Home is Where The Horror Is

Resident Evil VII: Biohazard returns a dying series to former glory

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Home is Where The Horror Is

Ian Obst, Online Editor

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For a series that was previously the head of the survival horror genre, the last eight years has seen the Resident Evil series fall from grace. In a progression that outraged fans, the atmospheric heights of the originals gave way to the overdone and generic action of the later series. Iconic parts of the early scenes, including the introduction of the zombies in the original Resident Evil and Nemesis from Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, gave way to Die Hard-esque action scenes and the recent multiplayer failure of Umbrella Corps. So when Capcom announced this new Resident Evil, with its new first-person perspective, fans immediately complained that the game was trying to copy off the success of games like Outlast and Alien Isolation. But, to mas
s surprise,
Resident Evil VII: Biohazard returns to the series’ former glory. With a creepy house to explore, classic survival horror mechanics and seeming influence from the horror films of the 1970s, Resident Evil VII is an impressive and frightening start for gaming in 2017.

Set in modern day Louisiana, Resident Evil VII places players in the role of Ethan Winters, a man who has been searching for his wife Mia, who disappeared three years prior to the game’s events. Receiving an email with her location, a plantation in Dulvey, he goes in search of her, only to come in contact with the mad and dangerous Baker family. Ethan soon finds even more horror and mystery as the secrets of the house unfold.

Resident Evil VII returns the series to its mixture of cinematic influences, combining frightening horror and camp silliness. Thankfully, this combination works well in returning to the roots of survival horror. The chief influence seems to be Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, with its demented cannibalistic family and raw physical horror. The horror Ethan physically and mentally sustains throughout the story is graphic and detailed, giving it a painful feeling than can be felt through the screen. This is not to say that traditional horror is not present; the classic feel of Resident Evil is still very much alive in Resident Evil VII , with its cramped hallways and constant fight-or-flight choices, creating an experience that feels both true to form and absolutely terrifying.

Much of the horror is helped by the presentation, which is expertly done. Built using the RE graphics engine, the visuals are downright amazing in terms of both the technology, with detailed textures and no loading screens in-game, and the art style, which is disgusting and haunted. The engine helps to play on a wide variety of fears, from insects to the dark, and the constant barrage of moments like this help to make the game that much more tense. Sound design also helps here, with the crack of the rare gunshot being both satisfying and a relief from the terror. Voice acting also comes into play, with Todd Soley’s portrayal of Ethan being relatable and believable, while the performance of the members of the Baker family are both campy and frightening. This becomes especially true of Sara Coates as Marguerite Baker, who may just be the most terrifying part of the game’s early segments.

However, gameplay is where Resident Evil VII shows its return to form. The first-person perspective gives the illusion of a game trying to keep up with modern horror trends, and the game admittedly starts this way. The first half-hour or so, as Ethan first finds Mia, is reminiscent of more modern horror games. But as the player gets pulled into the main Baker house, classic mechanics of Resident Evil past return. Fixed save points, item boxes, a focus on puzzles, limited inventory and limited ammunition are among the returning factors of the original games that makes Resident Evil VII feel equally reinvigorated and lovingly old-school. Even the layout of the house, with the house opening as the story progresses and as players find themed keys to open up more doors, feels like a classic touch. The return to form gives a feeling of strategy and caution some of the previous games lacked.

This sense of caution is heightened by the enemies Ethan is bound to face. The members of the Baker family are first to charge, each with a strange mutation that makes them tough foes. There are also the Molded, the closest the player will come to the infected zombies of the past. There is a turn near the end, as focus on the Molded grows. This may leave some people unfulfilled if they prefered the tension with the Baker family, but the focus on the Molded give a break from the new horror for a more traditional Resident Evil feel, which is not entirely bad.

What is entirely bad are the boss fights. It is nice that Resident Evil VII goes for memorable fights, but with difficulty, they come off as cheap. The early fights against the Bakers, in particular, require either expert timing when using items or cheaply using stronger attacks to keep enemies down. This creates a frustration the rest of the game thankfully lacks, and really feels like the major weak point in an otherwise incredible game.

Length is not an issue for Resident Evil VII. As is typical of the series, it follows the standard ten hour length, though this is bound to be longer or shorter depending on how the game is played. Players are also likely to revisit it to find the hidden video tapes, which reveal more of the story, and to see the two different endings. Completing the game unlocks special items for the player, as well as the brutally difficult Madhouse setting, which further increases the difficulty with tougher enemies and requiring tapes for saving.

After the boulder-punching Chris Redfield of Resident Evil 5 and the plane crashing of Resident Evil 6, the quiet and painful horror of Resident Evil VII makes it the savior in this dying franchise. The renewed focus and fresh perspective on horror makes Resident Evil VII a necessary and welcome surprise. This truly is a love letter from Capcom to both longtime and new fans, even if the letter is written in blood.