Resident Evil is pretty high up on the list of series that hold a special place in my heart. I’ll admit I didn’t get involved until Resident Evil 4 hit the PlayStation 2, but I’ve played mostly every Resident Evil game past and present since then. When Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was announced at E3, I was completely blown away. It seemed like Capcom finally figured out exactly what I wanted in a modern Resident Evil game. Surely they would mess it up along the way, right? I couldn’t believe the final product would be as high quality as the trailers made it look. Well, surprise: it’s not.
You’ll play as Ethan Winter, who is just some regular guy instead of the usual Resident Evil military bioterrorism hero. He was led to believe that his wife Mia had been dead for the last three years when he suddenly receives an e-mail from her. Ethan sets out to Louisiana to find her, and it isn’t long before he’s captured by the Baker family, who seems to have some weird mutant abilities and a taste for human flesh. What follows is Ethan trying to escape from the family, discover their secrets, and save his wife.
The story itself is actually rather simple. Resident Evil 7 doesn’t really try its hands at any crazy plot twists or sudden shocking events. It avoids the problems of more recent entries by leaving out global conspiracies, ridiculous companies, and the strange ramping up of weirder and weirder biological weapons. Instead, it’s a much quieter story about the Baker family, and that works much better with the classic horror themes of the franchise. It’s a good tale, one that comes off as having feeling behind it rather than devolving into a convoluted mess. By the end of the game, I felt more attached to these characters than I’ve felt for any character in Resident Evil in a long while.
Right away, the biggest notable change in Resident Evil 7 is a shift to a first-person perspective. For those worried: no, the game does not make a hard shift into action because of the new view, nor does it play like Call of Duty. In fact, this is probably the closest we’ve been to a classic Resident Evil game in a long time. Movement speed and weapons feel slow but powerful, yet the threats feel even more powerful than what you have. It creates a fantastic feeling of being in control yet still losing it every time a monster comes around the corner.
Your main goal is to escape from the Bakers and find your wife, and you’ll be doing this with a variety of stealth and combat. For a while, you really don’t want to be involved in combat. Half the time you’re being hunted by the immortal Baker family, and putting one of them down doesn’t exactly mean they’ll stay down. Avoiding them is a much better strategy, for your ammo and health’s sake. Eventually, normal enemies appear, though they’re still difficult to put down. Avoiding them is still the best strategy, but combat is sometimes inevitable.
As I mentioned before, combat in Resident Evil 7 is interesting, with the game giving you these weapons that, in any other game, would feel destructive and powerful. Every time I used the shotgun I really felt it kick, and it really felt like I should be blowing a gaping hole in something. Here, all of the monsters feel stronger as if all my firepower doesn’t really matter. Taking down one of the game’s Molds, the disgusting enemies that grow out of people’s bodies (and reminds me of Resident Evil 4‘s Regenerators), feels like one hell of an achievement. The game also employs a melee combat system that reminded me of Condemned: Criminal Origins, allowing you simple blocks, slashes, and stabs with a couple different melee weapons.
(Video contains spoilers)
Combat with regular enemies is intense and well made, but it’s with bosses when it really shines. Each of Resident Evil 7‘s bosses surprised me, both in how intense the encounters are and how many ways there were to go about each one. For example, the first boss takes place inside of a garage. I was able to find the keys to the car in the garage and defeat him by ramming him over and over until he dropped. When I played the scene again later, I couldn’t get the car moving fast enough, and I found myself ripped from it, the fight now taking a new angle as I had to dodge the car while shooting at its gas tank. Not all the bosses have multiple versions like this, but the ones that do offer up something really unique and cool. Even for the more standard encounters, the bosses were still impressive. Having a chainsaw fight in the basement while surrounded by dead pigs will probably be replaying in my head for a long time.
Much like the boss fights, there are variable scenes that you don’t really have to experience as you play the game. These variable scenes may easily be my favorite in the game and talking with friends later about what we did and didn’t see proved to be a real treat. An early scene sees me trying to get away from Jack as he chases me through a hallway and dining room while I’m unarmed. When I was caught I was treated to this absolutely horrifying scene of Jack cutting off Ethan’s leg, then sitting at the far end of the room and putting a limb-regenerating healing item in front of himself while taunting me. The scene then became this intense and unnerving crawl where Ethan tries to desperately reattach his leg using limb-regeneration stuff. Despite this being a memorable moment for me, if a player sneaks by Jack without getting caught, they will totally miss this scene.
Between combat, you’ll have to solve some simple puzzles. The most common challenge involves you needing to hold an item up to a projector and correctly line up the shadow so it looks like it fits in a picture on the wall. It’s a creative idea, but once I opened the fourth door using it Ethan blurted out “who designs this crap?” and I couldn’t help but feel his frustration. There are a few other kinds of puzzles, including setting a clock or solving a riddle to decide which order to open up coffins in a morgue. These only show up once and are creative enough that I enjoyed them. One later game set piece is basically just one big puzzle room, something inspired by the Saw series. It is easily the best puzzle in the game, requiring a multi-step solution through several smaller puzzles.
