Resident Evil 7 biohazard scared the dickens out of me, and I absolutely loved every minute of it. I’ve been a huge fan of Capcom’s renowned survival-horror franchise since way, way back in 1996 when the original game released on PlayStation, and it’s so good to see the franchise return to form in RE7.
For more than a decade now the mainline entries have been inching towards Hollywood-style action with an increasingly convoluted global bioterrorism story that I was finding hard to wrap my head around. They were decent action games overall, but what made this series special in the first place had been lost. RE7 reverses course and brings the focus full circle back to the glory days of exploration, horror, and a tightly-woven narrative. It’s a dramatic, unexpected shift, and it’s made me fall in love with the series all over again.
RE7 – New protagonist, new setting
RE7 introduces you to Ethan Winters, a regular civilian who heads to Dulvey, Louisiana, after receiving a strange video message seemingly from his missing wife. There he finds a dilapidated plantation mansion—eerily reminiscent of the original’s Spencer Mansion—and discovers this supposedly abandoned residence is far from what it seems. Ethan soon encounters the Baker family, a group thought to have mysteriously disappeared from the area for some time, and learns quickly they have sinister plans in store for him.
From the moment I approached the mansion’s outer ground, all the way to game’s climatic finish, I was completely drawn in by the masterful storytelling. As you sink further into RE7’s nightmarish rabbit hole you’ll uncover more and more of the Baker’s creepy backstory, and unearth a larger and more nefarious plot that actually makes a lot of sense (fancy that!) The mansion itself is virtually a character too, given its incredibly haunting presence and all the many secrets it holds. In perhaps the best narrative device ever used in the series, you’ll also stumble upon old VHS tapes and relive the gruesome fates of those who came before you, all in shockingly horrific first-person perspective. Make no mistake, this is not a game for the faint of heart.
Terror up close
In a huge departure from past games in the series, RE7 takes place entirely from Ethan’s eyes in first-person. It’s a radical change from the traditional third-person view we’re become accustomed to, and exactly the kind of bold move needed to freshen up Resident Evil. In addition to the perspective shift, the game was developed entirely on Capcom’s new RE Engine, built specifically to create disturbingly photorealistic images to accentuate the feeling of dread, isolation, and terror.
The stuff of nightmares
The incredibly lifelike graphics combined with the up close and personal camera positioning easily makes this the most immersive and harrowing RE game yet. If you played RE7’s “Beginning Hour” playable demo that released last summer, you’ll have had a small taste of just how macabre and stomach-churning the Baker mansion and surrounding area are. Prepare yourself for vividly real sights sure to turn your stomach inside out, like maggot-infested “food”, mutilated carcasses, and a whole slew of other nasty surprises. Equal love and attention was given to all the many derelict rooms and winding corridors inside the mansion, which have an impressive level of detail all the way from the decaying wood textures of the flooring, to the layers of grime and filth that coat every surface.
The sound too amplifies the spine-chilling atmosphere with sudden thuds that make you weary to enter the next room, or the sudden arrival of haunting music indicating imminent danger is near. It’s clear Capcom went through painstaking lengths to ensure all elements of the presentation coalesce into one tension-filled, terrifying experience.
Beware of the shadows
I’m also thoroughly impressed with how Capcom managed to kick the tension up a notch through the clever use of lighting and shadows. Every light source seems strategically placed for maximum bone-chilling effect, and even something innocuous like a ceiling fan can cast the most unsettling, swirling shadows on the ground. Some rooms sneakily place a lamp above the door, and on more than a few occasions my own shadow spooked me out, too. Another dastardly tactic the game relishes in is conveniently placing windows, cracks, or other vantage points so they offer brief, heart-pounding glimpses of the terrors you’ll soon be facing. Sure it’s great to get a heads up about looming dangers, but when ammo and healing supplies are in such short supply anything that moves will put you on high alert.
Classic RE elements
While visually RE7 is unlike anything we’ve seen before, the gameplay harkens back to the classic days of the original. In true RE fashion, resources are extremely scarce, and even when you do get lucky enough to find a cache, often times items will barely fit into your tight 12-slot inventory. Many times I was so desperate for even a single bullet, I would root through garbage cans or kneel to peer under beds in hopes of finding something, anything, to help me out. The odd time creatures cornered me when I had no ammo in stock, the only option was using my survival knife and blocking with my arms to reduce damage.
At scattered locations around the mansion you’ll find safe rooms where you can save your game using a tape recorder, and move items to and from an inventory box. Enemies are unable to enter these rooms, so they provide about the only reprieves you’ll get from the many horrors that lurk outside. And trust me, you’ll need these time outs.
RE7 also employs an experimental crafting system involving mixing chemicals to make green herbs and bullets more potent, and it’s up to you to discover all the different crafting combinations. The system was very similar to how you would combined herbs in previous games, only here you can create new types of ammunition or medication of varying strength. Finding the right ingredients at the right time can be a real life saver, although there just as many times I’d be in dire situation and only find half the combination I needed. The game also loves to toy with you by placing crafting items in boss fight rooms, as if taunting you to find a safe second to fumble through your inventory.
In another direct homage to old-school RE games, RE7 features plenty of challenge puzzles that must be solved in order to propel the story further. These involve the classic key system where you’ll need to revisit areas of the mansion to unlocked previously inaccessible rooms, and other room-specific challenges requiring you to investigate objects in the right order or rotate shadows to complete puzzles. None of the brain teasers were tough enough to stump me for more than a minute or two at a time, but they’re a nice break from wandering the maze of rooms or fending off horrid creatures.
Terrifying boss encounters
No Resident Evil game would be complete without some epic boss battles, and here too RE7 delivers. I won’t get into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say the bosses are creepy as all heck and will push you to the limit. I also love how many times these confrontations force you to frantically inspect your environment for clues to gain the upper-hand, which adds even more tension to already highly distressing situations.
Fans of the series should not hesitate to pick up Resident Evil 7 biohazard. It’s an incredible experience end-to-end and easily the best entry since RE4 graced consoles more than 10 years ago. I have nothing bad at all to say about RE7, in every way it delivers. The story is dark and captivating, the graphics are disgustingly great, the gameplay is everything an RE fan could want, and the music will send shivers down your spine. Resident Evil is officially back to its survival-horror roots, and I honestly couldn’t be happier.
+ Tightly-woven story
+ Successfully sustains tension
+ Horrifyingly realistic graphics
+ Great use of lighting
+ Terrifying audio effects and music
+ Nightmarish boss battles
+ Classic item management
+ Return to form for the RE series
– It’s really really really scary
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 5/5