Resident Evil is one of the biggest game franchises in the world. It’s had nearly a dozen titles, and spawned numerous books, films, toys, and merchandise. Every time I speak to someone about the Resident Evil series they have a different story about how they were introduced to the games, and what their first experiences were like. It’s a household name in the horror genre, and it set the bar for what a survival horror game should be.
Well, it used to be at least. Over the years the franchise has taken some pretty catastrophic twists and turns. The franchise has evolved with the times, and the results have been mixed to put it lightly. They’ve tried all sorts of things, but nothing seemed to work. They knew the old formula wasn’t selling, so they looked to the big hitters of recent times for inspiration. This, however, was not the direction fans wanted the series to go and the sales proved it. Now it’s 2017, another installment has been released after some very clever marketing. Things seem to be back on track.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, to use its full title, is the latest game in the long running Resident Evil series (apparently it’s the 24th title, wow!). It follows the story of Ethan Winters as he searches for his wife Mia, which leads him to a derelict plantation inhabited by the Baker family. It was developed in the new RE Engine and sports a first person perspective, a first for the series.
Resident Evil 7 is a very different beast to the previous titles. As I mentioned above it uses a first person perspective instead of third person or fixed cameras as the other entries in the series did. Whilst this might seem like a strange gear shift, it works incredibly well, and it moved the franchise away from the action-focused third person game it had become in recent years. Resident Evil (back when it was good) used to feel claustrophobic and tense due to its limited fixed camera angles. The new first person perspective achieves similar results, making you feel vulnerable and limiting your field of view. This change was a really smart move, and it clearly came about from the success of games like PT, Outlast, and Amnesia. I was very happy to say farewell to the third person, over-the-shoulder perspective the games have used since the 4th installment. For me those games never truly felt like Resident Evil titles, where as 7 really feels like a return to those fantastic horror roots that made the series so popular.
Speaking of the franchise’s roots, this is the most Resident Evil game to be released in years, and I mean years. 4,5, and 6, whilst finding a fan-base, strayed too far from the core concept for me to truly enjoy them. The story was nonsense, and the game play, whilst good in places, just didn’t feel like a survival horror experience. Resident Evil 7 pulls the throttle way back, and returns the game play to a more familiar and welcome pace. Ethan is very weak, and he’s a crap shot. He doesn’t have enormous muscles, or super-human reflexes. He feels like a normal guy thrown into a terrifying situation. You start the game with nothing, not even a knife. As you progress you unlock a few weapons; a pistol, a shotgun, a homemade flame thrower. You have to scavenge the environments for materials and supplies. You will find ammo, but it’s scarce. Most of your resources will come from crafting what you feel you need for the situations to come from the rare crafting materials you find.
This game is true survival horror. There are a few moments where the game strays into the realms of shooting the giant monster with all the bullets, but they are used sparingly. When they do happen they are kind of a nice break from the sphincter-clenching tension that is the majority of the game experience. Speaking of tension, this game is fucking scary. I mean it’s really creepy in places. The use of lighting and sound is inspiring here. I don’t think I’ve heard better sound design in a horror game since the original Dead Space. The old houses (which are the setting for most of the game) creak and moan constantly. This game really is a masterpiece in suspense. While it isn’t quite as scary as Outlast, it balances the horror well with allowing you to have places and moments where you can catch your breath and relax. One of the ways the game does this is by reintroducing the safe room concept from the original Resident Evil games. The houses and locations possess rooms where enemies cannot go, and you can be sure you won’t be attacked whilst browsing your inventory or saving the game. Instead of typewriters you have answer machines to save your progress, although the game has thankfully ditched the need to find a save item in order to backup your progress.
A Resident Evil game lives and dies on its antagonists. The zombies and horrific creatures like Lickers, and Tyrants found in the original trilogy, are iconic monsters that challenge you throughout the game. Whilst the legacy of these biological monsters lives on in this installment, they are replaced with a new breed of Resident Evil monsters. The Baker family function as the bosses for the game, and they’re tied very neatly into the main story line. These characters are as interesting as they are terrifying. They pop up throughout the game, stalking you, or creating problems for you at key moments. You can feel the DNA of the series other iconic monsters in the Bakers. Jack, the head of the family relentlessly hunts you much like how Nemesis did. Marguerite blocks your progress with swarms of insects, and provides you with some unique combat challenges when she reveals her true nature. And Lucas does his best Jigsaw impression by setting traps and obstacles up to try and catch you out in painful ways. The Baker family are great, and they’re the beating heart of this horror game. Supporting the Bakers are a series of creatures loosely referred to as “moulded”. These creatures are pretty generic and uninspiring, but they make for some interesting encounters throughout the game.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a fantastic return to form for a series that’s struggled with it’s identity for many years. It feels fresh, but also really familiar to any long term fans of the series, and it offers a lot of potential for future titles in the series. Whilst mostly staying away from the dumpster fire that is the Resident Evil story line, it does find a few clever ways to tie itself to the overall series, and sets up some interesting new concepts for the future. This game feels like a faithful, and honest attempt to restore Resident Evil to the top of the horror game genre, and it succeeds on so many levels. I loved playing through it, and found myself wanting more by the end. It’s a great length too. Unlike Alien Isolation, which was afraid of short changing people in the game length department, Resident Evil 7 feels like the perfect length for a game like this. It doesn’t outstay its welcome, and it doesn’t bog down the game with unnecessary filler.
If you’re a fan of the series, or a fan of horror games in general, this is a title you absolutely have to experience. If you’re feeling brave you can also play the entire game in VR on PS4, but be warned, it’s fucking terrifying. I’m so happy to see Resident Evil return home to its roots after years of being a mishandled pile of action garbage. If this game is an indication of what the future has in store for the series, then fans like me have reason to be excited. Welcome home.