Resident Evil created the survival horror genre, but in recent releases it had lost its way, moving towards more action based gameplay which was far removed from how the series began. CAPCOM has released multiple remastered versions of the earlier entries to the series which have brought the series back to the attention of this current generation of gamers, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard looks to bring back the good old days by again changing its gameplay style to reach a new audience, but has it managed to recapture what made the series so iconic to begin with?
Being honest, this was a far more conflicting gaming experience for me than I had expected. I loved the first Resident Evil games with their genuine levels of tension and pressures put on the player for inventory management, puzzle solving and real trepidation about what enemies could be just around the corner. But the series dropped off my radar but revisiting it in the recent remastered titles both reminded me why I first loved the series but also why I stopped playing them. The demo for Resident Evil 7 released last year showed that CAPCOM were willing to get the series back on track by changing the gameplay to a first person perspective but bringing back the multistep puzzle solving of the originals.
The story opens with the player taking the role of Ethan Winters who is searching for his wife Mia who has been missing for three years. After receiving a random and strange message from Mia asking Ethan to come rescue her from a seemingly abandoned creep house deep in Louisiana, Ethan pulls up and soon the player gets their first taste of the first person viewpoint as you slowly make your way up an increasingly creepy path through a wooded area that would not look out of place in a Tim Burton film.
It is the new first person POV that really makes the biggest impact of the changes in gameplay for Resident Evil 7. It naturally shrinks the area the player can see so where the previous camera over the shoulder third person view of previous games would allow you to see a great deal of the area the character was in, now you can only see what Ethan is looking directly act. This immediately adds a new layer of tension to the gameplay and is a genius change that is impactful right from the start. For the first time in the Resident Evil series the player is now fully immersed as the character, looking at the world from through their eyes, literally. Combined with an amazing use of audio to dial up the dread and tension right up to eleven from the off, every noise is a tease of something potentially very bad about to happen or just to help the game keep the player walking on egg shells as you slowly make your way through the home of the terrifying home of the Baker Family.
Ah the Baker family, what a lovely example of family love and togetherness they are. Well they were probably that at one point but in Resident Evil 7, this family is pretty much every single horror film and game villain all smooshed up together providing the initial enemies for Ethan. The Bakers consist of Poppa Baker Jack, Momma Baker Marguerite, their son Lucas and a mysterious old woman in a wheel chair, Granny Baker. At various points the player will encounter each member of the family as the story unfolds around you with the main git of the family being Poppa Baker Jack. They give the first half of the game its main villains and each one is just as unpleasant to encounter as the next but it is Jack that really steps forward to be the main pain in the butt for the player. In order to revitalize the gameplay, CAPCOM have clearly been influenced by more recent survival horror titles such as the infamous PT demo and Alien Isolation, and it is the latter that created the conflict I had with this game. The traditional use of multi element puzzles is back, with the player needing to explore the Baker family house in order to find items and keys to unlock more areas of the house. This is where it goes a tad Alien Isolation as Jack will do his up-most to stop you exploring by haunting the halls trying to hunt the player down. Like the Alien in Alien Isolation, Jack cannot be killed, he can be put down but it will take a lot of the crucial ammo you hold or a whole bunch of knife slashing in order to defeat Jack. But old Poppa Baker will not stay down for long, and no sooner will the player feel the satisfaction of surviving an encounter with Jack before he will return, and usually right where you need to go to continue exploring.
Failing to either hide successfully or surviving his attack will result in your death, meaning restarting from the last point at which you saved the game, using tape recorders in safe rooms which again adds a layer of tension as you need to save your progress just in case Poppa decides he is bored with playing cat and mouse with the player and just up and kills you. This is where my enjoyment came to an end with the game and it is not really the fault of the game itself but more due to how I prefer to play games. I do not do horror type games, not because I find them too scary but simply the opposite, jump scares and gameplay stile like Alien Isolation just do nothing for me. So when I needed to cross over to the other side of the house and Jack was there suddenly to block my path, having to back track or just hide in a corner for a few minutes was simply not enjoyable, slowing the pace down to a crawl. I soon found encounters with the Baker family members to be more funny than scary, in particular the encounters with Momma Baker Marguerite. Those who watched me stream this saw me simply laughing uncontrollably whenever I attempted to hide from Momma Baker only for her to spot me. It took a few seconds for her to attack once she had seen me, and those few seconds were some of the funniest moments in a game for me. Will Momma hug me or attack me was the only thing in my mind and not the HOLY S*&T! Moment of terror the game wanted me to have.
As a result the game lost what it needs to do to really immerse players in its world, fear. I simply was not afraid so the clever tricks it uses to give the atmosphere needed just failed to work on me, and is the main reason I never finished Alien Isolation. The tricks bored and aggravated me instead of the headset tearing off “NOPE NOPE NOPE” reaction some scenes were supposed to have on me. I found it laborious to constantly try and avoid Jack simply to find a key or item to carry on and if the game is not scaring the player then it loses the aspect it so crucially needs to give the experience it intends. So whilst it did not work on me, I was able to see how they worked as intended on a good friend of mine who quite frankly, was scared stiff the very moment they hit start and I relished in seeing them playing this game and having every single method of fear instilling tactic work beautifully, and I can say I enjoyed the game far more by watching someone else playing it who was impacted by the fear.
So although I did not enjoy playing the game, for once it is not the fault of the game. I can appreciate how the changes made in Resident Evil 7 have returned the game to the true game experience that helped it first create the Survival Horror genre in the first games of the series. The first person POV blended with the highly detailed and intricate audio can create the intended atmosphere of terror and dread that can be compelling for a player. The return to the traditional puzzle solving of earlier Resi games is welcomed, with carefully designed puzzles requiring real thought and effort to solve and a story that is elegantly told in both direct cut scenes but in the small details discovered whilst exploring.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard has succeeded in bringing the series back to its roots; it is a reboot that was much needed for a series that had fallen off the radar for many gamers and indeed fans of the series. Since its release it has topped the UK sales charts for two weeks in a row and is still one of the most streamed games on streaming sites like Twitch. Fans are enjoying the game and are hyped for the series and that is a positive thing. So in reviewing this game I can value the changes made and the conscious choices by CAPCOM to go back to where it began. It is different enough from recent Resi games to stand on its own but embodies all the aspects that made the series so popular. Whilst the gameplay has incorporated styles that no longer appeal to me, I enjoyed sharing the experience with players which they do work on, and that is the power of Resident Evil 7, it certainly ticks more boxes for more players than previous games in recent years managed to do.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard has reclaimed the Survival Horror genre crown, and it is scaring the bejesus out of people everywhere, and if that is what you enjoy in a game then this will give it to you many times over. Should all the elements come together, this game will terrify the player using everything it can from simple sounds that will freak a player out to visuals that will revolt and disgust at times but a satisfying multi-layered story that will make it all worthwhile if they work for the player.