‘Resident Evil 7: Biohazard’ review

'Resident Evil 7’ returns to its gory, bone-chilling roots

Resident Evil 7 is a scary return to form. It brings out the best qualities of the series.
Resident Evil 7 is a scary return to form. It brings out the best qualities of the series.
Resident Evil 7 is a scary return to form. It brings out the best qualities of the series.

Highs

  • Tense and frightening
  • Beautifully detailed, uber-creepy haunted house
  • Liberal save and checkpoint system
  • Combat feels harrowing and intense
  • Extra spooky in PlayStation VR

Lows

  • Slow movement speed
  • Boss fights can go from intense to irritating

I’m stumbling through the main hall of the Baker House, two shotgun shells to my name, my vision red and pulsing with each step. Once again, I’ve survived — but just barely. And I’m sure I don’t have much longer to live.

It’s a perfect Resident Evil moment, and Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is full of them.

Resident Evil 7 is a return to the series’ horror roots, in presentation, setting and gameplay. If you played the original Resident Evil while looking through the eyes of protagonist characters Jill or Chris, it would feel like RE7. It’s slow and methodical, tense and frightening. Every battle is a fight-or-flight decision for your life; every missed shot is a small-scale disaster has the potential to cost you later on (if it doesn’t get you killed). Every time you escape by the skin of your teeth, you’ll wonder if you’ll be able to find a crucial item or ammo in time to deal with whatever will come next.

Despite its radical shift in form and tone — in addition to cutting down on the action, the series moves to first-person perspective for the first time — RE7 feels more like the original Resident Evil than any game in the series has in years. Resident Evil 7 is frightening, dark, gory, and unapologetically weird. It is everything that long-time fans of the “survival horror” series could ever ask for.

Reanimated remix

To explain too much about the story or setting of Resident Evil 7 would absolutely ruin it. In broad strokes, however, think of it as a first-person reimagining of the original Resident Evil. It’s about the exploration of a haunted house that sports its share of disgusting, deadly creatures. You’ll find weapons — series staples like the handgun, shotgun, and grenade launcher — with which to dispatch them, but ammo is scarce. Scavenging is as essential as it is dangerous.

Mechanically, Resident Evil 7 feels exactly like the early entries in the Resident Evil series, but better in just about every way. The house is also full of weird, esoteric puzzles, and most of your time is spent trying to find ways to open new areas to explore. You’ll find a door with a three-headed dog in relief on its face, for example, and need to scour the house for the heads in order to open it. You’ll also keep a small inventory of items, including first aid, weird keys and ammo, and visit item boxes where you can store gear you don’t need. You’ll save your game manually, although the game has an awesome, liberal automatic checkpoint system as well.

RE7 feels more like the original Resident Evil than any game in the series has in years.

Combat, too, feels like a revival of what the early series gave players. Enemies are slow but resilient and extremely deadly on the normal difficulty, and every shot has to count. Though you’ll be blasting monsters and fleeing battles, the emphasis is on providing just enough action to let you advance, while keeping you just vulnerable enough that every encounter is potentially lethal.

Before RE7 was released, Series Producer Masachika Kawata explained that Capcom drew a lot from a variety of horror films while divising the game’s new direction. Those influences are everywhere in the game experience: It feels like The Evil Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Saw mashed together. RE7 has a horrific absurdity, an unstoppable dread, and a shocking sensibility at all times. The Baker Estate, the game’s new haunted house, makes the whole combination work — it’s a character unto itself, lavishly detailed and beautifully created in all its decrepit, desolate glory.

But Resident Evil 7 also obviously comes with video game inspirations too, to its benefit. You can feel the how modern horror games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Outlast, and Alien: Isolation have made their mark on the game. Capcom has been paying close attention to what works in horror games in the past five years, and the result is a horror game that’s varied in its creepiness. You’ll sneak past enemies you can’t fight. You’ll run from monsters before they can overwhelm you. You’ll use your environment to keep you alive as much as your gun. You’ll face overwhelming forces.

