I can honestly say this is the first Resident Evil game that I’ve found to be worth playing since the travesty that was Operation Raccoon City. In fact, Operation Racoon City tore me away from the franchise altogether; I never cared for the movies, but the games had always been fairly entertaining up until that point when I decided enough was enough, threw my hands in the air, and gave up.
And then I saw the trailers for Biohazard. And it was back on.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Type: Survival Horror
Release Date: January 24, 2017
Platform(s) Played: PC
You play as Ethan Winters, a man willing to travel to the ends of the earth in search of his wife, Mia. Three years after her mysterious disappearance, you receive a brief and cryptic message from Mia begging for you to come and fetch her, which is how you find yourself stumbling around inside of a reportedly haunted and entirely dilapidated plantation in the middle of BFE Louisiana, where things go pretty much how you’d assume they would if you’ve ever seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Wolf Creek, Hills Have Eyes, or Frontière(s).
(1) The switch to first-person perspective is the greatest improvement and ups the level on the fright-meter quite a bit in my opinion. I find first-person perspective infinitely more immersive, and the tension rises when your field of vision is more limited; rather than being able to see everything around you, you can now only see what is directly in front of you and within your peripheral. It’s the difference between posting up against a wall and using third-person perspective to see what’s on the other side without risk of endangering your character… or smashing yourself flat against a wall and taking a few deep breaths before sticking your head out and praying to the hillbilly gods that you see before being seen.
(2) The switch from clinical laboratories and mazes and repetitive streets towards a derelict plantation was another wise move for the franchise. From the moment you stumble through the swamp and get your first look at the place, it’s clear: that house is chock-full of baaaaad juju. For me, it wasn’t just the bugs, the hidden rooms and walkways and skittering noises inside the walls, or the squealing hinges and creaking boards, nor was it the fact that I spent a good majority of my time within those walls running or fighting for my life… No, in my opinion the creepiest thing of all is the overall intimacy of the Baker house: photographs and toys, trophies and handwritten notes, drawers still stuffed with clothing and books covered in dust… they all hint at a former life, a past glory that has been lost. Someone lived here, and people loved this place once – it is this occasional peek into the past that makes the neglect and emptiness that much more stark and gives the primary setting for the game its overall sense of bleak, dingy isolation.
(3) The nefarious Bakers. I find hillbilly horror to be overdone to the point where even the cheesy goofiness of it is old and tired (more on this under Bantha Poodoo), but Jack Baker and his clan of honky-tonk misfits (comprised of wife Marguerite, son Lucas, and a mysterious old woman) are a serious threat that had me scampering around the baseboards and along the walls like a terrified baby mouse, squeaking all the way. Jack’s heavy footsteps seem to be everywhere, and his unpredictability – from wall-bashing rages to abrupt, dopey calm – make him hard to face off against; sometimes running is the best option, occasionally rushing him in a flurry of fists and flying past like a tornado of terrified frenzy works, and, yes, putting one of your precious bullets in his dome is always an option – though not necessarily the best.
(4) The pace is positively desperate. There is rarely a moment where you are safe enough to catch your breath; even so-called “safe rooms” aren’t safe when the things chasing you can rip open or tear through doors. Checking inventory, making medicine, stowing away precious health-restoring herbs, sometimes even just reloading a gun can make for the most anxiety-ridden moments of the game.
The Bantha Poodoo
(1) Let’s talk about the overall impression of the enemies and revisit that whole hillbilly horror thing, shall we? While the Bakers’ brand of rampaging redneck lunacy works for the most part, there are still a few laughable moments that detract from what would be otherwise genuinely quite frightening; I mean, let’s be honest, sometimes I’m just not in the mood for more freakshow-hillbillies and their cannibal-carnival sideshows, y’know? Other than the Bakers, the only other real threat comes from the predictable creatures collectively referred to as the Molded: while the Molded come in a variety of common monster forms (a version which crawls, another which walks around being generally menacing, another which vomits, etc.), after the first few appearances they get fairly dull: for the most part you know when they’re coming, as they are only found in certain types of areas and announce themselves with tell-tale squelching noises.
(2) Survival-horror games are typically loaded with strategy and puzzles – or they once were, in the days of Rule of Rose, Clock Tower, and Haunting Ground. You were forced to climb out of the wardrobe or walk around the blood-stained theme park because, well, you couldn’t live in that hidey-hole forever, and if you planned to move on you had to find the codes or answers scattered throughout the level – or die trying. But more and more it seems that logic and puzzles are going out the door with these games in favor of action-action-ACTION!, and Biohazard is no exception; oh, there are a few quasi-puzzles tossed in on occasion to placate the masses, but they’re laughably simple, almost like a kiddy easter-egg hunt. In fact, on most occasions I found myself stumbling across answers long before ever finding the puzzles themselves: bright white notations with sections circled in red tacked to filthy grey walls, a statuette just hanging out in a bathtub (as one does), or simply flipping a bunch of paintings around right-side up.
(3) There’s a crouch option, which might lead one to believe that one may be given the opportunity to actually use that as a means of extending one’s life… in which case one would be wrong. There’s really not a lot of stealth action going on here, with options for effective hiding pretty much limited to standing in doorways and ducking in and out until the baddy clears the hallway. Survival will mostly depend on your ability to outrun your opponent, and if that fails, riddling them with enough bullets to keep them down long enough for you to exit, stage right. I’ve got nothing against characters who can hold their own – Silent Hill 3, for example, was fronted by Heather, a teenage girl who took on monsters and nightmares armed with everything from a rusty steel pipe to a submachine gun – but even with Heather you had to adapt to the surroundings. With newer games, Biohazard included, there’s just not a lot of need to utilize that old-school survival horror component of adapting gameplay to situations: run, hide, shoot.