Not Your Grandpa's Resident Evil
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is the next step in evolution for the Resident Evil franchise. While Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is still flawed in many ways, the series hasn’t felt this reinvigorated since Resident Evil 4 launched all the way back in 2005. While both Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6 weren’t disasters and remained mostly enjoyable, they felt foreign to the original DNA of what made the franchise so great. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is inspired by other entries in the horror genre and feels fresh in the best of ways, while harkening back to what made the Resident Evil franchise so loved and cherished in the first place.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard puts you into the shoes of Ethan Winters, four years after the events of Resident Evil 6. Ethan is a civilian, lacking the usual skillset that previous Resident Evil characters have possessed, but he carries the same determinedness that we’ve seen throughout the franchise. Ethan is sent searching for his wife, Mia, in Dulvey, Louisiana after receiving a message from her. From there, Ethan is led to a mansion in the bayou and is soon greeted by the Baker family.
As important as the Baker family is to the happenings of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, the mansion and various environments are far more important characters than the actual characters on screen. While both Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6 chose a large amount of linear action over components of the original entries, Resident Evil 7 returns to its roots in design. You’ll backtrack through the mansion and the surrounding areas, looping back to important or locked off areas, and desperately searching for every secret, bullet, and green herb that you can find. Yes, while the various interactions with the Baker family are harrowing and tense, the mansion is the star of the show, as it should be.
This is just one of the components that work so well in Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. I was immediately reminded of the time I spent wandering the original mansion in Resident Evil, or perusing the police station in Resident Evil 2. A new location, new enemies, new fears, all wrapped together into a presentation that is sure to scare. At the end of the day, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard finds most of its success in the moments that revolve around the new mansion. When the game decides to go elsewhere, it becomes a much different game, and that’s when Resident Evil 7: Biohazard begins to fall apart – we’ll get to that in a bit.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, unlike its third-person predecessors, makes the switch to first-person, which only enhances these fears. While the previous Resident Evil games were scary in their own right, the switch to first-person was a risk, but one that paid off in the end. As we’ve seen with the influx of games like Outlast, SOMA, the Amnesia series, or P.T., the popularity of first-person horror is in a heyday. At first glance, the switch for Resident Evil seemed to solely mimic trends of the times, but it’s worked mostly well into the Resident Evil DNA. While I was never in love with the gunplay or mechanics surrounding shooting, you simply cannot beat exploring the Baker’s property in first-person.
Initially, while this first-person switch seemed to take away from the memorable bits of Resident Evil’s DNA, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is still, at its core, true to the series. While the first bits of the game, as well as the various demos, portrayed something that felt much more like P.T., Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a Resident Evil game. After the initial introduction to the mansion, and the Bakers, the world that Ethan is thrown into screams Resident Evil. You’ll be backtracking through areas you’ve been through before. You’ll be managing your inventory and scrounging for every last bullet you can find. You’ll come across a handful of puzzles and keys and keycards. There are dark hallways and big boss battles and horror galore. This is Resident Evil, through and through.
This is Resident Evil, through and through.
All the while, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is still flawed, and feels disconnected from the rest of the Resident Evil franchise. While the mechanics and overall feeling within Resident Evil 7: Biohazard mimics the moments that fans love within Resident Evil, the flipside tells a much different story, and that story comes up short in regards to the overall narrative. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, when it’s at its best, tells the story of a man trying to rescue his wife from the clutches of the Bakers. When it’s at its best, it’s about Ethan fighting anything and everything to save his wife. It parallels Leon doing everything to rescue Ashley in Resident Evil 4, or Claire searching for Chris Redfield in Resident Evil 2. But when Resident Evil 7: Biohazard strays away from these tracks, and eventually away from the confines of the Baker’s property, that’s when the game falters entirely.
Let me begin, by stating that I am entirely aware that Resident Evil has never delivered phenomenal narratives with emotional punches akin to something recent like Gone Home, The Last of Us, or Heavy Rain. Be that as it may, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard strayed away from the characters and moments which fans of the series love, instead opting for something that resembled the plot of a cheesy Lifetime flick. Yes, Umbrella is mentioned and responsible for the events happening in Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, but they are a passing thought, read in collectibles and glanced at in the final cutscenes. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard had the opportunity to not only redefine the franchise mechanically, but also narratively. Instead, at the end of the day, we’re left with a clichéd mess.
However, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard holds importance outside of refreshing what Resident Evil will be defined as going forward, with the inclusion of PSVR support. While I played through the game the first time without PSVR, I am about halfway through a second playthrough only using PSVR. With PSVR, it’s a game of sacrifice. One method isn’t the preferred method, and one way isn’t necessarily better than the other. Playing normally, you’re given far prettier graphics with much better consistency. Playing on PSVR, you’re given far more immersion at the sacrifice of graphical fidelity. This immersion is expanded upon with the ability to lean around corners, which is invaluable in some encounters, as well as the ability to aim using the PSVR unit. Again, it’s a game of sacrifices for both, with one method of play never truly eclipsing the other. It’s great that a third-party AAA game has this level of PSVR support, regardless, and I’ll continue to hope that more developers opt for additional support in 2017.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a step in the right direction for the Resident Evil franchise, but it’s not quite there yet. It feels inspired by the current horror landscape, while still remaining true to its roots with this new refresh. All the while, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard makes a handful of poor decisions leading into the last third of the game, which ultimately detracts from the impact. While I’m not quite in love with where Resident Evil 7: Biohazard sits among the other Resident Evil titles, I can’t wait to see how Resident Evil continues to refine itself in the next 10 years.