Reviewed by John Hussey
I can safely say that I’m not the biggest Resident Evil fan out there, but I can say I have been around throughout its entire franchise, watching it evolve over its (so far) twenty year reign. I have fond memories of watching my siblings playing the original trilogy (whilst I badly tried to join in, though I did clear Resident Evil 2 in my later years), with Resident Evil: Survivor being the very first Resident Evil game I managed to defeat by myself as a child.
I more got into the series once Resident Evil 5 came out in 2009 and began to remember why I enjoyed watching my siblings experience this classic horror franchise as a kid. This might get me a lot of hate but I actually enjoyed Resident Evil 6 and was disappointed to hear about the poor reception, and that Capcom would opt to go in a new direction for future sequels.
But to give Capcom credit they certainly invested me when it came to the promotion of the latest instalment and the Downloadable Teaser Beginning Hour filled me with hope that a new direction is just what the doctor ordered and Resident Evil as a franchise might just make a comeback in the eyes of the fandom. So was Resident Evil 7: Biohazard worth all the hype? A big fat disappointing no!
Beginning Hour certainly gave me a lot of promise, particularly on the idea that the franchise would be returning to its horror roots by exploring a different kind of feel and threat. Though it would’ve been interesting having a reimagining of Resident Evil, only fighting off hordes of zombies in an eerie environment from the perspective of first person, I was intrigued by the concept of going with a completely different flavour, i.e. the irresistible classic trope “psychopathic redneck family”.
It just seemed to breath new life into the decaying franchise and added a new flare, as well as bringing something new to the table. From the very beginning of the game you have an intriguing premise of protagonist Ethan Winters trying to find his wife Mia after she went missing three years prior and after a mysterious message from her Ethan races over to Louisiana where he stumbles upon the Baker family.
The atmosphere is very reminiscent to the original in that its eerie, empty and leaves you wondering what’s going to creep around the corner next to bring you further nightmare treatment. Only this time it feels more realistic, and far too close to home. We’ve all seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and we all know what that entails! Maybe because the game sets itself up in a realistic environment, with a scenario that literally does happen in the world, you have yourself a truly tense and unsettling experience on your hands.
I loved the feeling of dread and suspense throughout the first act of the game. Apart from the parts of the game that reimagined the events of Beginning Hour I was left completely in the dark. At the same time this made things worse because the teaser gave me a clear idea what I was in for, making me even more afraid as to what was going to happen.
One of the things that is made very clear early on is the grimness and grotesqueness Capcom wanted to explore in order to make you feel extremely uncomfortable. I literally thought I had made a mistake when my hand was stabbed with a screwdriver, followed by it being sliced off with a chainsaw, but apparently this was just the game giving me a taste of what was to come.
It’s also clear early on that something is seriously wrong within the Baker residence (beyond their clear craziness of slaughtering tourists). I deduced very quickly that the Baker family had somehow gained access to some kind of bioweapon and were exploiting it for their sick, twisted amusement. This, to me, was a terrific set-up which would’ve made Resident Evil 7: Biohazard a clear winner of the series just because the idea is both ingenious but sickly fascinating.
Never mind your bland, predictable mad scientist, or greedy corporations trying to mishandle bioweapons, here we have a family of crazed rednecks who simply want to use the experimental weaponry to further the insane lust for torturing the innocent. If that isn’t a return to “pure horror” than I don’t know what is.
Mia is quickly found but you soon discover that she has been experimented on with the unknown bioweapon and begins to suffer from sudden bursts of rage and attacks you. This makes the game even more compelling because you are now trying to defend yourself from the very person Ethan loves and was trying to rescue. How shocking for the poor guy that after three years of searching he has to put his wife down because she has been turned into a freak.
After dealing with Mia, who comes at you like a Leatherface wannabe, you are captured by antagonist Jack Baker. This guy is truly a masterpiece. He’s a despicable creature that clearly has a passion for his line of work. It’s fair to say he is a different kind of evil, a low specimen within humanity that is beyond reasoning and compassion and only exists to bring misery for his own personal amusement. Like a scene out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre you wake up strapped to a chair and witness the Baker’s company around the dining table, where they eat the most sickening of products as well as demonstrating their insanity by attacking each other.
The game then left me feeling really tense during the escape segment as I truly felt like a lonely surviving victim from a horror movie, internally praying that Jack didn’t catch me. I distinctively remember breathing heavily as I felt completely in the zone of terror and anxiety. Jack quickly becomes this game’s version of Nemesis as he stalks you around the house, resurrecting unexpectedly despite the fact you’ve shoot him several times point-blank in the face with a shotgun. His presence is creepy and utterly terrifying, which is added by the realistic performance and continuous tense atmosphere.
