Resident Evil is an iconic franchise. The original invented the “Survival Horror” genre and became a phenomenon when it released on the PlayStation in 1996. Since then, the franchise has become a household name which has spawned 22 game titles (excluding ports and remakes) that have sold over 75 million copies and 6 movies that have grossed nearly a billion dollars. Despite the massive success the franchise has seen, fans have become disgruntled in the past several years due to some lower quality titles, poor ports, convoluted stories, and bad design decisions that strayed too far from the essence of what Resident Evil once represented.
Enter Resident Evil 7, titled “Biohazard” as an homage to the original game’s title in Japan. Immediately upon first being shown at E3 last year, fans were taken aback. The iconic third person perspective had been dropped in favor of going first person, and the game seemed to look more like a modern survival horror game with little to no reference to RE titles of old. Thankfully, once you start playing it doesn’t take long at all for those fears to fade away.
The premise at the start of the game is rather straightforward. You play as Ethan Winters, a man who lost his wife Mia three years ago when she went missing and was presumed dead. However, you have just mysteriously received a request from Mia to find her in a remote section of Louisiana. Despite all the questions it raises, you set off and arrive in the location only to find a seemingly abandoned, decrepit mansion. Near immediately you are introduced to the property’s proprietors in the form of the Baker family, but you’ll soon wish you hadn’t been.
I was immediately pleased with the opening sequence the game presented. The feeling of arriving in a remote, wooded location to then wander your way into a strange mansion, and the level of tension that generated, brought rushing back some of my favorite nostalgic feelings from the original Resident Evil. The first hour or two is rather introductory and sets the stage for the horror to come. After the first few series of events, the game opens fully and the homages to the early Resident Evils become readily apparent.
Methodical exploration and puzzle solving were integral ingredients in the RE formula and I’m pleased to say they are once again in Biohazard. The Main Hall of the mansion acts as an early hub and you’ll have to slowly explore different areas of the property and solve puzzles before you can progress to other areas. Special keys are needed to open specific doors and branching paths and shortcuts are used heavily throughout the game thus giving the feeling of a continued expansion of the game world. For those unfamiliar with the classic REs, the Souls series is a great reference point here in that as you progress, more and more of the world ends up connecting together. And thankfully as you explore, there are no loading screens between areas so the tension and feeling of impending danger is never broken.
The main antagonists in the form of the Baker family are horrifying and you can see Capcom drew inspiration from some of the classic horror movies in the form of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, and others. As you explore the grounds, you will uncover more and more of their evil with some truly grotesque environments and moments. The head of the family, Jack Baker, in particular is mighty intimidating and every time he confronts you it creates feelings of panic and dread. I can say firmly that Capcom did not hold back in making this a mature horror game suited for adults. And for that I thank them, as its bloody brilliant in that regard.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Resident Evil if the game didn’t throw some surprises at you when you least expect it and I’m happy to say Biohazard is no different. As you explore, areas you once thought safe will contain new enemies and challenges intermittently. Additionally members of the Baker family act similarly to a Nemesis from Resident Evil 3 in that they will repeatedly hunt for you as you explore specific areas within the mansion. This seemingly simple addition, which forces focus and cautious exploration, is just another way in which Biohazard succeeds in making you sweat.
Ammo and health conservation are imperative, especially to prepare for some of the larger encounters which can prove challenging even on the normal difficulty. The staple mechanic of combining ingredients to craft ammo and health plays a large role in the game. However, often times you are left with only enough resources to make one or the other, thus deciding when and how to engage enemies becomes critical. While the game provides plenty of both over the course of a playthrough, it’s very easy to mismanage your resources which will leave you in a bind when you truly need them. And need them you will. Boss fights are challenging, tense, and chaotic. Often times you are running for your life, in confined spaces, while trying to figure out how and when to do the most damage. This can very quickly lead to a shedding of your resources and before you know it, you are presented with the classic black and white “You Died” screen.
Of course I’m obligated to comment on the most striking change to the traditional Resident Evil formula which is the move to first person perspective. In my opinion, the change is nothing but a positive one and with the first person perspective being so common in games nowadays, it didn’t take long at all to acclimate. The new perspective combined with the gritty and grain filtered graphic design help to create the perfect setting for the game’s gruesome aesthetic. In particular, it leads to creating some truly shocking interactions and not being able to see the immediate area around you only further escalates your sense of dread. Moments where the enemies grab or attack you violently have far more impact in first person than they could ever have in third person. For survival horror fans, it reminded me of the first time playing Condemned where combat was violent, visceral, and intense.
Playing in first person also compliments the excellent graphic and sound design of the game. Environments are beautifully detailed and highlight each area’s dilapidated glory. The attention paid to every corner as you progress through the Baker’s property and the other environments is fantastic. I often found myself simply looking around or wandering into corners to further experience the ambiance the game puts forth. The only caveat is that lighting plays a large role and in many areas I found it to be rather inconsistent. At times, a few steps in a direction could completely change the lighting of a space despite there being no source that should have done so within the game.
As a fan of video game sound design in general, there are few genres where it is more important than horror. Fortunately, Capcom nailed it here as well. Directionally, the sound is precise and informational thus allowing you to adjust your play-style depending on the situation. Sneaking around to try and avoid conflict is often a legitimate strategy, especially as you’ll be able to hear the Bakers walking through the hallways searching for you. Adding to this are random environmental sounds that you would expect to hear in an old, rotting building which provide added tension. Of course, combat is unavoidable at times and as a game with ample gore and grotesque enemies, it’s also worth mentioning that every slash, squish, and splatter is graciously highlighted.
I do have a few qualms to mention which lessened the experience slightly. First, the controls have a rather annoying issue where diagonal movements are substantially slower than movements on either axis. I tried several combinations of settings to no avail so while you can look or aim quickly up and down, and left and right, trying to move from say bottom left to top right is noticeably slower. For a game that sometimes requires sudden movements, aiming, and navigation, it can prove troublesome. Further complicating the controls is the sometimes varied movement and run speed you encounter. Also, while I enjoy the design, challenge, and pacing of the boss fights, there is a lot of trial and error involved. There are obvious moments when you’re supposed to damage each boss but otherwise it’s sometimes hard to tell when to do damage or even if you are doing damage at all. With limited resources, this can lead to experimentation and multiple retries even when you thought you were doing well.
In terms of pacing and level design I found the game to be very similar to the original Resident Evil from which you could tell Capcom drew inspiration once again. While I greatly enjoyed the entire game, its strength is definitely the first few acts. Near the end, it feels a little long in the tooth despite the eventual ties to the RE universe that are revealed for long term fans. That said, the final act does provide some variety to the level design and enemy encounters which are welcome. Most notable are the final few scenes in which many of the game’s secrets are suddenly uncovered and you are treated to a second perspective of events that occurred early in the game. This series of events marks an excellent end-cap to the game which surprised me right through to the end.
Upon completion, I had spent just under 14 hours on Biohazard and and it left me feeling once again excited by the Resident Evil franchise. With only a few minor missteps, this is easily one of the best horror games I’ve played in years and a much more substantial overall experience than recent indie horror hits. I hope Capcom keeps progressing forward and we see a proper sequel that continues to pay homage to the nuances that made us all love the series in the first place.
Highly Recommended: The Resident Evil game fans have been waiting for and the one that puts the franchise back on top of the horror genre.
Our review has also been posted on OpenCritic.com!