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Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

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Brave a mutant-infested swamp to find your wife.

PC Release: January 24, 2017

By Ian Coppock

Ah, Resident Evil. A franchise that was once the pinnacle of the survival horror genre, reduced to rubble by removing the terror that made it unique and adding the action that made it just like everything else. Resident Evil has undergone a remarkable journey, starting out as something spooky with Resident Evil and ending up a touch too shooty by the time 2012’s Resident Evil 6 rolled around. With Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, developer Capcom is aiming to bring the series back to the spooky. Let’s see how it did.

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Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a survival horror video game and, well, the seventh installment in the legendary Resident Evil franchise. Believe it or not, this series was once the talk of terror-town, with 1996’s Resident Evil considered one of the greatest horror games ever made. The series continued making strides with Resident Evil 2, not so much with Resident Evil 3, and again with 2005’s Resident Evil 4. The games are strung together by a smattering of recurring protagonists and a motif classic to horror: big corporations messing around with evil stuff. The result? Zombies. Monsters. Mind control. All sorts of cool stuff.

Things changed with the release of Resident Evil 5, though. The series took a drastic turn away from survival horror and toward pure action, becoming as generic a third-person shooter as generic third-person shooters get. Things only got worse with Resident Evil 6, a bloated disaster of a game that tried to please everyone and, in so doing, pleased no one. Eager to revive its beloved franchise, Capcom got its marketing department out of the studio and focused on returning Resident Evil to the survival horror from whence it spawned. The result of that effort is Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (called Biohazard 7: Resident Evil in some territories).

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Back to basics.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is set in 2017, putting it a few years after Resident Evil 6 and nearly 20 years after the titular original. The game follows the story of Ethan Winters, an American civilian whose wife Mia disappeared without a trace three years prior to the start of the game. Ethan’d given her up for dead until, one day, he gets a video message from Mia asking him to come find her in the swamps of Louisiana. Ecstatic that the love of his life might still be alive, Ethan gets in his car and sets off for her last known location.

Ethan eventually reaches his destination, stumbling through underbrush and swamps to find a deserted plantation house smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Though the house seems abandoned, Ethan can’t shake off a feeling of absolute dread as he ventures deeper inside. It doesn’t take long for him to figure out that his wife is here, or that the house isn’t abandoned after all.

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Soooo…. what do y’all do for a living? Besides eat people?

Yep. Not long after setting foot in the creepy old house, Ethan wakes up in the company of a family of homicidal swamp-billies. Although Ethan expects some eccentricity from folks this far away from civilization, something seems profoundly wrong with the Baker family. Not just the cannibalism, or the screaming psychobabble, but that they claim to hear voices coming from someone Ethan can’t see. They also have heightened senses and regenerate even the most grievous wounds, which is the player’s more immediate problem.

Ethan spots a chance to escape and takes it, venturing deeper into a house that’s been twisted by an unknown force. The Bakers, compelled by voices unheard, stalk the halls, looking to make a quick meal out of careless players. All the while, Ethan remains determined to find his wife and get the hell out of this swampy dungeon. Who knows? He just might escape with his life intact. As for his sanity, well… those are longer odds.

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I haven’t seen this many killer swamp-billies since Mafia III.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard makes several major breaks from its predecessors. For a start, the game is played in first-person, whereas all the game’s main titles have been third-person shooters. The shift to first-person is excellent for any horror game that wants to be taken seriously; the feelings of dread and danger are much, much more immediate in that perspective. The over-the-shoulder third-person angle is not impossible for a survival horror game to pull off and still be scary, but it’s much less frightening. The overwhelming bulk of the game is played from Ethan’s perspective, but players will also see the Baker house from a few other perspectives, including that of a haunted house TV show crew and a truly unfortunate birthday guest.

