Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (Xbox One Review)
The Resident Evil franchise has been going through a bit of an identity crisis lately. With Resident Evil 6 being a huge departure for the franchise’s horror roots and “transforming” the series into a Michael Bay-esque action movie – inducing a “more flair than scare” mentality. And up creeps Resident Evil 7 out from within the shadows to try and revitalise what the series had lost, re-inventing the wheel by taking similar gameplay elements from popular games like Outlast or Alien Isolation. Trading in the the over the top set pieces for a familiar more intimate locale, switching the player’s view to a fixed FPS mode; ditching the over the shoulder camera made popular by Resident Evil 4. All in the hopes of realising Capcom’s goal of putting the Resident Evil franchise back on track to being the king of survival horror games.
Resident Evil 7 takes place 4 years after the events of Resident Evil 6, with a whole new setting and a brand new set of characters in the spotlight. Shifting away from the cast we know and love to Ethan Winters, an ordinary every man in a desperate search for his missing wife. Taking Ethan to a seemingly abandoned plantation out in the middle of a Louisiana swamp. In typical Resident Evil fashion, chaos ensues and it turns out that the plantation isn’t abandoned after all. Rather, a home to several crazed hillbilly cannibals that Ethan must overcome to find out what has really happened to his wife, Mia Winters.
Without spoiling too much of the overall story, Resident Evil 7 contains itself within its own narrative, one that separates it from the rest of the series; for the most part. The plot of Resident Evil 7 is unique, in that it does not rely on a traditional mass scale event -such as an outbreak- to emphasise the severity of the circumstance that surround you. Instead, choosing a more personal story that gradually escalates to encompass more than Ethan and his wife. You don’t necessarily have to worry about the lore and history of the Resident Evil franchise to appreciate Capcom’s latest iteration, as largely, it doesn’t make reference to the past and focuses on creating and setting up a potential future for the series.
If you are particularly attentive then you’ll notice little titbits of information regarding the world of Resident Evil that helps bridge Resident Evil 7 to it’s predecessors, but mostly they feel like filler or little Easter Eggs to uncover. As all links to the past are appreciated and will most likely be loved by hardcore fans, some of those fans may feel like these connecting knots feel rather loose. Somewhat hamfisted affairs that make Resident Evil 7 feel unintentional; a horror game built from the ground up to be something else. A VR experience with a much larger budget to please a wider audience and rope in fans with a “big” name.
There’s nothing more terrifying than being immersed in a solitary environment that is out to get you, and Resident Evil 7’s change to a first person camera amplifies that immensely. You may expect with the trend of first person survival horror games that there would be a focus on avoiding the danger that you could face rather than confronting it. But Resident Evil 7 plays on both sides of the fence. From time to time you’ll be outnumbered and simply underpowered to fend of the hillbilly inhabitants and forced to make a choice; run or gun. And it’s this disparagement between these two choices that left me confused. You can, in most scenarios, run away – in fact it’s encouraged. Where as some fights, like bosses, you’re forced to fight. And this is usually due to there being some environmental cue to kill said boss, since simple bullets and melee attacks won’t cut it, you need to wait for these encounters to finish these bad guys off once and for all. And this doesn’t help lend any credence to their supposed “invulnerability”.
If you come face to face with one of the main family members outside of their situated boss arena then your ammo will be wasted, only doing as much as slowing them down. However, that same firepower within a boss fight could be enough to kill them. Some fights may need the improvisation of a weapon or two, but bullets usually do the trick. And it’s this mixed bag of choices that bewildered me. Am I wasting ammo or is this the correct way to deal with this situation? Ultimately leading me down a trial and error approach to situations that I didn’t enjoy. Simply hitting the retry button because I thought I was going about it the wrong way.
Regardless of how the boss encounters are handled, the design of the characters are superb. The sheer grimace on each of the Bakers’ faces manifests how corrupt and twisted these individuals are; going as far as to mutilate themselves just to horrify you. Capcom nailed down what it takes to disturb their audience. On the other hand, the monsters that roam the halls and fall out of the woodwork are less terrifying, but not by much. Their amorphous form leaves much to be desired as they often look like walking pieces of black licorice with white teeth. I’m sure that within the VR environment their appearance will be that much more terrifying -tenfold- but outwith, they lose their chilling prowess after the first encounter. And their monstrous compatriots aren’t much better, similar in style just different in shape. Each having one good jump scare and then subsequent diminishing returns.
That’s not to say that Resident Evil 7 isn’t terrifying, not knowing what’s lurking around every corner will have you on edge. That single jump scare you had at the start of the game will stay with you until the very end, but when you enter engagements the tension doesn’t quite stay like it would in traditional horror games. Instead, Resident Evil 7 calmly walks off until the fighting quells and sneaks back up on you ready to continue on. And it’s largely due to Resident Evil 7’s realistic design in scenery and lighting that bolsters your heightened anxiety. Almost life-like, dimly lit corridors are quiet and serene, inviting you towards the unknowing darkness one more time. It’s these moments that help the game linger in your nightmares. Players will still have their occasional respite,save rooms, where they can hunker down and retrieve much needed ammo from their lockbox but these are few and far between. It’s not the menaces that chase you, nor the lack of ammo, but the house itself that’s the real enemy; the real bump in the night is Resident Evil 7’s house and that’s the way it should be.
Working to its strengths Resident Evil 7’s location, the plantation estate, is filled with all manner of weaponry for Ethan to get his hands on. Pistols, shotguns, and flamethrowers, it’s all there. Each more powerful than the next, which leads to the lessened impact that enemy encounters have overall; like I mentioned above. Ethan’s large arsenal of equipment simply makes him a walking powerhouse, enemies succumbing to a few shots from a pistol or a single blast to the head from a shotgun. The once powerful foes are reduced to cannon fodder. A huge slight to any survival horror game.
Although, there is more to a survival horror game than fighting enemies and that’s knowing how to survive. Throughout your time with Resident Evil 7 you’ll come across a plethora of collectibles such as: Antique Coins, Bobblehead Statues, and Files for you to peruse. Finding these antiquities will aid you in unlocking health upgrades and firepower – like you needed any more. Finding enough of each could even unlock bonus content for a second playthrough, making the harder difficulties a bit easier.
Resident Evil 7 is a horror game that has jumped on the bandwagon of “run and hide” survival horror and added their own twist. And they’ve done well. The unsettling and intimate environment, the crazy “Texas Chainsaw” family, and the realistic scenery all combine into one to create a truly immersive and terrifying experience. But regardless, it’s rather shoehorned attempts to make Resident Evil 7 tie into the bigger picture come off seemingly cheap. A few snippets here and there to satiate fans but nothing solid, and anything that is relevant falls back in that obtrusive category of being shoehorned in for posterity’s sake. Resident Evil 7 stands on it’s own two feet as a captivating horror experience, one which feels like it should have been something new, as it certainly isn’t a Resident Evil game.