Resident Evil 7 biohazard (RE7) is a return to form for a series that many consider being the progenitor of the survival-horror genre (although in reality, the first Alone in the Dark takes that honour). Forget about the muscle-bound protagonists or the superfluous use of weapons and action set pieces. RE7 is horror in its purest form.
Set in the Louisiana bayou, the setting of the Baker Estate is both suitably creepy and foreboding. Against a backdrop of a mystery to solve, RE7 had my attention from the get-go and never lost it throughout the game. The mystifying atmosphere mixes well with the horror tropes dished out across the entire 8-10 hour (4 or less if you run really fast) experience, splattered generously with gruesome scenes, terrifying ruins, and enough guts to stain your memory for a long time to come. Besides the truly intimidating Baker family, the game also plays on your subconscious, with the scariest detail often being the little thing that goes bump in the night, but is never seen. I frightened myself more during my playthrough, simply because I was overthinking things, and the incredible sound design certainly went a long way in adding to the dread.
As Ethan, players are summoned to this huge abandoned estate by his missing wife of three years and are tasked to rescue her. That is if it is even possible. Players end up in a decaying manor and face the demented Baker family and the many mysteries of this horrifying world. The campaign follows a highly linear and scripted path, with a splatter of optional secrets to find.
This alone might be perceived as a negative, but RE7 delivers by making use of such rigidity, tossing scares and surprises that are seamlessly blended into the narrative. Even if you saw a jump scare coming, it takes away none of the shock and fear, and that credit must go to the team behind RE7, for its intense world-building, as well as tight control of the gaming experience. Those of you who have played the early demo Kitchen can rejoice, as this game delivers 10 times that experience, across every level of dread, fun, enjoyment and neurosis.
From start to finish, the overwhelming sense of dread the game prescribes never fully goes away. It doesn’t matter if players are well-armed enough for any encounter, as they gather up several weapons along the way because the game does something to reduce your efficiency. Any sort of preparation necessitates some level of nerfing by the game, and while there are no spoilers here, know that the classic Resident Evil trademarks still hold true in this latest entry.
That said, RE7 is not without some problems, particularly with how simple its puzzles can be. While it has several memorable and unique moments, the horror is the highlight that never relents and never stops, and it breathes new life into the story whenever things start getting draggy.
Overall the story delivers, even if some story twists are at times predictable. This does not lessen the excitement, though, and with a consistent tone throughout, this is the best and most coherent Resident Evil story in a long time. Every single detail, from the environmental storytelling, the knick-knacks, the bloody floorboards, that flickering lamp, and the terrifying sounds, bring forth an effort the blends effortlessly but is also disgusting in the best way possible.
The aforementioned Baker family is a big reason for dreading your surroundings. Jack, the father, is a giant physical presence and a direct combatant in your encounters with him. The mother, Marguerite, requires a stealthy approach and provides the majority of nail-biting moments, as well as one of the best fights in the game. Their son, Lucas, uses traps that give a Saw-like, horror porn vibe to the experience, and forces you to look at things with a different perspective.
Add in VHS tapes that contain flashback sequences that you can play through, to potentially affect your present situation, and the result is a game that offers a wide variety of content to wade through. Each feels completely natural in this evil world and does a great job of storytelling, and mixing up the general formula of RE7.
As is the genre staple, every item you find is in short supply. The iconic green herb is back, alongside weapons and ammo which are often as precious as every drop of Ethan’s life blood. Even if you find precious loot, you still have to manage your inventory space, and that can mean sacrificing an item for a key or puzzle piece. With the game not pausing while you sort out your stuff, it delivers an added tension that is great, without being too overly punishing.
Other than the Bakers and their encounters, there is only one other type of enemy players will face but they are a let-down. It would have been great if they were threatening, but they eventually turn out to be too generic and offer too little in terms of resistance or threat. While running away from a fight is good design for a horror game, it would help if the enemies were more capable of punishing you if you did not know better.
RE7 can be played entirely in PlayStation VR, and that was how I experienced my first playthrough. There is no use hiding behind a chair or covering your face with the controller guys. RE7 is the one definitive reason for virtual reality in gaming, as it takes hold of the format, and brings it to its knees. The already incredible sense of horror is amplified when the moody estate is all players can see in VR mode. Graphics are smooth and adequate, and aiming with your head actually made the playthrough much easier, compared with traditional controls.
Add to that a great suite of controls and options to minimise any potential discomfort while in VR, and RE7 becomes the perfect game to demonstrate the advantages of PSVR.
To all the would be horror survival wannabes out there – give it a whirl, if you can stomach it.