The Resident Evil series has been stuck in a bit of a rut since its fourth, highly successful outing. What started as a beloved, albeit mechanically dated horror franchise slowly warped itself into the over-the-top gun-fest we’ve seen in more recent installments. It was abundantly clear that after the globe-trotting, action-heavy nightmare that was Resident Evil 6, the series needed a much more toned down and solid return to form. Enter Resident Evil 7: biohazard, Capcom’s answer to many fans’ concerned prayers. Having played a good portion of the game already, I’m pleased to say that the series has finally found its footing again, and in so many unexpectedly terrifying ways.
While my first impressions may be short as I usually save the important details for the final review, it has to be noted how important this installment truly is, not only for the series, but for survival horror gaming in general. Right off the bat, Resident Evil 7: biohazard lets players know this won’t be the conventional experience of the past. Instead of assuming the role of one of the staple characters in the series such as Leon, Chris or Jill, you’re put in the shoes of Ethan, an everyday man with an unsurprisingly tamed skill set. The story diverts from the usual Umbrella Corps. or Raccoon City antics and throws us in the rural countryside of the Bayou’s, where Ethan is lead to believe his wife, Mia, is being held since her mysterious disappearance. Much like any great horror tale, there’s more than a few surprises in store for him. The search leads him to a dilapidated plantation owned by the Baker family, a maniacal group of rednecks harboring their own dark secrets.
What’s immediately noticeable is the change of pace to regular Resident Evil entries. The first hour of the game begins in a purposefully helpless, nail-biting crawl, where players must use their instincts and wits to escape the evasion of the (no pun intended) resident evil hosts. Through this pursuit, we learn more about the intricacies of the mansion, the characters, and the many horrors that lie ahead of us. With no weapons or sense of direction, the game taunts us with its immense difficulty hike, a more than welcomed return to form for the series. After the cat-and-mouse warm up session, Resident Evil 7: biohazard kicks into high gear, and this is where things get heart-pounding.
The beauty of Resident Evil 7: biohazard lies in the unexpected ways it chooses to scare you. Much like the original 1996 release, this intentionally takes its time toying with players, winding up tension to some spine-chilling degrees and landing its mark with a profoundly disturbing impact. The highs of each chapter have some form of build-up to it, making the scares more effective and ultimately worthwhile. Much like the original, the Baker mansion is littered with secrets, puzzles, and sections of the plantation completely closed off for later exploration that all interlink in brilliant diverging paths.
Puzzles make a return to the series after the quick-time events and big set pieces that dumbed down Resident Evil 6, and they’re back with a vengeance. Some puzzles reminded me of the complex, almost inexplicable nature of Silent Hills teaser demo, P.T., in which the solution to them aren’t necessarily in the control of the player but rather a set of circumstances. Thankfully, they’re not overly difficult to figure out or require the guidance of a random stranger on YouTube, but tension is added to each puzzle as they’re usually in the middle of an intense pursuit. Panic is a given in the basic nature of the game, especially one that prides itself in putting players in an utterly erratic state of mind. This is where the scares come at its lurid best, constrained by the nerve-wrecking thought that you will be caught in a vulnerable position at any given moment. Acute thinking is key to surviving the onslaught of horror, and this factors into the diabolically challenging nature of the experience.
At this point in time, almost nearing completion of the game, there’s bound to be several questions as to how this particular entry manages to weave itself into the lore of the Resident Evil universe. Of course, it’s been a justifiable concern for many fans who viewed the new first-person perspective and detour of setting as too drastic of a change. Thankfully, and without diving too deep into spoilers, there’s enough satisfactory tie-ins so far to quill the worries of the fans, but not too much as to overshadow the standalone qualities of the game. And trust me, some of them are masterfully executed but subtle enough to be open to interpretation.
The best aspect of Resident Evil 7: biohazard so far is the combat. While jarringly deviant from the standard behind-the-shoulder mechanics that the series snuggled into, the first-person perspective actually works tremendously in favor of this. Shooting doesn’t feel entirely natural like the trained soldiers we’ve played as before, but instead forces players to consider alternatives to violence wherever possible. What I’m trying to get at is, Ethan is a pretty poor marksman, and the shooting comes at a slight disadvantage when you’re more focused on which doorway to run through if the clip empties. Ammo and weapons are scarce, but the limited items you do get are vital to your every move. This sense of urgency in item management is what keeps the horror consistently overwhelming and intimate, and it isn’t a Resident Evil game if you aren’t trying to cherish every bullet like it’s a gift from God.
So far, I’m happy to say Resident Evil 7: biohazard has come to meet my expectations and then exceed them in some unexpectedly amazing ways. It feels more at home with itself than Resident Evil 5 or 6 ever could, and makes for a spectacular return to form for the series while injecting it with enough fresh ideas and gameplay mechanics to keep the blood flowing. At last, Capcom has crafted what might potentially be the best and most terrifying experience I’ve ever had with a Resident Evil game since 4, and it’s all the better for it. Keep a lookout for the final review soon, but I strongly urge fans of the series and horror fans in general to pick this one up. Go tell Aunt Rhody it’s bloody good.