Resident Evil 7: Biohazard Review

Note. The game was played from a PS4, without Virtual reality or PS4 Pro enhancements.

Throughout the course of its life Resident Evil, one of the pioneers of action and survival horror has experienced major transformations. The series began with fixed camera angles, puzzle-solving and claustrophobic locations and exploration. The series then drastically changed to focus on close-up action-oriented gameplay and overwhelming odds with Resident Evil 4. But despite their efforts, it was clear, upon the divided reception of Resident Evil 6, that the series was loosing what many fans cherished. As a result, in 2014, Capcom chose to take the franchise back to what made it so special, along with a new perspective, a new direction, and a new nightmare to survive.

The game’s storyline puts players in the shoes of everyman Ethen Winters, who has been living an isolated life for three years, since the apparent disappearance of his wife Mia. One day, upon receiving a cryptic message, it turns out that Mia is actually alive and has been held captive in an isolated region of Louisiana, by a malevolent family, known as the bakers. When he arrives in an attempt to rescue her, Ethen finds himself in their clutches, and from then on, the nightmare begins. The storyline is easily one of the game’s strong points. While some aspects may come around as cliched to some players, they are handled in a way which manages to remain offputting and disturbing. The mystery behind the Bakers and their insanity and the push to find mia become all the more sinister and gripping as the game progresses.

The Baker mansion and the various areas you explore are absorbing and immersive. Walking down every corridor and exploring every room while very often under threat from the bakers brings a strong sense of isolation and immersion. Every room is filled with items such as family photos, newspaper clippings, and memos, which add a much stronger insight to the world around and the mansion’s and the baker’s past. The level design and story throughout the game remain linear but exploration is constantly encouraged so that they could spot much-needed remedies and useful gadgets, to aid them against the bakers and spawning enemies.

The characterisation in the game takes a considerable change in direction from the over-the-top, superhero style most Resident Evil characters possess in earlier titles. The game’s central cast consists of very ordinary people, who have succumbed to a malevolent force. The Baker family are hands down the best characters in the game, both from within and outside of gameplay. Jack jeers and teases you as he searches rooms for your whereabouts and every encounter with him, whether it’s you hiding behind a wall or facing him only with a small handgun, is exhilarating and brings around some of the most memorable moments of the game. Margaret and Lucus baker are also excellent characters who have their own separate and twisted themes and methods for wreaking havoc upon their foes. The excellent voice work, particularly from Jack Brand, helps greatly in increasing the believability and savagery of the Bakers and the desperation of the protagonists. Mia and Zoe are also relatable characters. If only the same could be said for the main protagonist, Ethen. While Todd Soley does an admirable job of providing Ethen’s voice, his character generally comes off as a rather bland character who never seems to react realistically to events surrounding him. Sometimes he would say something sarcastic when what he sees is supposed to be shocking or will say nothing at all. The Catch made by the developers is that the true protagonist is, in truth, the players themselves, but with Ethen’s large amount of dialogue, it was almost impossible to see it that way. Overall, however, the cast of the game is excellent and brings a much more satisfying and grounded approach to how the series portrays people in a haunted atmosphere.

Gameplay has changed drastically from the rest of the series. The most significant change is that this time, the game is played from a first-person perspective and through the eyes of Ethen. Despite much scepticism before its launch and even denial that this change of perspective helps the game’s identity as a Resident Evil game, the experience and feel of the view are exceptional. Exploration and atmosphere have almost never felt this good and it’s only rivalled by the excellent nature and setting of the Resident Evil remake from 2002. The first-person mode does an incredible job of increasing the sheer sense of tension as players explore the mansion and when they come face to face with the Bakers.

Combat also takes a major step back from the fast-paced, hectic shooting of the past few entries, with a distinct reliance on defence. the few weapons scattered throughout the game are the player’s only chance of standing against the Bakers and the moulded. The Handgun is best used for headshots, which could decimate enemies much faster than simply firing at them at point-blank range. The Shotgun, on the other hand, deals much more damage and could deal damage to multiple opponents at the cost of more limited range. Ammunition is rare, especially on Madhouse mode, and players will be required to remain focused and alert so that every shot counts. The combat system feels immediately fresh and every weapon feels satisfying thanks to good sound effects, visual feedback, and their limited use due to the scarce ammo and more grounded feel compared to previous entries. The only disappointment with combat, however, is that melee weapons play a significantly lesser role then I hoped for. Your pocket knife is useful for searching through crates for items and could be used as a desperate last resort but it would have added much more variety and interest to the combat system if weapons like Axes, Pitchforks, or spades, could be used for a limited time against enemies.

Throughout the game, players could also come across a series of unique items, which help in keeping Ethen alive and to allow him to find more items more quickly. Green herbs make a return and could be combined with chemical fluids to create a liquid that recovers some health. The Chem fluid could also be combined with other components like gunpowder to craft bullets. The variety of items in the game does a great job of making gameplay much more resourceful and restrictive. Crafting the wrong items at the wrong moment could lead to a much more negative outcome than it could have been. This demands players to think much more carefully about what items they want to use, especially when low on health or ammunition. You may decide to craft a handful of bullets instead of shotgun shells and the bullets could turn out to be ineffective against the enemy opposing you, or you could choose to use an entire health remedy bottle, instead of being more mindful about your health and just take an unused herb instead. Maps could also be found throughout each area of the game, which are used to help players find their way around more easily. However, the game’s small scale makes the maps almost useless, as you will find yourself rarely getting lost. While every area in the game is incredibly immersive and fascinating to explore, they could have perhaps benefited from being much larger, with more hidden passageways or areas to explore.

Puzzles also make a return to the exploration and the combat. In spite of this, the majority of the puzzles quickly begin to repeat and while they are intelligently crafted, they lack challenge and left me rather disappointed. One puzzle that takes place around halfway through the game, however, is much more complex and has a much larger scope than the others. Its disturbing environment and usage of multiple key items make it one of the most memorable moments in the game. It improves a rather lacklustre aspect of the gameplay, which could definitely use some improvement.

Resident Evil 7 is an exhilarating adventure that brings the franchise back to life by returning to its roots while injecting it with fresh new blood. Despite a lack of enemy variety, some improvements needed to puzzles, and perhaps a relatively weak final boss battle, the game is a tremendous success for Capcom and it brings some outstanding potential to future titles, thanks to its engaging gameplay, an engaging new perspective and atmosphere, and a strong storyline and cast. The greatest compliment for Resident Evil 7, however, is how bold it is. It’s a game that was prepared to take huge risks of isolating fans with its vast changes in an attempt to bring a new and fresh set of ideas to the franchise. Resident Evil has made a drastic comeback with one of its strongest entries and one of the best games of the year.

REVIEW CODE: A PS4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@brashgames.co.uk.

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