Welcome to the new standard in horror gaming
Getting Resident Evil back on track for the second time seemed like an almost impossible task. Resident Evil 6 took things in such a drastic direction which I despised that I wasn’t even sure I wanted a Resident Evil 7. However everything pre release sounded like they were on the right track. The demo was definitely a step in the right direction. All that was left was for the game to come out. And now that it has; they’ve done it again and made a truly special horror game.
Perhaps the biggest and most jarring change is the move to first person for the first time in a numbered Resident Evil game. It feels like a massive change until you play the game. Then you realize it really isn’t that big of a deal. All the hallmarks of classic Resident Evil are here; puzzles, ammo scarcity, claustrophobic environments. Except now in first person. And it works. Not only does it work it makes it way scarier than previous games.
It can’t be understated just how creepy this game truly is. Even more so in PlayStation VR which I’ll talk about later on, but even playing the game the traditional way it really makes you feel unsettled while playing. The first time you wander around the house, not knowing when a member of the Baker family will show their ugly face, is so well done. The game does have lots of jumpscares and most of which are done well and not too over the top. It’s the constant feel of impending doom that the game pulls off so well. Perhaps the early atmosphere is lost slightly towards the end, but they still nail almost everything they are trying to achieve.
Story wise it’s perhaps the most trimmed down entry in the series so far. You are looking for your lost wife who has sent you a message from a mysterious place. That simple albeit familiar sounding concept really works as this feels like a more personal story once again. Gone are the saving the world tactics portrayed in the previous entry. Instead we just get a grounded story based on simple concepts. Find your wife. Escape the mansion. Sure there’s more to it as the game opens up and I would have liked more overt references to the series’ past. The series has been bogged down in the mythology for too long and without doing a complete reboot; this was the best way to handle it.
The gameplay is something I was perhaps the most cautious about going in as the demo, for a great as it was, contained barely any. I like my horror to contain combat and not just rely on you to run and hide from enemies. It worked in Outlast but that’s not how I want to play a Resident Evil game. I was thrilled to find out while playing that the developer agree with this sentiment. The game features lots of gun combat as well as lots of melee combat which you’d expect from a first person game but perhaps not in a Resident Evil game. But again, it works. I still find myself surprised in how well they’ve modernized Resident Evil. It took massive cues from other recent horror games but without losing the identity of the series.
One thing that also stood out to me during my initial ten hour playthrough was the amount of references to American horror cinema. You wouldn’t think this was a Japanese developed game with not only obvious homages of classics such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Evil Dead but modern horror also. There are certain sequences that play out almost identical to a Rob Zombie film and even the Saw films. This game in many ways is a love letter to the Horror genre and perfectly matched the tone of a Grindhouse style film but as a videogame. Long time horror fans will get a massive kick from this game.
Early on, it was great revisiting the sections from the demo but with slight changes. It felt familiar but strange and really made me feel uneasy exploring it. Like going back to a childhood home that’s changed over the years. However the game opens up a lot after the first few hours and I really liked the different environments that featured. Only one section felt a little under utilized. However I was surprised with how much variety there was given it’s all set in one location.
One thing the game does perhaps lack in is enemy variety. It certainly suits the tone of the game as every enemy is there for a reason and makes sense in a more stripped back horror game. Fighting a zombie dog for example would definitely feel out of place. But that still doesn’t excuse the fact that previous entries had such a wide array of enemies to destroy and it is slightly disappointing to only battle the same few things over and over again.
Another interesting concept is the use of videotapes you find in the world and then play in a VCR you find and take control of the person you’re watching. We saw it in the demo as we see the ‘Sewer Gators’ entering the house and things going badly. These feature more in the game and are actually really well done. In particular the ‘Happy Birthday’ tape was a very memorable section of the game and something I wished they had explored more. It’s a shame there’s only a few and with the already announced season pass, it’s a shame we have to pay for something that probably should have been an unlockable bonus after you beat the game such as a Mercenaries mode.
I loved all the little nods to previous games. Not wanting to spoil anything but there’s certainly a few references that really brought a smile to my face. Crafting is basic but again it works. Having too much to focus on with upgrades or abilities can really get in the way so I like that the game takes a similar approach to The Last of Us. And the same with the puzzles. Sure they can be kinda simple but you really don’t want to get frustrated and have to replay the same parts multiple times as, quite frankly, you already have enough to worry about in this game.
One major point is that the entire game is playable in PlayStation VR. Personally I played the first hour before removing the headset and playing the more traditional way. I was surprised how well VR worked. If it wasn’t for my own tolerance, only playing that way in limited sessions and wanting to play Resident Evil 7 till the end; I probably would have played the whole game that way. Visually the game does take a hit in VR and I preferred how the game looks normally. However the aiming certainly works better. Scary levels go from high to feels like I may have a heart attack at any time. It should be applauded for this as having an AAA game entirely optional in VR is a big step. Hopefully we see other franchises achieve something similar so we have more choices how we play games going forward.
Having beat the game multiple times as of writing I find myself with a very limited list of gripes. The enemy variety as I mentioned earlier being the biggest, but also a lack of memorable boss fights. I like the design and set up but the gameplay in these boss battles didn’t change in any meaningful way which made them feel just more like prolonged enemy encounters rather than traditional boss battles. I did want just a little bit more in regards to references to the franchise past; even though I’ll still argue less is more in favor of previous titles.
Small niggles aside; this game ended up being something truly special. It would have been so easy for them to make a first person horror game that is purely about the jumpscares, made for the YouTube generation, slap the Resident Evil name on it and be on their way. But they didn’t. What they have made is one of the best first person horror games ever made. It sets a new standard for the genre going forward. Sure it may have took a lot of hooks of other recent horror games. However in most ways in takes those ideas and creates something way better than the things that inspired it. In a lot of ways, this is the successor to P.T we will never get.
But even with all the changes and the second reinvention of the franchise; Resident Evil 7: biohazard still feels very much a Resident Evil game. Walking down a dark corridor, trying to find a key to the next area, struggling for ammo, health bar flashing red. You can change the way the game is played but still feel exactly the same. The fact they pulled that off I have to commend the developers for what they have achieved. It’s almost impossible to judge this game next to previous entries (except to say it’s light years ahead of Resident Evil 5 & 6) but I will say it’s made Resident Evil scary again. It’s made Resident Evil relevant again. And I adore Resident Evil 7: biohazard.