Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
“Welcome to the family son.” It was upon hearing these words that I truly realized I wasn’t prepared for what I had gotten into. Developed and published by Capcom, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a first-person horror game. Set in and around a decayed Louisiana plantation, this game moves far, far away from its action-heavy predecessors. However, this does not mean combat has been removed. On the contrary, you’ll be forced to figure out clever ways to bring down your enemies, find guns, craft ammunition and much more. The plot follows a man named Ethan Winters, searching for his missing wife Mia.
As the game opens, it immediately invokes classic scenes from horror films. The shot of the house on the left is a clear nod to films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Blair Witch Project, with even more direct allusions further into the game that I won’t spoil. The visuals are simply stunning, bringing life to the eerie buildings and rotten piers of the swamp. I ran all the textures at their highest setting, however even the lower quality assets are very well done. Lighting and shadows are used to full effect in instilling a sense of absolute dread as you progress. Enemies look truly horrific, with bosses and weaker foes alike taking on more and more extreme, disgusting forms as the game progresses. Wounds are realistically rendered as they take damage, whether it results in burnt, crispy skin from flames or chunks of flesh torn out from bullets.
Saying the soundtrack is used to scare the player would be a complete understatement. It takes a very minimalistic approach, only striking weird, dissonant chords when necessary. By using this approach, an already creepy setting is amplified and accelerated into the purely terrifying. At one point about halfway through the game, I found myself immobilized with the fear of what lay around the corner in a dark room. Not because there was disturbing scenery, beyond the eerie dark. Rather, it was due to the slowly building music, which had been grating on and on for longer than any other point in the game. It isn’t used in abundance and as a result works extremely well. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is truly a scary game, putting the “horror” back into survival-horror.
The pacing of the gameplay always feels spot on, with no particular section drowning out the others. Very few hints are given for the puzzles strewn throughout the game, a clear throwback to older games. Paying attention to the scenery and files is absolutely key, as otherwise you’ll be playing a complete guessing game. I often found myself running back and forth attempting to find key items. Later, I’d realize that if I’d simply read the notes more thoroughly, I’d have had an easier time of it. With that said, it’s not always that simple.
Usually, an enemy is stalking you or waiting on you, so you don’t have the freedom to simply look around. Taking your time to explore can sometimes be dangerous, however, the rewards are often worth it. In my experience, the best guns or rarest crafting ingredients were mostly hidden behind locked doors or tricky puzzles. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard uses its pacing to full effect in regards to the players progression. Backtracking with the proper combination or key needed is the norm. When I obtained the shotgun, loading my precious few collected shells, my heart leapt for joy. I had been given a sudden, renewed confidence against whatever might be thrown at me next.
While a handful of checkpoints are provided, they really shouldn’t be relied on. In order to save your progress, you’ll have to find the handful of “safe rooms” scattered throughout the game. Enemies cannot see you in these rooms, and they usually have some supplies to gather. A Cassette Recorder is in the room, and interacting with it allows you to save. On Easy or Normal difficulty, you can save as often as you wish. On Madhouse, which is unlocked by beating the game, you’ll find it’s not that easy. Playing on Madhouse, among other things, forces you to collect Cassette Tapes. You can then use these tapes to save your game at a Cassette Recorder. Once.
Even on Easy, you’ll have to manage your supplies carefully. Some things, like health vials or handgun ammunition, can be crafted with components you’ll find scattered around. Others, like shotgun shells or later weapons, are available only in a very finite quantity. The aforementioned safe rooms have storage crates, allowing you to tuck away supplies, guns and keys you don’t need at that time. Good thing too, as your inventory is extremely limited and it’s quite easy to run out of space.
The combat is weighty and tense. Missing a shot makes your heart jump into your throat, reloading desperately as vile horrors descend upon you. Aiming is smooth and all the guns, particularly the shotguns, feel wonderful to fire. Ethan can’t run very quickly, so judging just which enemies to fight or try to get away from can be a challenge.
I’ve tried to avoid talking about the plot as much as possible. I will, however, say that it is well done and there are huge implications as to where the franchise goes from here. The Baker family are fantastic villains, chewing the scenery literally and figuratively as they stalk you across the plantation. In one of my only complaints, Ethan falls a bit flat as a character. To be fair, he is clearly intended as a bland protagonist the player can mentally project themselves onto. That said, his dull reactions to outright horrific events in addition to the extreme trauma he experiences sometimes strains the realm of believability. Isaac Clarke in the first Dead Space game displayed way more fear and shock, despite never saying a word!
So, all of this put together, should you buy Resident Evil 7: Biohazard ? Yes, yes and yes. January may not be over but already I have my first personal GOTY contender. Everything here works. The disturbing visuals, the soundtrack, the truly disgusting enemy and boss designs. All in all, it all comes together for a truly phenomenal experience. It took me roughly 11 hours to beat on normal, although, I was doing my best to find every collectible and secret without a guide.
It is worth mentioning, while I have not had a chance to try it, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard can be played start to finish on PlayStation VR. This is also the first AAA addition to the Xbox Play Anywhere program, so if you buy it digitally on the Xbox or Windows stores, you’ll get a free copy for both platforms. This is a game that lends itself to multiple playthroughs, and I have no doubt I’ll be returning to Louisiana shortly. Even if you’ve never played a Resident Evil game before, don’t worry. In my opinion, you’ll be starting with one of the best.