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July 2018

Resident Evil 7

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: Jan. 24, 2017


PS4 Review - 'Resident Evil 7: Biohazard'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Jan. 26, 2017 @ 5:00 a.m. PST

Resident Evil 7 is the latest game in the series, and is focused on immersive horror with the main concept building upon the series' roots of fear, exploration and tense atmosphere.

Buy Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

The Resident Evil franchise has a diverse set of tones. The original game was a cheesy B-movie zombie film, and from there, it's gotten increasingly action packed until Resident Evil 6 involves snowmobile chases and dramatic super-powered fistfights where you suplex a monster to death. It has gotten far away from its roots. That's why Resident Evil 7: Biohazard's return to the very beginning so interesting. It isn't a reboot, and it doesn't forget its evolution. It's both old and new and somehow manages to hit a sweet in-between spot.

RE7 steps away from the days of super soldiers fighting remnants of the Umbrella Corporation. Instead, players are put in the role of Ethan Winters, whose wife Mia went missing several years ago under mysterious circumstances. Just when he'd accepted that she must be dead, he gets an email begging him to come to a deserted farmhouse in the middle of the woods, where he discovers his wife being held captive by the Baker family. Hopelessly insane and mutated by some unknown cause, the Bakers are like "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" on steroids. Ethan must find a way to rescue his wife and escape from their clutches.

The plot is slightly more subdued than the recent entries in the franchise. It's a smaller and more personal story with hints to the larger world that's confined to cameos and newspaper clippings. There are plenty of nods to the previous games, but this is largely a game about Ethan and his wife's fate. Any larger metaplot elements are confined to open-ended cliffhangers and DLC hooks. As for the characters, Ethan is perhaps too stoic considering the circumstances, but he's balanced by the cartoonish Baker family. The plot is enjoyable, if not particularly deep, so the story alone won't draw you in.

The titlemight be a shock to those who've grown used to the more action-packed modern entries, but RE7 is a return to the days of spooky mansions, illogical puzzles and scary monsters. Early imagery might have given the impression of something more akin to Amnesia or Outlast, but it's Resident Evil through and through. There's plenty of combat and puzzles, and you can combine herbs into healing items.

Obviously, the biggest change is that RE7 is now a first-person game. It isn't the first FPS Resident Evil title; that distinction falls to the unfortunate Resident Evil: Survivor. The first-person perspective doesn't change much. It gives the game a slightly more oppressive feel, but the gameplay otherwise feels familiar. Rather than linear levels, you're given increasingly large sections of the Baker's land to explore, and you must locate items and keys to delve into the mystery. As with any old RE game, a chunk of your time is spent solving increasingly convoluted puzzles. You'll need to explore each area carefully to find items to solve the puzzles, notes that contain backstory and clues, hidden caches of ammo and items, storage boxes, and other RE staples. There are even old-school save points, though the game also includes modern checkpointing.  

The stars of the game, more or less, are the Bakers, who are part Lisa Trevor and part Nemesis. Each member of the family is a bizarre monstrosity, and they form an omnipresent, inescapable threat. You can't really fight them, so any encounter involves trying to get past them. You can spend ammo to stun or avoid them, but until the plot says so, you're not able to kill them. Instead, you need to hide from them by ducking into corners or trying to make them lose track of you long enough to reach the items you need and get out. They often toe the line between frustrating and fun. It can be aggravating if you're trying to get around and have to spend twice as long as you should, but it's genuinely tense and encourages you to think carefully about what resources you can spend.

Eventually, you'll encounter boss fights, which are a mixed bag. Some are genuinely spooky and terrifying set pieces, and others feel like too much bluster for not enough payoff. When a boss was a puzzle, I found it to be enjoyable. When a boss battle was a straight action fight, it lost something. RE7's combat is nowhere as polished or refined as the last three games, so fighting is the least interesting thing you can do in it. The game is at its strongest when you don't think you can win a fight and at its worst when you find a way to do so.

This is pretty apparent with the Molded, who are more traditional enemies that are a mix between the RE4 Regenerators and zombies. They're not unkillable, but they're ammo sponges, and trying to decide if you can kill one instead of simply avoiding them is an important part of the game. It's a pattern that gradually becomes simpler as the game goes on and you gain access to more ammunition and more weaponry. As in old-school RE titles, you eventually become a walking arsenal, but the game does a good job of making bullet conservation feel tense even when you have plenty to spare.

A bigger issue might be how the game handles avoiding damage. Enemies have attack patterns, and combat tends to involve dodging the enemy and then shooting when they're staggering or vulnerable. However, this is one area where the first-person game doesn't work as well. In the third-person view Resident Evil titles, it's very easy to get a grasp of when and where you wouldn't get hit. In the first-person view, it can be difficult to judge when an attack hits and when it misses. You'll get used to it with time, but it feels a little awkward, especially in cramped spaces or in the convoluted boss fights.

One of the biggest questions is whether RE7 is scary, and that's genuinely difficult to answer. As a franchise, RE has relied on tension, with occasional intentional or unintentional humor deflating its more overt elements. This is as true for RE7 as anything prior. While the Bakers are memorable, strong villains, they're not that scary when they're on-screen. While they're off-screen, it's frightening to know that they're lurking in the shadows and waiting to pop out and launch an attack on you. It's worth pointing out the game's generous checkpointing can take away some of the impact of death. Being brutally cut in half with a chainsaw is awful, but when you restart 30 seconds later with all your health and ammo intact, it feels less frightening.

RE7 is one of the first major titles made with VR in mind, and that's going to heavily influence how you feel about the game. There are lots of little touches that only make sense when you take into account a VR helmet and the accompanying controls. As such, using a VR helmet is the ideal way to play RE7, and some of the concerns about the fear factor might be mitigated by the more immersive experience. With that said, the game stands well enough on its own with traditional gameplay. Things that are less scary in a brightly lit room might be far more intimidating when you see them coming right at you.

In terms of content, RE7 falls somewhere between the originals and the new games. The main campaign is about nine hours long but has hidden secrets, bonus difficulty levels, and lots of encouragement for speed-running, much like the PS1-era titles. However, it lacks the replay value of Resident Evil 4 and its successors. This might change with the upcoming DLC, which sounds like it includes the bonus modes that were included in the older games. There's a lot to like here, including an unlockable Madhouse mode, which is ideal for anyone who's looking for an old-school experience.

RE7 is largely a good-looking game, though it seems a little plain in places, perhaps to facilitate the VR helmet-wearing player's experience. There's still a lot of excellent environmental detail. Some of the human models look a little weird, especially when it comes to long hair, but oddly, that works in the game's favor. The Bakers and other mutated folk really shouldn't look normal. The voice acting is quite good, and Jack Baker in particular steals the show. The other members of the family struggle to live up to his lively performance.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a solid and very enjoyable reinvention of the series. It returns the franchise to its roots and does a great job of updating and improving the archaic PS1 gameplay mechanics without losing the Resident Evil feel. Both the strengths and weaknesses of the franchise are present. The high-tension atmosphere, spooky monsters and cheesy cornball villains combine to create something that is undeniably Resident Evil. Fans of the series should love that it's spooky, silly, and requires you to solve puzzles in order to find a shotgun so you can fight biological horror. Isn't that what Resident Evil is all about?

Score: 8.0/10

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