I opened the door to the cellar and descended down the stairs. Even before my first foot was placed firmly on the wooden plank below I could hear a heavy erratic breathing and creaking of stairs below me. Soon after hearing those disturbing noises, all while surrounded in pitch black darkness, small white arms appeared, attached to a small thin body that crawled up the stairs towards me. She lunged up at me and laughed as she picked me up and threw me back up through the door frame. I got to my feet to attempt to get away, but she charged at me, knife in hand, and starting slashing away at me, grinning the whole time.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard brings its survival horror via a first person perspective. While this isn’t the first time the franchise has had this viewpoint, it is a new concept to the main numbered series. This perspective brings with it a new way to explore a Resident Evil game while also allowing it to return to its roots and lean far more on fear than straight-out action. Resident Evil 7 is nearly a masterpiece and a solid return to form.
As different as one would think a first person Resident Evil game would play, there is so much here that echoes that of the original 1996 PlayStation release. You still have a protagonist armed with various forms of firepower, themed keys, complex puzzles, herb based medical supplies and a maze-like home that continues to give even when you think you’ve explored each and every corner.
The Resident Evil games have commercially and critically gone downhill since the 5th in the series, with its 6th entry being the worst received of the entire franchise. Resident Evil 4 had been one of the best-reviewed games in the series and a turning point for 3rd person shooters altogether. The balance of horror and action was sublime and many thought this was, in fact, a sign that the future of Resident Evil games were going to succeed, and boy were they wrong. The series then left a lot of its survival roots behind and focused more on the shooting aspects altogether thus turning the series into action horror than one of survival.
Back at E3 in 2015 there was a tech demo from Capcom called “Kitchen” and it was for the upcoming VR headset that would eventually be called PlayStation VR. This demo was then later on revealed to be a glimpse at what the future of what Resident Evil was going to be. It was clear then that Resident Evil was going to follow in the footsteps of several recent horror games and be presented as a first person game. Throughout my playthrough of RE7, I couldn’t help but see so many horror influences here, from movies and games like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Outlast, P.T. and even Alien: Isolation. It also should be noted that many horror games throughout the years have borrowed from the original Resident Evil released back in 1996, so maybe we have just come full circle in who inspired who.
The basic structure of the story here is equally reminiscent to that of mid-2000 horror movies, with a few of those references I can’t mention due to ruining the core story, let alone the whole reason for the freaky things that go on here. You play as Ethan, a man who learns his dead wife Mia isn’t quite so dead and goes to Louisiana to track her down. You end up at the homestead of the Baker’s, a family that seems lifted right out from Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Almost the entirety of RE7 takes place at or around the Baker homestead, a location that has just as much creativity and mystery as the Spencer Estate did back in the original Resident Evil. There are themed keys and secret areas that unlock through your natural progression in the story, with a few locations that need some backtracking to locate or unlock once you’ve discovered a special key or lockpick. This location is the gift that just keeps on giving and it is these small intimate locations that trump the atmosphere you get in any open world game. The level design in RE7 is just superb and constantly had me paranoid around every corner, even when I knew the danger had passed.
Where the original Resident Evil had many things to kill, this is where RE7 sadly stumbles; enemy variety. You only have a small handful of enemy types and they can become more frustration than excitement. While I’ll get to my opinion on VR and non-VR later on, because there is a huge divide on quality there, the monsters tend to be more bullet sponges than anything else. You have what are called the “Molded” and these tar-like monsters come in upright on two legs or ones that tend to stay on all fours. These encounters on harder difficulty can be nightmarish and with the aiming system what it is, you’ll spend a ton of bullets taking them down or attempting to. There are also some large flying bugs later on that pretty much are limited to a few encounters and are not found in high numbers outside of those moments. Other than that, you have your boss encounters; Jack, Marguerite, Lucas and two more encounters I’ll not reveal. I’ve also seen a few encounters happen differently than that of my own, adding a bit of unpredictability to each playthrough, and creating a greater sense of paranoia when you don’t know what is going to happen.
Several encounters with the Baker family take place in VHS tapes that you’ll find and view during the roughly ten hour playthrough. These tapes are essentially playable scenes where you embody another character and see events that happened before you entered the Baker home. These tapes almost act as a time machine as you can effect things in the past to help Ethan in the present. One of those effects is unlocking a locked drawer early on by finding the lockpick at your feet at the start of the first VHS tape. Unlocking this drawer as Clancy will allow Ethan to benefit from what is in the drawer. There are a small handful of these tapes and each of them are vastly entertaining with one resembling something straight out of a saw movie.
The Baker family is easily the true highlight of the game as each member of this family is sick, twisted and just pure fun. The problem with a lot of the gaming industry is its lack of inclusion of genuine silliness in games. When the original Resident Evil came about, it featured awful voice acting, absurd situations and a campiness to it that garnered it a cult status. With lines like “That was too close. You were almost a Jill sandwich!” or “Jill, here’s a lockpick. It might come in handy if you, ‘the master of unlocking’, take it with you.” Both of which are famously remembered when discussing any cheesy dialogue from video games history and is right up there with “All your base are belong to us.”
