Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: M for Mature
Somewhere on a discarded flip-phone can one find evidence that my newly-wedded wife purchased Resident Evil 4 on the GCN for me as a wedding gift during the summer of 2005. Indisputably one of the greatest games of all time—so great that it was ported over a half-dozen times and given the remaster treatment—RE4 perfected the third-person perspective in ways that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time had revolutionized what would evolve into its own distinguished genre. After all, games like Gears of War and Mass Effect simply do not exist in their renowned forms had RE4 not paved the way.
I used to be a fan of Resident Evil. I was down with the addition of Sheeva Alomar to the cast, but it is likely that she will not return. Regrettably, RE ventured too far in the direction of an action-adventure game where weapons and ammunition is plentiful enough to experiment within a shooting gallery that had forgotten its roots in survival-horror. The comically buffed Chris Redfield and his boulder-punch is world famous for the wrong reasons, and I skipped on RE6 altogether, as Capcom had invested the serious aspects of the franchise into the Revelations spin-off, and I would not be content with half-efforts. Resident Evil was dead to me; the zombies in the games of yesteryear were more “alive” in my eyes.
Yet out of the blue, and perhaps spurned by a sense of nostalgia, my wife purchased Resident Evil 7: Biohazard as a Valentine’s Day gift. It would have been rude to refuse.
True to the genre, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard does not shy from utilizing a certain batch of four-letter words, even if they appear more sparingly than the typical M-rated game. Ethan, the character whom players embody, becomes increasingly vulgar during times of distress, though that is to be expected as a “gosh darn it” would simply sound out of place. Jarring, however, is the fact that RE7 features dismemberment as not only a plot device, but also a mechanic. When it takes place, the gruesomeness is almost immediately negated by the preposterous resolutions. Even so, enduring a severed limb is hardly the worst of the violence in this game. One character in particular is a fan of human immolation. Another is decapitated from the bridge of the nose rather than from the neck, and players will later have to reach inside of a cadaver from an awkward body part—or lack thereof—to retrieve a key item. Yet none of this nor the violence of any game that I can readily think of compares to the gargling a character utters while receiving a chainsaw to the face…multiple times I may add. Here at Geeks Under Grace, I somewhat specialize in reviewing mature games, yet this particular scene approaches the limits of my tolerance for violence. To put this in perspective, I have not been so disgusted since the GTAV mission in which Trevor tortures an Azerbaijani hostage, and that was as far back as 2015. I would shame no one for abandoning RE7 altogether because of such a ridiculous spectacle.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard alludes to the introduction of Resident Evil 4 by requiring players to navigate a verdant yet linear path toward a house that no one sane has any business entering. Of course, the game does not advance unless players choose to do the dumb thing. Indeed, as soon as the threshold of the backdoor is crossed, the door slams shut, prompting the player-character Ethan to turn on a light to dispel darkness. I do not even bother trying to open the door because I already know it is locked. Meanwhile, memories of the first Resident Evil flood my consciousness as I cautiously proceed down the hall, through a small kitchen, and into what appears to be a living room, intentionally closing the door myself this time, because the “video game rules” suggest that enemies cannot gain the upper hand upon me while indoors, as long as I vigilantly limit my environment to an enclosure of three walls.
I pop in a VHS tape to witness a framing device, a video within a video game featuring previous adventurers meeting a grim fate within this house. The tape reveals how to proceed from this room, which I must. Wading through the dank waters of a New Orleans basement, passing through a series of underground piecemeal medical rooms, I try my best to make as little noise as possible so that I do not attract that dude I saw outside. I manage to find Mia, Ethan’s wife, who had been missing for three years (lol, “M.I.A.”), and her paranoia concerning being caught by that dude who she refers to as”daddy is on full display. We flee, but somehow Mia lags behind after I-as-Ethan ascend a staircase. After investigating the next floor which is a dead end, I have no choice but to double-back down the stars. This is when the real game begins.
All of this happens within the first two hours of RE7, and serves to establish tension in the game while perpetuating a sense of dread. Someone, or something, is displeased by Ethan’s presence in this house despite the “friendliness” of its human occupants, the Baker family. There are no musical queues such as seen in Resident Evil 2 or Resident Evil 3: Nemesis when Mr. X or the titular abomination would appear to splatter the player all about the pre-rendered floors and walls. Nay; Ethan’s hunter at any given time is seemingly more sentient, crafty, conveniently appears when least convenient, and is just as durable and relentless as the “hunters” in the previous games (not to be confused with the nomenclature of the hunter basic enemy). The terrors of the Baker household had me kneeling in silence as I navigated corners, and opening doors with a firearm drawn at the ready.
Even as a PC elitist, I must confess that this game looks great on a basic PS4, and the PS4 Pro version is arguably better than that which can be found on PC due to some blurriness caused by the FXAA+TAA and SMAA found in the latter version. RE7 runs at a silky-smooth 60 fps, and the combination of the first-person perspective with the kind of graphical intensity that approaches photorealism certainly contributes to the early and midgame fear factor. Characters’ faces are almost too perfect, reminding me of the superimposed FMV on the countenances found in La Noire, except there is no FMV to be found here. I dare not imagine enduring this madhouse with PSVR, but it is a ready-to-go option for the daring…or foolish.
RE7 takes queues from Dead Space, a game within this genre that does not rely on jump scares to instill fear into the hearts of even the most stalwart gamer, but instead, the blackness of poorly-lit rooms, ambient noise such as a creaking floor that should not be doing so unless someone else is present, or the fact that enemies can literally spawn from the floors or walls. One section of the game, beginning with the stroke of a piano key, is so tense that my wife sitting beside me could physically feel my heart trying to pound through my chest cavity as I encountered a mummy-like…thing…in an unlikely place. That is the apex for me—not to say that the remainder of the game is mundane, but it never regains that tone. Ostensibly, once the player learns the “rules of the game,”sometimes prompted by the swirling animation indicating an autosave or checkpoint, fear abates.
Unless the player is awful at aiming for the head, RE7 at certain points of the game is too generous with weapons, ammunition, and health. In this aspect of the game, it is as though the development team had lost their way, and began to fuse elements from the action-oriented RE5 and RE6 games with there-is-not-enough-gasoline-to-prevent-crimson heads-from-spawning-and-ravaging from REmake. In the latter parts of RE7, I found myself standing my ground to fight more than fleeing. Why be afraid when I can shoot any foe in the face? I am not limited to typewriter ink or some other mechanic that makes me stress on the survival aspects of the game.
By far the worst assets of the game involve its story and plot devices. Ok, so we know that Albert Wesker lures S.T.A.R.S. Bravo and Alpha teams into the Spencer mansion of OG Resident Evil. In Resident Evil 2, Claire Redfield comes to Raccoon City looking for her brother, not knowing what to expect, and players can assume that S.T.A.R.S. is a black op, and she would not have thought to contact authorities outside of town. Meanwhile, Leon simply experiences the Worst (First) Day Ever on the job. Ethan in RE7 however, receives a video from Mia instructing him to STAY AWAY, and yet he does the unwise thing after a cryptic message “come get me,” by coming alone rather than contacting the police immediately. There are several other minor and major aspects of RE7 that are sheer nonsense in similar regard, leaving me longing for writing that is better than a reality TV premise. I have been told that some plot elements are addressed within the day-one DLC, but I am not interested in contributing to the fleecing of gamers via gluttonous business practices.
Alas, while the impotence of the story is more laugh-worthy than cringe-worthy, and the suspension of disbelief dissipates about halfway through, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard remains a great game that old-school and new-school fans of RE should not miss.