Resident Evil VII: Biohazard [Review]

As a franchise, Resident Evil has eluded me for quite some time. As a recent entrant into the horror genre, I only know the prestige of the series. The prestige of tunnel downwards in quality before a reboot sets things straight. Well, the latest reboot is Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, which returns things to survival horror.

Ethan Winters receives a message from her wife Mia, instructing him to “stay away”. So naturally, Ethan completely ignores Mia’s desperate plea and makes a beeline for rural Louisiana. Lo and behold, this already bad idea goes sour as Ethan is soon captured by the Bakers. They’re hillbillies, but they also gather ‘round the ol’ family dining table and have a big heaping plate of entrails. Of course, you go through all this hell and pain, just to leave behind the mess you walked into, you freaking idiot.

This plot does really feel like it slots into the combined canon of horror quite well. It has a scary house, with deranged family members, cannibalising the unfortunate souls to wander into their neck of the woods. Hell, the game leaves videotapes of long-dead victims. You heard that right, this game quite literally has “found footage”, and actually uses it to help guide players through the game proper. Similarly, a myriad of documents can be found lying around, which gives a bit more backstory. Thankfully, it also is fairly balanced in its use. The story can easily be played with minimal reading, and the story will still hold up on its own. Suffice to say, this isn’t always the standard it should be.

The story starts off with a sort of immortal slasher horror but acquires more elements as it continues. Later on, we get the Moulded, a stylised take on the traditional zombie. Let’s be spoiler free and say that as the game progresses it runs further and further down the line to full blown body horror monstrosities by games end.

Gameplay also feels very familiar. The core is a first-person survival horror shooter. If you’re like me and just oriented at the finish line, you might struggle. Ammo, weapons, health kits and the like are scattered around, so you’ve got to keep an eye out. The limited portable inventory also means having to make tough decisions between items carried, left behind and shuttled in and out of the limited storage chests.

I’ll just put it out there I love the return of these mechanics. Gaming, especially shooters have introduced some “standard” mechanics that are a bit dismaying. Yes, I understand the logic of regenerating health in some circumstances, but simply put they have no real place in horror. Horror is about frenetic sprinting, hiding, the terror of an approaching enemy, the fear that your cause of death can literally walk around the corner at any time. If all it takes is maintaining a safe distance, a lot of the anxiety is bleached out of the game. In this case, even having the resources to take down future threats is called into question. Even at a boss fight, you can worry about your depleted stock and your manoeuvrability in the face of future encounters. All in all, the gameplay really works in tandem with the story to create this heavy atmosphere.

Resident Evil 7 is constantly figuratively, and sometimes literally, dripping in a dark, rotten feel. The house seems like it could be a real family house, underneath the diseased fluids. The characters look as broken and dishevelled as their backgrounds would indicate. The Moulded and general Body horror is just grotesquely beautiful. Basically, it ticks all the boxes design wise and is pretty graphically impressive by most standards. I should put a little disclaimer here; I haven’t played the PSVR version, so your mileage may vary in that regard.

It may seem this game simply ticks the boxes by my review so far, but I wanted to lay one more praise at Biohazard’s feet. They say variety is the spice of life, and if so, RE7 seems like a nice bowl of human meat chilli. The game is roughly split into chunks with some different mechanics in them. Now generally the game retains focus, but some break off into other types of game. A section in the “party building”, introduces trip mines and an escape room of all things. The villain doesn’t merely hate you; he wants to toy with you. It’s less an oppressive fear driven ride, and more jovial, I suppose. It’s not comedic; it’s more like being trapped by the Joker. Every horror game probably has this kind of level. A new more specific threat to evade, but I think it’s likely a bigger contrast. Not just has the game presented new villain, but a tweak in the tone, menacing but in a sinisterly playful way.

If pressed, Resident Evil does have some rotten corpse fluid to criticise. The game flirts with puzzles but doesn’t exactly make it to the first date, if you catch my drift. Some puzzles are alright, in the dash from one place to the other use inventory items kind of puzzle. Honestly, only one puzzle near the end seemed good enough to bother including if I’m honest. Sure, this is a horror game, but if you’re going to bother putting puzzles in, you should probably put some work into them. You could also say that the Moulded also felt a bit lifeless, ha ha ha.

Resident Evil 7, I feel, is probably the greatest horror game we currently have. Tense and worrying mechanics interplay well with a dark diseased setting, for a horrifying game such as this. Not all the elements are without fault, but the variety of the elements makes up for these flaws. Ultimately we have a dark, disturbing game that takes lots of little elements from various games, and feels like a great little sum of those parts.

5 out of 5

+ Good Story & Presentation
+ Gameplay Works Well with the Other Elements
+ Good Variety in the Story & Gameplay