Games like Outlast had you escape encounters instead of embracing them, putting the “survival” in survival horror. Resident Evil allows the use of powerful weaponry, so there is no need to stuff yourself into a locker and hope that whatever is chasing you didn’t notice you pop in there. While there are moments in RE7 that require you to hide, it is usually behind some sort of box, table or pile of debris. Bringing the heat to the Molded and said bosses, Ethan has access to various handguns, shotguns, a knife, grenade launcher, flamethrower, and more. Depending on the difficulty you’ve chosen you’ll find ammo littered around to use sparingly or just go Rambo on anything that moves.
There are some issues with regards to combat that can hurt the overall enjoyment. Some of the encounters when you are trying to escape can be a pain when you are boxed in, as there is no shove or dodge mechanic at all, forcing you to expend ammo when you really wanted to conserve it. Speaking of ammo, let’s discuss the best way to play Resident Evil 7; VR.
My first and full playthrough of RE7 was entirely in VR, from start to finish. After completing the game I booted it up in 4K on my PS4 Pro and started up a new game. Once I had to shoot down my first enemy, I suddenly realized that RE7 in non-VR just wasn’t nearly as good. Well, that’s not true, I realized that well before I had my first gun. The way the VR allows you to see your entire peripheral vision is unmatched as is the way it allows you to aim. In VR you only have to move your head small amounts to get that much-needed headshot and the cursor for doing so is far more apparent. Without VR I was struggling to get a solid shot and it was frustrating.
The way VR enhances Resident Evil 7 is incredible, and not once did I get sick or too dizzy to keep playing. Sure, I had a moment or two where I had to slow down and pause the game for a second, but eventually, I went three to four hours of straight play without becoming light-headed or nauseous. There are vast amounts of settings to enhance or assist in how VR works for you. RE7 does the same thing another VR game I’ve seen do, and that is fading in and out each time you move the right stick, this assists in turning so that the fluid movement doesn’t make you sick. It takes a while to get used to and turning it off resulted in getting dizzy real fast, so I recommend to stick with the default setting. There are several moments in the game that are not in VR and it pans out to a theater style view. These are moments when the camera must be directly focused on something and needs to prevent you from looking around. There are also several moments when you are knocked down or jump down to a lower location that results in a quick fade in and out.
Despite any issues with VR, I enjoyed the game far more with the added perspective and immersion that VR brings. Locations gave me a sense of claustrophobia that I didn’t feel when not wearing the headset. Locations and people felt far more real and made me truly appreciate this game for what they intended to do. When a character grabs your hand, you feel far more connected to them as opposed to just seeing it happen on screen. There are also several moments in the game where it gets right in your face, a design that is obviously crafted for VR in mind. About the only thing that VR doesn’t have that non-VR does is a full body given to Ethan, as well as shadows that accompany said body; VR has floating arms and no shadow given to Ethan.
Health is another issue that is problematic with VR and non-VR as it can be a visual nuisance on both, but a far bigger one in non-VR. Ethan has a pebble watch attached to his wrist, not joking, and it shows your health as you take hits and cuts from various foes. In VR this is a circle effect around you, growing more red the closer you are to death. in non-VR you have blood effects on the screen and should you even be at 90% health, there will be blood effects on the screen, annoying you. Ethan already has a watch to show his health, these effects could have been completely left out and had us rely on the watch until giving us some visual warning for extremely low health.
Visuals will vary depending on how you play Resident Evil 7. The Xbox One and PS4 versions are virtually identical, whereas the PS4 Pro’s 4K mode and PC versions are easily the best in terms of visuals. The VR approach on the PS4 is far less impressive due to the resolution restraints the headset has, but rest assured this is the best way to play this game – bar none. The locations are packed with detail, dirty and filthy and just impressive. Sinks are filled with dirty plates, cockroaches and various bits of food, equally detailed with hundreds of maggots. RE7 is an aesthetically pleasing game on all fronts.
After playing through the entire game in VR and a solid portion without, Resident Evil 7 is superb regardless of platform. I will state that my 4.5/5 rating of the game is for its VR offerings and my experience with RE7 not in VR rates a solid 3.5/5. The game is just vastly better in VR in terms of difficulty, immersion, and function. Playing Resident Evil 7 in VR was thrilling, terrifying, and made me paranoid with each step. There are so many settings to make sure that your VR experience is an enjoyable one, it makes me wish that games like Robinson Journey, a game made solely for VR, would offer as many settings there to allow me to enjoy it without feeling ill. While my experience with it not in VR may be the result of a ‘been there done that’ approach to a second playthrough, I didn’t feel nearly as scared or immersed in my surroundings, because well, these locations were not really around me and neither were the threats looking to soak up my bullets. If you have been on the fence about purchasing a Playstation VR, well, this is that killer app that makes the purchase, albeit an expensive one, worth it.
Resident Evil 7 is a solid return to form for the Resident Evil series, a horror game that while not terribly original has us all excited about taking another trip to this once wonderful franchise, and that, regardless of any platform, is a very good thing indeed.
To get a taste of what Resident Evil 7 offers, check out the following trailer. As is the case with all the launch trailers surrounding this game, it does contain a lot of scenes from later on in the game, so huge caution for spoilers and story elements I’ve kept quiet on in this review, you have been warned.