Developed and Published by Capcom Co., Ltd.
Available on Xbox One, PS4 (reviewed), and PC
Rated M for Mature
We like to imagine that we would recognize a game changer when we see it. That the first time we booted up Doom, we could tell the future of shooters was a long and lustrous one. That Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare would spawn a generation of military shooters. That StarCraft would foster an entire industry of e-sports. That League of Legends would take the niche MOBA market and turn it into the premier competitive gaming scene. That Resident Evil would spawn a genre of “survival horror.” Or that Resident Evil 4 would come along and reinvent that same genre into “action horror.” Now, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is here, once again remapping the course of horror gaming.
Take a moment to re-read that. “Really Ted? Remapping the course of horror gaming? Pah, this must be one of those Hyperbolic reviews/a review of Blair Witch.” I can understand your skepticism. I’m also the kind of cynic that regards unguarded praise with suspicion. I have thought very long and hard about my words. I’ve played through a few times, analyzed the elements, tested my suspicions, found new elements, and tested those as well. After all of that, calling Resident Evil 7: Biohazard anything but monumental would be dishonest. This game redefines what to expect from survival horror from here on out.
It’s an astonishing accomplishment given how low RE5 and RE6 set the bar. I know some people out there are fans of RE5, and I can forgive that. To me, all that 5 & 6 showed was that they took the wrong message from Resident Evil 4. People didn’t love Resident Evil 4 because it had more explosions, they loved it because it was a fantastic game. The style was more “arcadey,” but every element functioned in cohesion to make that work. Challenging encounters rewarded you with loot, which could be used to upgrade your ever expanding arsenal to face increasingly menacing foes. Set piece moments like the lava dungeon made little sense, but ultimately were designed to be enjoyable. Sounds basic, but the variety, perpetual challenge, and smoothness of the game brought all of the elements together perfectly.
Then, RE5 and RE6 turned the series into a Michael Bay film. Gone was the interconnected world, now you kill a boss and cutscene your way to the next set piece. There were so many simple things that went neglected. And don’t even get me started on the ridiculous RE6 skill system. It’s like they wanted to see how far away from the philosophy of “simple, yet engaging” they could get.
I gave Resident Evil: Revelations 2 a near perfect score, which in retrospect should have been just a tad lower. Revelations 2 was incredible for what it was. My metric for judging it was heavily based on its near endlessly replayable “Raid” mode, and the budget price of just $25. It perfected the newer combat system, and finally brought meaning to the co-op feature they have been trying to make work since RE5. From that lens, I stand by my score. It’s just unfortunate that ultimately I have but one metric to use, since Resident Evil 7 is an entirely different beast.
Now before I get into the meat of things, Capcom has specifically asked I not discuss certain elements for spoiler reasons. I’m sure this will please/disappoint many of you. Since they were so nice to get me the game weeks in advance (and since some assholes have decided to just post the ending online), I’m going to be a good Ted and follow their rules. It honestly kind of sucks, since so much of what makes Resident Evil 7 are the set piece moments that I would love to nerd hard over. Their reasoning is of course that they don’t want me ruining key parts for you, which I begrudgingly agree with. I normally don’t care about spoiling shit, but I can make an exception for the game I’m calling one of the best of the genre.
So without any spoilers, you play as Ethan, a regular type dude. After three years missing, your wife Mia sends you an email asking you to come get her from a house in the rural town of Dulvey, Louisiana. Ever loyal and loving, Ethan embarks on a journey to save his wife. Little does he know, this rustic southern homestead belongs to the murderous Baker family. After some intro stuff that I can’t talk about, we’re introduced to our host over a grotesque feast they’ve prepared in Ethan’s honor.
It doesn’t take long for Resident Evil 7 to hit full swing. Right away the pressing urgency of escape is apparent. Jack Baker, father of the family, walks the halls looking to make you into an Ethan sandwich. After snagging a key from behind his back, you crawl your way to your first safe room. Then… more stuff happens that I can’t really talk about (such as a boss fight), and the game begins in earnest. The amount of terrifying moments, difficult battles, and plot intrigue that happen in this first hour is staggering. Without spoiling anything, you will fight two different bosses a total of four times before you even get to the basic enemies.
The main hall is where you get that this really is a Resident Evil game. Just like the classic titles, a number of branching paths call you to different objectives. Some cursory exploration will reveal that many of these doors are locked, requiring different symboled keys or a number of puzzle pieces to open. Hmm… sounds familiar. What’s immediately different about Resident Evil 7 is that the Baker residence feels like an actual house. I mean sure, you can question why they had locks installed that require three pieces of a statue to open. Regardless, this looks and feels like a genuine home. Each room feels real, like a regular family once lived here in comfort. It’s the puzzle elements that feel foreign. Doors requiring a scorpion or snake key are marked so with a crudely affixed dead scorpion or snake. The lock itself looks like it was forced over a previous, less insidious lock. The peaceful home is always just visible beneath the new malicious design.
