Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Although many people automatically point to 1996’s Resident Evil as being the very first survival horror game, that’s not necessarily true. While it was probably the most widely-acclaimed first-person survival horror game, Capcom had actually helped to develop a much lesser-known offering a year before Resident Evil’s debut.
That game was called Clock Tower, and was a 2D point-and-click game where you played a protagonist exploring a mansion, while trying to avoid getting her head lopped off by an entity known as Scissorman. It was actually pretty darn scary, but didn’t quite have the immersion that a game could generate with a first person experience, which was one of the main reasons that the original Resident Evil was so successful.
On the other hand, modern survival horror began with Frictional Game’s Penumbra series, with the debut of Penumbra: Overture in 2007. That was followed by subsequent Penumbra games, but it wasn’t until Frictional’s 2010 bombshell, Amnesia: Dark Descent came along, that this new strain caught the attention of gamers worldwide. What set this modern wave of survival horror games apart from the Resident Evil series and its ilk, was that they focused more on the survival aspects of survival horror. For example, whereas in your typical Resident Evil game you could shoot your way through hordes of monsters, in Dark Descent, all you could do was sneak around enemies, or run from them outright if you were discovered.
From Dark Descent sprang a veritable plethora of similar survival horror games which emphasized stealth and problem solving, over action and weapon’s play. From Outlast to Alien: Isolation, these newer breed of survival horror games were much scarier than anything before them, since you couldn’t just stand and blast away at foes. Heck, I was even too afraid to finish playing the original Deadspace (don’t tell anyone!), and that game is considered rather tame by most hardcore survival horror freak’s and geek’s standards.
Capcom, meanwhile, was making some rather odd game development choices, by producing survival horror games that increasingly featured lots of fighting and gunplay. Indeed, some of the more recent Resident Evil games played more like traditional first-person shooters than anything else. Well, it seems that someone within the triple A developer’s offices had a spark of creativity and took a chance at re-booted the entire series. Resident Evil 7, or more formerly known as its more unwieldly title: Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, is finally here.
You play as the game’s main protagonist, Ethan, a sort of regular Joe. His wife, Mia, has been missing for several years. Out of nowhere, Ethan receives a mysterious email which is supposedly from Mia. It implores Ethan to travel to a mist-shrouded, decrepit estate, in order to rescue her. Cue scary music and a couple of cutscenes later, and Ethen suddenly finds himself on the front steps of the eerie estate.
Personally, I like my horror games just like I like my horror films, dripping with atmosphere and brimming with an exceptional score and sound effects. Fortunately, Resident Evil 7 has those in spades. For me, I think half of the tension in the game was generated by the spooky exteriors and interiors of the mansion and its grounds, all by themselves. That is to say, I was pretty freaked out before I had even encountered any of its evil entities. In this regard, RE 7 reminded me a lot of Amnesia: Dark Descent—I’ll never forget my first play-throughs of that earlier game, squeamishly tip-toeing down its dark, foreboding hallways as things creaked and groaned in the background. And yes, I will admit, just like Dark Descent, I even turned the game off a couple of time while just creeping around the exterior of the mansion in RE 7. It’s that scare-inducing.
What really got me though, was when I first encountered one of the malevolent denizens of said manor. I’ll say right off the bat that the most unnerving aspect of any such encounters is the fact that the game begins to give you little signs here and there that things are not quite right. It’s like you’re caught up in a horror vortex or a tension tunnel (nice metaphors, huh?), and all you can do is let it take you for a heart attack-inducing ride, not dissimilar to a devilishly good roller coaster ride.
RE 7 doesn’t entirely stray from its roots, however, as you do have access to a few weapons. In this regard, it reminded me of The Evil Within or the first couple of original Resident Evil games—you could come across weapons here and there, scattered amongst the game’s environs, but ammo was still severely limited.
In fact, half of the battle is deciding when to use firearms and other ordinance, and when not to. I chose not to most of the time, after I discovered that you can choose to outwit your foes (at least some of them I believe) instead of fighting them. This method paid off more times than not, as boss encounters can be seriously grueling. After surviving a boss battle, I’d barely have enough health left, let alone ammo, in order to fend off any immediate threats afterwards.
From a graphics standpoint, RE 7 delivers the goods, big time. The game’s visuals are top-notch and what you’d expect from a triple A developer such as Capcom. The game’s setting, the dilapidated manor and its surrounding grounds, are chock-full of atmosphere and tension. The ambient sounds are also extremely unnerving, and while you are sneaking around you’ll hear subtle noises such as creaks and groans which make you believe that something is right behind you, or just around the corner up ahead.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a wonderful return to form, and plays like a love letter to the original Resident Evil, while offering a few new twists to the equation. I’d rank it on par with Outlast or Alien: Isolation, in terms of its overall scare-factor. However, in order to get the full experience, it is advised that you play the game at night, all alone in your room, with a good set of headphones on—you’ll either thank me or curse me later for giving you that advice.