Fans of Resident Evil have been begging for the series to return to its roots ever since the franchise turned towards action instead of horror. Thankfully, Resident Evil VII Biohazard (which I’ll just refer to as RE7 from now on) does the impossible and revitalizes the franchise much like Resident Evil 4 did. It’s a departure from what’s familiar, and RE7 does it well. It’s both new and old at the same time, and breathes new life into the franchise. Since RE7 is the first Resident Evil game played in true first-person view (I don’t count the on rails shooters), Capcom is taking a gamble. That’s all well and good, but is it fun to play? Hopefully you’ll be able to decide that for yourself at the review’s end. Let’s grab some green herbs, pistol ammunition, and take on Resident Evil VII!
*Game reviewed on Xbox One.
Before we touch on gameplay or presentation, allow me to clear up some misconceptions about RE7. While the gameplay and presentation screams Resident Evil, the story does not. We follow our main character Ethan after he gets a message from his missing wife, Mia. Ethan hops in his car and heads towards Dulvey, Louisiana, where he hopes to rescue his wife and move on. We all know that’s not going to happen.
Without spoilers, it’s hard to explain how the story works out, but it’s pretty decent. Our main villains are the Baker family, a quartet of cannibalistic crazies. It’s cliché, sure. “Crazy rednecks in the South kidnap and eat people!” is a set up we’ve seen across all types of horror media. Thankfully, RE7 manages to dodge the trope by explaining their insanity in a smart way. Despite this, the majority of the story follows that logic. After a tense opening, Ethan must find Mia and escape the large Baker estate.
The characters are pretty good too, with a few exceptions. At times Ethan is unbelievably calm, even after incredibly violent attacks or depraved acts that play out right before him. Character motivation is something that is often disregarded; everyone simply wants to get the hell out of dodge. As you continue through the game, the threads of the story start to expand, but eventually falls into standard Resident Evil territory. You’ll get an explanation, but it’s going to come together a bit too late. What’s important is that the story is immersive and tense. Although it can be cliché, it’s effective. When it comes to Resident Evil titles, I’m okay with a wacky narrative. As long as the game makes me feel tense and uncomfortable, it’s doing its job. All in all, RE7’s story manages to do that well. The Bakers all have different traits, some of which bleeds into the gameplay. The characters are interesting, although the story falls flat eventually. Overall, the narrative is functional.
Graphics and Presentation
Let me say this right off the bat… RE7 looks fantastic. From the opening cut scene to the end credits, the game looks beautiful. Maybe beautiful isn’t the right word, but you know what I mean. There’s a certain clarity to RE7 that is not often found in horror games. Usually, graphics tend to be a bit muddy, with colors muted. RE7 pushes away from that trope, and produces some pretty vivid visuals.
The environmental effects are noticeable immediately. The swampy surroundings of Louisiana feel humid and dirty, purely off the visuals alone. As you walk through brush and water, you can see plants being pushed by your movement and ripples caused by your disturbance. The graphical clarity of the game is one of its biggest advantages, as the realism increases the overall horror. Speaking of which, RE7 is pretty damn horrifying. Whether you’re claustrophobic, scared of bugs, or terrified of the dark, RE7 finds a way to sneak into your head and really upset you. Those who are squeamish will also avert their eyes quite a bit; RE7 is the goriest the series has ever been. While Resident Evil is a bloody franchise, it’s never been this grotesque. There’s quite a bit of body horror at play, from dismemberment to rotting corpses. Additionally, there’s some creepiness factor as well. For how much RE7 likes to be bloody, it also plays well with intense situations. There are multiple times where you’ll prefer the blood to be flying; the darkness is worse.
That brings me to lighting. There’s so many light effects and accurate shadows that you will barely notice just how good it is. I know that seems counter-intuitive, but it’s true. RE7 looks so good that it cross the “uncanny valley”, where you’ll more often see what’s wrong with the game rather than what’s right. When a game looks this good, it’s hard to see past the mistakes. Luckily, textures remains pretty solid and there’s rarely any pop-in. The frame rate stays high throughout the game as well, only dipping at a few areas.
