It seemed like for the longest time two names were synonymous with the video game horror genre. Silent Hill and Resident Evil. Silent Hill looked like it may have been on the up and up with PT until Konami squandered both potential and talent with its rather public falling out with Hideo Kojima. Resident Evil seemed to have peaked with RE4, considered by some to be the greatest in the series. But as sequels and spin-offs failed to capture what made the game special one wondered if we had heard the last of the Resident Evil franchise. Yet Resident Evil 7: Biohazard comes along and it makes us jump, feel tense and reboots the series in a way that seemed impossible. Find out how all comes together in our review.
You play as Ethan, whose wife Mia disappeared three years prior. Working under the assumption that she was gone for good you are surprised at the arrival of a video with her asking for your help. She is being held at a derelict plantation in Dulvey, Louisiana, where a seemingly demented family are holding her hostage.
You would be forgiven when first entering the first-person world of Resident Evil 7 for thinking of Konami’s much esteemed PT and to a lesser extent the Amnesia series. Yet little more than the first-person perspective bears any similarity to it. Still, the game initially feels like a guided roller coaster scare fest with a lot of jump moments. You know those moments when you know something is going to happen and yet still it scares you. There are limited options for where you can go and you would be hard pressed to get lost. It’s a fun, tense but highly scripted opening.
Yet it’s not exactly the survival horror expected especially if you’re chasing the more traditional Resident Evil model. I mean by that inventory management, limited resources and puzzles to solve in what is often a labyrinth type setting that slowly unlocks as the game progresses. The good news after the first hour it becomes more of that type of game as more and more locations open up.
The downside of that is the delicious atmosphere become decidedly different once you have guns at your disposal. In some sense, this is a truer distillation of what Resident Evil is meant to be for some people. But on some level, it also veers away from scare to attempting to replace it by adding a lot more gore. Dismembered limbs, ridiculous chainsaw battles and a plethora of viscera and goo are just part of what the game throws at you.
The truth about Resident Evil 7’s atmosphere comes from the influences that it wears quite openly. Somewhere between REC, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, True Detective and Devil’s Rejects lies the tone that RE7 is aiming for. Despite these influences, it still very much has the tendrils of its original gaming Horror roots also especially when you are almost initally shuttled into a mansion. It seems like a lot of disparate elements but they do gel quite cohesively.
One of the things that I especially liked was borrowed from found footage films like VHS or REC. These movies tell stories with videos and Resident Evil 7 has a mechanic where you discover a videotape and when inserted into a player takes you into a different story happening in your current location. They offer you hidden locations in rooms and my favourites involve an escape room and a bunch of ghost hunters filming a show.
The look of the game, of course, enhances this. Realistic modelling feels comparable to Uncharted or its kind but the resulting effects mean they look like they belong in the uncanny valley (possibly adding to the scare). But the houses and locales are truly dark and macabre. Somewhere between Resident Evil 1 and 4.
The story, for the most part, is strong (admittedly for the type of game and format it is) and you find yourself wanting to uncover the mystery behind what has happened at this plantation and to their family. There is a moment when it does fall apart a little and takes on a story more like FEAR than what has come before it. It has a ruined boat and that is perhaps where should begin to lower expectations for the plot.
It also feels like there are elements of the story that feel essential but are hidden away in text files. The back story of the main villain, for example, is almost negligible in actual in-game storytelling (cut scenes etc.) It seems to a trend in games to include important story information in text files or audio logs. Surely we could do with some more details without having to lose the momentum of the game.
Bosses like in many games, are Resident Evil 7 weakness. Initial encounters are tense and scary yet as the game goes on these fall into the trap of more generic design and encounters. Big and gross mutations are made even more redundant by having glowing points of weakness. While making these encounters boring it also makes them lacking in the challenge department too.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard Review Cheat Sheet
Resident Evil 7 Biohazard, in the end, feels like a welcome return to form for the series. Scary, tense and wonderfully designed for the most part. It stumbles at times with a deteriorating quality of bosses and some hidden story elements. But in the end, it’s wonderful horror influences shine through making a way forward for the series in the future.
+ Great graphics and atmosphere.
+ Lots of amazing horror references.
+ A mostly strong plot.
+ Scares and gore make for a tense survival horror that begins with scripted and move into more traditional tropes of the genre.
-Boss battles become generic.
-Plot falls apart towards the end when too much useful exposition becomes hidden behind collectables.
Platforms: Xbox One, PC, PS4