Resident Evil 7: Biohazard Review – PS4
Resident Evil 2 is one of my favourite games of all time, and I’ve been waiting since 1998 for a sequel to get close to the love I feel for that game. Sure, there have been some great entries since, but none have captured the thrill, the fear and the excitement I felt all those years ago, from the first sequel. Now almost 20 years later I find myself playing Resident Evil 7, wondering if it can compare.
Unlike the older games in the series 7 has adopted a first person view point in order to immerse the player deep in the atmosphere, provide close up scares and, of course, cater to those that will be playing on VR. I have seen many a cynic complain about this, crying that Capcom are just playing copy cat and looking to the brilliant P.T for inspiration. While there may well be a degree of truth in that I’d like to point out that P.T wasn’t the first horror game to be in first person, even the original Resident Evil had ideas about being in first person before the classic design was settled on. Let’s also not forget that Resi 4 brought on the rise of over the shoulder 3rd person views, inspiring things like Gears of War. Many games borrow ideas and inspiration from others so, at ease keyboard warriors, let’s cut Capcom some slack here and try to enjoy this game for what it is.
When I first booted up my copy I couldn’t help but smile at the title card that was proudly displaying Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. I love that they have incorporated the Japanese title in the Western version. What I love even more is that it goes both ways, in Japan it’s Biohazard 7: Resident Evil. Nice touch. A nice nod to the fans and a good way to start the 7th numbered entry in the series.
Despite being number 7 this could easily have been a standalone game with no connection to previous games. I’m not going to spoil anything with regards to the story, however, I would say that I quite enjoyed the links that were there and the ending has got me thinking about everything a lot more and where I would like to see the story go. As I said though, no spoilers for that, go and enjoy it. I will mention the new characters though. This time around we play as newcomer to the series, Ethan. Poor old Ethan has been alone for the last 3 years as his wife has been missing, presumed dead. One day he receives a message from her informing him that she is very much alive, but he should stay away. She’s not quite waiting in their “special place” but it is all very Silent Hill 2 so far. I even feel that this is a deliberate nod to the greatest Silent Hill and there are plenty of nods to other games and movies. I want to tell you them all. I won’t, I just want to. The Evil Dead reference was one of my favourites though.
That’s the story out of the way, on to actually playing the game. Having tracked Mia down to a plantation in the deep south Ethan gets to the search. Walking up to the house and everything is bright and despite some strange goings on it all feels safe. Until you reach the house, the darkness, the despair. I instantly felt tense and a bit helpless when I stepped in. There was no immediate danger to me, yet I could feel the tension in the air. Often danger of the unknown is far scarier than the actual threat. The setting really helps build this fear; the main house is a real star. It creaks, bangs and all round just makes weird noises as you explore, these can be really unnerving and really did cause me to regret playing with the lights off using headphones. To begin with, at least.
After some exploring and story set up we meet the games big baddies, the Bakers. This family of twisted weirdo’s are out to make your life hell, even if they do welcome you to the family and cook you a nice dinner. I say nice, the dinner scene is heavily influenced by The Texas Chainsaw massacre as you break bread with the entire family, I was even yelling “hit her pa” at the TV. This should tell you all you need to know about the family and I for one enjoyed the setting immensely. We all miss the shambling zombies of the George. A. Romero influenced era, the setting here is heavily influenced by American horror of the 70’s and 80’s, Chainsaw massacre being a huge influence, just not the only one. I thought it was a fantastic fit and besides, we will get our zombie love in the upcoming 2 remake.
Anyway, back to the Bakers, specifically the patriarch Jack. Early on in the game Jack plays a role similar to that of the Nemesis in 3. He relentlessly hunts you down forcing you to run and hide or fight him in a futile waste of bullets. To start with this was incredible, tense and scary, a true successor to the Nemesis. Unfortunately, that fear soon turned into aggravation as Jack showed up constantly, just becoming a nuisance obstacle during my exploring or quests for items. He even has pre set spawns that he will appear at every single time, one of which was on my way out of a save room that I frequented a lot and because of this I became very acquainted with Jack, having to play a quick cat and mouse game on my way from saving. All I wanted was to put on the Benny Hill music as I led him on a wild goose chase. I wish they had used him a bit more sparingly as he did start off genuinely very scary and it was a shame when he became the norm. That being said there was a point where he did surprise me again and I almost put my pad through the TV screen. The other members play their roles too, these have been shown less in the previews than Jack has so please go and experience them for yourself instead of looking them up.