The audio is also fantastic. No horror game can truly be great if it has mediocre audio. As I said before, the darkness is usually the most terrifying aspect of RE7. That’s because you can hear everything so well. When you are walking through a disgusting millipede invested crawl space with just your flashlight, the sounds of the hundreds of bugs is what gets you. This transfers over into combat as well. While it’s not immediately noticeable, there’s a bunch of different sounds that come with it. Hitting a wood surface with a hatchet produces a “chunk”, whereas the same attack against a glass picture frame has a satisfying “crash” with it. It’s not obvious, it’s smart. I can’t sing the praises of the audio design or the visuals enough… RE7 is truly a beautiful game.
We’ve arrived at the meat of the game; the gameplay. While RE7 looks great and has a decent story, that can’t help it if the gameplay sucks. Thankfully, that’s not the case. RE7 is an interesting beast; it both resembles classic Resident Evil and something completely different. Far too long has the franchise been more of an action game than a horror game. Resident Evil 4, 5, and 6 were more focused on blasting tons of enemies rather than scaring the player. RE7 returns to that form, so a lot of the gameplay feels like classic Resident Evil. The first-person view might annoy players who aren’t used to it, but as a fan of first-person, I loved it.
It’s the way that RE7 is able to stay true to its roots in this brand new perspective that is truly an accomplishment. Long gone are the days of having 100 pistol bullets, 20 healing items, and 15 grenades. In RE7, you’ll be hunting for ammo all over the house. Items don’t just come to you, you need to seek them out. Lest you walk into a large fight with only a single green herb and a few bullets. I did that, and it was stressful as hell. However, this “hide and seek” with item drops is true to Resident Evil. Inventory management is back, as well as item boxes. You’ll never be able to carry everything you’ve found at once. This makes for some pretty difficult decisions as you progress. As inventory space tightens, you’ll find yourself giving up weapons for healing space, and determining just how aggressive you want to play. It’s another element that adds to the game’s intensity. As you see your shotgun ammo start to dwindle, you’ll curse that decision to leave your pistol behind.
Although you find a knife early in the game, RE7 is still a game about guns. By the game’s end, you’ll have amassed quite an arsenal. There’s little auto-aim as well, so you have to make shots count. Combat is very tense and strategic. You’re not going to kill every enemy, unless you want to waste ammo. Much like classic Resident Evil, you’ll be picking your battles. I found myself often opting to avoid enemy encounters rather than charging through. Different difficulty levels also play into this, as I’m sure the Easy setting would’ve produced much more ammo and hence easier enemy encounters. However, Normal mode provides a decent challenge, and I recommend playing through it that way.
The influence of classic Resident Evil is apparent beyond combat and inventory as well. The Baker estate is much like the Spencer Mansion from the original Resident Evil. Winding hallways lead to numerous rooms, and you’ll be referencing your map constantly. There are puzzles as well, but most of these are pretty simple. There’s emblem doors, weight puzzles, and hidden compartments. These factors all scream classic Resident Evil, rather than the later games. The Baker estate is also pretty large, with several areas to go through. The game has a bit of backtracking as well, as you find new keys to access new areas. As you progress through the game, you’ll take on each member of the family. Each area surrounding them feels very personal to their character. I truly don’t want to spoil anything, but you’ll believe me when you head after Marguerite, the mother.
RE7 also does something pretty cool to encourage replayability. My first playthrough took just over 7 hours. However, after replaying a bit of the game, I started to notice variance in events. Boss fights played out in completely different ways when I tried different approaches. I found additional scripted sequences and scares that I didn’t encounter my first time. It’s something that’s incredibly impressive; to play a game for the second time and see something completely new. I’m not talking about a simple attack animation either, I’m talking about entire cut scenes and encounters. Additionally, the game has multiple endings and unlockable difficulty modes.
Resident Evil VII pulls off what the Resident Evil series has failed to do for quite some time. It’s a true horror experience, not just a run and gun with monsters. The game looks beautiful and sounds crisp. Gameplay is solid and mixes elements of classic Resident Evil with modern horror games. It feels like a reboot of sorts, a distinct jumping off point for the series. Much like Resident Evil 4 changed the franchise in a big way, I believe RE7 will have that kind of impact as well, and I’m happy about it. It’s brutal, it’s bloody, and it’s unforgiving in its intensity. Resident Evil VII Biohazard is my favorite Resident Evil game in a long time, and sets a new standard for First Person Horror games. If you’re a fan of Resident Evil or horror games, it’s a simple decision to make. Resident Evil 7 is a damn good time.