Most of the game takes place on this property. That isn’t to say that there isn’t variety. There’s the main house, the basement, the old house, the greenhouse, the backyard, the slaughterhouse, and a number of other interstitial areas along the way. Overall the map size is close to the original Resident Evil. It’s very small compared to the sprawling maps of later series installments, but it’s packed with far more purpose. Every single inch of Resident Evil 7 demands exploring. Aside from the normal hidden ammo/health herbs are a number of collectible documents, ancient coins, and bobbleheads that I’m sure will unlock something when I find them all. You can consume an item that will temporarily highlight items of interest, but mostly you’re on your own to hunt around.
Speaking of ammo, it would be reasonable to assume from the demo that there isn’t really combat in Resident Evil 7. While certainly not the action orgy of previous Resident Evil games, Resident Evil 7 has its fair share of lead slinging. Your most numerous enemy will be the “Molded,” walking black masses that must be decapitated or dismembered. There are around half a dozen different varieties of molded, ranging from the standard model to massive lumbering bosses. Depending on what weapon you choose, the hardest to handle will either by the faster crawling ones or the more robust shielded ones.
Far more menacing, your main nemeses are the “Family.” They also fall under the “can’t talk about it” clause, but this seemingly normal group harbors a dark secret. Outside of their major boss fights, the Family will pursue you through the halls of the various locations. This is normally the kind of shit I don’t like in my horror games. I’m all for having to avoid enemies too powerful for my current arsenal, but I hate having to stare at a wall while I wait for the sound of footsteps to fade out of earshot. Luckily, Resident Evil 7 reaches a happy middle ground. If you are caught, you can either run away or fight. Fighting will consume ammo, but pump enough rounds into them and they will be disabled for some time. You can’t kill them, but at least you don’t feel useless.
Solving puzzles also takes an interesting layered approach. Old school fans rejoice, because this is classic Resident Evil. Items take precious inventory slots, and you will have to use your brain to figure out how they work. Find a key, and you’ll have to remember where it should go. There are no objective markers leading you along the map, even on the easiest difficulty. None of it is Sierra game logic hard to figure out, but RE7 will not hold your hand.
A prime example of this cerebral puzzle design are the video tapes. Along the way, you’ll collect a few VHS tapes recorded by other characters. Playing the tapes allows you to play through a level from their perspective. They offer no immediate reward for completion, but give you insight into key elements of upcoming challenges. Are they necessary to beat the game? No. Do they expand the world and give you a unique way to figure out the puzzles? Absolutely.
“Hey Ted, I played through the game and didn’t have any problems with the puzzles/combat! What gives?” This leads me to the point that gives Resident Evil 7 that extra push into greatness: difficulty actually changes the game. When I first played, I chose the “easy” difficulty. I just wanted to get through the game, see what there was to see, and publish my review. It took me about eight hours. Having enjoyed it a whole lot, I started my “madhouse” difficulty run. Without spoiling anything, the game had changed significantly. Jack, previously a temporary bump in the road, was now pursuing me relentlessly. Item locations had changed, and major objectives had switched around completely. Any game can increase the difficulty by making enemies hit harder. Actually reshaping the puzzles to make you come at them from a different, more difficult angle is fucking incredible.
What matters most about Resident Evil 7 is the same thing that mattered about Resident Evil 4: how it comes together as a whole. This is a much more scaled back affair. You aren’t trying to save the world from bio-terrorists, you’re trying to get out of a spooky house with your wife. You won’t roundhouse kick your way to victory. From reloading your gun to pouring healing formula on your arm, everything feels personal and visceral. Explosions are kept to a minimum. If 5 and 6 were directed by Michael Bay, RE7 is a Jeremy Saulnier film. The elements that break the immersion are few, and muted enough to never feel obtrusive. The entire game was designed around this more contained style, and it delivers perfectly.
I can’t think of a single element I would change about Resident Evil 7. It’s funny, because I can see what parts I’d normally take issue with. Why is there no weapon upgrade system? Why do keys not get deleted when I’ve used them up? Why are there not more boss fights? Why are there not more enemy types? This is what I mean when I say that Resident Evil 7 is a game changer. These are the complaints I would have had of any game before this point. If Resident Evil 7 had a tacked on weapon merchant or a prompt to delete extra items, it would detract from the feel. This game made me throw out my rubric and write up a whole new one.
As an end note, RE7 advertising itself as a virtual reality compatible game for the PS4 shouldn’t scare you off. I played it without any VR headset. In fact, Capcom specifically asked me not to. This was a game designed as a game first, and VR compatible second.
I want to end this review with a message to my fellow Resident Evil fans. I know that everyone will have their own reason for hating/agreeing with my review, but ultimately it’s the die hard horror junkies like me that I care about. My first exposure to the series was when I was 12 with the GameCube Resident Evil remake. That makes me a newer fan than some of you, but from there I hunted down 2, 3: Nemesis, 0, and Code: Veronica X. I bought Outbreak and Outbreak 2 for my friends, and shot through both Chronicles games. I used to end my days in high school with three hour Resident Evil: Deadly Silence runs just to see if I could beat my time. I love Resident Evil. But my love isn’t blind. I want Resident Evil to be good.
I’d be lying if I said that Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is the game I’ve been waiting for. It’s closer to the truth to say that I didn’t even know what to be waiting for. But now I have played it. This is the kind of visionary direction that made me fall in love all those years ago. This is the quality and craft I’ve been missing for a decade. This is Resident Evil. This will spawn a new wave of survival horror, and I can’t wait.
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