Resident Evil 7 Biohazard Review (PlayStation 4)
It's not often a franchise is able to completely and successfully reinvent itself after two decades. That's particularly true of a series like Resident Evil that's tried to find a new identity from its survival horror roots in an attempt to reach a broader audience with its last few entries. After the less-than-stellar reception of Resident Evil 6, Capcom shrugged off all the pretense, and started from scratch on a new take for the once-beloved franchise. Resident Evil 7 Biohazard may have come about because of some spectacular failures, but manages to show that Capcom still has what it takes to make incredible survival horror experiences.
Eschewing the third-person style that's been Resident Evil's calling card since the beginning, Resident Evil 7 opts for a first-person experience, putting you right on the front lines of terror. Capcom also smartly cuts back on the massive Umbrella conspiracy, instead placing the focus on the mysterious Baker family and their connection to a rash of disappearances in the local area. In particular, our hero Ethan is trying to find his girlfriend Mia, who vanished years ago, but new clues have hinted she might be found at the Baker home. With nothing but his guts and the car he drove to Louisiana, Ethan is hoping to pull her from whatever fate the Baker's have in mind.
It doesn't take long for Ethan to find Mia, but the reunion is short-lived as she isn't quite the Mia he knew any more. The introductory chapter does a good job showing how this new first-person Resident Evil works, and opens up this new take on the familiar formula with great dramatic effect. Resources are minimal, weapons are shoddy, and every new room is keeping a secret about how to get into the next area. All the classic elements that were there at the series opening have returned, and the new rural setting gives everything a creepy vibe Resident Evil hasn't had since the first time you entered the original mansion.
The Baker homestead is at first a simple Southern domicile, stereotyped as it may be at times, that soon expands into the swamps, caverns and mines nearby. Capcom's influences this time around are easy to spot, with films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror, Saw and even Friday the 13th offering inspiration in a number of ways. Those are just a few of the most obvious, but those films certainly do a lot more to provide engaging and interesting inspiration than something like Call of Duty or Uncharted. The whole vibe is very much that raw '70s terror, and there's a good bit of revenge and justice to deal out on the player side of things. Paying homage to the haunting films of yesteryear, but adding in modern flourishes of body horror and grotesque monster designs the likes of which only Capcom could create elevates Resident Evil 7 to be much more than just another first-person horror experience.
What's more, being in first-person isn't just a cheap trick to induce scares with "gotcha!" moments. No Resident Evil game has been as thoroughly rendered, and being able to experience the Baker home in this view allows you to take in details that otherwise would go unnoticed were the camera pulled back behind you. The homestead feels lived in and authentic, despite having such ludicrous locks on the doors and secret passages opened with shadow puzzles. It's all believable in this universe, and actually being face-to-face with this world instead of looking at your character's rear lends more credibility to every aspect --- no matter how video game-y.
Adding in the incredible sound design, Resident Evil 7 creates one of the most tense and intense atmospheres in a horror game. The home is eerily silent save for the creaks and cracks of a home in disrepair. The ominous score is subtle when it needs to be, but cranks the anxiety up to eleven when the moment calls for it. If you're observant enough, you can rely on musical cues to anticipate when some bad stuff is about to go down. However, you're likely to be too preoccupied with checking around every corner and peeking through every door to be aware of anything but your own movements. If your controller isn't covered with sweat by the end of the night, you have nerves of steel, and we envy you.
This is all doubly true of the virtual reality version, too. Resident Evil 7 isn't just completely compatible with PlayStation VR, it also offers drop-in/drop-out gameplay with a standard playthrough. You can play as much in VR as you want, take a break, and enjoy the rest of the game in standard display, or vice versa if you choose. It's not an easy game to play in VR, as there are going to be times when you need to hustle, and movement at speeds quicker than a snail's pace can be disorienting to a great degree. There is head-tracking, which is an upgrade from the early demos we played, so Ethan will react on screen as you move. To turn completely though, you'll still need to use the right analog stick, which can still throw off your balance a bit since you're altering the position of the world without actually moving within it.
When you're not in a fight or running for your life, the terrifying virtual reality experience isn't quite as likely to make you physically ill. Combat is simple enough to not warrant a lot of maneuvering, and though enemies do get slightly more intelligent as you progress, they never push too far into the unstoppable category. That's just as true in the core game because like we said, the core game is no different from the VR version. While that might mean the overall difficulty curve isn't tremendously challenging, it also means you get to enjoy the experience more without worrying about over-managing your inventory or dying too often. Don't be mistaken; you will still die, but often it will come from your own flustered sense of what's happening rather than cheap deaths from unstoppable or bullet-sponge-y enemies.
In general, the action in Resident Evil 7 is relatively easy for players of any skill level to learn and master within the game's 8-12 hour playtime. Weapons are few and far between, but don't take a lot of effort to track down. Where the last few entries mixed in some in-game currency to unlock things, RE7 takes a more retro tact, allowing you access to the core weapons slowly as the story evolves. If you find a new weapon, you can bet you're going to need it for the next portion of the game. There is a simple currency of "antique coins" to find hidden throughout, but the items on lockdown, while helpful, aren't necessary to finishing the narrative.
A relatively basic crafting system is in place too, which allows you to make first aid from herbs, more bullets from gunpowder, and even grenades from fuel chips. You don't have to track down recipes or unlock the secret formula; you just have to have the two ingredients handy, and the crafting menu (well-placed in the inventory HUD) automatically shows you what you can make. Again, it's a great idea to streamline as much of these elements as possible for newcomers or returning fans, as there are no complications overburdening them. Giving players exactly what they need to enjoy and explore without the fear of using resources or the fear of complicated menus makes Resident Evil 7 so much more approachable, and thus enjoyable.
Scrapping the previous path of sequels that continually upped the action ante proved to be one of the smartest decisions Capcom's made with regard to Resident Evil. This clean start is exactly what the franchise needed to reinvigorate creativity, drum up interest in a new entry, and make something truly terrifying and fun. Resident Evil 7 Biohazard is the best thing to happen to this series in more than a decade, and shows that you don't always have to follow the same drummer as everyone else to make something special.
This review was completed using a digital copy of Resident Evil 7 Biohazard provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.