I was further impressed by the usage of Jack’s wife and son, Marguerite and Lucas, who both shared Jack’s lust for blood in their own unique personality. Whilst Jack resorted to using a manner of cutting weaponry to pursue you Marguerite utilised insects to attack you, which added to her lair within the swamp house (adding further dynamic to the overall horror presence). I also liked how she was great for jump-scares as she unexpectedly leaped out at you whilst screaming at you to leave her house.
Then with Lucas you got an even greater understanding of torturous desire as he literally developed games for his victims to play (moving the franchise into Saw territory). He always had a sickening presence as he proclaimed his enjoyment in watching his victims squirm through his elaborate traps, becoming increasingly frustrated if you managed to escape them.
You might be asking by this point why I said this game was “disappointing” despite me doing nothing but praise the game so far in my review. Well that’s because at this point in the game I was completely sold and was enjoying the hell out it but the problems started to creep in and by the end of the game I was left shocked (and not in a good way).
One of the first major problems with Resident Evil 7 is the combat. It’s horrendous. The blocking mechanic relies solely on timing (which I never grasped because it was unclear) and even if you did manage to block attacks it didn’t properly protect you. But then again how is lifting your arm up against a fierce attack ever going to save your life? The weapons to begin with are really poor and its hard to determine whether your efforts of attack are actually paying off, usually resulting in you wasting a lot of your resources.
Health is another major problem. The attacks from enemies cause way too much damage and you’ll find yourself wasting health items unnecessarily or wondering through battles with an inch of health left, trying to fend off creatures or bosses with your limited ammo, because there’s no more health in the area and you haven’t got anything in your inventory to create any more. Then there’s the major issue that Ethan practically stalls for a few seconds whilst he heals himself, and in this time enemies are allowed to attack and basically take off health as you are trying to gain it back.
The inventory system is a massive pain to begin with but does slowly become more resourceful once you’ve earned more room to store things. I swear I spent half of my gameplay racing backwards and forwards to safe room’s just so I could re-arrange my inventory because I either had no room to store something important or I needed to pick something up which I needed to progress in the story. The combination system is rather easy to get your head around and once you know what items combine with what it becomes a game of knowing what you’ll need, and making sure you’re well stocked up for unexpected circumstances.
I’m convinced that Capcom took the whole survival horror aspect way too seriously with Resident Evil 7 because most of the time I was left thinking there was no way to survive this game (and not always in a good way). Ethan’s character was made incredibly helpless and left many encounters with enemies extremely difficult. The blocking mechanism was crap, the guns took forever to reload, and Ethan’s run is a massive joke. God-forbid you want to run away from an enemy or a boss to re-evaluate your situation, or gain some breathing space whilst you reload or replenish your health.
Then there was the issue of wondering whether or not to classify this new instalment as a legit Resident Evil game. The first act of the game did everything in its power to separate itself from everything that happened before in the franchise, from its style, storytelling, and general disregard of past continuity. Resident Evil 7 became its own entity and because of its vivid differences (most importantly the switch to first person) you had to wonder what actually connected this game to its actual title.
There are clear homages to the original game but that’s about it. You get a feel for Resident Evil via the strong survival aspect, the environment resembling the iconic mansion, the isolation, the desperation, and the unexpected. There’s even the silliest of nods to older games via simple usages of sound effects. One of the clearest call-back was the safe room, right down to having a device in which to save your progress. Accompanied with this was a large item storage box which you could use to sort out your inventory. It was also respectful how Capcom added a variation of the iconic music played in the safe room’s of Resident Evil 2.
The other neat addition was discovering the backstory to the nightmarish world you stood in through left behind notes and journal entries. This is something that has stayed within Resident Evil games since day-one, so it was nice to it return here. But what made it extra special was the inclusion of videotapes in which you can play and witness past events through the eyes of the person behind the camera. This includes two entries by Mia and a cameraman for a television programme. These segments almost turn into extra content as you get to play as other character’s and deal with their own frightening experiences, with some ending in horrific manners.
But beyond the neat little references there’s little, to nothing, that Resident Evil 7 delivers that represents it as a Resident Evil game, which makes me wonder why Capcom didn’t just have this as a brand-new introduction to a franchise instead of trying to fix what most deemed to be broken. My problem is I take continuity very seriously, so it made me puzzled throughout as to where this new instalment fitted in with previous events within the Resident Evil universe, especially since there was some open questions left behind at the end of Resident Evil 6 regarding Chris Redfield and Wesker’s son, Jake Muller.
This game feels very clear that it is trying to remove itself away from all the elements that fans and critics were panning, but does that necessarily mean it was necessary to disregard years of story and character development? Also, was it necessary to disregard core game aspects for the sake of re-inventing the franchise? I probably wouldn’t have minded the latter had Capcom stuck to it and kept the game fresh instead of chickening out half way through.
