Purchasing a copy of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard I knew that I was potentially setting myself up for disappointment. I’ve been a fan of the series since its humble beginnings as the cheesy yet scary haunted mansion survival horror story, all the way through to its various changes in style, story and setting.
More recently with Resident Evil 5 and 6 there has been a tonal shift to more action oriented style of play, with far less focus on its horror roots that made it the horror title to own on the PlayStation. The more recent titles have received considerable backlash from fans and critics alike, with people wanting a return to what made the original titles so enjoyable. With all of this in mind I tried not to get my hopes up too much, for fear of being let down by all the promise that was being teased with this new addition to the series. However, I am both happy and strangely surprised to report that not only is this possibly the strongest Resident Evil title to date, it is also one of the most memorable and enjoyable horror gaming experiences I have played in many, many years.
You play as Ethan Winters, a man who after three years with no contact receives a message from his missing wife, telling him to come find her in a dilapidated and ruined house deep in Louisiana. Spurred on by the hope of once again being reunited with his wife Ethan journeys to the house to find much more than he bargained for, unearthing dark and horrific secrets, not only of what happened to his wife, but about the twisted family that still live there: The Baker family.
What makes Resident Evil 7 so strong first and foremost for me is how strong the game is in tone and atmosphere. The game isn’t about huge government conspiracies or globetrotting adventures. Resi 7 has stripped all of this away to its bare bones and sets its focus on one location, one story and above all else, horror. This back to basics approach to this game has breathed much needed life into a series that was starting to become a parody of itself, which has meant much more attention can be put into making the experience of playing this game as frightening as possible.
The game looks Gothically gorgeous in its macabre use of colour and lighting. I’ve never experienced shadow being used to such full effect to terrify me or make me think twice about walking down a particularly foreboding corridor. The design of the house and its surrounding area is also meticulously designed to get the most fear out of the player, with a great contrast in vast, open areas where anything could lurk out behind you, and also enclosed, claustrophobic environments that really hit home the feeling of vulnerability and being trapped.
The game also hits a perfect balance between feelings of isolation, anticipation for enemies around every corner and the eventual meeting of an enemy, be they a member of the Baker family or the bizarre creatures known as the “molded” who you learn more about as the game progresses. Rather than giving players wave after wave of enemy to fight Resident Evil 7 instead instils paranoid quiet on players, choosing the right moment every time to spring a fearful surprise on players, and often at times you may possibly leave your guard down. What this game pins down perfectly, which is what a lot of games and particularly films of the horror genre fail with, is that more often than not, the anticipation of horror or uncertainty of what you just saw is always far more terrifying than jump scare tactics.
I was initially sceptical about the game straying from its roots by becoming a First Person experience, mainly because I felt that it would be losing a part of its own character and DNA in making such a huge change stylistically. However, jumping into the game I’m now certain that this change was the right move to make, so much so that I can’t imagine future titles in the series going back to third person. The first person perspective of course increases the level of immersion into the dark and horrific world, and makes the playing experience all the more emotional. What the developers were clever in keeping however was the item box in which you have to be clever in what you want to carry with you, healing herbs that are a series staple and also the clever array of puzzles players must figure out to advance. By keeping this integral elements the game still feels like a Resident Evil title even with such large shifts in style.
The game also gives players arguably the strongest story in the series to date, by stripping away all of the unnecessary fat and giving players first and foremost a horror story. Both in style and story a lot of parallels can be drawn with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as both present audiences with a captivating, visceral horror experience with a unique southern setting. Stylistic comparisons can also be drawn with Psycho, Silence of the Lambs and other classics in creating unsettling dread. It takes a lot of cues and influences from various horror classics (including a great little nod to Evil Dead II) that are there not to steal from but to borrow elements of to create something equally terrifying and unique.
My one criticism for this game however stems from the pacing, the story and the atmosphere doing a complete 180 in the latter part of the game. I won’t go into great details so as not to spoil the experiences or the surprises that you will find while playing this game, but I felt the creators truly did themselves a disservice by such a radical shift in direction towards the end, when prior to this I had no faults with the game’s pacing and captivating story telling. The ending felt to me to be closer to the more over the top elements of Resident Evils 5 and 6, however luckily it never goes quite that low. Saying this, it doesn’t make this game any less of a great title, it is only a shame that the creators felt they had to create such a tonal shift when what they had created before was perfect. It left a sour taste in my mouth, but not so much that it hindered the overall playing experience.
In many ways Resident Evil 7 has impressed, terrified and astounded me, making this one of the biggest surprises I’ve experienced in some time playing a game. This surprise stems from not expecting myself to be so entranced and captivated by a Resident Evil title, as it has felt far too long since I’ve been able to say this about a title of this series. The developers deserve high praise for listening to their audiences and giving players one of the most intense and artistically satisfying horror gaming experiences one could wish for. Resident Evil 7 is a game that is for the most part well paced, and is beautifully designed both visually and in sound, with the original score for the game being of a blood-curdlingly high calibre. It’s engaging, mysterious, intuitive and enjoyable to actually play, and although its ending does let it down, one cannot deny that the creators have brought genuine horror back to the franchise, which is all I could ask for.
By James Burch