The gameplay also shifts focus away from combat and toward survival stealth. Unlike past protagonists like Chris Redfield and Leon Kennedy, Ethan is a civilian with no combat skills. He can run, but no faster than your average Joe, and he can fight, but only with what very few weapons are scattered around the Baker estate. Between his middling physique and the limited weaponry, Ethan’s only true recourse is to run and hide. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard forces players to choose subtlety over bravado in order to survive.

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Two whole bullets?! What a steal!

To expand on the gameplay a bit more, players can find a small handful of guns and other weapons around the Baker house. The Bakers themselves are practically impossible to kill, and they also keep a retinue of weird vomit monsters that shamble around and chomp at things. These latter enemies can die, but they’re still dangerous. Couple this with the game’s finite amounts of ammo, health and other resources, and the result is a decent survival challenge. Resident Evil 7 also features a small crafting system, allowing players to make a few items out of scavenged components. Players can store items and save the game in a few safe rooms around the estate.

The world of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is also chock full of collectibles for the discerning swamp hunter. Similarly to previous games, the player can find sets of items scattered over the game world, as well as lots of background exposition in the form of letters and newspaper articles. These artifacts aren’t essential to understanding the story, but they do flesh out (no pun intended) Resident Evil 7 quite nicely.

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“Ghosts Spotted in Bayou.” Probably should’ve been my first clue.

The nice thing for a game that’s trying to be scary is that Resident Evil 7‘s monsters are absolutely terrifying. Jack Baker, the patriarch of these invincible swamp-billies, is one of the most sadistically calculative foes in a horror game since Outlast‘s Richard Trager. He’s relentless, brutal, and isn’t afraid to scream all the terrible things he wants to do to Ethan while the player hides. Similarly, Jack’s wife Margeurite comes complete with a swarm of killer bugs, while the couple’s son Lucas prefers tormenting his foes by putting them through death trap challenges. That’s to say nothing of the shambling swamp monsters that stalk the halls looking for fresh meat. Inveterate horror fans needn’t worry; there’s a lot to fear in Resident Evil 7.

The other element in Resident Evil 7‘s fear factor is the atmosphere. Capcom hasn’t always been great at producing immersive game worlds (cough*Lost Planet*cough), but the studio did a surprisingly good job of rigging creepy fog effects and dour lighting in the world of Resident Evil 7. In a rare act of self-consciousness, Capcom was patient enough to produce a game that ratchets up tension through fear and stellar sound design, then sets it off with a monster or a Baker shambling around the corner. The final piece to the puzzle is a spooky soundtrack, which, because this is a Japanese game, features a catchy main theme song. Well done, Capcom.

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NO! I DON’T WANNA BE A KEBAB

Resident Evil 7‘s gameplay isn’t without a few embarrassing flaws. The first and most fatal is that this game’s AI can veer wildly between dumb and omniscient. At one point players can slip through a doorway even if a monster’s standing in it, but at another, Jack Baker will come hollering toward Ethan having somehow spotted him from the other end of the bayou. These episodes don’t happen very often, but they’re frustrating and break immersion. Hopefully Capcom patches this issue – that and the occasionally wonky hair physics.

The other issue, much less serious but still annoying, is managing a full inventory. If Ethan’s got a full bag but an empty gun, he can’t load any ammo he finds straight into the gun. Instead, he has to discard an item (read: destroy it), put the ammo in his inventory, and then load the gun. Dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s definitely something that swamp survivalists should be aware of.

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What plant do these herbs come from, anyway?

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard‘s level design can be summed up in one word: claustrophobia. Whether it’s a decaying mansion corridor or a water-filled crawlspace, every nook and cranny of Resident Evil 7 feels deliciously constricting. It heightens the tension, as players only have so many means of escape if a Baker shows up, but it also allows for all kinds of shrieks and spooks as Ethan makes his way through the swamp. Not just the jumpscare kind of scare either… more like “that lamp was over there a few minutes ago” kind of scare.

