Sloppy Family Affairs
Resident Evil 7: biohazard is a sloppy experience, and I don't mean mechanically. Having to decide between using a first aid, unloading your final clip of precious handgun ammo, or running away as a molded foe is inches within your grasp almost always ends up a chaotic struggle that leads to you barely surviving. You feel gross, because there is no regenerating health, or an infinite supply of ammo now lying at your feet. As an unapologetic fan of the first four, but mainly first three Capcom survival horror classics, I remember growing up with limited ink ribbon and inventory space.
This is a throwback to the original trilogy of Resident Evil games released in the mid to late 90s. This is a throwback to Capcom survival horror.
After the mess of Resident Evil 6's story, RE7 has wisely dialed back with a narrative that could almost qualify this entry as a reboot. (I'm curious why Capcom even decided to number this entry, what with recent reboot success stories such as Devil May Cry and Doom). Playing as an everyman named Ethan, you find your girlfriend that's been missing for three years has attempted to contact you (an interesting nod to Silent Hill 2). Armed with nothing more than a destination, Ethan sets course for the boggy marshes of Louisiana ripped straight out of True Detective.
After a prologue sequence more akin to the latter day approximations of chase horror, biohazard settles into a masterclass of pacing that unfortunately loses a bit of steam at its conclusion. In fact, the game's first few hours are essentially a first person synthesis of Resident Evil 1 and the underrated Nemesis, with the patriarch Jack Baker mercilessly stalking you through tight corridors. The game's first big environment, the Main House, is an incredible ode to the Spencer Mansion from the first game. The old trademarks are all here: lock picking, bizarre layouts, locked doors with a thematic engraving, copious but earned backtracking, even the obtuse puzzle solving updated with a certain self-awareness. Other locales include a dilapidated estate that again recalls the original Resident Evil in a manner I won't spoil here and a tense collection of booby trapped rooms.
A new variant on zombies known as the molded are disgusting tar covered monstrosities that can even take the form of a classic Resident Evil enemy: the licker. Later, pesky bugs and sinister wasps cocooned in colossal nests attack with fervor. And the boss battles, usually considered to be a weakness in the nineties RE canon, are for the most part exciting if only a bit too bullet-spongy encounters.
The game's final hours take a slight detour into less intriguing territory, bringing to mind the capable but generic quasi-action encounters of Resident Evil: Revelations. Ranging anywhere between and 8 and 10 hours, RE7's scares quickly die down late in the campaign brings to mind an important question regarding the game's length and whether a shorter, tighter game would justify the 60 dollar price tag beholden to it. Even more disappointing is the final boss encounter, a brief on rails orgasm of bullets that seems wildly out of place given the impeccably paced opening hours of slow burn terror. I think I'd actually prefer it to be a QTE over the end result.
A new edition to this entry are a series of video tapes Ethan can find that provide a glimpse into upcoming environments. First shown in the Beginning Hour demo, these tapes not only preview things to come, they offer hints as to where to go or what to do once Ethan arrives. And while we're on the subject of antiquity, the typewriters of the past have been replaced with the technological advancement of the tape recorder, and the inventory chests have been modernized to resemble military caches.
Resident Evil 7 is easily the best Resident Evil in more than ten years, and even more, a capable update to the original survival horror trilogy from twenty years ago. It doesn't get everything right, but Capcom has taken an admirable effort that essentially rewrites the Resident Evil franchise and rescues it from the dredges of both the abysmal (Resident Evil 6, Operation Raccoon City) and the mediocre (Resident Evil Revelations 2). Capcom can proudly boast that they've revived Resident Evil one more time.