Words: Callum Harrison
With the release of Resident Evil 6, many fans believed the franchise to be truly lost. Gone were the days of survival horror and instead we got a buggy stale action instalment with the excitement of, well, Resident Evil 6. The sequential games of the franchise had rapidly gone downhill after the fourth, with only a few of the spin-off games – namely the remasters and the Revelations series – keeping long-term fans from fully walking away from the franchise. It seemed like we would never get a game that captured the atmosphere and feeling of the original game.
Enter Resident Evil 7: Biohazard; announced at the 2016 E3 event, Capcom showed off a bold new vision for the franchise and a much welcomed one at that. In January 2017, the next instalment was released and managed to nail everything it set out to do, which was to go back to the horror roots of the franchise.
We play as Ethan Winters, a young civilian who travels to Louisiana trying to find his missing wife but instead becomes trapped by the antagonistic Baker family. Much more a premise for a slasher film than a Resident Evil title, but rest assured the game does follow classic tropes of the franchise and reminds you quite quickly that you are in a Resident Evil game and not Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
What must be praised firstly is the atmosphere of the entire game. I would argue that this instalment is by far the tensest to date and that is a testament to the game design and direction. Once the tension takes hold, it very rarely let’s up and rarely gives you room to feel safe. The environments are dark, narrow and claustrophobic; the sound design is subtle but impactful and the overall pace of the game unfolds at a greatly even rate that goes between exploration, fighting and backtracking seamlessly and never becomes tiresome or boring.
The cast of characters we have this time are probably the smallest in the franchise. However this greatly helps to add more character development to those we do have opposed to giving us larger cast but who are flat and two-dimensional. The Baker family are a greatly twisted bunch of villains who, despite being terrifying, are fun to be around because their chemistry works so naturally together. Again, praise directed towards the actors because for once we have the most natural and realistic dialogue delivery in the history of the franchise.
Now it might seem hypocritical to praise the game to this point and then critique its story, the largest component of the game itself but unfortunately great games can have not-so-great stories. The game’s story up until the third act pulls much inspiration from the aforementioned Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise – the dinner scene towards the start acting as the best homage of the films iconic scene to date – and this works heavily well in its favour to build tension and a sense of genuine dread. Then, when the third act comes around and the story begins to wrap up in a slightly convoluted conclusion. It becomes slightly grander in scale, following from the original game’s move from mansion to underground laboratory. But it does it less successfully, simply because the shift in the original games fit the campy ascetic and tone of the era. It felt very nineties and it, for some reason, fit well. However, in the latest instalment it doesn’t quite work so much and I think it has to do with balance. The original balanced the campy stories with survival horror gameplay well but this game doesn’t blend it together as well, it just jumps and it is jarring.
Considering the over-the-top, multiple countries spanning story of the previous instalment however, this is not necessarily a huge disappointment. The story before the final act is nail-bitingly scary and it can be forgiven for dabbling back into its roots, even if it does feel a little bit like fan service in the end.
Overall, Resident Evil 7 marks a triumphant return for the series that cemented survival horror in the gaming world. The move to first-person gameplay was probably the smartest move the creators have done since scrapping the original plans for plans for Resident Evil 4 and turning that into the Devil May Cry franchise. While the story does feel a little convoluted by the end, the final act doesn’t hold up as well as the two preceding and few surprises remain during subsequent play throughs, this doesn’t take away from it being a great horror game and one that has been long overdue in the franchise.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is out now.