Visually, Resident Evil 7 is quite stunning. Textures are sharp, lighting is perfect and the variety of color is admirable. Thankfully, Capcom gives players the full suite of visual and audio options to tweak the game however they wish. However, game’s visuals, despite their horrifying beauty, are not problem-free. The biggest headache (literally) is Resident Evil 7‘s short field of view, which allows for up-close objects to look great but makes anything even a bit further away look like an oil painting. There’s no way to ameliorate this problem at the current time. PC players who use AMD cards may also experience occasional lag.

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WHODAT

Anyone who’s played Capcom games knows that storytelling is not this developer’s strong suit. A great deal of the Resident Evil games feature completely nonsensical narratives, and the story of The Lost Planet series doesn’t deserve to be called a story. But, surprising as it sounds, Capcom not only managed to pen a coherent story, but it’s also fairly decent. It does away with the overstuffed casts and convoluted plot points of past Resident Evil games in favor of a simple, stripped-down narrative that invites intrigue instead of burying players in it. Instead of focusing on mega-battles with huge corporations or multifaceted wars for the fate of mankind, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard has a much more personal tone. A man, alone against dark forces, looking for his wife. It’s an enjoyable journey from start to finish, with few wobbly plot points.

Additionally, and again unusually for a Capcom game, Resident Evil 7 avoids the overstretched cutscenes and idiotic dialogue endemic to, say, Resident Evil 6. Even the English version has believable dialogue and decent voice acting. The only problem is that Ethan, the protagonist, is the least interesting person in the game, and part of that has to do with his monotone voice acting. At times, he also seems impossibly comfortable with his surroundings, dryly noting a horrifically mutilated cop with just “Eh. Poor deputy.” Yes, much like Amanda Ripley in Alien: Isolation, the main character’s personality ain’t much to speak of. But the Bakers? Absolutely fascinating.

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Do I hear… singing?

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard isn’t quite the horror opus that Capcom was probably hoping for, but it’s a decent game, and a fantastic return to form for the Resident Evil franchise. Horror fans won’t find many concepts that they haven’t seen in a different title, but Resident Evil 7‘s simple narrative, survival gameplay, and realistic dialogue are a winning formula. The mantra of “back to basics” has saved this series from the mediocrity of Resident Evil 6 and has hopefully laid fertile ground for future horror concepts. Buy it and experience the horror of a midnight monster swamp firsthand.

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You can buy Resident Evil 7: Biohazard here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin

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Defeat a bloodthirsty monster before she destroys everything in her path.

PC Release: February 10, 2009

By Ian Coppock

“Fear is my ally”. That statement is both the personal creed of Darth Maul and the main takeaway horror fans should’ve gotten from the F.E.A.R. review last Sunday. For all its repetition and condensed plot, F.E.A.R. is unusually self-aware for an action-horror game. It’s thoughtful, it’s pretty well-paced, and it’s a patient game. It’s content to let players stew in its atmosphere instead of inundating them with jumpscares. With such a solid formula in the works, developer Monolith went ahead and got to work on a sequel.

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Like F.E.A.R.F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin is a first-person horror-shooter, with elements of big-budget action films and stark raving terror rolled into a single production. Released a little over three years after the first game, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin also continues right where the last game concluded, in a dilapidated American city at the mercy of a psychic monster. Unlike the original game, F.E.A.R. 2 follows a new cast of characters, none of whom are actually members of the titular anti-ghost F.E.A.R. unit, making the title a tiny bit of a misnomer.

Anyway, F.E.A.R. 2 kicks off a few moments before the conclusion of F.E.A.R., and puts players into the boots of Michael Beckett, a Delta Force soldier. Beckett and his team have been sent to extract the CEO of the Armacham Technology Corporation, a company deep into researching psychic and paranormal phenomena. Before the squad can find their mark, a gigantic explosion shakes the ATC building to its foundations and knocks Beckett unconscious.

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Knock-knock, room service!

