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Resident Evil 7 Review
You’re huddled in the corner of a dark room, surrounded by rust, mould, and decay. You’re wounded and battered, but you’ve got what you came for, and you’re ready to get out of this hellish underground dungeon and back to the relative safety of the upper floors. There’s only one problem: between you and the stairs to blessed safety, there are… things. Things that moan and growl and shamble on inhuman legs. Things that hunger for your flesh. You check your equipment one last time: a pocket knife, an empty shotgun, a handgun with one clip of ammo, and no first aid kits. Definitely not enough to win a fight. You’ll just have to run for it. You burst out the door and begin heading down the corridor, checking every musty corner. Suddenly you hear a gurgling sound: something is behind you.You break into a run. The stairs are just ahead. Your moments from safety. Behind you, the beast lunges… Welcome to Resident Evil 7. Prepare to be scared.
Yes, it’s fair to say that Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is one of the scarier games you’ll play this year. Fear is something that video games often struggle to evoke, as the mundane tedium of game-play blunts the impact of moments that would, in a movie, be terror-inducing. Biohazard, though, pulls it off with ease, eschewing the jump scares and cheap frights used by many horror games in favour of a constant mood of anxiety and near panic. No game can be scary all the time, of course, and Biohazard does lose steam somewhat in its final stages, but this is still a great game that should please anyone looking for a survival horror experience.
You might expect a game with 7 in the title to be hard to get into, with years worth of lore and mythology to digest before you can have any hope of understanding what’s going on. Fortunately though, Capcom took a new approach to this game, presenting a largely self contained story that newcomers can jump straight into. The protagonist, Ethan Winters, receives a mysterious message, apparently from his missing wife Mia, telling him to travel to a seemingly abandoned plantation somewhere in rural Louisiana. Being a horror protagonist, he naturally leaps at the chance to root around in spooky old buildings without informing the police, and soon finds Mia locked up in an underground prison. His rescue attempt goes awry, however, when the Baker family, owners of the mysterious estate, capture him. To survive, Ethan will have to escape the Bakers, solve the innumerable puzzles scattered throughout their lair, and unravel the mystery of what’s really going on in the plantation. Easier said than done, given that someone or something has granted the Bakers superhuman strength, near-immortality, and a veritable army of strange zombie-like monsters.
It’s a familiar horror scenario, but a well told one. Steadily piecing together the truth gives the game a sense of progression, and their are enough twists to the story to keep you on you toes. The real draw though is the characters. By restricting the story to a small group of people in a confined area, the game can really bring its cast to life, giving each of your foes their own unique quirks and nightmarish personality traits. There’s Jack, the head of the family, a seemingly unstoppable brute whose bloodthirsty tendencies and love of bladed weapons call to mind classic slasher movie villains. His wife Marguerite stalks the halls, hunched over and shrieking insults and profanities, surrounded by fat spiders and oversized flies. Their son, Lucas, prefers to taunt from afar, setting up Saw-style traps and puzzles to frustrate and frighten. Each of them presents a different challenge, and a different type of horror, keeping the game feeling fresh.
All that said, there are a few problems in the games storytelling. Mainly, it suffers from the fundamental problem of all horror stories: things become less scary when you understand them. The game’s most memorable moments all come at the beginning, when you’re creeping around a rotting old house trying to avoid threats you can’t understand and enemies you can’t defeat. As you go from running around in desperate confusion to putting the pieces together, everything becomes progressively less frightening. By the end, it really starts to feel like a generic zombie-blasting expedition, which is a shame given how well it all started out. Still, while it works, it works very, very well, In part because of the game’s excellent atmosphere.
Everything about the game, from the visuals to the music, has been carefully crafted for maximum fear. The run-down estate in which you spend most of the game is a character in itself, filled with little details. Cluttered with grisly decorations, rotting walls, and broken machinery, it’s a place where you can almost smell the decay. The amount of work that must have gone into building such an intricate environment is phenomenal, but it definitely pays off. The first person perspective, a departure from the series’ usual third person game-play, heightens the impact, giving the horrific sights a more direct, personal impact. The soundtrack contributes just as much to the horror. The background music is by turns eerie and tense, but it’s the ambient noises, the creaks, clunks, and gurgles of a house in desperate need of repair, that really sets your teeth on edge.
Exploring that house is the chief concern of the game-play, which features the typical elements of a survival horror game. You’ll have to manage limited resource, fight or flee from monsters, and solve an assortment of puzzles. These puzzles are of the “find item and use on other item” variety rather than real brain teasers, but they serve the important purpose of forcing you to carefully explore every nook and cranny of the estate, and frequent back-tracking is a must. The number of enemies you’ll face as you hunt for object A to place in slot B is actually rather small. Each encounter with the bizarre fungal beasts that prowl the estate is a rare event that depletes precious resources and, for much of the game, elicits real fear. Sadly, this all breaks down a bit towards the end of the game, and the final level is little more than a straight path filled with zombies, but up to that point the balance between combat and exploration is pitch perfect.
There’s a strong amount of variety in the various areas you explore, with the overall theme of each level being tied to the family member you fight there. From the cramped, zombie-infested dungeons underneath the estate to the vile insect nests of the old house or the myriad traps that guard Lucas’s lair, each level presents a distinct set of challenges, though the overall themes of managing resources and hunting for important items dominate throughout.
The one real problem with the game-play is the bosses, which tend to last altogether too long. Once the shock factor of whatever horrific thing you’re fighting has worn off, you’re left with slow, lumbering, bullet-sponges that eat up valuable resources without really being very interesting. These are also substantially more difficult than the rest of the game, though still unlikely to pose too much trouble to a determined player.
Biohazard is not a particularly challenging game. Though the threat of resource depletion is omnipresent, the game usually provides just enough to get you through to the next storage room or box of ammo, and the zombies you’ll encounter aren’t exactly the smartest or fastest enemies out there. Their preferred method of combat is usually to flail wildly in your general direction and hope that you’ve forgotten to guard. This is probably for the best though, as nothing kills horror like repetition. By allowing you to make it through most challenges in one or two tries, Biohazard keeps the momentum fast and the fear level high.
Overall, then, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a truly excellent games. A few problems in level design and storytelling toward the end aren’t enough to seriously detract from what is otherwise a masterclass in survival horror, with memorable characters, tense game-play, and an engrossing atmosphere. If you’re in the market for a horror game, you owe it to yourself to try this one.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was played on Xbox One