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Resident Evil VII: Biohazard

January 29, 2017

Resident Evil VII: Biohazard (PS4)
untitledWhat’s Good:
-Crippling atmosphere
-Satisfying exploration
-Superb visual and sound design
-Intriguing storyline and setting
-strong new game+

What’s Bad:
-No additional modes
-Lacking enemy variety
-First person perspective diminishes sense of character

What I thought: “A near-perfect melding of classic Resident Evil and modern horror sensibilities.”
 

“An Old Friend, With Someone Else’s Face”
I feel as though, for a time, there were certain series-specific tropes one could expect from Resident Evil. Some were concessions made for the sake of it being a video game with video game rules, such as the consumption of herbs as method of healing, while other were more stylistic.
Then the series took the Final Fantasy route, and began trying to reinvent itself. Each time this happened, the series got farther and farther from what made it such a special series in gaming in the first place, which was horror. Being stuck somewhere terrible with equally terrible things lurking around every corner to impede your escape took a back seat to over the top summer blockbuster action movie bombast, which, while perfectly entertaining in its own way, wasn’t Resident Evil in the same ways the earlier games were.
Resident Evil VII then, is precisely the sort of homecoming the series needed.

You are Ethan Winters, and while she was presumed dead a few years ago, you are shocked to receive a message from your wife Mia, urging you to come to an old plantation in Louisiana in order to find her.
Upon reaching the plantation however, as you might expect, Mia is acting strange, and something feels dreadfully off about this place.
Residing within its poorly maintained walls lives a peculiar family – the deranged Baker family, and they will not so gleefully allow Ethan to escape its grounds.
 

“That Old Lingering Dread”
But escape you must, and your passage through the Baker’s estate is both stressful and arduous. Resident Evil VII has returned to classic RE form. Doors will be locked with specific types of keys or certain items might be needed to progress. This is never frustrating, for the problem is always presented before the solution is found, and if anything, it makes the game more difficult to put down than any typical section-based action game, as discovering that key or object you’ve been risking life and limb to find provides a huge spurt of motivation to see what has been locked behind that obstacle all this time.
Risking your life to explore the plantation for the items you need isn’t especially leisurely however. The Bakers do not want you here, and if stumbled upon, they will hunt you down until you are dead. These chases are terrifying; in part due to the fact that you are fragile and will die to a couple well-placed hits, but also because ammo is at a premium, and expending it to stun your foe is no guarantee they will stay down.

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Environments are dense with detail, with items hidden everywhere.

They’ve stricken such a superb balance with the number of healing items and ammo boxes you will find strewn about, as you will almost always have enough to get by, but only barely. Misuse or mis-management of these precious items can greatly change the narrative of a given encounter, and there were many sections of the game in which I was pleading for more health or considering rolling back a save after a botched encounter.
The limited items, powerful enemies lurking around every corner, and narrow field of view of the first person camera makes Resident Evil VII a much more tense game than those accustomed to recent entries may expect, but the mechanics are all well thought out and satisfying to interact with.
The smooth framerate and disturbingly lifelike visuals do well to pull you into the atmosphere as well. Was that thud one of your persuers coming down the hallway behind you, or was it simply the aging structure settling?

It’s a compelling game mechanically, but the thing which carried me through was the story. “Who are these people and what is going on in this place?” were the two big mysteries, and by the time the game ended, I was impressed at how neatly and how efficiently those questions were answered. There may have been a few new questions presented along the way which weren’t answered with such elegance, but overall, taken on its own with its own narrative to tell, Resident Evil VII accomplishes what it sets out to do, with only a single scene near the end of the game which felt out of place, as though it were crammed in last minute to solve a goal which could have been more elegantly solved through gameplay.
On paper it sounds like a generic, low-budget horror movie (again, holding true to classic Resident Evil), but there is more here than meets the immediate eye, and I was shocked at how impactful some scenes ended up being.
Truthfully, the only huge gripe I have with the plot of the game rests with its protagonist. Ethan is a very low key character. He will utter remarks or react during scripted sequences, but he isn’t much of a talker, and since the game is played from the first person perspective, you never get a particularly great sense of what he looks like either. In a series full of memorable protagonists, RE7 falls quite short.

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Though its safety remains to be seen, your journey will lead outdoors eventually.


The Composition of What Remains
Those seeking additional modes to participate in once the story is done may be left wanting, depending on how into the idea of repeated playthroughs you are. Creeping up on the game’s final moments, my playtime was clocked in at just over nine hours. Once finished, the game will add special items to your item box for subsequent playthroughs which may make repeated treks through the game more of a romp than the squeamish crawl the first go round likely was, and there is an achievement for finishing the game quickly, but the tale otherwise plays the same.
Hard mode is ever-so slightly different, named Madhouse difficulty. Here, items are even more stringent, your enemies can take more of a beating, and you must find cassette tapes in order to save your progress, which are consumed in the process akin to the older games’ typewriter ink ribbons. This is an interesting alternative which offers up more strategy in where you use which items, but compared to previous games in the series which offered all sorts of alternate costumes (they wouldn’t work too well in a first person game) or modes (Mercenaries would be boring a game with only a couple of enemy types), it’s clear that Resident Evil VII’s priorities were pointed in a different direction.

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It’s no ink ribbon, but its purpose is the same.

That direction is aimed closer to the golden age of Resident Evil though, and for that alone I mark Resident Evil VII as a huge success. If you’re a fan of the series, or a masochist for stress-filled horror, it is impossible not to recommend, and I am eagerly awaiting what might be in store for this series moving forward.

From → Games

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