Resident Evil 7 was going so well until it started to fall back into familiar territory, and though I was pinning for some more Resident Evil, the game actually became too Resident Evil and lost its uniqueness and flare. The narrative was building upon something interesting with the idea of a child (presumably another member of the Baker’s) having been the cause of the outbreak but that eeriness was thrown out the window for the sake of the clichéd conclusion “an organisation was involved”.
Though this really ticked me off I began to become excited by the possibility of Ethan having to pit his wit against the surprise return of Umbrella. But nothing happened! Literally the last stretch of the game leaves you hanging in the air as you explore the past through the memory of Mia, whom you have now rescued and presumably cured after creating a vaccine. But this segment is boring because little happens other than the repetition of fighting the same monsters over and over across some of the blandest level designs I have ever seen within a horror game.
Earlier on in the game we had a creepy house, a disgusting swamp shack, Lucas’s crazy maze-house, and now we are travelling around an abandoned cargo ship and mines. Uninspired. The narrative builds on the idea of the girl, Eveline, who is actually the bioweapon. This progressive idea seemed intriguing and I really hoped it was going to go somewhere but it didn’t and actually deflated any excitement I previously had.
I then became extremely annoyed when it was revealed that the Baker family (the deranged rednecks that had tried to kill you over and over) were in fact under the influence of Eveline as part of her virus’ symptoms. Get the fuck out of here! Capcom basically retconned the best part of the game in order to create a dramatic moment of revelation which I’m guessing was meant to make me feel some kind of emotional response. Well done Capcom for ruining your chances of making a come-back.
And let us not forget about the monsters. They look dreadful. In fact, they’re a joke. When I first encountered them I’ll admit they took me by surprise and looked a little scary. But once they came at you over and over I became really irritated. I pondered and pondered on how Capcom could fail to create a decent looking monster within a Resident Evil game. At least Resident Evil 6, for all its flaws, gave us back our precious zombies. Here we get creatures that look like a disastrous combination of a Licker, Uroboros and Venom from Spider-Man.
The worst part was there were little variations between the different types of creature, made even more worse by the fact that you were stuck with them throughout almost the entirety of the game. And yet you had such unique enemy types with the Baker’s, and they were mostly human until they started mutating (because it wouldn’t be Resident Evil without having enemies mutant into giant monstrosities).
Speaking of boss encounters, they actually got easier as the game went on, making the earlier encounters appear to be on the standards of final bosses. Despite this they still remained incredibly difficult on the account of crap combat controls which rendered you weak and slow at responding. A “jump out of the way button” would’ve come in handy Capcom. Just saying.
I suppose I can speak of one other positive aspect and that was the puzzles. These were really good and had me thinking constantly. It resembled the original trilogy in which you had to figure out how to progress through the environment, mostly having you locate keys to open certain doors which would ultimately help you find further items to further your progression. One puzzle in particular that I loved was the “Happy Birthday” puzzle laid out by Lucas, which proved to be the most puzzling for me but once figured out it does become a real triumph and a massive middle finger to the crazed redneck. Who’d have thought that the simple task of placing a lit candle on a cake could become so problematic and gruesome.
Unfortunately this mix-bag of trinkets ends on a rather sour note as the game just ends. Suddenly, and without warning you are faced with Eveline and easily overcome her, but then she turns into yet another uninspired blob-monster. But because I happened to have the right weapons on hand this final boss was quickly over, with it mostly constituting me firing my weapon during cinematic sequences and at the click of a finger Resident Evil 7 was over. And I was left wondering what the hell happened.
The game started on the highest note possible and delivered everything I could possibly want from the re-invented first-person aspect whilst incorporating some truly terrifying horror elements. Suddenly without warning Capcom decided to say, “Let’s chicken out,” and then threw all those juicy ideas into the nearest toilet and replaced them with the worst possible ideas of previous Resident Evil clichés, resulting in an extremely dull third-act that deflated all the hopes I collected earlier on in the game and spat them back in my face and didn’t even give me a towel to wipe it up with.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a massive disappointment because it failed to complete what it started and failed to re-invent its own mistakes and instead threw itself into a deeper, darker abyss which I don’t know how it can climb back from. How did Capcom possibly go from creating a tension filled horror experience, which left me craving for me, to creating a tiresome game that felt redundant?
By the end it was just a mess of a game that failed to answer any of the major questions I wanted answering, leaving me with a train-wreck ending that randomly threw in Chris Redfield (or at least I think it’s Chris) rescuing Ethan with an Umbrella helicopter. What the fuck is going on? And if this game was just made to push forward with further sequels then shame on you Capcom and a big middle finger for ruining what could’ve been the best survival horror game within gaming history, and the perfect replacement for Silent Hills, which Konami cruelly took from us.
But considering there’s a second ending to be unlocked I may have unluckily ended up with the shite ending, so perhaps with luck my views on this game will change upon unlocking the other conclusion. Until then, my verdict remains very negative due to my disappointment and utter confusion with Capcom’s decision making.