(Bio)Hazardous balance

Early Resident Evil titles were always slow games, about moving carefully through darkened rooms and hallways you couldn’t always see well in. RE7 is also slow — almost plodding — in a way that sells its sense of constant dread. You move slowly, even at a run, and most of the time you’ll appreciate the deliberate pace as you check room after darkened room for things that want to rip you apart.

Resident Evil VII

But there are times when the movement speed undercuts the game’s pacing. Most of the time, Resident Evil 7 feels perfectly balanced, giving you just enough of a chance to save yourself. You might not be able to reliably dodge enemies, but you can block their blows to take much less damage, and you can almost always make a run for it.

Resident Evil 7 is frightening and dark, gory and, unapologetically weird.

That tightrope act — making each fight just hard enough that you only barely make it through — can make the game frustrating, though. It often means dying at least a few times. And while no fight in RE7 took us more than three or four tries to get through, the game can be bad about telegraphing things like whether that thing you’re doing to try to kill a boss is actually, uh, working. Couple that with your slow movement, your dwindling supplies, and your struggle to avoid getting attacked, and there are times when the boss fights might drag players down.

The best and worst aspects of the game are most pronounced during the game’s fraught, frightening boss fights. To say more about what they entail would ruin them, but they’re reminiscent of old-school Resident Evil bosses that involve a closed room and a lot of running and firing and trying not to die. They can be a real test — which is great. They’re tough, lengthy fights that take a lot out of you; like battling Michael Myers of Halloween or Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th. Every boss fight left us battered and broken, resources expended, barely clinging to life. Every single one is a desperate fight for survival, and that’s exactly what they should be. At the same time, RE7’s slow pace and tough maneuverability doesn’t compensate for the confined spaces and seemingly unstoppable enemies. In these more action-heavy moments, the game’s atmosphere can begin to feel like a liability.

Virtual evil

The elements of RE7 that can weaken it, like slow pacing and inability to really move well, seem like they’re specifically meant support the game the PlayStation VR version of the game. In VR, the game restrains your ability to move, which keeps your pace down and helps protect against getting simulation sickness.

In VR, RE7 is altogether spookier. Much of Resident Evil 7 feels like it was designed specifically with virtual reality in mind. PSVR adds to the immediacy of RE7 significantly, upping the realism of those moments of scavenging for supplies as you check under a table or lean around a cabinet. Of course, having the screen mashed up to your face only heightens the scares when RE7 plays off the tight perspective and inherent claustrophobia of wearing the headset.

While designing for two types of gameplay seems like a recipe for disaster, Capcom has successfully worked in the necessities of VR, like the slow movement speed, into both versions of the game. The tech isn’t for everyone, but Capcom’s tiny tweaks to the RE formula often work beautifully in VR, and players who don’t have access to it will still get a well-polished, well-designed survival-horror experience.

Our Take

It’s tough not to gush excessively about Resident Evil 7. It updates a classic formula in a way that works beautifully throughout. Tense, gory, hilarious, and scary in all the right ways, Resident Evil 7 feels like something completely new, but fits right in with the RE games you’ve known for the last 20 years.

Is there a better alternative?

Not if you want something that feels distinctly Resident Evil. The horror field for games has expanded quite a bit in the last few years, especially within the indie game space, so there are plenty of options. Layers of Fear, Outlast, Alien: Isolation, and SOMA all feel share some DNA with what with Resident Evil 7, but none marry so many great ideas together so well.

How long will it last?

Our first playthrough of Resident Evil 7 took about 12 hours. Finishing the game unlocks a tougher difficulty — called “Madhouse” — as well as additional weapons. There are also lots of Easter eggs and secrets to go back and discover, making RE7 good for at least a couple of playthroughs.

Should you buy it?

Yes. Horror fans, Resident Evil fans, and anyone looking for a tense and scary gaming experience should absolutely pick up Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.

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