A Return To Form For Capcom
After the disappointing Resident Evil 6, the announcement of another Resident Evil game promising to return to its horror roots was met with justifiable scepticism. With a refined first person viewpoint and a masterful use of audio and lighting, Capcom produce one of their finest horror games for quite some time. Although Biohazard lacks any truly terrifying moments, the uniquely claustrophobic house and blend of action and puzzles make Resident Evil 7 a joy to play.
The house setting is suitably creepy and claustrophobic areas like this are commonplace
Unlike the zombie-packed games of past, Resi 7 takes a different direction, opting to tell a self-contained story about a mentally unhinged psychopathic family. Driven to find his missing girlfriend Mia, you take control of Ethan and wind up deep in the swamp-covered wasteland of Southern America. Isolated and abandoned, Ethan happens upon a large run down house that might just hold the key to uncovering what happened to Mia. Of course, things are never as straight forward as they first appear and its not long before everything spirals out of control. The story is told well for the most part and with a profound lack of blood-craving zombies this time around, Biohazard instead opts for a much more intimate story. With a touch of influence from The Hills Have Eyes, the main antagonists in the game see this mentally unstable cannibalistic family hunt, stalk and provoke you throughout the game. Interestingly, the game breaks up its locations with a series of boss fights that see you take on different members of the family in and around the house.
The use of lighting and the level of detail put into the game is excellent
The immersive way Biohazard introduces us to the Baker family and the horrors within the house is partly thanks to the staggering amount of detail put into the game world. Tall blades of grass bend as you walk through them, dust particles lazily float through the air and beams of light struggle to infiltrate boarded up windows. This masterful use of lighting helps to give a real dread-inducing tension through large stretches of the game. It helps too that graphically Resident Evil 7 looks superb too and the little details put into the world really enhances the experience as you play through the game.
Unlike recent previous games in the franchise that abandoned the horror in favour of heavy action and experimental play styles, Biohazard takes the series firmly back into survival horror territory. Although the final act does undo the good work done for vast stretches of the game in an action-heavy final act, its easy to forgive in an otherwise impeccable horror experience. There are very few truly scary moments here but the never ending feeling of dread is something the series has lacked for quite some time. Breaking up the horror are a number of puzzles ranging from manipulating shapes in shadows, finding passwords and keys right through to building weapons or items like cranks to traverse to the next area. This combination of puzzles and horror is well balanced too although as your arsenal of weapons grows, so too does the feeling of overpowering the game world which does detract somewhat from the tense atmosphere hanging over the game.
The Baker Family are relentless in their pursuit of you
Although this self contained horror story is paced well, there’s no denying that Resident Evil 7 is a disappointingly short game. Expect to finish the story in under 10 hours unless you really take your time and leisurely explore every area in which case the time could be superficially expanded to around 12 hours. With 2 endings, a new difficulty unlocked upon completing the campaign and a host of DLC available to buy there is at least an attempt to extend the game time but knowing what’s to come does dissipate the dread and tension a second time through. Still, there’s a host of collectables and files to view as you traverse through the world too and some of the staples of this series return including the infamous herbs and familiar inventory slots.
Item management becomes a real challenge for those intent on collecting everything but thankfully some well placed save rooms allow you to dump unwanted items in a storage box to pick up later on. As the game progresses your arsenal does expand so expect to use a combination of a flame thrower, shotgun, grenade launcher, pistol and more as you explore the house and surrounding area. As the game nears its climax, the house makes way for different locations which won’t be spoilt in this review but are just as impressively rendered as the house itself. The differing locations help to break up the monotony of exploring and backtracking the same house but the new areas don’t quite hold the same tension and claustrophobic feel the house did. Its in these locations too that the game abandons the horror and instead focuses a lot more on the action. Whilst this makes sense in the context of the story and the weapons easy to handle, it also feels a little disappointing given the excellent first two thirds to the game.
Late on the game does fall back into familiar action territory
Still, despite the issues Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is an excellent return to form for Capcom. Silencing the doubters, Biohazard is a confident and beautifully realized survival horror game. The over-reliance on action late on and the disappointingly short play time does detract somewhat from the experience but this is easily one of the best Resident Evil game in years. The new first person viewpoint is a bold move for the series and complete with a combination of puzzles and horror, Biohazard finally feels like an actual Resident Evil game. With two endings and an intriguing “Madhouse” difficulty unlocked upon completing the story there is incentive to replay the game but it doesn’t quite hold the same appeal a second time round. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a confidently written survival horror game and whilst it might not be the best horror you’re likely to play, there’s enough here to instil confidence in the studio once again in a franchise that finally nails what it feels like to play a Resident Evil game.
Verdict - 8/10