The only other real enemies of note are the Moulded. Dark creatures that are basically made of teeth and mould, with a few different variations. They are most reminiscent of the Regenerators from 4. Some people will be upset with the lack of creature variety on offer. I felt they did fit the whole story quite well and it really made sense with what enemies we were given. The major problem with the Moulded again is predictability. They only show up in areas with mould on the walls and they literally ooze out. A nice touch but, again, the predictability reduces the fear factor, which is a shame. There are a few moments that shake the formula up and scare the crap out of you, as it wouldn’t be Resi without a good jump scare, it’s just a shame there are some moments that feel safe. About half way through the game I became relaxed and wasn’t scared at all, what I did enjoy though was how certain moments like the lead to a Greenhouse and certain rooms later on punished me for wallowing in a false sense of security and made me afraid all over again.
The more I played, the more I felt like I was playing a Resi of old. In trying to escape and find my estranged wife I had been doing plenty of exploring, found rooms that were locked by weird keys or rooms that required puzzles to be solved before I could carry on. Sure the puzzles were pretty simplistic; it’s just nice to have some back. If I had to pin it down I would say that it felt most like the original Resident Evil during my play through. The main house feels like a rustic version of the Spencer mansion and will force you to backtrack in order to explore every nook and cranny. In fact despite the viewpoint many of the old mechanics make an appearance. Limited ammo, item management, green herbs, save points, item boxes. The classic health display even makes a reappearance, this time your health shows on a smart watch, going from green for fine, yellow for caution and down to red for danger. I completely adored the simple solution for carrying more items, so obvious and so sweet. Of course some of these mechanics have been updated now. The backtracking is made easier as locked doors will update on the map showing what keys are needed and the save system is supplemented with auto save. The limited save ink ribbons of the older games was an artificial way to add a sense of danger as it forced you to fight to survive and not have a save to fall back on every 5 minutes. The auto save allows sloppy play to go unpunished, mess something up and instantly click retry. Very handy and great for accessibility, just disappointing when compared to the old way. A more modern return is purchasable upgrades and collectables. Coins can be found that can be used to buy upgrades that are locked away in birdcages, the better the prize the more coins needed. No Merchant here. Bobble heads are also scattered around that need to be smashed to count as being found, get them all for a nice Trophchievement.
Ammo wise, as I said, there can be some sparse moments, fighting to survive as you run out of bullets having to resort to the knife and avoidance of enemies completely. I played on normal and this only happened a few times, I didn’t ever have an over abundance of supplies, I had just about enough to get the job done. Starting the game empty handed there ended up being plenty of guns to find and use, the combat felt really good and headshots with the shotgun are just as satisfying as ever. I actually can’t wait to try my hand at a harder difficulty and see how much I struggle with a lack of ammo. Should I struggle I can always use stimulants that can be found in order to make items easier to find by showing them on screen.
Something else that can be found lying around is VHS tapes. Plop these into a VCR and they allow you to live out the past. Seeing some other poor soul who has fallen afoul of the Bakers. Anyone who played the demo will be aware of these and they act as a nice way to expand the story, with the main purpose of showing you something that has been done in the past that can save you in the present. The Birthday video was a personal favourite of mine; it had some nice little puzzles and has actually made me hopeful for the upcoming DLC.
After the disappointment of recent games Resi 7 feels like a giant step forward whilst keeping one foot in the past. The future seems bright again but this game isn’t without its share of problems. The initial load time is quite long and can be long again after finishing a video tape. I have already mentioned the issue with Jack and the moulded, the biggest misstep I would say has to be the bosses themselves. They often felt a bit forced and silly (chainsaw scissors anyone) and I found myself wanting to just get them out of the way. Most of them are just bullet sponges that aren’t really a challenge as long as you can pump enough led into them. There is an exception as one boss fight is really good and became quite tense as I ran out of bullets and had to finish them off with the knife. The last boss is very disappointing and a bit of an anti climax.
Overall I really enjoyed my time with this game. It took me less than 9 hours to complete on what I thought was a slow play through, which may be a disappointment to some even if it is usual for a Resident Evil. They don’t put speed run tasks in for no reason. The whole game felt most like the original to me and after only 1 play through it is far too early for me to rank it against my other faves in the series. I would implore people to ignore the internet and the opinions of others (even my own) and give it a go with a fresh, spoiler free mind. I’m so happy that Capcom have gone back to the horror and exploration instead of the action heavy game play of recent instalments. By going back to the past they have made me excited for the future.