When Beckett and his surviving squadmates wake up God knows how much later, they discover that someone has surgically imbued each of them with the same hyper-fast reflexes that the Point Man enjoyed in F.E.A.R. With these abilities, the team can make short work of even the most elite enemy units. These powers are sorely needed; there are still quite a few clone supersoldiers from F.E.A.R. running around, and Armacham has also sent in a private black ops army to clean up after Paxton Fettel’s rampage.

After escaping Armacham and clone forces, Beckett gets a call from an anonymous man going by the code name “Snake Fist”, who claims that Beckett and each of his squadmates have vast psychic potential. Snake Fist suggests using this power to trap Alma Wade, the enraged ghost at the heart of F.E.A.R., before she can expand her destruction beyond the city of Fairport’s limits. With no other option in sight, Beckett and his team gear up to fight through waves of enemy soldiers and who knows what else on their mission to stop Alma.

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Alma Wade. Think Samara Morgan from The Ring, only taller and even angrier.

If the original F.E.A.R.‘s gameplay was inspired by Half-Life 2F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin feels like Call of Duty. Everything from the balance of guns to using grenades feels exactly like a Call of Duty title. That’s not a bad thing, but the level of fidelity Monolith had toward Infinity Ward is a little embarrassing, for how derivative F.E.A.R. 2 feels. Not all is for naught, though, as the game retains the old-school medkit mechanic instead of health regeneration.

As Beckett, players are able to use his enhanced reflexes to get the jump on enemy troops. These abilities are represented in-game as slowing down time. Players can use this power to shoot everyone in the room before they’ve even reached for their weapons, though it’s metered and needs to recharge before it can be used again. Even though F.E.A.R. 2‘s guns play differently than those of F.E.A.R., the slow-motion ability feels quite familiar.

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Hey, guy? Back up.

To call F.E.A.R. 2 Call of Duty clone is a bit unfair, because the game expands its rosters of both action and horror gameplay. To speak to the former, players can now hop inside giant mechs and tear stuff up from behind two miniguns. Sure, that sort of thing doesn’t exactly smack of horror game subtlety, but damn if it ain’t fun. Those clone soldiers really need to learn not to leave their expensive illegal private army black-ops murder machines lying around. Occasionally another mech will show up, ostensibly to perform in 2009’s greatest ever rendition of Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots.

The other nice improvement F.E.A.R. 2 makes over the original is a huge spike in enemy variety. F.E.A.R. had a small handful of enemy types, but F.E.A.R. 2 throws large mixes of different baddies at the player. Paxton Fettel’s clone troops wield more guns, while Armacham’s forces comprise a mix of shotgunners, flamethrowers, and other specialists. This forces players to be much more careful, especially since this game’s enemy AI is, especially for an older game, quite robust.

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I always wanted to be on Robot Wars…

As for the horror gameplay, the darker half of F.E.A.R. 2, things are a little more visceral than in the original F.E.A.R. Sure, the first game put out a lot of things to jump at, but that was really it. Very few of the horror themes were more threatening than a simple jumpscare, popping out to spike some adrenaline before vanishing just like that. In F.E.A.R. 2, the ghouls and goblins are quite real. Alma’s paranormal activities have unleashed ghosts upon the city, and who knows what’s crawling around in the sewers beneath the condemned Auburn district. If F.E.A.R.‘s scares were just that, F.E.A.R. 2 upgrades from scares to scrambles for life.

All of that isn’t to say that F.E.A.R. 2 abandons F.E.A.R.‘s psychological moorings. As Beckett gets closer to Alma, he starts experiencing intense visions of her. To make matters worse, Alma begins telepathically screwing with Beckett’s teammates, driving some to madness and others to their deaths as she sees fit. This constant insecurity against an intangible threat makes the game feel tense. Unfortunately, each of these side characters are about as memorable as extras in an action film. The aforementioned Armacham CEO is especially uninspired, with awful voice acting to match. Like the Point Man, Beckett is a silent protagonist, so anyone who came here looking for more than guns and ghosts is probably in for a disappointment.

