So the Resident Evil series still has a few scares left in it after all.
Just when you might have been thinking about giving up the franchise, after too many Michael Bay-inspired missteps, here comes Resident Evil 7: Biohazard to restore both glory and gory to the series.
It’s a spectacular effort that succeeds by ditching all touches of action-adventure gaming and returning the franchise to its survival-horror roots. Exploration and immersion (two things made better by virtual reality) are this outing’s calling cards, and they’re so well-done that, even in an era when both gamers and movie-goers can feel the scares before they happen, Resident Evil 7 will still genuinely frighten you at least once or twice.
It accomplishes all this with a blend of old-school game conventions and stunning art direction and design. Save rooms are limited, an annoyance in an era of quicksaves and autosaves but a necessary evil here, if only to heighten the tension of running into the evils of the game. Inventory is limited as well, as the premium on item scavenging returns.
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Those two limitations return a feeling of mortality to Resident Evil 7, and that’s what makes Ethan’s exploration of the eerie Dulvey house work so well. The game opens with Ethan being summoned to this Louisiana plantation, searching for his long-lost girlfriend, but things quickly go south.
The result is that Ethan has to explore the house in search of escape, while avoiding the zombified Baker family’s torments. There’s intrigue here, as you unravel what the Baker’s did to Ethan’s girlfriend and why they can’t let him escape the house, and even though the game initially feels isolated from the Resident Evil universe that’s gone in so many directions in recent years, Capcom manages to tie things all together by the end.
It tells a terrific story, too, utilizing a variety of mechanics. The rooms of the Dulvey house are packed with detail, from the textures on the walls to the photos and pens that may sit on a desk in a study room. Reading letters and studying these details reveal slices of story, and a series of videos, which Ethan “watches” but you get to play through, add further depth as you work to escape from the house.
It’s all tight and focused, and while the puzzles never challenge you, they’re just enough to hold your attention. More often than not, RE7’s puzzles will disappoint, offering answers instantly in front of you, or forcing little actual thought. The uptick of that, however, is that your focus is never removed from the story, the mental mousewheels always turning as you work to understand what befell the Baker family.
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That and a flawless score set the stage for the scares that will happen, scares that are often fully organic. No matter what happens, Jack Baker always seems to come back, offering a persistent enemy hunting you. The reality is, aside from a few critical battles, it’s always possible to run away, but that doesn’t alter the tension or the suddenness when he emerges from here or there – or from some spot where it doesn’t even seem possible.
Resident Evil 7 doesn’t overflow with such scares, because an overflow would be campy and cheesy, and this game aims to be more than that. So when the scares do happen, combined with the immersion of the overall game, they genuinely startle, at least where Jack is concerned. The game’s other regular enemies, the Molded, don’t produce quite as many fits. They’re only in certain areas, and they produce a sound before they show up, really only freaked me out once. But they can be shot and killed with relative ease (although don’t forget to conserve those bullets!), and gradually, you’ll view them as more time-consuming nuisances than true threats.
Whatever you face, you’ll view it that much more realistically if you play the game in PSVR. The entire Resident Evil 7 can be played on PSVR or on the big screen, and while virtual reality isn’t perfect, it does add to the game. Aiming is easier in PSVR, as you essentially point your head at the target, and the creepiness of several literal in-your-face moments is magnified when you have the headset on.
A handful of scenes are vastly superior in PSVR, especially the more scripted moments when you’re hiding, waiting for somebody to go away, and you organically poke your head out of cover to see if they’ve left. Capcom figured out the issues that plagued its VR version during last year’s E3, and the entire experience in the final game is steady (although every VR user will have their own threshold for such play).
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Still, the game doesn’t require VR, and it looks just fine on your big screen, very nearly as immersive. Resident Evil 7 also doesn’t make use of PS Move controllers in its VR mode, so you never quite get that “reach out and touch” things feeling that made Batman: Arkham VR truly immersive and addictive.
Regardless of how you play, though, you get a resurgent game of Resident Evil, a game that returns creepiness and scare tactics to the franchise in a way that’s neither campy nor cheesy. The last few years have seen few games that really owned the horror vibe, with PlayStation-exclusive Until Dawn coming closest to delivering a game full of scares.
Now, the horror genre has Resident Evil back. And hopefully, this is just the beginning.
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4
Available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
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