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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.