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“GURVE DURDY SURME SURGAR”

Indeed, the entire narrative of F.E.A.R. 2 isn’t that memorable either. F.E.A.R. was a linear run-and-gun with some ghosts thrown in, but at least it was a patient game. Its exposition was compacted, but it still had exposition. F.E.A.R. 2, by contrast, gives players a single goal to complete and then kicks them out the door to do precisely that. No plot twists. No character development. Just a light at the end of a ghost-infested tunnel. F.E.A.R. 2 seems to hold the idea of a decent story at arm’s length, choosing instead to focus purely on combat and ghost hunting. Writing and dialogue, not so much.

It also doesn’t help that F.E.A.R. 2 is short, clocking in at 5 hours. Even for a shooter, that’s a pretty stunted game. It causes no shortage of balking from fans of the original F.E.A.R., a game that easily takes at least eight hours. That’s also not counting the Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate expansions bundled with F.E.A.R. for free. As an aside, the Project Origin subtitle makes little sense. Project Origin is the subject of the first game. It should’ve been Project Harbinger, after the program that gave Beckett his new powers and is a focal point of the game. Or, y’know, just F.E.A.R. 2.

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Whaddya mean this game’s only 5 hours long?!

F.E.A.R. 2‘s saving grace lies not in its fun if conventional gunplay nor its undercooked narrative, but in its visuals. For a game that came out in 2009, F.E.A.R. 2 has some very sophisticated visuals. Graphics and textures are extremely sharp, character animations are fluid, and the game packs some of 2009’s most impressive lighting effects. Monolith forgot a few things when making F.E.A.R. 2, but luckily they remembered how important good lighting and shadows are to a horror atmosphere. The game also comes with a film grain, back before every horror game came with a film grain, but it doesn’t tank performance.

The visuals are another reason that F.E.A.R. 2 feels like a Call of Duty title. While the lighting is great and the textures are crystal-clear, some of the game’s environments just feel too clean. Too glossy. Even the war-torn areas of Fairport feel a bit sterile. This isn’t to rag on the game’s impressive sense of object placement and attention to detail, but even with rancid fog effects, some areas feel a bit too squeaky to be believable.

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My God you’re ugly.

Despite retaining its predecessor’s brilliant lighting design, F.E.A.R. 2 feels like a major step backwards from F.E.A.R. Rather than being an atmospheric game that alternates between hot and cold pacing, F.E.A.R. 2 is a short, action-intense game whose faith in its players’ attention spans is nonexistent. It does a pretty good job at psychological horror, but the first game’s scares are better, which is pathetic considering that F.E.A.R.‘s scares aren’t even dangerous. The gunplay is pretty fun, but it’s in excruciating lockstep with every popular first-person shooter ever made, and so offers little novelty.

Finally, the narrative. Or rather, the lack of one. F.E.A.R. 2‘s story is so skeletal and scant on details that players will be left with little motivation to carry on through the game. The voice acting and writing are sub-par, and even the proliferation of diary logs throughout the game reveals little exposition or backstory. The $10 Reborn DLC adds a sliver of narrative for far too high a cost. The main game also ends on a true “wtf” note, with one of the most bizarre cliffhangers ever seen in modern gaming. Hopefully, F.E.A.R. 3 turns it around, but a sequel shouldn’t have to do that.

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NO MORE OF THIS GAME! PLEASE!

The bottom line is, players who like a well-paced horror-shooter should get F.E.A.R. Players who like a skeletal Call of Duty game wrapped in a sheet costume should get F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin. It’s not uncommon to find a sequel that’s a step back from the original game, but it is unusual to find a sequel that feels like it was made by another studio… without actually having been made by another studio. F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin leaves F.E.A.R. fans with little to invest in after the main game, least of all their money. Give it a miss and replay the first F.E.A.R. instead.

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You can buy F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.