The entire time you’ll be exploring the Baker plantation, which is separated into several different parts. The game is smartly paced, making sure you get a chance to see almost every room of the plantation. You’ll get keys to open various doors that you’ll see throughout the plantation, and the game does a good job of making sure you see and remember the location of these doors for when you get the keys. It’s all helped by a map system that makes everything clear and shows exactly which keys go with each locked door. The only time the pacing really fails is near the end, in a strange salt mine segment. It abandons the combination of puzzles, exploration, stealth, and combat for a strange segment of enemies bum-rushing you in a mine shaft that drags on just a little too long. I feel like you could cut this segment in half and it would have been improved significantly.
Exploring is extremely important as well, as you’ll constantly be out of stock on any and all essential supplies. Want ammo or healing items? I hope you’re checking draws, lockboxes, crates, and every nook and cranny in the house. Seeing an enemy in the distance becomes a balance of trying to figure out if using your shotgun shells is worth it at any given moment. There’s a basic crafting system in the game where you can create healing items and basic ammo using items you find in the environment, but these items too are valuable and must also be searched for. This also serves the overall item management, as it leads to situations where you have to consider if your chem fluid is better spent on making more bullets or a healing item.
The most interesting thing to be found while scavenging is VHS tapes. There are only four in the game, which is a bit less than I would’ve hoped, but uncovering each one was a treat. When you bring a tape to a VHS player, you can play the game from a different perspective in smaller side missions that let you see how other characters are dealing with the Bakers and discover important item locations or puzzle solutions. Watching each of these tapes serve as a good break in gameplay by featuring different styles as well, one changing the game to full stealth as you try to avoid members of the Baker family while having no weapons, while another sets you loose with a machine gun against many weaker enemies.
All of this is wrapped around a beautiful presentation. I was constantly impressed with the game’s locations, each section of the house feeling genuinely lived in despite its dilapidated state. Entering new rooms was always a strange delight of seeing what new horrors awaited me next and promptly being disgusted by them. The soundtrack was always on point, and while it may not be the kind of thing I’d want to listen to outside of the game, it’s strong music that fits the scenes really well. The game is also accompanied by some well-done voice acting, perfectly capturing the almost Texas Chainsaw Massacre-esque feel of the Baker family. My only real complain about the graphics comes from the usual blood splatter that gets on your screen which accompanies damage: it shows up after the lightest hits and it doesn’t go away unless you heal, leading to a kinda annoying (if ignoreable) element.
Resident Evil 7 is already one of the best horror games of recent memory, but Capcom has done something that really pushes it into fantastic territory: PlayStation VR support. This isn’t just some quick slapped-together “VR Experience” mode, or some side game: the entire game is playable in PSVR from start to finish. It uses rather simple mechanics: you use the left stick to move and will move and aim in the direction you’re looking, and can use the right stick to do little teleport-turns similar to games like Here They Lie. Thankfully, Resident Evil 7 includes a whole bunch of options to help customize the VR mode to your liking. You can adjust just how much you turn with the teleport or shut it off entirely if you want. You can put a border on your view to help you adjust to how close objects are, or change how fast your walking speed is. If you need something to make VR comfortable for you, there’s a good chance it’s here.
There is some loss when playing in VR. There’s a bit of obvious graphical downgrading, and while the game still looks really good, some of the objects in the far distance have taken a noticeable hit. Ethan no longer has a body, being reduced to a pair of floating hands. Scenes that involved Ethan crawling under something are now just quick cuts to black with him appearing on the other side, and little interactions that involved his hands are now mostly cut or altered to not involve movement on Ethan’s part.
What I got in return, however, is easily one of the most outright scary games I’ve ever played. Something about experiencing the game in VR really made it feel even more oppressive and horrifying than it already was. At times, I had to convince myself to keep playing, and more than once I had to just take the headset off and take a breather. I’d say that Resident Evil 7 may easily be the definitive VR experience, exactly the kind of thing the system needs to sell you on the technology.
There’s an interesting story, some fantastic gameplay, mind-bending puzzles, lovely graphics, and the best use of VR I’ve seen in gaming yet. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is the exact kind of revival that fans of the classic entries in the series were hoping for, without alienating fans of the more action-focused later entries either. It’s an amazing early highlight into what’s looking like another fantastic year in gaming.
Serving as the gameplay and story revival that fans of classic Resident Evil have wanted yet still managing to keep elements fans of modern Resident Evil enjoy, there's something here for everyone and it's the perfect place for newbies to enter the series as well.
- Merge of Classic and Action Gameplay
- Story is Interesting, Doesn't Go Crazy
- Wonderful Presentation
- Both Simple and Mind Bending Puzzles
- Amazing Use of VR
- 'That's Not Groovy' is My New Favorite Resident Evil Line
- Salt Mine Drags Too Long
- Too Many Shadow Puzzles
- On-Screen Blood Splatter Kind of Annoying