Some game series go in unusual directions as they get older; Final Fantasy, for instance, went from a series of turn-based console RPGs to an MMORPG to a real-time action-RPG over the course of the past few installments. Capcom’s Resident Evil franchise is another great example of that, with Resident Evil 4 ditching the series’ tank controls and resource scarcity aspects for a more action-focused experience that practically launched a new genre all by itself.
Later RE games focused more on that action, with RE6 in particular earning some disdain for being a goofy action-focused B-movie that had little in common with previous titles. With the latest entry in the series, though, Capcom’s trying to rediscover what made the earlier Resident Evil titles such classics, and that’s how we ended up with the tense and terrifying Resident Evil 7 biohazard.
When Ethan Winters receives a message from his wife Mia, who’s been missing for three years, he can’t help but go searching for her despite her entreaties not to do so. The search leads him to a long-abandoned manor located in a bog in Louisiana. We follow our intrepid hero as he enters the spooky house full of spooky things in search of Mia, but it won’t surprise you to find that there’s more to the house than meets the eye. This is a Resident Evil game, after all…
That plot might sound familiar, but it’s all about the execution. In a sharp turn from recent Resident Evil titles, 7 returns to a more horror-focused style of gameplay. You’ll control Ethan from a first-person perspective, exploring the manor and fighting off baddies along the way. It’s clear that Capcom was inspired at least in part by the superb playable teaser Konami released for the cancelled Silent Hills reboot a few years ago; the perspective and effective use of tension alike bring to mind that title, though this is a complete experience that includes more gameplay elements than just walking around and having the crap scared out of you.
Despite the shift in thematic focus, however, this is still Resident Evil through and through. You’ll still be searching for goofy keys to open goofy locks, for instance; your view on this sort of gameplay is going to depend on how you can deal with the frustration that can come from backtracking. Personally, I don’t have a lot of patience for searching around for yet another crest key, wooden block or whatever’s needed to get through the latest locked door…but at the same time I understand that a lot of people do, and a lot of that is what helped the original RE games become classics.
Meanwhile, combat still plays a significant role. There’s a decent selection of weaponry to choose from that you’ll use to fight off enemies; along with the Bakers, the mutated family that runs the house, you’ve got more standard zombie-type foes to battle and flee from as well. Ammo and health supplies tend to follow the paradigm set by the earlier games more closely than REs 4-6, so you’ll want to carefully ration your limited gear so you don’t run out when you need it; in particular, there’s at least one battle that seems to require firearms to survive, so you’ll want to have some ammo available. There’s a lot to be said for the game’s cinematic approach toward certain battles, as well, and many of RE7’s set pieces are memorable and bound to stick with you for some time after you play.
One noteworthy touch is that you can do all of this in VR as well. Right now that means playing the game on a PlayStation 4 using a PSVR headset, though apparently other sets will be supported on PC in the future. Playing in VR is a pretty fantastic experience, and if you think about it this is one of the first “games” as they’re traditionally conceived that uses VR. RE7 comes with a few concessions to make VR a little less painful if you’re easily motion sick, such as turning your character increments or providing reference lines, but this is still pretty unlike the tech demos and shovelware that have defined the new technology since it became widely available. That’s not to say it’s perfect – there’s some weirdness with Ethan’s disembodied hands floating around and everything still feels a bit janky – but if you’ve got a PSVR, then RE7 is absolutely worth a look based on that alone.
The whole experience is tied together with some solid graphics and sound. The presentation of a horror game is key to preserving the sense of terror that helps keep the game engaging, and it’s clear that Capcom took this into account when designing RE7. Your relative weakness by comparison to the creatures hunting you works with the game’s emphasis on dim lighting and spooky ambience to make for a game that lives and breathes tension; the game can also be shockingly and effectively gruesome at times. Again, if you compare this to the bombastic action of REs 4-6, it’s like night and day; RE7 does revert towards its pulpy roots somewhat towards the end, but the crazy action movie stunts that defined recent games are few and far between.
All in all, horror fans who have been searching for their latest pants-defiling adventure have found it in Resident Evil 7 biohazard, which isn’t something I thought I’d ever get to say again. It’s dark, grim and effective in ways that most horror games in the post-Five-Nights-at-Freddy’s age of cheap jumpscares have failed to capture. PSVR owners in particular are going to have a great time if they can look past the typical VR jank, but VR isn’t at all necessary to have a good time here. Make sure you’ve got a change of clothes on hand. You’ll probably need it.