Resident Evil 7 isn’t perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction for Capcom’s beleaguered survival horror series.
It’s no secret that the Resident Evil series is one that’s been going through a bit of an identity crisis over the years. A franchise forged in tense atmosphere and careful resource management, the past few numbered entries in the series have traded in that signature survival horror flavor in favor of a focus on over-the-top action, much to the chagrin of longtime fans. Despite a dramatic shift to the first-person perspective, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard feels like a welcome homecoming for the series. It manages to rekindle the things that made the original games so great while expanding on the formula in a meaningful way. It’s still not quite on the level of the original trilogy and 2002’s brilliant Resident Evil Remake, but it’s without a doubt one of the best games to grace the series in quite some time.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard puts players in the shoes of Ethan, who, after receiving a mysterious email from his wife who’d gone missing more than three years ago, sets off for Dulvey, Louisiana to find and bring her home. However, it isn’t long after arriving at the muddy backwater estate that Ethan meets the locals, the Baker family, who don’t take too kindly to outsiders snooping around their sprawling plantation. What ensues can only be described as a mashup of the Resident Evil we know and love, starring the cast from a Rob Zombie flick. These psychotic, cannibalistic rednecks may sound like an odd fit for the series, but it actually works surprisingly well, as these deranged hillbillies add some welcome personality to a series that’s for too long been devoid of interesting antagonists.
Of course, the setting of the Resident Evil games often feels like a character in itself. There’s a reason fans of the series are so partial to such locales as the stately Spencer Mansion from the first Resident Evil, or the labyrinthine Raccoon City police station in Resident Evil 2. They were steeped in personality, artfully marrying modern laboratories and secret facilities with cold, Gothic facades to create settings that were surprisingly believable, despite all of the weird puzzles and hidden chambers littered throughout them. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard’s Dulvey Plantation definitely feels like a throwback to these iconic backdrops with its dilapidated halls and numerous secret chambers, but it’s the little touches that make this new stomping ground feel more natural and lived-in than in previous games. Photographs and mementos of the Bakers in happier times are scattered all over the estate, making you wonder what went wrong to turn them into the seemingly-supernatural murderers who try to force-feed you the innards of some unlucky soul who crossed their path.
Unfortunately, while the Dulvey Plantation is the star of the show, not every area in the game has been giving the same love and care. The latter areas of the game are made up of less interesting collections of sterile corridors or crumbling cabins that fall flat in comparison. This is especially true for the salt mines you’ll explore at the end of the game, which are as aesthetically pleasing as the world’s largest igloo, consisting of little more than narrow white hallways – complete with convenient monster closets.
Resident Evil 7 has plenty of puzzles peppered throughout its 10-hour adventure, but sadly, most of them are complete throwaways. Most of these puzzles serve as simple roadblocks, like manipulating the shadow of a statue to match an image on a nearby painting, or needing to track down some type of key-like macguffin to proceed to the next area. That’s not to say that the series has ever featured the most convoluted puzzles, but what’s on offer here is definitely the bottom of the barrel when it comes to brain teasers, which can all be muscled through with dumb luck just as easily as knowing the solution, and that’s a shame. Some puzzles are even obvious throwbacks to previous games in the series, with the solutions being exactly as you’d expect them to be. It would have been nice to see the developer throw a curve ball or two to spice things up. Sadly, that’s not the case here. Unless you’re suffering from a pretty traumatic head injury before diving into RE7, you’ll have zero problems breezing through every puzzle you come across.
What really sets Resident Evil 7 apart from its predecessors is the game’s first-person perspective. It’s a change that largely works for the better, and does a great job of pulling you into the action – especially if you happen to be experiencing the game with a PlayStation VR, which really helps ratchet up the immersion in a way like never before. In fact, while the game wasn’t built around the implementation of PSVR, it’s hard not to argue that Capcom has made the best case for the hardware to date when it comes to RE7, as it’s hard to back to playing the game in 2D after strapping Sony’s HMD to your noggin. Many moments feel like they’re meant specifically to take advantage of the headset, delivering wonderful stereoscopic 3D effects that will leave your heart lodged in your throat. Combat also feels great when using the PSVR, because you can simply look to aim. This method feels really natural, allowing you to dole out head shots with ease. Capcom has also wisely given the players the option to choose between incremental turning and smooth controls, allowing you to cater the experience to suit your own comfort levels in VR.
In case you haven’t heard by now, Resident Evil 7 is a zombie-free experience. In fact, apart from your encounters with the Bakers, you’ll only really face one type of enemy (excluding bosses). These enemies are called The Molded, and are essentially animated piles of pulsating black goo that look more than a little bit like a cross between Resident Evil 4’s Regenerators and the Oroboros creature from Resident Evil 5. While you can blast off their limbs to make them less lethal, more often than not you’re best off just leveling your shotgun at their head and popping it like a cantaloupe. Occasionally you’ll fight Molded who crawl a bit like Lickers, or fat ones who spit putrid goo, but that’s about the extent of it. This serious lack of enemy variety is a big disappointment, and the game would have definitely benefited from adding some more compelling creatures into the equation. Boss fights are a bit of an improvement, save for the final encounter, which definitely ranks as one of the most disappointing final battles in the series’ 22-year history.
Still, the fights with the Bakers themselves are wild while they last. Hearing family patriarch Jack Baker’s heavy boots stomping down a nearby corridor as he patrols the mansion is an unnerving experience that’s sure to keep you on edge. He’s persistent in his pursuit of the player, and will even go smashing through walls like a moonshine-fueled Kool-Aid Man. It’s just a shame that once you get your hands on a gun he becomes a pretty toothless presence. After a few hours in you’ll be so flush with ammo and heavy weaponry that this tension quickly fades away as you become a veritable one-man army.
Without question, Resident Evil 7 is one good looking game – especially when it comes to the interior environments you’ll explore throughout the campaign. Just looking at the screen above, it’s plain to see that some areas feature an almost photo-realistic level of detail, and they’re brought to life with some excellent and moody lighting effects to boot. Character models are beefy and detailed, too. However, some things do seem a bit off, like the weird stiffness of Mia’s hair that floats in wild directions at random. However, considering just how impressive the rest of the game looks, this is little more than nitpicking. And while the game takes a slight hit in visual fidelity when played in VR, it still looks very impressive, and features a clarity that’s a clear cut above other games on the platform.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard isn’t without its faults. The serious lack of enemy variety and brain-dead puzzles are absolutely disappointing, and keep it from being the resounding return to form many fans were hoping for. Still, despite these shortcomings, it’s a huge step in the right direction for a series that’s struggled to find its footing over the past decade. If you’ve been waiting years for a Resident Evil game that will keep you on edge, this title is sure to deliver the requisite scares that die hard fans of the series so desire. And if you’ve been waiting for the PSVR’s first killer app, it’s hard to make a better case for Sony’s new HMD than this one.
With a bit more polish Resident Evil 7: Biohazard could have been one of the best games in the series. Having said that, what we’re left with is a survival horror title which, while certainly not perfect, is still well worth the price of admission. If you’ve been looking for a great showpiece for the PSVR, or simply want a game that will chill you to your bones, then you’ll want to add this ghoulish game to your collection. Here’s hoping Capcom continues to take the series back to its roots, because RE7 lays a sturdy foundation that we’d love to see explored further in future games in the franchise.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: Capcom ; Developer: Capcom ; Players: 1 ; Released: January 24, 2017 ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Resident Evil 7 purchased by HeyPoorPlayer.