“Do I have your attention, boy? You’re about to see something wonderful.”
Jack Baker’s words relatively near the beginning of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard aren’t just a sinister foreshadowing of things to come; they’re a promise to gamers that the beloved survival horror series is back and better than it’s been for years.
I for one could not be happier. I loved Resident Evil 4, and even got many hours of fun out of the fifth entry, but it’s pretty unanimous that Capcom’s horror series had lost its way since the 1996 conception. The foreboding corridors of the Spencer mansion had now been replaced by the explosive plains of Africa, and later the globetrotting adventures of Resident Evil 6. Things just weren’t the same. Here comes the seventh entry however, screaming and bludgeoning its way into the public consciousness.
And what an excellent return to form it is. The muscular meatheads of the previous titles have been replaced by Ethan Winters; a regular guy who’s trying to find his deceased wife after he receives a video message from her telling him to do precisely the opposite. But he ignores her, and heads deep into Louisiana where he stumbles across the Baker compound. If you imagine the uninviting cabin from Evil Dead and add a fair heaping of The Shining‘s Overlook Hotel, you’ll kind of get the idea. It’s a sprawling, dilapidated place that just seethes evil.
That’s all the story I’ll talk about in this review, but rest assured that it’s enjoyable enough to keep the events of the game chugging along at a consistently frightening pace. The final few hours of your experience might feel a little bogged down by padding and backtracking, but for the most part the game’s narrative had me hooked until the one of two multiple endings I achieved.
It’s not the story that will grab you first, though; that award goes to the spectacular sound design. Whether it’s the creaking floorboards beneath your feet, or the distant groans of an unseen threat; Resident Evil 7 will scare even the blind. From the first moments I approached the Baker compound, I was drawn in by the thick layering of natural sounds, which meant the sudden jolt of a jump scare was even more effective.
Voice acting is also outstanding – particularly with Jack, the patriarch of the family. His taunting shrieks as he stalks you with a shovel or axe or alternative gardening tool will make closing doors and watching your back a constant priority. Jack’s not the only threat, though: Marguerite Baker – Jack’s wife – wails and screeches as she patrols the ‘Old House’ with a lantern, and the couple’s son, Lucas, dwells in a locked part of the estate that’s only accessible later in the game.
“…the beloved survival horror series is back and better than it’s been for years.”
But don’t expect to be gunning down these foes like the Las Plagas of Resi 4; the Baker family are essentially impervious to standard methods of violence. Shooting Jack in the face will only slow him down, or temporarily knock him out if you pack enough of a punch. This makes combat encounters all the more frantic, and your attempts at survival sometimes futile. Don’t worry, though: there are killable enemies in the game.
These take the form of the ‘Molded’ – eerie black malformed figures that will attack you using their bladed protrusions. A few well-placed headshots are enough to take them down (on Normal difficulty, at least), but ammo is scarce and they’ll do their best to duck and weave out of harm’s way.
The scarcity of ammo is just one of the key ways in which Resident Evil 7: Biohazard hearkens back to the glory days of the survival horror franchise. Safe rooms dotted around the house also provide nostalgic refuge. These will be familiar to anybody who has played the original title, and contain an item crate which allows for the management of weapons, healing items, and puzzle objects. This is a necessity, now that your inventory can quickly become filled with many things you’ll only need as you progress. Want to keep that shotgun? That could mean sacrificing a knife, and potentially being stuck in a sticky situation when the molded chase you in hordes. Fancy having alternative ammo types for a grenade launcher? That’s a shame, because you need that block of wood for a puzzle downstairs.
“…this isn’t a hide-and-seek contest that ends with little more than a black ‘Game Over’ screen.”
That’s right: proper puzzling makes a return to the series that – for me, at least – defined the idea of obtuse puzzle solving. The challenges of Resident Evil 7 aren’t quite up to the same standard as “Push this statue off a balcony to obtain a gem inside,” but they’re thoughtful enough so that you’ll have to take a moment to work things out. Crafting is also offered in the game, though it’s incredibly basic and essentially boils down to 1+1=2. This is fine, though, because anything more obnoxious wouldn’t have felt at home in a game which strips down everything that isn’t entirely necessary.
Even the HUD is as bare as it can be, and will usually be invisible when you’re not using a weapon. This makes the game hugely accessible to newcomers, and immersive as hell; perfect for when a sudden appearance from one of the many antagonists plans on scaring you silly. Many items around the house can also be interacted with – even just to read captions for paintings – and the game quietly notifies you with a non-intrusive button prompt when this is the case.
Make no mistake, though: this isn’t a hide-and-seek contest that ends with little more than a black ‘Game Over’ screen. During the many encounters you’ll have with the Baker family, expect violent dismemberment, graphic scenes and shocking imagery. This is probably one of the most violent games I’ve played, and easily outdoes the first time Sackhead decapitates you in Resi 4.
The potential for great pain and suffering makes death even more horrifying, and ups the atmosphere hugely. This holds true for many of the game’s boss fights, too; they’re not only disturbing, but also stressful, as they put you in situations that force immediate confrontation. There were only a couple of instances close to the end of the game that had me pulling out my hair with frustration, but for the most part the combat you’ll undergo is fair and doable.
With everything taken into account, I can easily say that Capcom hit it out of the park with this one. Sure, the story gets kind of dumb towards the end, and sure, some of the later areas aren’t quite as interesting as the first Baker household. It’s so easy to ignore this when you’ve got a game this bloody good, though. Playing in darkness with a headset on, I can honestly say that I haven’t been this frightened to open a wooden door since Outlast – and even then, Resi 7 doesn’t go quite as downhill as that did. If you’ve ever enjoyed the Resident Evil series, or if you just like horror titles, then I can promise you that you’ll get a kick out of this. Just don’t forget an extra pair of pants.
This is the most impressive return to form I've seen in a long time. With heart-pounding scares, clever puzzles, and formidable enemies; Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is one of the best horror titles I've ever played.