keeps the focus squarely on the gameplay itself rather than longing for a larger clip or slightly more powerful handgun. Item management is, of course, a hallmark of the series that was tragically distorted with its mounting emphasis on action, but when it comes to RE7, you’ll often have just enough ammo to do what you must by the skin of your teeth, and even then it isn’t rare to be forced into pulling out a knife to finish the job.

There is a glaring lack of enemy variety, however, and though the most common monsters found are fearsome and creepy, they are slow and lumbering and easy enough to take down if you remain calm. Of course, the new first-person perspective does mean they can sneak up behind you if you’re not paying close enough attention and, when you’re mobbed, you’ll need to think fast. But Resident Evil 7 ultimately assigns most of its creativity to boss battles with the Bakers themselves. These are undoubtedly the most game-like scenarios, which does little for the immersion factor and can sometimes feel tired. One such battle cost me a hefty amount of ammo before I figured out that the boss wasn’t scripted to die just yet, and this felt pretty bogus; scary and weird, yes, but bogus.

Still, the narrative excels, and as Ethan slowly pieces together the events surrounding the Bakers, it is riveting. And though the payoff seems a mite cliched, and late-game story choices feel almost rushed and beholden to series lore, Resident Evil 7 still represents an important shift and proves Capcom is not only listening to fans, it still knows how to pile on the scares. If this represents a new turning point for the series and the developers continue down this path, we’d like to assume there are good things in store. In other words, consider Resident Evil totally revitalized and back on track. Ditch the assumption that you’ll be forced into basic action-y garbage and prepare yourself for the discomfort and scares. Capcom has already announced plans for future DLC including more playable tapes and a further exploration of the narrative elements we love so much. Yes, this game fits into the overall RE universe, though exactly how isn't clear yet. We can't wait to find out with subsequent games and, honestly, kind of can't wait to get back in there and see some of the alternate endings. Play this game, you guys—seriously. 

The Score
8
+ Creepy atmosphere, new perspective, a return to what we love about RE
- Boss battles are kinda weak, boring payoff, not particularly long

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Rated M (It's like, SO violent)
Xbox One, PS4, PC
$59.99

Note: We reviewed Resident Evil 7 on the Xbox One. The PS4 version does come with VR support and, from what we hear, a relatively robust suite of options for all you virtual reality nuts out there. We obviously can't confirm rumors that it makes some people sick, and anyway, we'd have been to scared to go full VR. 


 

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